When you’re cooking barbecue for competition you’re in search of one thing and one thing only: the perfect bite.
This competition-style pulled pork is sure to provide the most tender, juicy, and flavorful bite of pork you can imagine.
This pork butt recipe works great for competition-style pork, but can also be easily achieved in your backyard too. Great pulled pork isn’t just for competitions, it’s an amazing addition to your family barbecues as well.
Competition-style Pork Butt
When we compete on the KCBS circuit, pulled pork is our favorite thing to turn in. You won’t find pulled pork as an entry in IBCA competitions because they’re more geared towards Texas-style barbecue.
Now, I’m from Texas and everyone knows we love our beef, but there really isn’t anything like perfectly smoked pulled pork.
Pork doesn’t have a strong flavor, so you want to pack as much flavor into it during the cooking process as possible. The rub and the smoke will add nice flavor elements, but the real trick is in the wrap.
Another great trick to remember is that you can always season your pulled pork after it’s done. If you didn’t quite get as much of the rub flavor as you were hoping, don’t be afraid to sprinkle on another bit of rub after the pork is pulled to pack in a little extra flavor!
Pork butt or pork shoulder?
Contrary to what the name suggests, a pork butt does not come from the butt of a pig. A pork butt is actually a part of the shoulder, but it shouldn’t be confused with a similar cut of meat called a pork shoulder (also known as a picnic roast).
Both the pork butt and the pork shoulder come from the shoulder area of the pig, but the pork butt is higher up on the foreleg while the pork shoulder is lower down.
Generally, I prefer a bone-in pork butt because I find that the bone adds extra flavor. It can also be a good indicator of doneness.
Just give the bone a little pull and if it starts to slide out clean you know your butt is done.
What to look for when buying pork butt
As you are picking out your pork butt, look for one with a solid layer of fat on it. Look for a fat cap that is about ¼” thick. The fat will render down during the cooking process and will impart great flavor to the meat.
If you don’t have a good local butcher, the pork butts from Porter Road are the perfect size and come with nice marbling.
We generally look for pork butts that are between 8-10lbs in size, but a good rule of thumb is to expect 90 minutes per pound – no matter the size of your butt. If you are cooking for a crowd you should anticipate needing about ½ lb per person (pre-cook).
The money muscle
Since we’re talking about competition-style pork we have to talk about the money muscle.
This small portion of the pork butt can be found on one end of the roast. Pitmasters everywhere regard this portion of the butt as the most succulent piece of pork in the world.
The money muscle can be found on the opposite end of the butt from the bone. It’s a small, cylindrical-shaped portion of meat that is tender and delicious and definitely the piece of pulled pork that you want the judges to taste.
You will only find a perfect money muscle by slowly cooking the pork butt and as you are shredding the butt, it will become very obvious where the money muscle is because it will separate easily from the butt. So, as you are shredding your pork and you find a small, cylindrical-shaped piece off to the side – save that for yourself or for the judges because that will be the most delicious and tender piece of meat out of the entire butt.
How to make competition style pork butt
1. Score the fat
The first step is to score the fat cap. Scoring the fat will allow the seasonings to penetrate the layer of fat and get down to the meat – where they belong!
Just take a butcher knife and slide it along the fat cap in a diagonal pattern. Then flip the butt to the side and make diagonal scores in the opposite direction. You should be left with a checkerboard pattern across the fat cap.
Some pitmasters like to trim their pork butts, but I generally stick to scoring the fat cap.
If your fat cap is over about ½ inch, then some trimming may be helpful, but for the most part, I find that trimming is unnecessary on this particular cut of meat.
2. Add your binder and seasoning
For this recipe, I used a classic yellow mustard binder. A binder is simply an agent that you coat your meat with that helps the seasoning stick to the meat.
You can’t taste it because the rub and smoke flavor will overpower any flavor in the binder, so feel free to use whatever you like. I usually stick to olive oil or yellow mustard.
When it comes to seasoning your pork, be generous! A pork butt is a huge chunk of meat without a lot of inherent flavor, so you really can’t overseason it.
For this recipe, I used the Smokin’ Sweetness rub by Hook’s Rubs & Spices. It’s got a heavy dose of brown sugar, salt, and spices that really pair wonderfully with pork.
If you are keen to make your own have a look at our pork rubs here.
Once you have seasoned your pork butt heavily on all sides, let it rest at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes. The meat will start to “sweat” and you will notice the rub become shiny and moist. The purpose of this rest is to let the seasoning penetrate the meat before putting it on the smoker.
3. Fire up the pit
Now it’s time to fire up the smoker.
The key is to use wood that is not too overpowering because pork is a lighter meat. I find that the combination of Post Oak and Pecan creates the perfect blend that compliments pork with a delicate, smoky flavor.
I like to smoke pork low and slow, so I fired the pit up to 250°F. Pork is pretty versatile, so you can definitely smoke at a higher temp if you want to speed up the cook, but I believe that patience is a virtue so I stick to the low and slow method.
