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Smoked Pork Shoulder

This 7 hour smoked pulled pork shoulder is so good that no sauce is needed. Just throw it on some white bread, sweet Hawaiian buns, in a taco, or even an omelette.
By April 25, 2018 45 Comments
Smoked Pork Shoulder - pulled pork on sheet pan horizontal

It’s that wonderful time of year again. The time when we fire up the smoker and enjoy a meal that we spend all day cooking with the sun on our back and a beer in hand. It’s also known as the start to smoking & BBQ season.

Smoking a pork shoulder is a little more of an art than it is a science. At least for me. With so many variables to account for; there isn’t a recipe that is going to make it perfect even when you follow it to a T. It’s totally different than baking a cake, and this is what makes smoking meat so special and enjoyable. You get to be creative. The good news is that it’s pretty hard to mess up smoking a pork shoulder if you do it slow and low.

Ahh pulled pork. There seems to be a pulled pork sandwich on just about every restaurant menu these days. It’s one of those items that I am always so drawn to, yet get disappointed far too often. The menu says “smoked pulled pork,” but when you take a bite, there’s no “smoke” flavor to be found. This can be hugely disappointing and gives the feeling that it was probably just cooked in the oven with some liquid smoke added at the end, or maybe not even that. I’m definitely not opposed to making pulled pork in the slow cooker or oven, but if you want real smoked pulled pork, it’s gotta be smoked, low and slow.

Smoked Pork Shoulder Close Up

Buy Quality Pork.

Just do it. This is a piece of meat that you are spending an entire day with. You want it to be great. I’m not saying you need to know the name of the animal, but buying from your local butcher not only supports local, but you will likely get better quality. One thing that I really love about buying from the local butcher is that they have smaller size cuts (or can cut to a size you want). Most of the time, I don’t need a whole pork shoulder that can be 8 pounds. A 4 pounder is plenty and can go pretty far. Shout out to our local butcher, Sepulveda Meats & Provisions.

How to Make Smoked Pulled Pork

Apply a dry rub at least 12 hours prior to cooking the meat to allow it to be absorbed. Take the pork shoulder out of the fridge at least 1 hour prior to smoking. Pre-heat smoker and add wood chips to start smoking at 250 degrees F. Smoke the pork shoulder until the thickest part of the shoulder reaches 195 to 205 degrees F. Wrap the pork shoulder in butcher paper or aluminum foil and rest for at least 1 hour. Shred and enjoy.

The Rub

The dry rub I use isn’t spicy, but it adds great flavor and helps to form the “bark” on the outside of the smoked meat. The pork dry rub consists of paprika, dark chili powder, cumin, dark brown sugar, kosher salt, dried oregano, granulated sugar, ground black pepper and celery seeds.

All of the rub ingredients get mixed up in a small bowl, then liberally rubbed on the rinsed and dried pork shoulder. There will likely be some extra rub, which can be saved and used for next time.

What Wood Chips to Use for Smoking Pork?

I prefer to use either apple or cherry wood chips when smoking pork. The apple and cherry are sweet and have some subtle fruity complexities I will usually create a combination between those and the mesquite lump charcoal in the charcoal smoker. Chips like pecan are too strong and overpowering for pork.

Low and Slow

Since this cut of meat is so fatty, most of the flavor comes from that wonderful fat. The goal is to cook it at a low temperature (around 250 degrees F) and for a long period of time until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 195 to 205 degrees F. Bringing it to this temperature will break down the connective tissues and render off more fat. This will result in super tender and moist strands of pulled pork.

The cook time for a 4-pound pork shoulder smoking at 250 degrees is around 90 minutes per pound, but it is important to frequently monitor the internal temperature. There will be a stall where the temperature seems stuck at some point. Don’t worry though, with little a patients the temperature will rise quickly once the stall is over.

