Simple & Juicy Smoked Pulled Pork

Featuring juicy smoked pulled pork with crispy bark.

Get ready to master the process for Smoked Pulled Pork, entering a world of crispy smoked bark and succulent, melt-in-your-mouth juicy meat. And the best part? The epic platter of meat requires minimal effort, allowing you more time to sit back and chill with your family.

Grab a hold of a juicy smoked pulled pork sandwich and get ready for a feast.

Picture this: a smoked pork shoulder unwrapped slowly on the center of your kitchen counter, your friends echoing “Whoa…” as you reveal the dark, crispy bark. Your gloves slowly tear through the crusty exterior, revealing a ruby-red smoke ring and juicy pork.

Sounds like a romance novel, rightfully so, considering there is SO much love that goes into a long smoke such as pulled pork.

Let’s dive into the details of how to master this process.

Make sure you have a fresh batch of Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits, Smoked Mac and Cheese, and Smoked Baked Beans when you’re ready!

Juicy smoked pork shoulder is shredded for sandwiches.

Choosing the Right Cut of Pork

There are two cuts of pork that are most commonly used to make smoked pulled pork: Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt.

Both of these cuts come from the pig’s shoulder, just different sections. They can be used interchangeably for preparing pulled pork, but there are a few differences to take note of.

Pork shoulder, sometimes labeled as picnic shoulder, comes from the end of the pig’s shoulder. It has a triangle shape, coming from just above the front leg. Most of the time it has a thick layer of fat and skin on the outside. This cut of pork generally has less marbling and fat than the pork butt.

Pork butt comes from the thicker section of the top shoulder, and includes muscles from the shoulder blade and upper leg. This cut has much more marbling and fat throughout, sometimes sold with a fat cap on the outside. There is usually a bone in the middle of the pork butt that comes out easily when smoked, but they are also sold as boneless.

Smoked pulled pork is typically prepared using a pork butt, due to the marbling, shape, and lack of trimming.

This is a boneless pork butt with a fat cap.
Boneless pork butt with fat cap

Boneless vs. Bone-In Pork Butt

There is no proof that the bone adds any flavor to the pork, but that doesn’t mean there are some considerations when choosing. Let’s focus on the boneless pork butt to help you determine which is right for you:

Pros (Bone-In):

  • Boneless pork butt cooks quicker. The lack of bone exposes more of the meat, which is quite thin in certain areas. Overall the mass of pork ends up being finished slightly sooner.
  • More seasoning and flavor throughout. There is more surface area for the BBQ rub to be applied to, as the meat can be unfolded. Bone-in pork butt doesn’t allow the middle of the meat to be seasoned and smoked.

Cons (Bone-In):

  • Cooks unevenly. Thinner sections of the meat are now exposed to the heat more directly. Binding the pork together with butcher’s twine does minimize this, but not as much as it would if it had a bone.
  • The cost is generally higher. Removing the bone is labor, and the butcher will charge you for it. In most cases, a boneless pork butt costs more than bone-in.
Choose a sweet and savory rub for the pork shoulder to be smoked.

Seasoning Process

Pork can soak up a myriad of different flavors, and you should be applying a generous amount of seasoning. This is a big boy and needs quite a bit of seasoning for the finished product.

Should I Use a Binder on Pork Butt?

You do not need to apply a binder when preparing pulled pork. Salt from the seasoning will draw out the natural juices of the pork, causing the seasoning to bond itself to the surface.

Some binders can add a layer of flavor. Mustard is the most common choice of binder, due to its lack of flavor, however, a thin coat of hot sauce or Worcestershire will add a little dimension to the bark.

Speaking of bark…

Get a crispy, crusty park on the pork butt by dry brining.

How to Build a Better Bark

Season the pork ahead of time and allow it to sit in the fridge, uncovered, for a few hours up to overnight. This process is known as dry brining and has a few benefits.

Doing so will not only season the meat but also creates a dry, tacky surface. This process will create a crustier bark on the outside. Most pork shoulders are wrapped during the process of making pulled pork, so having a head start on a crusty bark will provide MUCH more texture in the end when shredding.

Seasoning Choices

Get creative, and don’t be afraid of sugar. Pork loves a combination of sweet heat! Feel free to stick with the Texas style and go 50/50 with coarse Kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper for a thick, crusty bark. The options are endless.

Our favorite is Signature Sweet & Smoky Rub which is well-balanced, not overly sugary, and creates a great-looking bark.

Coarse rubs will also create a crispier bark. The larger spice granules alone will be crispy, but they also attract more smoke. Typically you’ll find that the bark is darker, smokier, and crispier if you use a coarse rub with pork butts.

Low and slow pork butt will be cooking for a long period of time.

How to Smoke Pork Shoulder Step-by-Step

Seasoning is applied, and you’re ready to go. Let’s clean the smoker and get ready for a long cook.

That’s right, this is a LONG cook, meaning it will be over 6-8 hours generally. Be prepared!

