Make smoked pork shoulder using this easy recipe. Dry rubbed pork butt cooks low and slow on any smoker for tender meat that falls apart in your hands for the very best pulled pork sandwiches!
Nothing beats a barbecue of low and slow cooked pork! This is my tried and true smoked pork recipe, and it always satisfies a crowd.
After seasoning the meat with a pork rub, it’s put onto a smoker, where it cooks low and slow for several hours. The result is succulent, juicy pork that literally falls apart in your hands!
What Is a Pork Shoulder?
The pork shoulder is a dense muscular cut, and it is literally the shoulder of the hog. There are several names for it, depending on the portion or cut you’re purchasing. Most stores and butchers label it as pork shoulder, Boston butt, or pork butt.
It can be purchased bone-in or boneless, but for smoking pork shoulder, you definitely want to buy it bone-in. This is because the cooking process takes several hours, and the bone helps to keep the meat moist. It also helps the meat cook more evenly.
Cuts of pork shoulder
- Whole Shoulder– A whole pork shoulder averages around 12 pounds in weight. The meat is cut along the spine, around the shoulder, and includes a portion of the leg as well.
- Picnic– Averaging 6-7 pounds, the picnic cut includes the lower portion of the shoulder and the bone-in upper portion of the leg.
- Boston Butt– Weighing anywhere from 6 to 8 pounds is the pork butt, also known as a Boston butt. Don’t let the name mislead you; this is NOT a cut from the back end of the hog!
The butt is the shoulder portion, after it is cut away from the picnic.
Whether you’ll be smoking a whole pork shoulder or a portion, choose a butt with a good amount of fat marbling. All of that fat will render down as the pork smokes, creating lots of moisture and flavor.
How much smoked pork shoulder do you need?
For most people, a third to a half pound of meat per person is pretty standard. After smoking and shredding, a bone-in smoked pork shoulder will weigh about 40% less than its starting weight.
For example, a 10-pound bone-in pork shoulder yields about 6 pounds of pulled pork, serving 12 to 16 people
Preparing the Pork Butt
Because it does take a while to cook and the cut is large enough to feed a crowd, many people reserve this meal for holidays, parties and big picnics.
1. Trim the fat
On the top side of the meat is a large, thick layer of fat called a fat cap. That’s where the pig’s skin was. You’ll need to trim away some of that, and the sides may need to be cleaned up a bit as well.
Some people prefer to leave the entire fat cap intact. While it’s true that fat does create flavor, if the cap is too thick, it may not render down during smoking. Not only that, but fat doesn’t caramelize, so that side ends up plain (without any crust/bark).
You don’t need to remove the entire fat cap unless you want to; just trim it down to about 1/4 inch.
After that, check the other sides of the butt. Trim off any purple or red areas; those are glands, and they have a chewy texture that isn’t enjoyable.
2. Inject with brine
Some people like to inject the meat with brining liquid first. Occasionally I do use a marinade injection, but for this recipe, I just give it a rub down with spices..
3. Apply dry rub for pork
Applying spices over the meat prior to smoking is crucial to penetrating flavor deep inside the pork. Plus, the spices and sugars in the sweet pork dry rub caramelize, creating the flavor bark on the outside.
What spices are in a pork dry rub?
My spice rub consists of simple pantry spices, including brown sugar, garlic and onion powders, kosher salt, black pepper, paprika, cayenne and chili powder. For the amounts, check out my sweet pork dry rub recipe card.
After applying the spice rub, wrap the pork shoulder in plastic wrap and let it rest overnight in the fridge.
How to Smoke Pork Butt (Video)
Be sure to check out the video in the recipe card to watch the process of smoking pork butt. The most difficult part is the patience you need as you wait for it to cook!
You can see below in the process photos how the size and color of the pork changes as it slowly smokes.
Steps for Smoking Pork Shoulder
- Bring pork to room temperature.
Pull the wrapped pork butt out of the fridge about an hour before you are going to smoke it.
- Preheat the smoker and prep the wood chips or pellets.
Set your smoker to 225°F
As for smoke, I like to use a mixture of hickory and either cherry or apple wood chips.
- Smoke at 225°F for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, spritz the meat with unsweetened apple juice, or a solution with equal parts apple cider vinegar and water. Continue spritzing the meat every 30 minutes or so. The liquid will keep the meat moist and also create steam, resulting in better smoke.