4. Smoke the pork butt
Once your smoker is preheated, you want to add your pork butt directly on the grates with the fat cap down. The fat is going to create a barrier between the heat source and the meat and help to keep your meat tender and moist.
If the heat comes from above on your smoker then smoke fat cap up.
As for timing, it really depends on the size of your pork butt. Generally speaking, a pork butt will take about 90 minutes per pound at 250°F.
After about 90 minutes on the smoker, grab a spray bottle filled with a bit of apple juice and spritz the entire butt. Continue to spritz every 60 to 90 minutes for the remainder of the unwrapped portion of the cook.
Spritzing your meat won’t impart any additional flavor, but the natural sugars from the apple juice will help form a beautiful bark. In my opinion, the bark is some of the best tasting bits of pulled pork so I like to help it along in any way I can.
Depending on the size of your pork butt, the first portion of the smoke will take between 6 and 8 hours. Once the internal temperature reaches around 165°F to 175°F internal and the bark is a beautiful, golden-red color it’s time to wrap it up.
5. It’s all about the wrap
This is the real trick to delicious, competition-style pork butt that will leave you with a perfect bite to impress the judges (even if those “judges” are just your friends and family in your backyard).
Grab an aluminum pan and transfer your pork butt into that pan. Then, pour a bit of apple juice into the bottom of the pan. The apple juice will keep the pork moist and add an extra sweet flavor.
Once you’ve poured the apple juice into the pan, top your pork butt with a few pats of butter and another generous sprinkle of pork rub.
The final step is to sprinkle a bit of brown sugar over the top and wrap the entire thing in aluminum foil.
Once your butt is wrapped, place it back on the smoker – still at 250°F – for another 4 to 6 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches between 200°F and 205°F.
I pulled this one at 203°F and it was probably one of the best pork butts I’ve ever made.
6. Rest and shred for pulled pork
Just like any other large cut of meat, you want to let your pork rest. I like to transfer the pan to my Cambro Go Box to rest.
I love using Cambro Go Boxes because they are made with food service in mind and will keep food hot (or cold) for up to 4 hours. This gives me a bit of flexibility when it comes to serving time and ensures that my meat won’t get down below 140°F, at which bacteria can begin spreading rapidly.
If you don’t have a Cambro, then you can use a cooler insulated with towels. Just throw a few towels into the bottom of your cooler and wrap the aluminum tray uptight.
You want to let the pork butt rest for a minimum of 30 minutes, but if it’s properly insulated you can let it rest for up to 4 hours safely.
When you are ready to serve your pork, it’s time to shred it up. A properly smoked pork butt should be really easy to shred and you shouldn’t need any fancy tools. I just throw on a pair of gloves and dig right in with my hands.
Remove the pork from the pan, but don’t throw away the juice from the bottom. Pull the pork apart and shred the entire butt. Once it’s shredded, you can add a bit of that reserved juice from the bottom of the cooking pan to help moisturize your pulled pork.
Once it’s shredded, the possibilities are endless. Pulled pork is great on its own, but it also makes the perfect protein choice for tacos, sandwiches, quesadillas, and more!
Can’t get enough pork butt recipes?
- Smoking Your First Pork Butt: Easy Pulled Pork
- Easy BBQ Pulled Pork
- How to Store & Reheat Pulled Pork
- Leftover pulled pork recipes.
Competition-style Pork Butt
- 8 lb boneless Pork Butt
- 4 tbsp yellow mustard
- ½ cup + 2 tbsp Pork BBQ Rub keep the 2 tbsp for seasoning at the end
- 3 cups apple juice
- 6 tbsp butter
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- Preheat your smoker to 250°F.
- Flip your pork butt with the fat cap facing up. Score the fat cap with your knife in a crisscross pattern.
- Coat the pork butt in yellow mustard.
- Season generously with a Pork BBQ Rub.
- Let the pork butt rest at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the meat starts to sweat and the rub looks moist.
- Place the pork butt directly on the grates of your smoker with the fat cap facing down.
- After about 90 minutes, grab a spray bottle filled with apple juice and spritz the entire exterior of your pork butt.
- Continue to spritz every 60 to 90 minutes for about 6 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches between 165°F and 175°F.
- Grab a disposable aluminum pan and transfer your pork butt into the pan.
- Pour 1 cup of apple juice into the bottom of the pan.
- Lay 6 x 1 tbsp pats of butter down on the top of your pork butt.
- Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp of Pork BBQ Rub on the top of the pork butt.
- Sprinkle ½ cup of light brown sugar over the top of the pork butt.
- Wrap the entire pork butt in aluminum foil and place back on the smoker, still at 250°F.
- Let it smoke for another 5 to 6 hours, or until the internal temperature is between 200°F and 205°F.
- Remove the pan from the smoker, but leave the foil intact. Transfer the pan to a Cambro Go Box or insulated cooler and allow the pork butt to rest for at least 30 minutes (or up to 4 hours).
- Shred the butt into pulled pork and enjoy!