Smoked Pork Butt – A Beginner’s Guide

Step-by-step instructions on how to smoke a pork butt. Lathered in a homemade spice rub and slowly smoked over applewood will result in the most tender pulled pork perfect for so many meals!

Pulled pork BBQ sandwich sitting on a white plate, parsley on plate.

Best Smoked Pork Butt

Moist, tender, and delicious, this pulled pork recipe is out of this world flavorful! If you’re looking for the best way to get tender, moist, and full of flavor shredded pork, you just can’t go wrong with smoked pork butt. This is a super versatile recipe and perfect for leftovers and meal prep.

So what makes this the best pulled pork recipe?

  • It’s slathered in a mustard base and covered with a homemade spice rub.
  • The cut of meat used is famous for yielding the best results when it comes to pulled pork.
  • The pork is smoked low and slow with applewood chunks and an apple cider vinegar/water mix in the water pan.
  • There’s a secret to getting past the stall and how this method results in freshest, most succulent pork.

Why Is It Called Pork Butt?

It’s actually not a butt at all. People automatically think this cut of meat comes from the rear end of the pig based on the name. But it’s called “pork butt” because back during the Revolutionary War times, butchers would store prized quality cuts of meat in barrels, called “Buttis” in Latin, which translates to “butts” in English. When you hear the term “pork butt” or “Boston butt,” know that it’s just a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder.

Shredded pulled pork on a white plate topped with parsley.

Ingredients You’ll Need

For this recipe, you’ll need different ingredients for different parts of the process. You’ll need the spices and dry mustard for the smoked butt rub. The water and apple cider vinegar are needed for the water pan. And then, a small spray bottle mixed with apple juice and water is used to spray the pork during the stall process to help keep the meat juicy and tender.

Dry Rub

  • Pork Shoulder – I typically buy an 8-9 lb shoulder because it yields about 10-12 servings, which allows for leftovers/easy meal prep.
  • Yellow Mustard – used as a baste. It provides amazing flavor while smoking and helps the spice rub really stick and penetrate the meat.
  • Turbinado Sugar – are sugar crystals that contain a higher level of molasses and have more flavor. Turbinado sugar is raw and less processed than other sugars.
  • Light Brown Sugar – is fine in texture and pairs well with the larger turbinado crystals for this spice rub.
  • Smoked Paprika – is different than just “paprika.” Smoked Paprika uses chilies that are smoke-dried and then crushed where regular paprika is just crushed dried chilies.
  • Chili Powder – provides a smoky taste, with a little bit of spice. The base spices that makeup chili powder are ancho chile powder, cumin, paprika, and Mexican oregano.
  • Garlic Powder – is made from crushed dehydrated garlic cloves and provides a savory taste.
  • Onion Powder – made from dehydrated onions and pairs well with meat.
  • Cumin – is a warm and earthy spice that is used in a lot of Indian cuisines.
  • Cayenne Powder – a type of chili pepper that is moderately hot and spicy used as a flavor enhancer.
  • Dry Mustard – provides no flavor unless paired with a liquid, which is another reason to use yellow mustard as a base to the pork before adding on the spice rub. Dry mustard is just ground mustard seed and helps provide sweet and spicy undertones of flavor.
  • Ground Coriander – a little bit of lemony and floral flavor, coriander pairs exceptionally well with cumin, which is why it’s used in this spice rub.
  • Salt and Black Pepper – a flavor enhancer that is essential in the rub.

Mister Spray

  • Apple Juice mixed with water – 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1/4 cup of water should be mixed in a spray bottle. You’ll spray the pork when double wrapping it in aluminum foil in preparation for the stall process. This process helps add additional moisture and flavor.

Water Pan

  • Apple Cider Vinegar and Water – mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 8-10 cups of water and pour it into the smoker water pan.

Ingredients needed to smoke a pork butt sitting on a counter.

Bone-In Or Bone Out Pork Shoulder

Rumor has it that if you smoke pork should with the bone in; it’s more moist and tender. I’ve smoked many pork shoulders, some with the bone in and some with the bone out, and to be honest. I can’t tell the difference. Both were amazingly tender and moist. When smoking a shoulder with the bone in, it will easily slide right out when done. With a boneless pork shoulder, the meat tends to be more marbled with fat and produces more meat per pound.

Pulled Pork Dry Rub

First, you’ll need to prep the pork shoulder for the dry rub.

  • Place the pork shoulder on a large cookie sheet or pyrex dish.
  • Take 1/4 cup of yellow mustard and baste the entire pork shoulder. This not only helps the dry ingredients stick to the meat, but the mustard base adds moisture and enhances the flavor of the meat while smoking.