Low and Slow

This guide on how to smoke pulled pork is dedicated to the low-and-slow method of barbecue. There’s a hot-and-fast method as well, which I will cover in the future.

Set your smoker to 265°F. That’s right, NOT 225°F. This slightly higher temperature is not uncommon with pitmasters or competitors. The fat will render perfectly, and the bark will still form a dark, crispy exterior. Trust me, give this temp a try and also save yourself a few hours!

Place the pork butt in the smoker once it’s preheated, fat cap facing up. Allow the pork to smoke on its own – without spritzing – for about 3 hours undisturbed.

Spritz the outside of the pork butt with apple cider vinegar.

Start Spritzing

The process of spritzing the outside of the pork shoulder keeps the surface moist, adds a layer of flavor, attracts more smoke, and promotes deeper browning of the bark.

If you’re asking yourself: Why use a spritz for pork shoulder? More flavor and texture!

Apple cider vinegar is the most commonly used and recommended liquid for spritzing. The acidity adds a nice tang that brightens up the meat while keeping it moist. Mix 50/50 with water for a great balance.

After the first 3 hours, spritz the pork shoulder every 30 minutes for another 4-5 hours.

Wrapping to Finish

Bark has formed, and it’s time to wrap. The process of wrapping a pork butt in heavy-duty foil helps to push through the stall of temperature (around 165°F) while also promoting tenderness. Smoked pork will shred must easier if you wrap it with foil.

The biggest question is: When should you wrap a pork butt in foil?

Smoked pork butt has a nice bark and is ready to be wrapped in heavy duty foil.

Temperature is usually the biggest factor. Check and see, it should be around 165-175°F which is around the time it will stall, holding this temperature.

The bark should be crispier, and might even have cracks in the fat cap on the top. This is absolutely normal and positive sign and you’re on the right track.

Wrap with 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Spritz the pork shoulder one last time and wrap it tight. Place it back on the smoker for another 2 hours or so. We’ll talk about target temperature and resting next.

Make sure to rest the smoked pork shoulder for at least an hour.

Resting and Shredding

Smoked pork butt is done at around 200°F internal temperature. The thermometer probe should be inserted into a couple of spots, generally the thickest part, and will have very little resistance when piercing into the meat.

Hard work pays off! Now it’s time to rest and wait for about an hour. Resting promotes the muscles to relax, allowing the juices to fall back into the center of the pork shoulder.

It also cools off slightly, allowing you to dig your hands in and shred without burning yourself!

Recommend Shredding Gloves

I highly recommend getting a pair of these insulated gloves and covering them with these plastic gloves for shredding. The combo will keep your hands clean, and burn-free!

Shred up the smoked pork butt when it's time to serve!

Important Tips

  • Season the smoked pulled pork with a little additional rub, or a vinegar-based BBQ sauce right after it shreds. This step will flavor all of the meat, specifically the pork that never came in direct contact with the smoke.
  • Go by feel, not time. Some smoked pork butts will take 7 hours, some will take 10-12. There are so many different factors, but plan for a full day of cooking when you start this cook.
  • Season the pork ahead of time. This step improves the bark significantly if you can manage the fridge space.
  • Rotate the pork shoulder in the smoker if needed. All smokers are different, some have hot spots. Pay attention to the bark formation. If it’s hard on one side and soft on the other, rotate the pork shoulder to even it out.
Top your smoked pulled pork sandwiches with slaw, pickles, and sauce.

Almost nothing beats a juicy smoked pulled pork sandwich or taco! Load it up with toppings, or keep it simple and dress it with a delicious BBQ sauce. Here are some of our favorites:

Smoky Sweet Heat Sauce – Our signature sauce with a smoky sweet heat.

Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce – This tangy mustard-based sauce pairs perfectly with smoked pork.

Korean Honey Mustard Sauce – Bring on the tangy heat with this thick and spicy sauce.

Creamy Southwestern Coleslaw – Classic, it’s hard to beat this creamy crunch!

Sweet and Spicy Pickles – Homemade pickles are the GOAT, and these hit all of the right spots.

Smoked Pickled Jalapenos – Bringing the tangy heat with pickled jalapenos, the brine really pairs well too.

Print
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Featuring juicy smoked pulled pork with crispy bark.

Simple & Juicy Smoked Pulled Pork

Get ready to master the process for Smoked Pulled Pork, entering a world of crispy smoked bark and succulent, melt-in-your-mouth juicy meat.

  • Total Time: 10 hours
  • Yield: About 12 people 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 bone-in or boneless pork butt, about 78 pounds
  • 1/2 cup Signature Sweet & Smoky Rub
  • 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar & water for spritzing

Instructions

  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 hours
  • Category: Pork
  • Method: Smoking
  • Cuisine: Dinner, Lunch, Sandwiches

Keywords: Smoked pulled pork, bbq pork, smoked pork, smoked pork shoulder, smoked pork butt

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