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Smoked Pork Butt

Smoked pork butt is the perfect mix of sweet, smoky bark and tender, flavorful meat all in one package. Smoking a pork shoulder is so easy, and I'll show you exactly how we do it!

In July 2019, I spent a couple of weeks experimenting with our new Traeger, and developed a recipe for a smoked pork picnic roast. To this day, that is one of the most popular recipes to come out of the Crave Kitchen.

I think this is my favorite smoked pulled pork recipe ever. And we've tried MANY!

This post is so in depth, so if you're familiar with the process and how to smoke pork, feel free to skip to the printable recipe card at the bottom, but if you're new and you aren't BFFs with butts, settle in, there's a ton of information here for you!

This smoked pork butt recipe is dedicated to BFFs + butts!

Smoked pulled pork shoulder in a white dish.

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Tips + Tricks

No. 1 --> Use a rimmed baking sheet when you're applying the maple syrup and the dry rub! This keeps in any and all juices and greatly reduces the amount of rub you'll be wiping off your counters for the next 3 days. Dry rub is pretty much the glitter of the culinary world.

No. 2 --> Shred or slice, that's up to you! This smoked pork shoulder recipe is great either way. If you want to make shredding your pulled pork a breeze, get some of these awesome meat claws.

No. 3 --> Start your pork butt early. The rule of thumb for this overnight smoke is 120 minutes per pound plus a 1-hour rest. We prefer to get the smoked pork on the smoker and have the estimated time of doneness to be at least 2-3 hours before we plan on eating. Don't worry, it will stay hot till serving time. This prevents pushing off supper and hangry people!

No. 4 --> We've got a smoker with 3 racks in it and primarily cook all our meat on the second rack. This is done so that we can place a large baking sheet or chafing pan lined with foil underneath the pork shoulder, or whatever we're cooking, to catch the drippings and keep the clean up incredibly easy.

No. 5 --> In this house, we like our pulled pork dry. Well not dry, but we don't like to toss it in BBQ sauce. This allows whoever is making pulled pork sandwiches to tailor it to their tastes.

Pulling smoked pork butt with meat claws for pulled pork.

Key Ingredients

Pork butt: Pork shoulders vary in size, but are generally between 8 - 10 pounds. The monster we smoked for this recipe was 11 1/2 pound after trimming! If you're making smoked pulled pork, buy a bone-in pork shoulder, as the bone increases flavor and helps hold the shoulder together while cooking. If you're wanting to cook smoked sliced pork, buy a de-boned and trussed pork butt. Look for a firm pork butt with rich pink color and creamy white fat marbled throughout and fat cap.

Dry rub: I've included my recipe for dry rub below in the recipe card, this one is slightly different than the rub I use on a pork picnic, as I find the more mild meat flavor in the pork shoulder can handle a more flavorful rub. That said, feel free to use your favorite pork rub, wether homemade or store-bought!

All the ingredients required for smoked pork butt rub.

Pork Butt Vs. Pork Shoulder Vs. Boston Butt

Pork butt, pork shoulder, and Boston butt are all different names for the same cut of meat.

Butt is kind of a misnomer, because, technically, the butt of a pig is the ham! So why do they call it pork butt or Boston butt?

According to some research, they were originally called pork butts due to the wooden barrels used to store the pork in the late 1700s. They acquired the colloquial name Boston butt because at that time, the pork butt was considered a New England specialty.

Now that we've got the name out of the way, let's talk about what it actually is.

A pork butt or pork shoulder is the uppermost cut from the pig's foreleg. It's generally rectangular in shape and sold with a healthy fat cap. You'll be able to differentiate the pork shoulder from the pork picnic by the shape, as the latter has a funnel shape and is often sold with the skin on.

Pork shoulders, due to their position on the animal, have tons of well-worked muscles and connective tissue. This coupled with the intramuscular fat makes them the perfect candidate for low and slow cooking.

Using meat claws to make smoked pulled pork.

Trimming The Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulders are often sold with a large fat cap on one side, unless your butcher has pre-trimmed it.

While many smokers swear by leaving the fat cap intact, in the Crave Kitchen, we use a sharp boning knife to trim the fat to as close to 1/8th inch as we can get.

Trimming the fat allows more smoke penetration into the pork itself, and increases the area of edible bark. While fat = flavor, I don't find gnawing on a chunk of fat palatable!

The most important fat on the pork butt is the intramuscular fat. This is what renders down and creates a juicy delicious meat, not the fat cap.

Rub The Butt

Butt rubbing jokes aside, we prefer a dry rub.

