Sous vide slow for 24 hours, then finished in a smoky barbecue resulting in the most tender and juicy pulled pork you have ever made. Like most sous vide recipes, this is a two-step cooking process.
It may be a two-step process, but it's almost completely hands-off and definitely stress-free. You will first cook the pork shoulder in the sous vide water bath, and then finish it either in a BBQ smoker or the oven. The BBQ finish will result in a beautifully smoky pulled pork.
The wonderful thing about cooking a pork shoulder low and slow is that it’s almost impossible to mess up, especially when cooking it in this foolproof sous vide method.
This method is perfect for entertaining because it can be made mostly ahead of time, then finished in a smoker or in the oven. The fun part when your guests are there and they smell what seems like has been cooking all day.
Make the sous vide pork shoulder up to 3 days in advance, then refrigerate. Bring it to room temperature in the bag or run under water to speed it up (in
Why Sous Vide Pork Shoulder Anyways?
If you have ever cooked anything sous vide, which I’m sure you have if you are here, you know how magical it is. Whether you are cooking a delicate piece of fish like salmon or a large tough piece of meat (like we’re doing here), the work is done for you to create fall-
- The most tender and juicy method for pulled pork.
- Decide on the final texture by changing the temperature. Higher temperature yields a pull-apart pork shoulder, while a lower temperature will still be super tender, but will be more of a slice.
- Can be cooked sous vide ahead of time and finished on the grill or the oven a few hours before your meal.
- It’s easier and less stressful to let something cook sous vide for a whole day than leave it in the smoker for the whole day.
- Smoking a pork shoulder is amazing, but
ityou have to stay somewhat close to the smoker for the whole time. When you sous vide it first, you can leave it unattended without a worry.
How Long to Sous Vide Pork Shoulder
The pork shoulder should be cooked sous vide between 18 to 24 hours for pulled pork. The result will be just about the same within this window. The pork in this post was in the sous vide bath for 23 hours.
What Temperature to Sous Vide the Pork Shoulder?
For super tender pulled pork: The sous vide water bath should be set to 165° F.
For tender yet sliceable pork shoulder, the temperature of the water bath should be set to 145° F.
The Dry Rub
About half of the dry rub is placed on the pork shoulder before it is vacuum-sealed. After it is cooked sous vide, you will pat it dry and place more of the dry rub on the pork before it is finished in the smoker or oven. Adding rub a second time will add even more flavor and help form the bark during the second cook.
Any dry rub will work, but the dry rub ingredients that I use consist of smoked paprika, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, dark chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground black pepper and celery seeds.
Vacuum Sealing vs Water Displacement Method for Long Cooks
It’s recommended to use heavy vacuum seal bags (ad) for long cooks over using Ziplock bags. With the long cook and the large piece of meat, there is a bigger risk that the bag can break and leak when using a Ziplock bag. A heavy vacuum seal bag virtually eliminates this risk.
How to Insulate the Sous Vide Container for Long Cooks
When sous vide cooking for long periods, it’s important to cover the water bath and insulate the container to prevent evaporation and keep the sous vide machine from working harder than it needs to. Covering and insulating the container is less important for quicker sous vide cooks
Use towels to wrap the container to insulate it and prevent heat from escaping. If you really want to insulate it, you can place the sous vide container inside a cooler and surround it with towels.
Should you Smoke the Pork Before or After Sous Vide?
There’s a lot of opinion on if you should smoke the pork shoulder before or after it is sous vide. My opinion is that it should be sous vide first then finished in the smoker or oven. The reason is that the flavorful bark that is formed in the BBQ would be broken down if it were cooked sous vide after.
What Wood Chips are Best for Pork Shoulder?
Go with apple, cherry (affiliate) or a combination of both when smoking pork. You don’t want to use anything too strong that can overpower the delicate pork flavors. Applewood and cherry have wonderfully complex sweet flavors that go great with the pork.
When smoking with charcoal, I recommend using wood chunks vs chips, as they burn for longer.
Sous Vide Pork Shoulder vs Smoked Pork Shoulder
While this recipe technically does both, a pork shoulder only cooked in the smoker does come out different. I found the sous vide version to be much moister and more tender than the 7-hour smoked version. However, the smoker only version did have much more smoke and BBQ flavor.
If you are wondering which one is faster, they are both about the same. The smoker version should be refrigerated with the dry rub on it for 12 hours before smoking, while the sous vide version can go right into the water bath.
Both are amazing and I highly recommend you give both versions a try. I think the sous vide version is better for pulled pork and the smoked version better for smoked carnitas tacos.
Can you Sous Vide a Frozen Pork Shoulder?
You absolutely can, and the cook time will be the same since it’s going to be sous vide for 24 hours. The dry rub might not stick quite as well on frozen meat, but it will totally still work.