Smoked Pork Shoulder Overhead on butcher paper

Equipment Used

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The smoker: I have two smokers. One is an electric smoker and the other is the Big Green Egg. Both are great, but I can’t recommend the Big Green Egg enough. It maintains a constant temperature all day without having to add more fuel, which is a phenomenal benefit. The electric smoker also works great, but I find the quality of the smoke to not be quite as good.

The Thermometers: A two-channel thermometer makes for a stress-free BBQ day. The one I recommend is the Thermoworks Smoke Alarm (affiliate). The two channels are for remotely monitoring the temperature of your smoker and the internal temperature of the pork shoulder (or whatever you are cooking).

You just leave it in the pork shoulder and monitor the temperature without having to go outside to open the lid to your smoker. You set a high and low temperature for each, and it will let you know if something goes outside of that range. It’s magical and a tool that I refuse to BBQ without.

An instant-read probe thermometer is also essential for spot checking the internal temperature of the meat when it is close to being done. I highly recommend the Thermapen (affiliate). You definitely want to invest in one of these if you don’t have one. I promise you will be thanking me every time you cook and need to take the temperature.

Drip Pans: Buy disposable aluminum steam pans in bulk because they come in so handy. Not only are they essential for BBQ and smoking, but they come in handy when bringing food to a pot luck and you don’t want to risk not getting your expensive baking pan back.

Wood Chunks: Wood for smoking isn’t necessarily equipment, but it’s just as important. For a charcoal smoker, I love Apple or cherry wood chunks for long smokes.

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Smoked Pork Shoulder - pulled pork on sheet pan horizontal

Smoked Pork Shoulder

4.67 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Resting Time: 1 hour
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 lb Boneless Pork Shoulder or Boston Butt , trimmed

Dry Rub

  • 1/8 cup Paprika
  • 2 tbsp Packed Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tbsp Dark Chili Powder
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 1/2 tbsp Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 tbsp Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp Celery Seeds

Instructions

  • Combine all the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl or a shaker. 
  • Trim excess fat from the pork shoulder. If it's Boston Butt, you don't have to trim any. Score the fat side with a sharp knife.
  • Rub a liberal amount of the rub all over the pork. You should have some extra dry rub that can be saved for next time. 
    Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
  • Remove the pork shoulder from the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to cooking it. 
  • Follow your smoker's instructions and bring the temperature up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and add wood chips. Place a water-filled aluminum drip pan under the grates to catch drippings.
  • Place the pork shoulder on the grate above drip pan after the smoker begins to smoke and is at 250 degrees.
  • Smoke for about 60 to 90 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 195-205 degrees. Continuously monitor the temperature with a probe thermometer
  • Remove the pork shoulder from the smoker and wrap in butcher paper or aluminum and place in a cooler to rest for at least one hour. 
  • Shred the pork using or a large fork or BBQ meat forks, pulling across the strands to maintain the texture.

Smoked Pork Shoulder - pulled pork on sheet pan

Join the discussion 45 Comments

  • Stacy says:

    Mouth watering!!! This meal is one of my favorites and leaves me plenty of leftovers for more mouth watering meals in various combinations throughout the week 🙂

    • justin says:

      Yay! Glad it’s one of your favorites. I agree, it’s so good!

      • Daniel Goncalo says:

        Well here goes. I’ve got a couple of great places locally to get pulled pork and it’s almost always my wife’s favorite when we go for BBQ. I’ve got a 7.25 lb pork shoulder butt. I followed the rub recipe to the T. It’s 12:30 am on Friday, August 16, 2019, and the butt is in the fridge with rub all over it. I’m going to get my smoker going at about 8 am and I am going to give this a good 8 hours maybe 9 because it does have a small bone in it. I can’t wait to try it. I’ll be back here tomorrow to let you know how it turned out and if I can post a pic, I’ll do that also. Thanks for what sounds like a great recipe.

        • justin says:

          Hey Daniel,
          So excited to hear how it turns out. Just give it all the time it needs to reach the finished internal temp. It is worth the wait if it takes longer.