For this recipe, I really load up on savory and sweet ingredients. My pork butt rub is brown sugar based and contains black pepper, kosher salt, paprika, garlic, onion, dry mustard, and bit of cayenne. All of these flavors play so nicely with pork and smoke!

One of the things that we always do with the pork shoulder is to slather it with a binder before applying a dry rub. For this cut, I like to use a maple syrup binder. Maple syrup combined with a brown sugar-based rub helps to create a deliciously dark and caramelized bark that you just can't beat!

Why Spritz?

Spritzing the smoked Boston butt while cooking adds a layer of flavor, and moisture. Smoke swirling in the barrel of your smoker is attracted to the moisture, and the spritz helps to increase the smoke flavor.

After tons of experimenting, we've settled on a favorite spritz. You might be able to guess what it is if you've ever used my root beer smoked beef ribs, smoked brisket, or smoked pork picnic recipes!

We use root beer. I find root beer plays well with the salt/fat/acid/heat levels in this recipe. 1 can of root beer generally gives me enough spritz to last for the whole cook.

Wrap Battle

There is some debate in the smoking world around wrapping meat while cooking.

When we first started smoking, we would always wrap our large cuts of meat in peach or butchers paper to help it through the stall more quickly.

One day, we decided to forgo the wrap and have since taken our place on "Team No Wrap". Wrapping the pork shoulder can surely help it breeze through the stall a bit more quickly, but it comes at the expense of the bark, in my opinion.

This is a deeply personal decision. If you want to wrap your butt, wrap it once it reaches ~165f internal temperature.

Boston Butt covered in dry rub.

"The Stall"

When it comes to a big hunk of meat, like pork shoulders and briskets, they hit a stall. The stall happens when the internal temperature stops rising. The science behind the stall is that as the heat from your smoker evaporates the moisture in the meat, it cools the surface and stops increasing in temperature. Basically, your meat is sweating.

Once the moisture evaporation has slowed/ stopped your pork butt will leave the stall.

With a cook like this, where the goal is low + slow, we ride out the stall, which can take a while, don't panic! With higher temperatures, the stall is shorter.

Smoked pulled pork in a baking dish.

How Long To Smoke A Pork Butt

The old adage "It'll be ready when it's ready" applies perfectly to smoking meat. As always with smoked meats, we cook to internal temperature and not by time.

The smoking time can vary widely with each pork butt. The most important variables for judging smoke time are weight and smoking temperature.

For this recipe, we are smoking it extra low for the first 8-12 hours of the cook. 185f until it reaches an internal temperature of approximately 150f, then increasing the temperature of the smoker to 225f.

My guideline is approximately 120 minutes per pound of pork using this method. The 11 1/2 pound pork shoulder we used to photograph this recipe took just shy of 24 hours.

Our routine for a 10 lb smoked pork shoulders is as follows:

Day 1:

  • 8pm: start the smoker, prepare and rub the butt
  • 830 pm: put the butt on the smoker

Day 2:

  • 6 am: increase the temp of the smoker to 225f and begin spritzing
  • 4 pm: butt is done! Remove it from the smoker, wrap and place in the cooler to rest till dinner.

*** Important note: If by noon, the butt isn't cooking as quickly as you hoped, increase the temperature of the smoker to 300f and monitor the internal temperature.

Smoked Pulled Pork Or Sliced Pork

When smoking your pork butt, you have a couple options for doneness, and they're both dictated by internal temperature.

Smoked Sliced Pork

Start with a deboned and trussed pork butt. Follow all the same directions for cooking, but stop when the internal temperature reaches 175f. This temperature results in a beautifully tender, but sliceable smoked pork shoulder. Allow your shoulder to rest for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Smoked Pulled Pork

If you're looking for the classic, can't beat it, delicious smoked pulled pork shoulder, you've gotta cook that bad boy a little longer. To reach the point where the pork butt wants to shred easily, you must cook it to an internal temperature of 198 - 203 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smoked pork shoulder in a baking dish.

What Wood Pellets?

The best pellets for smoking a pork shoulder are always the pellets you have at home. If you've got a selection, I recommend picking a fruit wood or mild wood, such as:

  • apple wood
  • maple wood
  • alder wood
  • cherry wood

We use Lumberjack Competition Blend which is equal parts maple, hickory, and cherry for pretty much every cook! I like to run apple wood when cold smoking cheese, though.

Why The Rest?

One of the cool things I learned from the masters when we started smoking pork was that big meat needs to rest after cooking. And not like the 5 minutes you leave your steak on your plate before you cut into it. Like a sincere, meaningful rest. The rest period makes for a more tender, juicy cut of meat. Resting the meat relaxes the muscle fibers allowing them to draw in moisture.