How to Make Smoky Sous Vide Pulled Pork
No matter what method you use for making pulled pork, it’s gotta be done over a long period of time (unless you are making it in a pressure cooker).
After the sous vide cook is complete, you will pat it dry, add more dry rub and finish it in a 275-300° F smoker or oven until a nice brown bark is formed, about 1 to 2 hours.
How to Serve the Pulled Pork
Serve it up on some sweet Hawaiian buns to make sliders, in fresh tortillas for tacos or even on a salad. This smoky sous vide pulled pork is so flavorful, that really, no sauce is even needed. You can just shred it apart with two forks and enjoy. Top with a little BBQ sauce and coleslaw if you wish. Either way, it will be absolutely delicious.
Meal Prep Tip
You can cut the pork shoulder into two portions and vacuum seal each separately in two bags. Sous vide them at the same time and then freeze one still in the bag once it is finished cooking. Take it out of the freezer and smoke it when you want it. This gets you two big portions of pulled pork for the same amount of work. 🙂
One Tool That Makes It All Easier
The last time I cooked something in the smoker, I swore it was the last time that I would go about it blindly. The Thermoworks Smoke Alarm is a two-channel thermometer that allows you to monitor your BBQ/smoker from up to 300 feet away.
One thermometer is for monitoring the temperature of the inside of the smoker, and the other is for monitoring the internal temperature of the meat. You set the parameters for the high and low temperatures and it will sound an alarm if the temperature goes below or above what you set.
It's pretty amazing and something that you won't want to cook without once you try it. It's something I highly recommend picking up to make your smoking projects even more enjoyable. Find out more info from the TherThermoworks Smokemoworks website.
Tools & Equipment Used
You can check out the equipment used (below) or check out the post all about Essential Sous Vide Accessories.
- Anova Sous Vide Machine
- Sous Vide water bath container or large pot
- Food Saver Vacuum Sealer
- Vacuum seal bags
- Disposable Aluminum Drip Pan
- Apple or cherry wood chunks for smoking.
- Thermoworks Two Zone thermometer
More Recipes to Try
- Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin
- Pulled Pork - 3 Ways: Smoker, Slow Cooker and Oven
- Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Sous Vide Pork Chops
- Crispy Carnitas Tacos
Sous Vide Pork Shoulder
- 4 to 5 lb Boneless Pork Shoulder or Boston Butt trimmed
- ⅛ cup Smoked Paprika
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoon Packed Dark Brown Sugar
- ½ tablespoon Granulated Sugar
- 1 tablespoon Dark Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon Ground Cumin
- ½ tablespoon Dried Oregano
- ½ tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tablespoon Celery Seeds
- Set your sous vide water bath temperature to 165° F in a container large enough to completely submerge the entire pork shoulder.
- Trim excess fat from the pork shoulder.
- Make the dry rub by combining all the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl or a spice shaker.
- Rub a liberal amount (about half) of the rub all over the pork.
- Place the pork shoulder in a vacuum seal bag and seal.
- Place the vacuum sealed pork shoulder in the sous vide water bath and cover for 18 to 24 hours.
- Remove from the water bath and either finish the pork shoulder (see below) or refrigerate to finish later.
To finish in the smoker
- Follow your smoker's instructions and bring up the temperature between to 275 and 300° F and add wood chips. Place a water-filled aluminum drip pan under the grates to catch any drippings.
- Pat the sous vide pork shoulder dry with paper towels and sprinkle on more of the remaining dry rub.
- Place in the smoker and smoke for about 1 to 2 hours, or until a nice bark is formed.
- Shred the pork using two forks, pulling across the strands to maintain the texture.
To finish in the oven
- Pre-heat your oven to 300° F.
- Pat the pork shoulder dry and sprinkle on some of the remaining dry rub.
- Place the pork on top of a rack on a sheet pan and roast until a nice bark is formed, about 1 ½ hours.
- Shred the pork using or a large fork or BBQ meat forks, pulling across the strands to maintain the texture.
Bill M says
Hi - I’m super eager to try this, but have one question. When I’ve done pork shoulder in the past, I’ve injected a mix of my favorite rub and apple juice. It really spreads the flavor throughout the meat, and I can then discard more of the bark (which my wife and kids don’t like - I know - crazy). If I did this with the Sous Vide method, do you think the added moisture would result in mushy meat, or just more flavor?
Hi Bill. I don't have experience with injecting sous vide meat. I would say that there is no need to do it. One of the differences between this sous vide smoked pork shoulder and a traditional smoked pork shoulder is that the sous vide version has more moisture.
