BBQ Cooking: Southern Smoked Pork Shoulder

Sliced smoked pork shoulder

Butts are king of bbq cooking when it comes to pulled pork and chopped pork. I’m talking about Boston butts – pork shoulders. These things go on sale pretty often around here, and when they do, we buy several. We cook them long and slow on an electric smoker, and they always turn out perfect. The great thing about electric smokers is that the heat is pretty constant. And thanks to the water pan, the heat is also wet, so you won’t have to worry about the meat’s drying out.

Flavor is achieved on an electric smoker in several ways – a dry rub, a mop sauce, the water pan, the smoke, and the final barbecue sauce. For this barbecue recipe, we’re going to use all of these. For smoky flavor, we like to use pecan wood. We’ve tried just about every type of wood available for smoking, including apple, peach, hickory, oak, and mesquite, but we haven’t found anything that can compare with pecan wood. We use twigs from local trees, but you can also buy pecan wood online. See below. The wood needs to be soaked in water for at least an hour before using. The more wood you use, the more smoke you’ll get. We use a lot of wood because we like a very smoky flavor.

For flavor from the water pan, you can add apple juice, pineapple juice, vinegar, wine, beer, or other liquids. Of course, you can use plain water, instead. You can also include herbs and spices. Don’t overlook the importance of the water pan. This is what keeps your meat moist. Fill the pan before you start smoking, and check it every few hours. You’ll probably need to add more liquid to the pan once or twice during the smoking process.

Chopped pork shoulder

Holle’s Southern Smoked Butt recipe

What you’ll need:

  • Boston butt pork shoulder
  • ¼ cup salt
  • ¼ cup paprika
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground red pepper

Directions: Rinse butt and pat dry. Mix remaining ingredients together to make a dry rub. Rub the pork all over with the rub. Wrap the pork roast in foil and refrigerate overnight.

Place wood or wood chips on the smoker’s burner or in the basket, if your smoker has one of these. Fill the water pan with the liquid of your choice. Place the butt on the top rack of the electric smoker. Fat side up, or fat side down? This is a hotly debated point. Many grill masters place the butt fat side down, but we’ve had better results placing the roast fat side up. Use your own judgment.

After the meat has been smoking for about 2 hours, we start brushing on the mop sauce.

Mop Sauce recipe

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground red pepper

Directions: Place all ingredients in a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low. Using a large brush, mop sauce on butt every 30 minutes.

How long does it take to cook a butt on an electric smoker? It’s hard to give a specific time because much depends on the size of your but, your individual smoker, wind conditions, etc. the most reliable way to tell if your pork is done is to use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature needs to be at least 180 degrees.

When your Boston butt reaches 180 degrees, baste it with your favorite barbecue sauce and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Remove the butt from the smoker.

pulled pork sandwich photo by Marshall Astor

Now you’ll need to decide whether you want the butt sliced, chopped, or pulled. Sliced pork roast is a no-brainer, so no instructions are needed. For chopped barbecue, we’ve found that the easiest way to do this is to remove the blade bone from the pork roast and place the meat in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Use an edger – a garden hoe that’s straight – to chop the meat. This works especially well if you’re chopping more than one smoked butt. If you prefer pulled pork, you can shred the meat with forks.

Once your meat has achieved the consistency you like, you can stir in bottled or homemade barbecue sauce, or you can serve the meat plain with sauce on the side or on the top. If you’re making pulled pork sandwiches, the pulled pork will hold together better if you mix the sauce in with the meat.

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