Unfortunately, resting something for at least an hour means it loses a bunch of its temperature. The way around that is to wrap it in peach butcher paper or tin foil, then an old towel and throw it in a cooler. The same way a cooler keeps your beer cold, it will keep your meat hot!

This is beneficial if your butt finishes cooking early too - you can rest your pork shoulder roast up to 4 hours in the cooler and it will still come out piping hot!

To rest a smoked pork butt, you must remove it from the smoker when it's done cooking, wrap it in a layer of peach butcher paper to help contain the juices. Once it's wrapped in butcher paper, it must be wrapped in a towel and placed in a cooler. The towel helps keep the heat in and the cooler allows your pork to rest without cooling off.

Properly wrapped, rested smoked pork butt can be kept hot in a cooler for up to 6 hours!

How To Smoke A Pork Butt

Ok, now that we've gone over, like, everything there is to know about pork butts... let's get down to the cooking.

  1. Preheat your smoker to 185f according to manufacturer's directions. I use a Traeger pellet smoker, but this recipe will work in any smoker.
  2. While the smoker is preheating, combine the brown sugar, pepper, salt, paprika, garlic, onion, dry mustard, and cayenne in a medium bowl.
  3. Remove the pork shoulder from the fridge, and carefully trim away the fat cap to approximately 1/8th inch thick. Trim any fat globs from the sides or the back side of the pork shoulder. Place the pork shoulder on a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Drizzle maple syrup over the pork butt and rub it completely to coat. Orient the pork butt so that the fat cap is down while you're applying the pork shoulder rub.
  5. Generously sprinkle the rub all over the pork butt, including all the edges and sides.
  6. Flip the pork shoulder so that the fat cap it upwards and generously apply rub to the top. Allow the pork to rest until the smoker comes to temperature. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with tin foil.
  7. Once the smoker reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit, place the pork butt on the second, or middle rack of your smoker, fat cap upwards. Place the tin foil lined baking sheet underneath the pork. This is a good time to insert your temp probe.
  8. Smoke the pork butt at 185f for 10-12 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of about 150f.
  9. Once the pork reaches 150f internal temperature, increase the smoker's temperature to 225f. Begin spritzing the pork with root beer or your desired spritz every 45-60 minutes until it reaches 175f for sliced pork or 198 - 203f for pulled pork. My super technical, totally scientific way of telling if my pulled pork butts are done is by poking them with my finger. If they give and bounce right back, jiggle, and ooze a little fat, we're in business!
  10. Once the pork shoulder reaches desired temperature, remove it from the smoker and wrap in a layer of peach butcher paper, then wrap in a towel before placing it in a cooler to rest for at least 1 hour.
  11. After the rest time, the pork can be pulled or sliced as desired and served.

How Much Pulled Pork Per Person?

Hosting a crowd and need to know how many pork butts you need to cook? Here are the general rules when it comes to serving pulled pork.

Generally, a pork shoulder will lose half it's weight during cooking. On average, 1 pound of cooked pulled pork will feed 3 people.

Aim for 2 pounds of raw pork per every 3 people.

For example: 15 guests / 3 = 5 pounds cooked pork required. 2 x 5 pounds cooked pork = 10 lbs raw pork required.

More Smoked Recipes To Try

Batch + Storage Information

Batch:

One 8lb pork butt will give enough pulled pork to serve around 12 people. This recipe can easily be scaled up or down as required, simply multiply the rub by the number of pork shoulders being cooked.

Storage:

Cooked pulled or sliced smoked pork can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

If you have extra, the leftovers can be cooled then vacuum sealed into family sized portions and frozen for up to 12 months.

Reheat Pulled Pork

There are a couple ways to reheat pulled pork. My favorite is via sous vide, but there are some great options below!

  1. Pan Fry: Start with fridge temperature pulled pork, and add a few tablespoons of lard or cooking oil to a preheated cast iron skillet, then fry the pulled pork, stirring regularly over medium-low heat until crisp and delicious. This method works great for taco nights!
  2. Sous Vide: No need to thaw for this method. Drop your frozen bag of pulled pork into a 175f degree water bath and allow to reheat for up to an hour. This method is my favorite because it keeps all the flavor integrity of the pulled pork and while the bark isn't as crunchy as it is right off the smoker, it's still got a bite and is totally delicious!
  3. Bake It: Add some pulled pork to an oven-friendly baking dish with 1/2 cup of apple juice, cover the pan with tinfoil or a lid, and pop it into a 300-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through.
Smoked pulled pork in a baking dish.