Bill M says
Thanks Justin - FYI, I tried this with “half” a shoulder and the results were nothing short of amazing. I mixed an injection of equal parts apple cider vinegar and apple juice along with a healthy addition (a few tablespoons) of my favorite rub. There was a lot of liquid after the sous vide stage, which I put in the water pan of the smoker. The result had far less bark than usual, but the resulting meat was the best ever. I didn’t do a side-by-side of a non-injected against the injected, but my family is so happy with the injected result that I’ll quit experimenting while I’m ahead! Thank you for the guide though on the sous vide approach!
Sounds absolutely wonderful, Bill!
Bill Checco says
Can't wait to try this weekend. Going to add a splash of liquid smoke in the sous vide bag. If refrigerating a few days should i leave in the sous vide bag with juices?
It's going to be great, Bill! Yep, if you are going to sous vide the pork shoulder in advance, then just chill it and refrigerate it right in the bag until you are going to finish it.
Ok great, so it's OK to keep in the bag with the juices in the fridge for a day or 2? How about the freezer? Thanks for your help. Really love the website!
Yep, that's the way to do it. Keeps everything pasteurized and safe. You could leave it in the fridge for 5 days or even a little more if the meat was fresh to start with. And you can definitely freeze it, then thaw it out via sous vide so it's faster to defrost. 🙂
Really looking forward to this cook! You say to either take it out of the water at the end or refrigerate it. Is it ok to let this keep going to around 27 hours? Not to keep cooking but plans change and it may not be ready for the final smoke until then. Thanks for the great recipe.
Hey Kurt! Yep, totally fine to keep it going for longer. It will just get more tender. 🙂 Enjoy!
So is "finishing" in the oven really necessary after 24 hours or more at 165 degrees? Mine seems to almost fall apart when removing from the sous vide after that and I don't really see the point in putting it into a 300 degree oven only to dry out after that. Am I missing something? Health concern perhaps?
Hey Brad. Finishing in the oven or in the smoker is optional. You do it to develop more flavors on the outside of the meat that aren't developed during the sous vide cook.
Do you take the internal temperature up to 195-203 like you would on a traditionally only smoked pork shoulder/butt, or do you simply smoke it until it has a nice dark bark. Also do you let the meat rest in a cooler with towels for 1-2hrs like when its solely smoked?
Nope, I do not take it to that temperature. The "cooking" is already done via sous vide. You are just adding the smoke flavor and creating a bark. I hope it turns out delicious.
Ankur Sinha says
Hi just wondering if this recipe would work on pork neck? Butcher saying it should be the same as shoulder in cooking pulled pork
I don't have any experience cooking pork neck, so I'm not sure. If your butcher said it would be similar, I would definitely give it a try. Let me know if you did. Would love to hear about it.
Will Lassen says
You suggest putting half of the rub on the pork before putting it in the bag for the sous vide, but never mention the rub again. Where does the other half go?
Sorry about that and thanks for pointing that out. It was mentioned within the content but not in the recipe card. All or some of the remaining dry rub can be sprinkled on the spork shoulder after it is sous vide and dried off. Let me know if you have any other questions.
jack paciello says
Everything sounds good but I do have a question, should I trim the skin cap off before the water bath? we like the cracklin from the smoker or the oven.
I would trim down the fat cap a bit. It's not going to melt the same with the sous vide method as it does when in the smoker for half a day. You can also finish it in a hot oven, under the broiler or sear on the grill to crisp it up. Cheers!
Richard Nelson says
If I have a 10.5 lb pork butt how much longer would I have to sous vide in your opinion.
The 24 hours should do it, but I would cut it in half and place in two separate bags. This will give you more surface area for adding flavor to the outside when you smoke or roast it after sous vide cooking.
Do you remember what internal temperature was after you pulled the meat from the smoker? I'm making pulled pork for a family gathering in a couple weeks and would like to try using a water bath to start the cook but I'm worried 2 hours won't be enough time to take the meat from 165˚ to the 195˚ or so I'd normally shoot for to melt all the interstitial fat.
I'm sorry but I don't remember what the internal temp was when I pulled it out of the smoker, but you wouldn't want to leave it in long enough for it to each close to 200 degrees, which could dry it out. All the cooking and melting is done during the 18 to 24-hour water bath. Finishing it in the smoker will just add smokey flavor and give it a bark on the outside. Best of luck and let me know how it turns out! Cheers!
James McNulty says
Sounds good except you should have included ideal smoker and oven temperature goals for slicing and "pull apart". Most of today's temperature probes are to be alarm set with the "done temperature". Recipe does not provide that information.
I ended up having to split my pork butt into two pieces since my bags weren't big enough. However, my results were just like yours. They seemed to retain more moisture but didn't have quite as much of a smoky flavor. Overall, I would call this a win. Especially since I could freeze individual portions after sous vide then finish them on the smoker whenever I want freshly smoked pulled pork. Thanks for the great idea!
So glad it was a success for you. Absolutely love your great idea of spitting the pork butt into two pieces so you can finish them in the smoker at separate times. Great for meal prep. 🙂