15 Tips & Tricks For Smoking Pork Shoulder From The Pros.

Pork Butt with honey

1) Trim Excess Fat To No More Than A Quarter Of An Inch.

You will see a lot of people who leave the fat cap on or some who even score the fat cap; however, it is best to remove most of the fat cap. The fat on the outside doesn’t do much, if anything, for your pork butt flavor wise. It will just render off and drip below.

All your flavor comes from the intramuscular fat. In addition to that, the extra fat on the surface of your pork butt is only taking up valuable space for the bark to form. It is best to remove most of the fat on the exterior. You should trim the fat to no more than a quarter of an inch.

2) Inject Your Pork Butt.

When smoking pork butt, the inside of your butt doesn’t get the rub or smoke flavor that the surface of the meat does. injecting your pork butt is a great way to add flavor to the inside of thee meat. Additionally, injecting Is a great way to add more moisture to your pork butt.  You can inject your pork butt with your favorite mixture or buy premade injections at the store.

“Whether smoking a whole shoulder or butt, I always inject”.

Malcom Reed, How to bbq right

3) Don’t Use Frozen Pork Butts.

When you freeze meat, small ice crystals form on and within your pork butt which can rip and breakdown the muscle fibers. This ultimately leads to a loss of flavor and freshness. While you can smoke frozen pork shoulder and turn out great results, you are going to get the best results by smoking a fresh pork shoulder that hasn’t been frozen.

pulled pork

4) Let Your Rub Sit On Your Pork Shoulder For At Least 30 Minutes.

Most rubs used in BBQ have salt in them and letting the rub sit on your pork butt for at least 30 mins will act as a dry brine. The salt will draw moisture to the surface of the meat where it is absorbed by the salt. This helps retain moisture when cooking, helps to tenderize the meat, and helps to add more flavor.

5) Cold Meat Gives A Better Smoke Ring.

It is common practice, especially when cooking steak or burgers, to let the meat come to room temperature before cooking; however, with smoking meat, you might want to consider putting your meat on the smoker cold. Cold meat is said to form a better smoke ring and take on more smoke flavor.

The smoke ring is the pink ring along the outer edge of your meat created by the smoke. A good smoke ring is often a tell tell sign of good BBQ. Putting your meat onto the smoker cold, allows the reactions that create that sought after smoke ring more time to take place giving you a better smoke ring.

“The smoke ring is the result of a chemical reaction between the nitrates in the smoke and the protein in the meat. The chemical reaction that causes the coloring ceases at approximately 130 F. That’s why it penetrates the meat a 1/4 or 1/2 inch and then stops. The smoke flavoring of the meat does not cease (unless the meat is wrapped in foil). The penetration of the smoke flavor into the meat may slow down as the crust forms, but the outside is where almost the entire smoke flavor is anyway”.

-Ray Lampe AKA DR. BBQ

Pork Shoulder

6) Different Temperatures Do Different Things.

You have probably heard that you should smoke meat at 225° F, and that is true; however, you can really smoke meat anywhere from 225° F to 300° F. It is important to know how these temperatures effect the meat.

Cooking at lower temps, 225°-250° F, is going to give you better smoke flavor. Meat takes on most of the smoke flavor during the beginning of the cook when the meat’s internal temperature is below 140° F. Smoking between 225° and 250° F is going to give your meat more time to take on smoke.

Conversely, smoking at higher temperatures, 275° and 300° F, will cook your meat much quicker. Smoking at these temperatures will sacrifice some smoke flavor, but will speed up the cooking process significantly.

So, if you are looking for better flavor, smoke at a lower temperature. If you are looking for faster cook times, smoke at a higher temperature. Another common option pitmaster’s will use, is to smoke their meat at low temperatures for the first half to the smoke, then finish over higher heat. This gives you the best of both worlds.

7) Use Cherry Wood And Apple Wood.

Wood plays an important role in flavor and are used as an accent. Pork does really well with fruit woods which are lighter and sweeter. Apple is one of the most commonly used used woods when it comes to smoking pork butt. For a nice added touch, mix some cherry wood in. Cherry is known for giving meat that nice dark mahogany color making your pork butt look extra yummy.

Another good option for wood choice is hickory. It has a little stronger smoke flavor and is said to taste like bacon, but is a great option for pork. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your woods to layer your flavor! Check out my latest guide on choosing the right smoking wood.

Cherry wood

8) Know When To Wrap Your Pork Shoulder.

