Smoking Your First Pork Butt

Jason Webster
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What you’ll need:

For Smoking:

  • 4 lb Pork butt
  • 1 heaping cup of your favorite smoking wood chips
  • 1 cup rub of your choice
  • 1 Cooking bag
  • Tongs or 2 forks
  • 1 Large beef/pork/chicken stock pot
  • 1 thermometer

The goodies:

To serve:

  • Pulled pork
  • Buns
  • BBQ sauce
  • Bread/Salad/Veggies to wrap it all up

For the rub:

  • 2 tablespoons Cumin
  • 2 tablespoons Onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons Paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons BBQ/Chili powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons Brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Salt
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoon Black pepper

For The Smoker:

Choosing a good smoker can be the difference between a great dinner and a disappointing one. I have used a variety of smokers over the years. The best smokers for a novice are electric smokers. While there are gas and charcoal smokers, they include a lot more variables you have to worry about, like an open flame, monitoring the heat and which wood to use.

The pork butt – how to choose and prepare your pork butt

First, consider your personal preference on pork cuts. This initial step will help with your decision on the type of pork butt you want to buy and prepare for smoking. You can find pork butts in most supermarkets. Also called pork shoulder, this cut is a part of the pig’s shoulder that sits just above the front leg. It’s often called a picnic shoulder because restaurants usually serve it as a popular cut. However, if you’ve ever had a picnic, you know that it often sits on the picnic table begging for more attention. And in this case, that attention is cooking. The pork butt is not such a big cut but it’s big enough to feed a whole family. Although the results are not that different, there are two kinds of pork butts – fresh and cured. Fresh pork butts are usually sold in vacuum packed plastic bags. If you want to use it for pork shoulder, you will need to wash off the cure. If you will use the pork butt for pulled pork, then you can simply cook it right out of the bag. The pork butt will taste amazing either way.

Choosing a pork butt:

Before you start, it’s important to identify what type of meat you are buying. Usually, butts are sold as whole top-side butt, boneless top sirloin butt, or boneless picnic butt.

If you want to save some money, go with the boneless top-side butt. If you really want quality meat, go with the picnic or sirloin butt, but expect to pay more for it.

You could also ask your butcher to cut it into the three sections: the butt, the picnic, and the sirloin. The picnic is the smallest section and will cook the fastest, while the sirloin takes longer.

Feel the meat. If it’s soft, it’s not the best quality and will probably be quite fatty. You will get a better quality meat if it’s a bit tougher than you’re used to. And it will be nice and tender when you cook it.

Preparing your pork butt:

If you’re a novice to smoking, then you may want to start with smaller quantities. For this recipe you will be using about four pounds of pork butt. The best part of smoking pork butt is that the meat is very forgiving. If you do happen to oversmoke it, it will still be delicious.

The first step in the preparation of the meat is seasoning. Mix the rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Massage it into the meat making sure that it is evenly distributed before placing the meat in the smoker. Depending on your smoker and the temperature setting, you will want to smoke the pork butt for about 5 hours. You will know when it is done when the internal temperature reaches about 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

Touch the meat with your fingertips to gauge the texture. If it is easily penetrated, it is done. When it is done, you can leave it in the smoker and let it cool to get a nice bark on it.

The cook – how to manage your smoker while your butt is cooking

The most likely delay in a successful pork butt cook is a poorly managed smoker not being adjusted right. The best way to learn how to do this is to rely on the manufacturer’s website.

They often have instructional videos and guides on how to use their products.

With any meat, you should know the internal temperature it needs to be to be done. With pork it’s about 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once you know that, you have to maintain your smoker to keep it at temp.

If you’re grilling, you can control the temperature with the vents on your grill. With the smoker, you can control your temps by adjusting the amount you stuff in.

Start by fully lighting your charcoal or wood without putting any meat above it. This is called “charging the cooker.” After 10 minutes, the grill should be hot enough to start cooking.

Once you add a few pieces of wood or charcoal, close the lid. This allows you to control the temperature by putting more wood or charcoal in.

Observe your thermometer. You want it to hover around 225 degrees Fahrenheit and maintain that temperature for at least an hour before you start cooking. You want to keep the temp nice and steady by adding more wood or charcoal every so often.

