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How To: Smoke Pulled Pork

Red, White & Blue Cheesecake

Smoking Pork Butt (Shoulder) with a Gas or Charcoal Grill

Smoking meats can be both a daunting and time consuming task the first time you try it. But don’t worry! My Source Magazine will break it down for you in easy, simple to follow steps. And the best part is that you don’t need to spend $500 or more on a professional style smoker. You can use the propane or charcoal grill you already have.

Most of the time needed to properly smoke meats is the preparation time. Here’s what you’ll need to start:


You’ll want to prep your pork butt with the rub the night before and it can take up to 8 hours to properly smoke this thing. For those of you not in the know this is called “Slow and Low” cooking. The technical explanation for this is a whole other story in its own, but the short and sweet of it is that you need the proper amount of time to let the gelatin surrounding the fatty connecting tissue time to dissolve into a liquid substance. Think of it as taking 8 hours to backwards cook Jell-O from the flexible solid state, back to the liquid state in which you started cooking it.

Pork Butt:

It’s not really the butt. It’s actually the shoulder. Why they call it butt, I have no idea. I'd really be curious to know, also. So the first person to visit our facebook page and drop us a quick story will get a gift certificate to one of our advertiser's locations. If you don’t know what this is, just let your butcher or the clerk at any store know that you need a, “Pork Butt for smoking, to make Pulled Pork”. They’re guaranteed to know what you’re talking about. Or maybe you could let your kids ask the butcher where it is in the store so they can get a giggle.

An electric hot plate, or electric individual burner and an oven safe metal pan that can take about 250 degrees worth of direct heat:

It looks just like a single burner on the stove top, but has an electric cord coming out of it. Most oven safe metal pans will do fine. The one we use is about 1” thick and about 8” in circumference. We have to give credit where credit is due: we got this idea from Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” on the Food Network a while back and it’s so much cheaper and easier than trying to keep the charcoal burning consistently for 8 hours. Thanks Alton!

An accurate food thermometer:

Throughout the cooking process, you’ll be checking the pork butt’s internal temperature. We’ll explain more about this process later. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on this either. The simple analog thermometers that you find at the grocery store will work just as well as the expensive digital ones. To tell if your thermometer is accurate, simply fill up a glass with ice and top with water. Make sure it’s completely full of ice before you put the water in it. Let sit for about three minutes, then place your thermometer in the glass. It should read about 32 degrees. If it doesn’t, simply adjust so that the temperature reads 32 degrees and you’re all set.

Apple Mop Spray In A Clean Spray Bottle:

  • 1 cup apple juice
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup water

Wood chunks for smoke:

Make sure you get a wood that is very hard. Softer woods tend to burn with a resin that can cover your food. We tend to like hickory the best. Most stores that sell barbeque pits also sell wood chunks for smoking. Soak the wood chunks in water for about an hour before putting them on the hot plate. This will help the wood maintain a nice smolder and not catch to a full fire. Think of a camp fire. We don’t want the big flames here; just the smoldering, smoking hot embers.

A good Pork rub:

This is, some say, the most important element to good barbeque. Try some different things to add your own personal touches, or use this simple formula:

  • 1 - 2 cups French’s Yellow Mustard. DO NOT combine the mustard with the rest of the dry ingredients. We spread the mustard all over the pork butt before we put the dry rub on.
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • ½ tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon organic garlic powder

Mix all of the dry ingredients together and set aside. Place a piece of tin foil big enough to wrap the entire pork butt on the counter, & the pork butt on top. You don’t want to remove the fat back or anything else right now. We’ll handle all of that after it’s cooked and easier to pull apart! Start by rubbing the entire pork butt with the yellow mustard. When that’s evenly covered, take the rub and apply generously. Don’t skimp and don’t miss any part! Wrap it up and place it in the fridge overnight.

The Pit:

If you don’t have an expensive smoker, don’t worry. We can do this with either the propane grill or your standard charcoal grill.

Charcoal Grill:

Remove all of the components from the inside of your grill and run the electric burner’s cord through one of the holes in the bottom of it. Most charcoal grills have a pan that is used to hold the charcoal. This pan usually is adjustable as well. For now, place it as low as it can go and place the electric burner on top of it, then place the oven safe metal pan on top of the burner. Try to keep the electric burner off to one side. We don’t want to cook with direct heat. You can adjust the distance from the cooking surface later, based on the temperature of the grill. Place a pan filled with water on the other side of the charcoal pan. When we add the pork butt, you’ll want it directly over that water pan. When you’re ready to cook you’ll just turn on the burner, add your wood chunks, place the cooking grate back over the top, and set the pork over the pan filled with water. Make sure the vent covers that are on the cover of your grill are set to an almost closed state. You want to make sure they just have a tiny bit of air coming into them. Don’t close them all the way because oxygen is needed for wood to burn and you’ll need that little bit of oxygen. You don’t want them all the way open for two reasons: Too much oxygen may help the wood ignite to a full burn and we want to keep as much smoke in as possible.

