I have found no ingredient in my meal prep arsenal to be more adaptable and diverse than the pork shoulder. (Also labeled as Boston butt or picnic shoulder.) However it is labeled, it is indeed the shoulder of the pig – a big, meaty, marbled, complex maze of muscle and (well-purposed) fat – available at a very affordable price point.
We have learned that the pork shoulder is nearly indestructible. And a well-smoked pork shoulder is God’s gift to the tastebuds; a heavenly experience that will set the bar high for all future bites of pulled pork yet to come.
Uses for Pork Shoulder or Boston Butt
Before we get to the “how,” let’s talk about the many uses for your smoked pork shoulder or Boston butt:
There are standard pulled pork sandwiches and meat and three plates, common at BBQ restaurants. Pulled pork nachos are another popular choice, as is barbecue pizza with your favorite sauce as a base and white cheese on top. Brunswick stew is an excellent choice for cooler months, while a rustic cowboy skillet made with thinly sliced potatoes, pulled pork, bell peppers, green onions, eggs and cheese makes for a hearty breakfast. And who doesn’t enjoy a spin on carnitas with a pulled pork taco?
Personally, I love a non-traditional Hawaiian bun pork slider, topped with arugula and a smear of creamy Sugar Taylor Sauce on both bun surfaces.
Bonus! Smoked pork shoulder retains every bit of its goodness frozen and enjoyed later! It’s easy to freeze the meat (along with some of the juice) in family meal sized portions. Just pop them out of the freezer when you need the meat, thaw in a skillet and enjoy!
Smoking the Perfect Pork Shoulder
Finally, let’s talk about HOW to make the perfect pork shoulder or Boston butt on your outdoor smoker.
1. Start with good meat!
When it comes to ingredients, there is no better peace of mind than knowing your farmer. I recommend Thompson Farms pastured pork raised in Dixie, Georgia. The Thompson Family offers their animals the most optimal life with open pastures and rotational grazing. Free to root, graze and lounge, Thompson Farms’ hogs are never confined in crates or cages and are born, raised, harvested & processed on the farm. This pork is amazing and we've loved every bite!
2. Gather your other supplies.
You will need these additional supplies to do a great job – with less hassle. It is a bit of a project, but well worth the effort.
- Outdoor smoker or grill
- Cherry and pecan wood chunks or chips
- Hardwood lump charcoal
- Meat thermometer
- Paper towels
- Tin foil
- Beer or apple juice
- Sharp knife
- Disposable plastic food service gloves
- Roasting pan or disposable aluminum pan for juice
- Large tub to rub and pull meat
- Hot pad or glove
- June Bugg Rub (or your favorite BBQ rub seasoning)
3. Prepare to cook.
When you are ready to cook, remove your butt(s) from the fridge and allow them to warm to nearly room temperature. In the meantime, light your smoker or grill to a temperature of around 250 degrees.
Once the grill reaches temperature, toss your pecan and cherry chunks into the fire to begin the smoke process. I suggest these two wood types together for the sweetest bark on your meat – it is an unbeatable flavor combination!
Remove the meat from any packaging, rinse the meat thoroughly under cold running water, and dry with paper towels. You will need the meat to be dry for the rub to be applied.
Using a sharp knife, create a 1 x 1 inch grid about ¾ inch deep across the entire surface of your meat, a little less deep where the fat cap is thicker. This creates more surface area for the rub and will also speed up your cook time slightly by allowing more heat to absorb without compromising flavor or texture quality.
Portion about ½ cup of June Bugg Rub (or your favorite BBQ rub) and work it into the grid that you have created on the meat. (I suggest wearing latex or similar foodservice type gloves for this process.) Make sure the entire meat is covered in rub.
4. Time to Smoke!
If possible, place a pan under your grill or smoker grate. You want it to be deep enough to capture the juices that will render from your meat. Once the pan is situated, pour half a beer or a cup of apple juice into the pan.
Place the meat on the grill, fat side up (that is the white stuff on top).
Periodically check on your meat. Not too often, or the smoker will be more difficult to regulate. Just be sure to keep some beer or juice in your pan to ensure your meat stays moist.
5. Wrap it Up.
After four to five hours (depending on the size of your pork shoulder), there should be a smoky, dark crust on the outside of the meat. Now is the time to wrap your meat in foil. Plan ahead because you will be wrapping piping hot meat and do not want to drop it or damage the meat – or yourself – in the process. I lay out my foil and use a silicone hot pad and tongs to help get the job done. A successful wrap creates an airtight pouch for your pork shoulder that will keep any juice contained. This is important to the flavor outcome.
The Trick to Perfection
The real trick to pork shoulder perfection is to wait patiently for your pork shoulder to “break.” This happens when the meat is literally melting and falling apart with the softest nudge. Do not try to rush it! That perfect moment is when the internal meat temperature is 205 degrees. When the thermometer hits that number, the bone will slide out and you should be able to literally slide a spoon through while hardly applying pressure. At this phase, there should be a LOT of liquified fat (or PIG LOVE as I call it). Reserve that love for later. When you achieve this phase – and not a minute before – it is time to remove the butts from the grill and place them into a deep pan. I reserve my liquids separately and cool the butts until they can be handled. (You can also wrap the foil-wrapped meat in towels and place in a cooler until you are ready to serve - a great tailgating trick!)
Once they are cool enough to handle, I pull the butts by shredding the meat apart and remove and dispose of any chunks of fat or gristle. Add some of your reserved “pig love” and about two tablespoons of June Bugg Rub to the pulled pork and mix well. The extra rub and juice give the pork that pop of flavor that takes it from dry and boring to unforgettable!
If you have any questions, or you just want some confidence and coaching – whether it’s your maiden voyage with pork shoulder or you want to take it to the next level – give me a shout, and I am happy to help!
Editor's Note: This recipe was submitted by Andy Chapman, CEO and founder of Find Family Farms and EATYALL. You can find Thompson Farms pork, June Bugg Rub and Sugar Taylor Sauce in our online store!