- Cook to an internal pork butt temp of 165°F.
Continue smoking and spritzing until the shoulder reaches an internal temp of 165°F.
- Wrap the smoked pork shoulder.
Remove the pork from the smoker and wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil, then return it to the smoker.
- Continue cooking to an internal pork butt temp of 190°F.
If you want fall-apart pulled pork, cook until the internal pork butt temp reaches 205°F. Depending on the size of the smoked pork shoulder, this can take an additional 6 hours or more.
Don’t rely on appearance alone; always use a probe meat thermometer to test the internal temperature!. To double check, you can pull on the bone. If it slides out of the meat without any resistance, the pork is definitely ready.
- Let it rest for an hour.
I usually place the smoked pork butt in an empty cooler lined with a towel, which you can use to help you lift the hot pork from the cooler.
Smoke your shoulder at 225°F for 90 minutes per pound. If you’re making a whole smoked pork butt, it can be as large as 12 pounds, so start early in the morning. Better yet, get someone to take half of the shift for you.
For a 10 pound smoked pork butt, it will take 15 hours total cooking time.
Wood from fruit trees like apple or cherry are great choices for pulled pork, and maple wood gives fantastic flavor too.
Refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container and use them up within 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Summary of Steps for Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe
- 10 pound pork shoulder (Boston butt)
- Dry rub all over, cover and refrigerate overnight
- Bring pork to room temperature (about an hour before smoking)
- Set smoker to 225°F, prep wood chips or pellets
- Smoke unwrapped at 225°F for 4 hours
- After 4 hours spritz pork shoulder with apple juice, and continue spritzing every 30 minutes
- Continue smoking to pork butt internal temp of 165°F
- Remove smoked pork shoulder, wrap in double layer of aluminum foil
- Place back in smoker for for approximately 9 hours, or to an internal temp of 205°F
- Place in empty cooler lined with towel for 1 hour
- Remove from cooler, place on tray, remove the bone and pull the pork
There you have it! Sweet tender pulled pork ready for BBQ sauce or not, and perfect to feed a crowd. Enjoy!
Smoked Pork Shoulder
- 10 lb pork shoulder (Boston Butt)
- 1/2 cup apple juice
Sweet Pork Dry Rub
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 4 tsp chili seasoning
- 4 tsp garlic powder (or garlic flakes)
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp paprika (See Note 1)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
Marinade Injection (Optional)
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2 tbsp above Sweet Pork Dry Rub
- In a bowl mix together the spice blend ingredients. Take 2 tablespoons out for the marinade injection if doing. Reserve another 1/2 cup for later use after pork is pulled. Remaining dry rub is for Step 3.
- Using paper towels, dry off the pork shoulder. Trim fat cap on pork shoulder down to 1/4-inch thickness, and trim away any visible purple or red spots (those are glands and they will have an undesirable, chewy texture).
- Rub spice blend on all sides of the pork shoulder. Wrap the pork in plastic wrap, or in a covered container, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
- An hour before smoking, unwrap the pork shoulder and let it come to room temperature. Mix together the marinade injection mixture if doing. Inject pork all over with the marinade (optional).
- Preheat smoker to 225°F. Prep your wood chips or pellets as per manufacturer's instructions.
- Place the unwrapped meat directly on the clean grill rack of the smoker.
- After 4 hours, spritz all sides of pork with apple juice. Continue cooking, spritzing the meat every 30 minutes, until the pork internal temp reaches 165°F.
- Remove meat from smoker and wrap in butcher paper or a double layer of aluminum foil. Place back in smoker and continue smoking it wrapped until it reaches an internal temp of 190°F (for slicing) or 205°F (for pulling).
- After meat reaches desired internal temperature, transfer wrapped meat from smoker to an EMPTY cooler (lined with a towel to assist with lifting it out) Allow wrapped meat to rest for 1 hour, covered.
- Lift from cooler, remove paper or foil wrap and discard. Place smoked pork shoulder carefully on a baking sheet or tray. Remove pork bone and discard. The meat should fall apart easily. Use gloves or BBQ claws to pull and shred the pork.
- Sprinkle liberally with remaining 1/2 cup sweet pork dry rub spices (to your liking). Feel free to add more apple juice or your favorite BBQ sauce.
- Substitute with Smoked Paprika for a more smokey flavor.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.