Wrapping your pork butt is a common practice amongst pitmasters, but is not always the answer. Wrapping your pork shoulder will help retain moisture, make a juicer finished product, and speed up cooking times. Additionally, wrapping can help prevent your meat from taking on too much smoke and from burning; however, it will effect the formation of the bark.

After your meat has been on the smoker for a while, the surface of the meat begins to firm up and develop a crust, otherwise known as the bark. This bark is where all the flavor of the meat is. When you wrap your pork, it breaks down this bark some.

Choosing whether or not to wrap all comes down to personal preference. Would you rather have better bark formation, or a faster cook and juicer meat? Both ways produce great BBQ, figure out which way you prefer. Check out my latest article to help you determine if you should wrap your pork butt or not.

9) Cook To Internal Temperature, Not Time.

One of the biggest mistakes a beginner can make is cooking to time. This is a sure-fire way to end up with a tough pork butt. Each pork butt is going to cook differently. Some will take longer than others while some will be done sooner, but all pork butts will be done when they reach an internal temperature of 205° F. So ditch your timeline and let your pork butt cook until it reaches and internal temperature of 205° F. It will fall right off the bone every time!

10) Rest Your Pork Shoulder At Least An Hour.

Often overlooked by beginners, resting your pork butt is one of the most important steps to creating a great finished product. During the cooking process, the muscle fibers constrict and push moisture to the surface of the meat. Resting your pork shoulder allows for the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

You should aim to rest your pork shoulder for 1-2 hours. Check out my latest guide for everything you need to know about resting your pork butt.

11) Don’t Spritz Too Often.

Another common mistake people make, is spritzing too often. There is a debate on whether spritzing is necessary or not but that is outside the scope of this article. If you do decide to spritz, keep it to a minimum.

Spritzing the surface of the meat not only cools down the meat, slowing down the cooking time, but the constant opening and closing of the lid is also allowing valuable heat and smoke to escape. Spritzing your meat too often can greatly extend the cooking process.

According to Aaron Franklin, you should only spritz when the surface of the meat looks like it is starting to dry out.

12) Get Creative If Wrapping Your Pork.

Wrapping your pork butt is a personal preference. Sometimes I like to wrap, other times I like to cook my pork butt unwrapped; however, if you do decide to wrap your pork butt, you can try adding some different flavors to it. My go to when wrapping pork butt’s is honey and brown sugar. As it steams inside the wrap, the pork butt takes on all that sweet flavor. Talk about sweet and savory!

This is just one example. The sky is the limit! Try adding your favorite juices, seasonings, butter, etc. There are so many different things you can add to create a unique flavor. If you aren’t sure where to start, try the brown sugar and honey!

Pork Butt

13) Use Lump Charcoal Or Wood Splits.

This largely depends on the type of smoker you are using, but if you are able to use lump charcoal or wood splits to cook your pork butt, you are going to get a much better flavor. Lump charcoal and wood splits are the purest forms of wood. When you burn these, you are going to get the most authentic smoke flavor. While you can still make great BBQ with pellets and charcoal briquettes, lump charcoal or wood splits are going to give you the best flavor.

14) Make Sure You Are Burning A Clean Fire.

While heavy, white, billowing smoke might look like you are smoking meat, this smoke is known as dirty smoke. Smoking meat in this smoke will cause your meat to taste bitter and leave a layer of soot. Dirty smoke is often caused by a fire that is not getting enough oxygen or wood that hasn’t burned off its impurities. When smoking meat, you should aim for a thin, blue colored smoke.

To help achieve this thin, blue smoke, make sure your fire is getting enough oxygen and let your wood preheat so it ignites quicker. Be sure to check out my guide on avoiding dirty smoke here!

15) Use A Finishing Dust.

If you watch professionals at BBQ competitions, you will often see that they use a “finishing dust” after smoking. Finishing dust is simply seasoning/rub that is applied after you shred your pork butt and mixed in. Because the smoke and bark are restricted to the surface of your pork butt, the inside can lack flavor. Adding a finishing dust is a great way to make sure every bite is flavorful.

Michael W.

Half of my family lives in Texas and we would visit them often. As a food lover, naturally I fell in love with smoked meat. Smoked brisket and peach cobbler is a staple around where my family grew up and quickly became a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we didn't have good BBQ where I grew up. After enough years, I finally decided to get a smoker so I didn't have to wait for good BBQ until I went to Texas. Getting into a new hobby can be overwhelming. When I first started smoking meat, there was so much conflicting information and so many different styles and techniques that I didn't know where to start. I started this website to help people BBQ better and learn the ropes by sharing my knowledge and experiences.

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