Get your smoker setup

A big piece of meat like a pork butt is best cooked slowly to render out all the fat and moisture and to develop the flavors.

To do this, you will need a smoker rated for a temperature of at least 250 degrees. The better your smoker, the better the outcome. If you are just starting out, I suggest a vertical propane smoker. It’s handy for small pieces but can hold a big piece of meat without a problem.

Just remember that any thing over 250 degrees is considered smoking so you can also cook the pork butt at another temperature. It’s just that as long as you can maintain the 250 degree temperature, the meat should come out just fine.

When you’ve got that part figured out, you need to decide if the pork should be dry rubbed, marinated, or neither.

If you choose to dry rub it, mix together brown sugar, salt, dry mustard, pepper, garlic pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Generously rub the mixture all over the butt. If you have time, let the pork sit at room temperature for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop.

To give the pork a hint of smoky flavor, place a few wood chips in a small aluminum foil pouch. Poke holes in the pouch for the smoke to escape and add to your smoker at the last step.

Monitoring your pork during the cook

Unlike turkey and chicken smoking, pork butt is not prone to drying out during the smoke cooking process.

Keep the internal temperature of the meat below 200°F by frequently checking with a meat thermometer. Monitor the temperature of the meat every 30 minutes by inserting the meat thermometer probe in the thickest part of the meat without touching the bones.

The target temperature for pork butt is 180°F. It will take about 6-8 hours to reach this temperature.

If the meat thermometer probe is touching the bones, deduct ten degrees from the displayed temperature.

Pork butt is done when the internal temperature is 180°F.

The meat is still a bit pink and will need time to finish cooking on your countertop or in your oven.

When the meat reaches 190-200°F, it is usually a sign that the smoking process is completed.

Remove the pork butt from the smoker and wrap it in a couple of layers of foil. Place it in a cooler bag with a couple of ice packs for an hour.

Remove the pork butt from the foil and place it back onto the smoker over indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 225°F.

Wrapping your pork

Butt in foil is a common practice for many BBQ chefs.

What does it really do, and should you wrap?

To begin with, pork butt should always reach at least an internal temperature of 190 degrees F.

When temperatures get lower, they’re definitely on their way to becoming dry, tough and therefore not tasty.

Wrapping your pork butt in foil is a great practice to keep your guests happy and your reputation intact.

As the meat heats up, it gives off liquid. At the same temperature, this liquid will evaporate.

But the meat has more to give. The liquid created in the first phase is then pushed out and taken away from the meat, effectively preventing it from burning and drying.

If you don’t wrap your pork butt, you will notice a small amount of fluid leaking out of the meat.

There are a couple of disadvantages to wrapping your pork butt in foil. To start with, it makes it harder to judge the exterior temperature of your meat.

Another disadvantage is that the bones will conduct heat into the meat faster than the exterior. Wrapping in foil for 2 hours will make the meat overcook on the inside.

If you think that you might have a problem judging the color and temperatures of the meat, you are safer if you wrap it in foil.

The payoff – resting and pulling your pork butt

When it’s all over, when you’re done with the fire, the smoke, the long night hours of waiting, you’ll finally get to sit down and enjoy that masterpiece you worked so hard to create.

The meat, when rested and pulled, will have a texture not unlike that of pulled pork. Then you can serve it to your family and friends.

If you’ve done it right, people will be talking for weeks to come.

Barbecue Pork Rub Recipe

If you are thinking that the cost of a smoker must be very expensive, think again.

There are a lot of different types and sizes of smokers and most of them are really cheap. This affordable smoker uses… a deep aluminum pan. It is compact, portable and cheap, specially if you already own the ingredients needed for this delicious barbecue pork recipe.

So let’s get started!

First of all, you will need to start off with cutting your meat.

The pork shoulder should be cut into several equal portions. This is so that each piece will cook properly. The ideal thickness of the pork shoulder is between 1 and 2 inches.

If you have never cooked pork butt believe me: these portions are enough for the entire family. The leftovers are to die for! You should cook extra portions if your spouse and/or kids are big eaters.

Now dice them up into 1-inch chunks.

If you own a sharp knife you can successfully dice your meat in one swoop. I personally don’t own one of these and my knife is extremely dull, so it took me a while to dice up enough for the entire batch of barbecue pork with minced onion.