Pulled pork is one of those barbecue staples everyone should master.
We always say pork butt should be one of the first things you cook with a new smoker.
The amount of fat makes it a very forgiving piece of meat. So even if you get the odd temperature flare-up you can’t do too much damage.
There are so many different ways to do pulled pork. I’ll show you an easy bbq pork rub you can make ahead, plus a delicious homemade bbq sauce to perfectly complement the smoky pulled pork.
I guarantee by following my method, you’ll not only end up with some mouth-watering juicy pulled pork, but you will also win over some new friends as words spread that you know how to make the best pulled pork on the street.
Click to jump straight to each topic
- What cut to use for pulled pork?
- Prepping the pork for the smoker
- What temperature is best for smoking pulled pork?
- Smoking your pork butt
- How do you know when pork butt is ready?
- Resting and keeping pork butt warm
- Pulling pork and adding sauce
- The perfect rub for your pork
- BBQ sauce with zing
- Serving suggestions
- Smoked Pulled Pork
What cut to use for pulled pork?
There are a few cuts of pork that are suited to making pulled pork and they all come from the neck and shoulder area of the pig.
Choosing a pork butt:
- You want to look for a cut with a good amount of fat marbling to keep everything moist and flavorful.
- If you can afford a little extra, it’s worth going for certified free-range (look for Animal Welfare Approved” or “Certified Humane” labels on the packaging).
If you can’t find good pork butt locally we recommend the meat from Porter Road.
For this recipe I used Pork Collar but the technique doesn’t change. I like to smoke two at once with the intention of freezing some for later recipes and meals.
Now, although a few of these cuts have the name butt associated with them, they actually do not come from the rear end of the animal. The word butt is derived from Old English language, “butt” meaning the widest part and the shoulders on a pig are the widest. So you can rest easy, you are not eating, well umm, you know what.
Items that will help you cook these are:
- A smoker (I’m using a 22” Weber Smokey Mountain)
- Lump charcoal
- Various spices
- Wire rack and tray
- An instant-read thermometer (I’m using an M4 Thermapen)
- An internal temp and ambient temp probe thermometer (I’m using the Thermoworks Smoke X4)
- Boning or trimming knife
- A cooler or food cambro
If you prefer to watch the video version of this recipe check out our video below.
Prepping the pork for the smoker
Pork collars don’t need a lot of trimming to get ready. Like most cuts you will want to remove any silver skin and hard solid pieces of fat, these just will not render down, and best to remove them now.
Next, trim off any excess soft fat. You’ll know which is the soft compared to hard solid fat as the soft has a very creamy texture to it.
When I say trim off any excess, it is okay to leave a thin layer of this fat on, as it will render down.
Next, you will want to remove any loose bits of meat hanging off. These will only dry out during the smoking process, so get rid of them now.
I also like to trim my meat to be smoked to have nice round edges, so no pointy pieces. I prefer to remove them mainly because these pointy pieces will dry up and overcook.
Next, we want to give the pork a good covering of our seasoning or pork rub. We’ve included a recipe for pork rub at the bottom of the post.
You can slather the pork in yellow mustard first to help the rub stick but I find it doesn’t really add any flavor.
I tend to use a spice shaker to apply the rub as it comes out more evenly. Hold the shaker around 12” above the meat as this tends to give the most even surface coverage and limits clumping.
Once the pork butt is fully covered, do not rub the rub, as this will just make the even coverage of seasoning, you just applied, start to clump up.
If anything, give it a nice firm pat all over with an open hand and leave it to sweat away.
The salt in the rub will act naturally to the pork that sweats, this, in turn, will see the dry rub you applied turn to what looks like a wet glaze within an hour of applying it.
What temperature is best for smoking pulled pork?
I love nothing better than sitting in my backyard with family and friends for 10 to 12 hours while our dinner smokes away…
I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.
While most pulled pork recipes will tell you to cook at 225 – 250°F, I have been pushing the heat on a lot of my cooks lately and getting great results.
For this cook I’m aiming to smoke at 300°F but being perfectly dialed in isn’t super important.
I’ll start by setting up my Weber Smokey Mountain setup for high heat. This will include me filling the charcoal ring with lump charcoal and leaving a well space for some lit charcoal.
I’ll lit up a chimney starter of lump charcoal and place it in the well created once all hot and ashed over.
I’ll put the bullet smoker together, making sure I have hot water in the water tray, as cold water will absorb a lot of heat. I’ll add a few chunks of smoking wood now.
Put the lid on and make sure all vents are wide open. Once the temp gets around 75°F near our target temp of 300°F, I’ll start closing down the vents.
Smoking your pork butt
Once the temps have been stable for around 30 minutes with no vent adjustments needed, it is time to get your meat on. The smoke should have settled from a thick white to a thin barely visible blue smoke by now as well.
So insert an internal temp probe into the pork and set and track the temp until it reaches 160°F.
Tips for smoking your pork butt
- You can use grill racks to make it easier to move the butt around. Just make sure you spray it with cooking oil to prevent sticking. You can use this for any kind of smoking to make it easier to pick things up and move them inside. (You really don’t want to be fighting to un-stick meat with one hand while holding up the lid with the other, all while trying to keep your cool…)
- Use gloves to keep your hands clean and prevent cross-contamination
- You can use any good smoking wood, in this case, we’re apple wood.