Pork butt basted in yellow mustard in a glass 9x13 pyrex dish.

  • Once basted, mix all the dry ingredients into a bowl.
  • Generously coat the dry rub onto the pork shoulder until completely covered, ensuring to get the rub onto both sides and into crevices.

Pork butt spice rub in brown bowl; pork rubbed with spice.

  • Cover with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. This step is crucial for enhancing the flavor of the pork and allows each spice to really penetrate the meat.

Preparing the Smoker

There’s a couple of things you should do before you start smoking the pork shoulder.

  • I like to wrap my water bowl with aluminum foil before adding the water and apple cider vinegar. By doing this, you’re saving yourself a lot of mess. Less cleanup is always better!
  • Are you going to use wood chips or chunks? Are you going to soak them? I prefer using chunks when I smoke meat because it’s been my experience they produce more smoke for a more extended period. And I always soak my chunks. It makes them last longer during a long smoking process.
  • Preheat the smoker before placing the food inside. It can take about 20-30 minutes to warm up the smoker to 225 degrees. Place the water pan and wood chunks in the smoker while it’s preheating.

 

How To Smoke A Pork Butt

  • Take the pork out of the refrigerator to rest on the counter the same time you start the smoker.
  • Once the smoker is 225 degrees, place the pork shoulder on a rack, fat side up, above the water pan and wood chunks.
  • Place an electrical temperature gauge in the meat and close the smoker doors.

Pork butt, water pan, and wood chunks in a smoker.

  • Smoke will start to escape the smoker in the early stages of the process.
  • Keep the smoker heat between 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit and let it smoke slow and low.

Smoke coming out of a Smoke Hollow smoker.

The Stall

Just like the brisket stall I talk about in my Smoked Brisket recipe, you’ll experience a similar stall when smoking a pork butt. A stall happens when your smoker temperature stays the same, but the internal temperature of the meat is no longer increasing at a steady pace. Could you increase the heat of the smoker to make it cook faster? Sure. But that defeats the process of smoking meat low and slow.

Here’s the secret to getting past the stall.

  • After several hours when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 degrees, remove the pork from the smoker and place it on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • Take the spray bottle mixed with 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1/4 cup of water and spray the meat 4-5 times. This helps trap moisture and enhances the flavor of the meat while resting during the stall process.
  • Tightly wrap the pork shoulder in a large piece of foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, so the pork is double wrapped.
  • Place the double wrapped pork back into the smoker, insert the temperature gauge, and close the door.

Smoked pork butt double wrapped in aluminum foil in a smoker, temperature gauge inserted.

  • When the internal temperature reaches 203 degrees, remove the wrapped pork from the smoker.
  • Place the wrapped meat in a large beach towel and wrap it tightly.
  • Place the meat wrapped in the beach towel in an empty cooler and close the lid and let it rest for 1 hour.

Smoked pork shoulder double wrapped in aluminum foil on a beach towel.

How To Easily Shred Pork

  • After an hour, unwrap the meat. At this point in the process, the meat is done and is ready to be shredded.
  • Place the smoked pork butt in a deep pan or pyrex dish.

Smoked pork butt sitting on a piece of aluminum foil.

  • Take a pair of meat shredder claws and start shredding the pork. The meat should be incredibly tender and shred easily.
  • While shredding, discard any visible fat.
  • Let the meat cool for 2-3 minutes and then it’s ready to serve.

Person using meat shredders to shred pork.

Can You Freeze Smoked Pork?

Absolutely! After every trip home when I travel from my hometown in Nashville, Tennessee, back to Arizona, I always stop at Barb-B-Cutie in the Nashville airport to get 2-3 lbs of frozen shredded pork. It stays frozen the entire time until I get home and can put it in my refrigerator to finish thawing.

So yes, you can freeze shredded pork. After it completely cools, place the pork in a large freezer bag or individual sandwich bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw the meat, place the bag in the refrigerator and let it naturally thaw.