Variations + Substitutions

As with all Crave The Good recipes, they are just suggestions! Tweak them to make it your own, to suit your palate! Here are a couple ways to alter this recipe:

  • Skip the maple syrup binder and use mustard like we do for smoked pork picnic.
  • Low Carb? Sub out the brown sugar for a low carb brown sugar substitute and spritz with a 1:1 cup apple cider vinegar : water ratio.
  • Like it hot? Add a tablespoon of sriracha powder to the rub along with the cayenne!
  • Don't want to use root beer? Use apple juice, apple cider vinegar, Dr Pepper, Pepsi, or whatever you feel like!
Smoked pulled pork in a baking dish with a meat claw.
  • Smoker: Kevy and I purchased a TRAEGER TIMBERLINE 1300 in June 2019. Our life has changed! It's such a great machine - we've run thousands of pounds of pellets through it and would buy it again and again! Check out all the great SMOKED RECIPES we've developed.
  • Temperature Probe: I have and LOVE a MEATER+ MEAT PROBE. The probe itself is really brilliantly designed with a self-charging dock, a minimalistic probe, and really intuitive app.

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📖 Printable Recipe

Smoked pulled pork shoulder in a white dish.
Yield: 15 servings

Smoked Pork Butt

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 hours
Rest Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 21 hours 15 minutes

Smoked pork butt is as easy as it is delicious. This overnight cook will have you sleeping like a baby tonight and eating like a king tomorrow night! Turn your smoked pork shoulder into sliced smoked pork or smoked pulled pork.

Ingredients

Pork Butt Rub:

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons coarse ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika, mild or sweet
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne powder

Rub binder:

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

pork butt:

  • 1 10lb pork butt

Spritz:

  • 1 can root beer

Instructions

  1. Preheat your smoker to 185f according to manufacturer's directions.
  2. While the smoker is preheating, combine the brown sugar, coarse black pepper, coarse kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, and cayenne powder in a medium bowl.
  3. Remove the pork shoulder from the fridge, and carefully trim away the fat cap to approximately 1/8th inch thick. Trim any fat globs from the sides or the back side of the pork shoulder. Place the pork shoulder on a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Drizzle maple syrup over the pork butt and rub it completely to coat. Orient the pork butt so that the fat cap is down while you're applying the pork shoulder rub.
  5. Generously sprinkle the rub all over the pork butt, including all the edges and sides.
  6. Flip the pork shoulder so that the fat cap is upwards and generously apply rub to the top. Allow the pork to rest until the smoker comes to temperature. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with tin foil.
  7. Once the smoker reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit, place the pork butt on the second, or middle rack, of your smoker, fat cap upwards. Place the tin foil lined baking sheet underneath the pork.
  8. Smoke the pork butt at 185f for 10-12 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature between 150f and 160f.
  9. Increase the smoker's temperature to 225f. Begin spritzing the pork with root beer or your desired spritz every 45-60 minutes until it reaches 175f for sliced pork or 198 - 203f for pulled pork.
  10. Once the pork shoulder reaches desired temperature, remove it from the smoker and wrap in a layer of peach butcher paper or tin foil, then wrap in a towel before placing it in a cooler to rest for at least 1 hour.
  11. After the rest time, the pork can be pulled or sliced as desired and served.

Notes

Batch:

One 10 lb pork butt will give enough pulled pork to serve around 15 people. This recipe can easily be scaled up or down as required, simply multiply the rub by the number of pork shoulders being cooked.

Generally, a pork shoulder will lose half it's weight during cooking. On average, 1 pound of cooked pulled pork will feed 3 people.

Aim for 2 pounds of raw pork per every 3 people.

For example: 15 guests / 3 = 5 pounds cooked pork required. 2 x 5 pounds cooked pork = 10 lbs raw pork required.

Storage:

Cooked pulled or sliced smoked pork can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

If you have extra, the leftovers can be cooled then vacuum sealed into family sized portions and frozen for up to 12 months.

reheat pulled pork

  1. Pan Fry: Start with fridge temperature pulled pork, and add a few tablespoons of lard or cooking oil to a preheated cast iron skillet, then fry the pulled pork, stirring regularly over medium-low heat until crisp and delicious. This method works great for taco nights!
  2. Sous Vide: No need to thaw for this method. Drop your frozen bag of pulled pork into a 175f degree water bath and allow to reheat for up to an hour. This method is my favorite because it keeps all the flavor integrity of the pulled pork and while the bark isn't as crunchy as it is right off the smoker, it's still got bite and is totally delicious!
  3. Bake It: Add some pulled pork to an oven friendly baking dish with 1/2 cup of apple juice, cover the pan with tinfoil or a lid, and pop it into a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through.


Nutrition Information:

Yield:

15

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 850Total Fat: 58gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 31gCholesterol: 260mgSodium: 1052mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 71g

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