  • Marcin says:

    Excellent recipe! I could easily have this every day for lunch. Also agree about the probe thermometer, not having to open the smoker to get a read would be great.

  • Lisa says:

    Great looking skin on that smoked pork shoulder, nice job.

  • David Smith says:

    This was the best pulled pork I have tasted in a long tine, and was an easy and simple process and recipe! This was my first attempt at one! I shared it with my family and they loved it as well! Thanks Justin.

    • justin says:

      Hey David! I’m so happy it turned out so great. It’s definitely one of my favorites and you sure can make a big crowd happy with some smoked pulled pork.

  • Thomas Justin Comptois says:

    Best smoked butt recipe ever. Thank you so much

  • Alma says:

    Can I do this in the oven at same temp or what do you recommend?

    • justin says:

      Hey Alma,
      You definitely can do it at the same temperature in your oven. Keep in mind that a ton of flavor is added when it is cooked in the smoker, so you might want to finish it with a glaze. You can also crank up the oven at the end (to around 500 degrees F) to brown the pork shoulder. The time that will take really depends on your oven. It could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes.
      I hope this helps. Happy pork roasting.

  • Lacey Beery says:

    This was a super easy recipe to follow! It was our first time and completely agree not science but an art but we did our own seasoning that was close and it turned out well how do I say, we couldn’t stop eating it …absolutely no sauce needed!! And I am a sauce fanatic!!!!!! Amazing!!!!!

    • justin says:

      So so happy to hear that it turned out amazing and that you made some small changes to make it for your taste. Now I’m totally craving it again and I totally agree about the can’t stop eating part. If you leave it on the table, it will disappear. 🙂

  • Dan says:

    Only question I have before I rate this (haven’t tried it yet because it’s not done). Does the cooler need to have ice in it or am I just placing it in a cooler?

    • justin says:

      Hey Dan! No ice in the cooler. The cooler is just used as an insulator. Let me know how it turns out and if you have any other questions.

  • Todd says:

    Justin how long for (2) 12 pound pork butts? I have a party to cook them for.

    • justin says:

      Hey Todd! Can I get an invite to the party? It’s going to be so delicious 😉

      I’d say it’s going to take about 12 to 15 hours, but there are a lot of variables. It’s good to know about how long it will take, but it’s really about the finish temperature that determines when it’s done and not the time.

      It’s mostly going to depend on the thickness of the pork butt more than just the weight. The thicker they are, the more time it will take.

      It also depends on the size of your smoker. You want to give each pork butt plenty of room for the air to flow around the surface of each and not crowd them.

      Some more tips:

      – I would highly recommend starting the smoke the night before since it will always take longer than you expect and you want to give plenty of time to rest the meat. I just did two 7 pound butts and started them at 11pm and took them off at 11am. I let it rest for 2 hours wrapped in butcher paper and in a cooler before shredding it for the party at 2. Came out perfect.

      – If you use the Termoworks Smoke (talked about above in the post), you will be able to monitor everything remotely and it makes it so easy.

      – Definitely give plenty of time to bring the meat to room temperature before placing in the smoker.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Cheers!

  • Mike says:

    This was delicious. My tasters said it was the best thing I have smoked for them! One issue I had was that the pork wasn’t pull-able. I think it has to do with not having a temperature gauge and using the built in one and having to rush the cooking at the end when my pork was well below temp. That said, I sliced it thin and it was still really tender and delicious.

  • Nakia says:

    I just added the dry rub to my meat. I will put it in the smoker in about 24 hours or so for the 4th of July. I’m excited to see how this one come out.

  • Daniel says:

    I just want to say thank you for this awesome article and recipe! It has helped me navigate through my very first bbq with my Weber smoker. Right now the kids are playing, wife is relaxing and the smoker is working its magic at a smooth 250 degrees! Life is good. I can’t wait to try out the pork shoulder! Thanks again- Cheers!!!!

