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Pork butts are great beginner cuts of meat to smoke because they have a lot of fat which makes them very juicy; however, many beginners struggle with keeping their pork butts moist. After talking with experts in the meat smoking world and personally smoking pork butts many times using different methods, here are the most common reasons your pork butt is dry.
1. Not Reaching An Internal Temperature Between 200°- 205° Fahrenheit.
Undercooking pork butts is the most common culprit of dry pork butt. For beginners, or people who are not familiar with smoking meat, cooking to an internal temperature of 200°-205° Fahrenheit sounds crazy; however, pork butts need to reach these temperatures for them to properly tenderize.
Pork butts, unlike many cuts of meat, are packed full of fat, connective tissue, and collagen which make the meat tough. It isn’t until your pork butt reaches an internal temperature of 160° F that these three things start to break down and turn into gelatin. This gelatin is where pork get its juiciness and tenderness from.
Pork butts need to reach an internal temperature of 200°-205° F for the collagen, fat and connective tissue to completely breakdown and turn into gelatin. And while it may seem counter intuitive, not cooking your pork butt long enough will affect the juiciness and tenderness of it and could result in a dry pork butt.
2. Not Wrapping
Now you can still turn out a juicy pork butt without wrapping it; however, if you are looking for the juiciest pork butt you can possibly cook, you will need to wrap your pork butt in tin foil. Let me explain.
Meat is comprised of approximately 75% water and when cooking meat, once the internal temperature reaches approximately 160° F, the water inside the meat will begin to draw to the surface of the meat and evaporate. This is known as the stall.
When you don’t wrap your pork butt, this water evaporates and is lost in the cooking chamber; however, when we wrap our pork butt in tin foil, that water is captured and remains with the pork butt. Wrapping in tin foil also catches any fat on the outside of the meat that would breakdown and otherwise drip below.
Now while, pork butts don’t get their juiciness from this water, when we capture the water and the fat drippings, we are creating a very humid environment which helps prevent your pork butt from drying out.
That’s not to say you have to wrap your pork butts. In fact, I prefer to not wrap my pork butts because it produces a better bark. But in doing so, I do lose a little juiciness. It’s a trade off where you have to determine what you prefer.
3. Not Using A Water Pan.
While there are many out there who don’t see a need for a water pan, there is some science behind them and if your pork is coming out dry, you should try using one. This is also a good option for those who do not want to wrap their pork. While the water pan itself won’t add moisture to the meat, when the water in the pan evaporates, it will add humidity to the cooking chamber.
If you have ever been to the desert, you will notice that your skin looks and feels incredibly dry. This is because the low humidity draws the moisture out of your skin. The same principal applies when smoking meat. If you try to smoke your meat in a dry environment, it will draw the moisture out of your meat and leave it dry. The key to smoking meat and keeping it moist is to smoke in a humid environment.
4. Not Enough Rest
After you have cooked your pork butt, you should let it rest for 1-2 hours. This is an important part of the cooking process as it allows the muscles in the meat to relax and for the juices in the meat to redistribute.
As meat is cooked, the muscles tense up and juice is pushed towards the surface of the meat. When you cut into the meat, the juices escape and are lost. Allowing your meat to rest will allow the muscles to relax and the juices to redistribute helping to prevent all your juices from leaving the meat.
For those interested in more information on resting pork butt, be sure to check out my guide.
5. Smoking Too Hot
Pork butts are best cooked low and slow. Because pork butts are such tough pieces of meat, they require long cooks to properly break down the fat and collagen. Cooking too hot will not give the pork butts time to properly breakdown this fat an collagen.
You should aim to smoke your pork but between 225° and 275° Fahrenheit. Many people will also do “hot smokes” in which they smoke from 275° to 325° Fahrenheit. Smoking a pork shoulder above these ranges could result in a dry pork butt.
6. Not Using Indirect Heat.
This goes with smoking too hot, but when smoking pork butt, you want to ensure you are using indirect heat. Using direct heat will cause your pork butt to cook too fast and potentially burn the surface of the meat. Using indirect heat will allow your pork butt to properly break down the fat and collagen.
While it is very hard to overcook pork butt, I still had to include this as it is a possibility. Over cooking your pork butt will cause it to turn out tough and dry. If you pull your pork off between 200° and 205°, you will not have to worry about overcooking it.
How Do You Fix A Dry Pork Butt?
1. Shred It And Use Sauce.
Shredding your pork butt and using sauce can turn a dry pork butt into a tasty one. And let’s be honest, most people are going to use a sauce with their pulled pork anyways. You can put the sauce directly on the pork or let the shredded pork simmer in the sauce of your choice.
2. Shred And Mix With Other Food.
Mixing pulled pork with other food can help mask the dryness of it. A lot of people prefer to shred their pork and use it in tacos, chili, stews, on top of nachos or fries. These are all great ways to hide dry pork butt.
3. Pour Your Fat Drippings In Your Shredded Pork
If you kept the fat drippings from your cook or have juice in your tin foil from wrapping your pork butt, simply shred your pork butt and pour the drippings over top. This will add flavor and juiciness to the meat. If you didn’t keep your fat drippings, next time smoking a pork butt, throw a tin foil pan underneath it to catch them.
4. Add Juice or Water And Reheat
Shred your pork and place it in a tin foil pan. Add a liquid of your choice. Many people use apple cider vinegar, apple juice, beer, beef broth, etc. Cover the pan with tin foil and place in the oven. The liquid will steam the pulled pork. Be careful not to add too much liquid as it doesn’t need much.