I won’t even look at the pork for at least 2 hours. At this point our bark should be forming on the outside, so we are just checking to make sure we don’t have any dry areas.
If anywhere looks dry, just give it a spritz or two with a spray bottle filled with apple juice. You can use any liquid you want but I feel apple juice helps the outer caramelise a little better.
Once we hit the internal temp of 160°F, it’s time to take the butt off the smoker and wrap it in two layers of heavy-duty foil. The reason for the two layers is purely as a backup if the first layer has a hole or gets a tear in it.
Put the butt back on the smoker and track its temp until it reaches 195°F.
How do you know when pork butt is ready?
Pork butt is usually ready for resting anywhere in the range of 195°F to 210°F, so I tend to aim for the lower number and then start cooking to feel.
That means using a metal skewer and probing the pork all over until you feel no resistance anywhere on it. Being super careful not to pierce the foil at the bottom that is holding in all of those magical juices we have spent hours creating.
Once the pork collar is probing tender all over, it’s time to come off and rest. This will probably be around the 3 and ½ hour to 4 hour mark.
Resting and keeping pork butt warm
If you do not own a commercial food warmer like a Cambro, a cooler with a locking lid is perfectly fine.
Line your cooler with an old towel, then wrap the foil wrapped collars in another old towel and place on top, then line them with another old towel and put the lid back on.
Allow this to rest for at least an hour when cooking at lower temps between 225°F to 275°F but since we lifted the cooking heat, I find an extra hour of resting works best. So give it a two-hour rest.
Pulling pork and adding sauce
After the rest, transfer the collars to a tray, be careful not to spill the liquid gold. Pour all of the liquid in as well.
Now start pulling the pork apart. I strongly suggest finding some cotton gloves, these fit under nitrile food safe gloves and protect your hands from feeling heat or cold. Start removing any hard gristle of fat that isn’t rendered down.
Once the pork is all pulled apart, sprinkle some more of the rub over it and give it a squirt of BBQ sauce. Mix this all in thoroughly.
The perfect rub for your pork
We’ll be making a rub that compliments pork today. Most pork rubs on the market lean towards the sweeter side. Mainly because the sugars work well with pork. To this, we can add hits of heat with chili or give it some punch with a pepper kick.
So into a bowl we’ll add paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper, cumin, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder and a little kick of cayenne powder at the end.
Mix it well and transfer it to a rub shaker and give the pork collar a good coating. I tend to apply my rub from about 12” above the meat, this just ensures a nice even coating and no clumps.
I do like to give pork a slightly heavier than normal coating, as it can handle it.
Do not rub the “rub” in, just pat it down and leave it to sweat away. You’ll see within the hour the dry rub will draw out moisture and will look more like a wet glaze than a dry rub.
If you’d like a full list of ingredients, you can check out this rub I made for turkey and see how I developed it for pork.
BBQ sauce with zing
What’s great BBQ without some knockout sauce to go with it? Some would say half of what it could be.
This is a great bbq sauce recipe of mine that is sweet to taste but has a nice peppery after kick in it, just perfect for pork.
Into a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of ketchup, 1 and a ½ cups of apple juice, ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar, ½ cup of brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons of garlic powder, 3 teaspoons of onion powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black ground pepper and a ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Stir all of these ingredients over a low to medium heat for around 15 minutes until they reduce a little and thicken up a little.
Once cooled, transfer them to a sauce bottle.
Pulled pork is one of the most versatile meats you can smoke.
It goes well in burgers, tacos, pies and even rolls. Burrito, nachos, etc, etc.
Smoked Pulled Pork
- 6-10 lbs Boston Butt or Pork Collar
- 8 tbsp smoked paprika
- 6 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp salt flakes
- 2 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- ½ tsp cayenne powder
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 ½ cup apple juice
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 3 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black ground pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- Remove any silver skin and hard solid pieces of fat, these just will not render down during the cooking process.
- Trim off most of the soft fat, you can leave some as this will render down.
- Trim off any loose bits of meat as these will just dry up during the long cook.
- Using a rub shaker, give the pork a generous coating of dry rub from approximately 12” above the meat. This just allows the rub to fall and coat evenly, as opposed to clumping and giving an uneven coverage.
- Leave this to sit for around an hour while get the smoker ready, the dry rub will turn to what looks like a wet glaze this time.
- Set up your smoker for high indirect heat using lump charcoal and some apple wood chunks for smoking.
- Once the temps have stabilized at 300°F, put the meat in the smoker and insert an internal meat thermometer to track the temps.
- After 2 hours into the smoke check the meat for any dry patches. If there are any, give the dry parts a spritz with apple juice. Keep checking every half hour after this and spritz if needed.
- Once the internal temp reaches 160°F, wrap in foil and put back on the heat.
- When the internal temp reaches 195°F, start probing the pork for tenderness. When you feel no resistance from sticking a metal skewer in, you know it will be time to rest.
- Put this into a cooler wrapped in towels to keep hot for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours has gone by, remove from the cooler and transfer to a tray, including all of the juices.
- Pull the meat apart, removing and gristle of hard fat. Once all pulled apart, add a sprinkle of the dry rub and squirt of the BBQ sauce.
- In burgers with a fresh crunchy slaw to help cut through the smoky-sweet pork.
- In tacos with some finely sliced lettuce, a drizzle of the BBQ sauce and some spicy mayonnaise.
- On some loaded nachos, crunchy and filling but just the perfect comfort food.