  • John says:

    I’m fixing to try this recipe it’s been awhile since I smoked anyting kind of lost touch after my father-in-law died he was MasterChef on smoking he told me a lot of stuff hopefully this works out for me I’ll let you know thank you

  • Great looking BBQ and Great looking outer bark for an old school Carolina wood-burning BBQ guy!

  • Cali says:

    Hi Justin,

    Can you use bone-in pork butt for this?

  • Amber says:

    Hi! This sounds so delicious! Going to try to smoke pork butt for the first time for an upcoming party. I have apple wood chunks, approximately how many do you put in when you start smoking? And how often do you replenish the wood chunks? Do I need to have smoke for the full 14ish hours? I definitely have not perfected my smoke technique yet and I think I may be making my meat too smokey by putting in too much wood for too long. Any tips are much appreciated!!

    • justin says:

      Hey Amber! I’m super excited for you. It’s going to be great!
      I usually use between 4 to 6 wood chunks. I never replenish the wood chunks when I am smoking with the Big Green Egg. The chunks added at the beginning will last a while and give the meat plenty of smoke flavor.
      You don’t have to smoke it for 14 hours, but you really should bring the internal temperature to 200 to 205 degrees F. You do have a few options if you want to cook it for less time. 1) you can cut the pork shoulder into smaller pieces 2. Smoke it, then wrap and finish in the oven.
      Let me know if you have any other questions.
      Cheers,
      Justin

  • Susie-Q says:

    The BEST pulled pork I’ve ever made! Smoked a 3lb bone-in shoulder over a mix of cherry and apple, at 245 degrees, in my new Traeger grill. Took A LOT longer than 90 mins/lb (almost 8 hours) to reach an internal temp of 203 – double verified internal and ambient temp via MEATER probe and Traeger’s built in one – but man oh man was it worth it! When I pulled the meat after resting it was perfectly done, nice and juicy inside with the most gorgeous crust! Such delicious flavor I’d be happy to eat on its own, but can’t wait to serve the family tomorrow with a smidgen of a sweet-heat sauce and a side of spicy, vinegary greens! Mmmm-hmm!

    • justin says:

      Hi Susie,
      So so great to hear it was the best pulled pork you have ever made. It does always take longer than you think it will. Why the heck is that? haha
      Hope the family loved it as much as you did. Cheers!

  • cid wats says:

    I used the thermometer on the lid of my Weber to monitor the temp. It read 250 degrees consistently. The big mistake was not relying on my own sense of doneness and the recommended time per pound mentioned above. Using a Thermapen was a big mistake. It consistently read 160 degrees and I kept going to try to raise it to 195. In the end, my shoulder was a touch overdone for my liking. Luckily, I brined it and that made the meat tender despite the dryness.

    • justin says:

      Hi Cid,
      I’m sorry to hear the pork shoulder didn’t turn out perfect for you.
      Which Weber smoker do you have?
      Have you tested with another thermometer to verify that your smoker’s thermometer is correct?

  • Bill Murray says:

    OMG. Followed the directions to a tee. Had about a 3 hr stall at 160, but just let it go. Pulled her off at 195 and directly to the cooler. Had a little trouble getting her off the grill as she was falling apart. That was the hardest part letting her rest. She smelled so dang good. Unbelievable. Everybody Loved it. I do cook for a couple of my elderly neighbors and nothing but rave reviews. This is a keeper.. Thank You..

    • justin says:

      So great to hear, Bill!!! That darn stall. It still gets me every time. Haha
      Totally agree that the rest is so hard. I always want to sneak in and pull off a piece.
      Happy smoking!

  • Gary Sager says:

    Smoked my pork sirloin until it reached 191 degrees had to pull it off smoker let sit wrapped in foil on counter until morning before refrigerating should it still be ok to eat?

    • justin says:

      Hey Gray,
      That’s a tricky one and depends on a lot of factors. To be safe, it would have to fully be re-heated to 165 degrees F. Hope it works out delicious for you.

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