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Sous Vide Pork Shoulder for Smoky BBQ Pulled Pork

The most tender and delicious pulled pork you can make. Sous vide for 24 and smoked for 2 hours.
By February 21, 2019 11 Comments
sous vide pork shoulder pulled pork overhead

Sous vide slow for 24 hours then finished in a smokey 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.

The two-step process 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.

smoky sous vide pulled pork sliders in a row

This method is perfect for entertaining because it can be made 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 bag) before smoking or roasting it.

Why sous vide pork shoulder anyways?

If you have ever sous vide anything, 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 appart tender and super flavorful pork shoulder for pulled pork.  

  • The most tender and juicy method for pulled pork.
  • Able to 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 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 it you 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.
sous vide pork shoulder in anova sous vide machine

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 sous vide 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.

pork shoulder with dry rub overhead

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 cooking 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 sous vide container for long cooks

When sous vide cooking for long cooks, 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.

A perfect fit lid will do the trick to prevent evaporation; but if you don’t have one, then you can use aluminum foil to tightly seal the container.

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. 

sous vide pork shoulder smoked overhead 2

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 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

smoky sous vide pulled pork slider

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. You can meal prep ahead by adding the dry rub to the pork, vacuum sealing and 

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).

First you want to start with high-quality pork. This one is from Butcher Box, which I highly recommend trying out (check out my full Butcher Box review). 

Once you have your pork, you will cover it with a dry rub, vacuum seal it and place it in the sous vide bath at 165° F and cook for 18 to 24 hours.

sous vide pork shoulder in smoker

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.

smoky sous vide pulled pork sliders overhead

Meal Prep Tip

You can cut the pork belly 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 this all easier

Last time I cooked something in the smoker, I swore it was the last time that I would go about blindly. The Thermoworks Smoke Alarm (affiliate) is a two-channel thermometer that allows you to monitor your BBQ/smoker from up to 300 feet away.

thermoworks smoke alarm big green egg

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 temperature 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 Thermoworks website.

thermoworks smoke alarm remote

Tools & Equipment Used to make the Sous Vide Pork Shoulder

You can check out the equipment used (below) or check out the post all about Essential Sous Vide AccessoriesContains affiliate links where I might receive a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

sous vide pork shoulder pulled pork overhead

Sous Vide Pork Shoulder

4.5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 22 hours
Total Time: 22 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 10
Author: Justin McChesney-Wachs

Ingredients

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

Dry Rub

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

Instructions

  • 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 1/2 hours.
  • Shred the pork using or a large fork or BBQ meat forks, pulling across the strands to maintain the texture.

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Kyle says:

    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!

    • justin says:

      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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • Pete says:

    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.

    • justin says:

      Hey Pete,

      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!

  • Richard Nelson says:

    If I have a 10.5 lb pork butt how much longer would I have to sous vide in your opinion.

    • justin says:

      Hey Richard,
      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.
      Cheers,
      Justin

  • 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.

    • justin says:

      Hi Jack,
      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!

  • 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?

    • justin says:

      Hi Will,
      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.
      Best,
      Justin

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