Propane Grill:

We’d prefer you do this method:

Take the cooking grates off of the grill. If you have hoods over your propane burners, okay. If not; okay. All you do is put the electric burner over them, off to one side, and make sure it sits flat. Place your oven safe metal pan over the top of the burner and run the cord out of the back or over the side, so it doesn’t melt with direct heat. Then place your pan of water on the other side. This will help you keep everything clean as well as help keep the pork butt moist. When you’re ready to cook, place the cooking grates back on the side that will hold the pork and leave the grates off of the side that has the burner.

But if there is not enough room between the cooking grates and the hoods or grill burners to place your hot plate, you can always place the oven safe metal pan directly over the burners or hood and turn only the one burner to a low heat. When you put the wood chunks into the pan, the heat from the propane should be enough to create a decent amount of smoke. You will want to make sure you double up on the wood chunks the entire cooking process, because propane grills tend to not hold the smoke in as well as charcoal ones.

Ready to Grill:

  • Step 1: Wake up early!

    We’d prefer you get up and get this thing on the grill at about 5 am. Don’t worry; you can always get back to bed for a nap sometime during this 8 hour or so process.

  • Step 2: Get your grill up to heat.

    Turn on your electric burner with oven safe metal pan on top to a full heat and place 3 – 4 wood chunks in the pan. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes with the lid closed so you can see what the temperature is inside the grill. If after 10 minutes, your grill is not hot enough with the plate at full heat, grab your charcoal and light a couple of pieces. When they are burned off, add them to the oven safe pan with the wood and let sit for about 5 more minutes. Adjust the number of charcoal briquettes up or down to get the grill to 225 degrees.

  • Step 3: Start Smoking.

    When your grill is at the proper temperature and the smoke is pouring, you’re ready to start smoking. Make sure your water pan is under the cooking grates away from the heat source, and place your pork butt on the grill directly above it. Close the lid and go grab a cup of coffee or something. It’s still way early in the day, right?

  • Step 4: Flip and spray.

    About every 30 - 45 minutes, you’ll want to do two things: Check your temperature (explained below in “Maintenance”) and flip the pork butt. Every time you flip your pork butt, spray the outside of it with your Apple mop spray.

  • Step 5: Maintenance.

    Make sure your average temperature stays around 225 degrees the entire day. You will need to add a new chunk of wood or two or three or four about every hour or so, depending on how fast the wood is burning. The electric hot plate will help your temperature stay more consistent throughout the day, but you want some smoke pouring over the meat also. This adds the robust flavor that all good barbeque possesses.

  • Step 6: The Plateau.

    After about 4 hours, you’ll want to start checking the internal temperature of your pork butt. Your target temperature is 190 degrees and that’s when you’ll want to pull it. But eventually, it will get to a point where it just seems like it’s never going to get above 150-160 degrees. This is good! When your temperature hits 150-160 degrees, pay more attention and check more regularly. Don’t get anxious though. During this time, you’re allowing the backwards Jell-O example that we mentioned earlier to work its magic and if you pull it too soon, you’ll have a cooked, edible, and extremely salty meat. But it will be very tough and you won’t be able to “pull” the pork apart! Just keep maintaining the 225 degree temperature and the nice, even smoke flow.

  • Step 7: The Pull.

    After you’ve fought off the anxiety of “The Plateau” your pork butt will reach an internal temperature of 190-200 degrees. This is the perfect time to shut down shop on the grill and pull the pork off. Wrap your hot pork butt in tin foil again and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

  • Step 8: The Pull Part II.

    Now that your timer has gone off and your pork has had a bit of time to cool, pull it out of the oven and place in a large casserole pan or dish. Be careful, though. It will still be very hot and can burn your hands! Find the bone on the side of the pork butt and firmly grasp it. Place your other hand on the pork butt to keep it pressed against the dish and begin yanking that bad boy out of there, twisting back and forth as you go. If you’ve allowed it enough time to cook and you removed it from the grill at about 190 degrees, you should have no problems yanking the bone out of there. Now, grab two forks and place one in the middle of the large chunk of meat. Take the second fork, flip it over so it’s backwards, and begin scraping the meat with it. This should help pull it apart easily and should take about 5 – 10 minutes to shred the whole pork butt.

  • Step 9: Eat that bad boy!

    You’ve worked hard all day and now it’s time to enjoy. Have fun and let us know how yours turned out.

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