Expert Tips and Recommendations

  • How long to smoke a pork butt – when smoking a shoulder at 225 degrees, the smoking time averages about 1.5 hours per pound. If you’re going to slice it, cook to 185 degrees. If you buy an 8-pound pork shoulder, expect it to be done about 12 hours later.
  • Smoked Pork Butt Temperature – if you intend to slice the pork shoulder, it must first be deboned, and the internal temperature should reach 180 degrees. If you plan to pull the pork, smoke it longer until it reaches 205 degrees.
  • BBQ Sauce – the rub provides a ton of flavor, so you don’t necessarily need BBQ sauce, but if you like BBQ sauce, consider making your own. You just can’t beat a good homemade BBQ sauce. The recipe is easy to make and provides both a sweet and smoky flavor.
  • Meal Prep – This is the perfect meat to use when meal prepping and managing portion control. Simply place a portion of the pork in individual containers along with other side dishes.
  • Storing Pork in Refrigerator – the pork should last in the fridge for 4-5 days after it’s cooked.

What To Serve With Pork Butt

  • Pinto Beans – since the smoker is doing all the hard work for the main dish, let your slow cooker do the hard work for your side dishes. Pinto beans are amazing with this pork butt recipe. They’re full of flavor and super simple to make.
  • Garlic and Herb Smoked Potatoes – since the smoker is already working, you might as well throw some potatoes in there to smoke. This Garlic and Herb Smoked Potatoes are velvety in texture and rich in flavor. Seasoned with dill, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan cheese, this smoked potato recipe makes a delicious pairing with smoked pork butt.
  • Red Velvet Cake – if you’re looking to finish off this fantastic meal with something sweet, you’re going to love this decadent cake. Made from scratch, this cake is covered in a homemade cream cheese frosting. The hints of chocolate in this cake recipe make for the perfect pairing when finishing off pork.

I can’t wait to hear how your smoked pork butt turned out, so leave a comment below letting me know! If you try this recipe, use the hashtag #recipesworthrepeating on INSTAGRAM so I can see how your pork turned out! FOLLOW ME on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.  I’m always posting recipes that I know you will love.

Pulled pork BBQ sandwich sitting on a white plate, parsley on plate.
Print Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Smoked Pork Butt

Step-by-step instructions on how to smoke pork butt, also known as pork shoulder. Lathered in a homemade spice rub and slowly smoked over apple wood will result in the most tender pulled pork perfect for so many meals!
Prep Time20 mins
Smoking Time12 hrs
Total Time12 hrs 20 mins
Course: dinner, entree, lunch
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pork butt, pork butt recipe, smoked pork butt
Servings: 12 people
Calories: 304kcal
Author: Amanda Mason

Ingredients

  • 1 8-10 lb pork shoulder
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons smoked Paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1.5 Tablespoons black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Instructions

Spice Rub and Smoking Process

  • Place the pork shoulder on a large cookie sheet or pyrex dish. Take 1/4 cup of yellow mustard and baste the entire pork shoulder.
  • Once basted, mix all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Generously coat the dry rub onto the pork shoulder until completely covered, ensuring to get the rub onto both sides and into crevices.
  • Cover the pork with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for 12-24 hours.
  • Once marinated, take the pork out of the refrigerator to rest on the counter the same time you start the smoker.
  • Once the smoker is reaches 225 degrees Fahrenheit, place the pork shoulder on a rack, fat side up, above the water pan and wood chunks. Place an electrical temperature gauge in meat and close the smoker doors.
  • Smoke will start to escape the smoker in the early stages of the process. Keep the smoker heat between 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit and let it smoke slow and low.

The Stall Process

  • After several hours into the smoking process when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 degrees, remove it from the smoker and place it on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.
  • Take the spray bottle mixed with 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1/4 cup of water and spray the meat 4-5 times.
  • Tightly wrap the pork shoulder in a large piece of foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of heavy duty aluminum foil so the pork is double wrapped.
  • Place the double wrapped pork back into the smoker, insert the temperature gauge, and close the door.

Final Steps

  • When the internal temperature reaches 203 degrees, remove the wrapped pork from the smoker and wrap it in a beach towel.
  • Place the meat wrapped in the beach town in an empty cooler and close the lid and let it rest for 1 hour.
  • After an hour, unwrap the meat. At this point of the process, the meat is done and is ready to be shredded.
  • Place the smoked pork butt in a deep pan or pyrex dish. Take a pair of meat shredder claws and start shredding the pork. The meat should be extremely tender and shred easily. While shredding, discard any visible fat.
  • Let the meat cool for 2-3 minutes and then it's ready to serve.

Notes

  • Apple Cider Vinegar and Water In Water Pan - When preparing the water pan, wrap it in aluminum foil for less mess. Mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 8-10 cups of water and pour into the smoker water pan.
  • Spraying The Pork Butt During The Stall - You'll spray the pork with half apple juice and water when double wrapping it in aluminum foil. This process helps add additional moisture and flavor.

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