Monday, January 16, 2012

Pork Butt How-To

Pork butt, pork butt, how do I smoke thee, let me count the ways.  All you have to do is read a couple of BBQ forums or blogs to discover that many folks win competitions cooking it a number of different ways.  I’ll first discuss some of the decisions to be made then the method that has delivered good results for me and is predicated on maintaining as much of the natural juices as possible.

You start with how much if any of the fat cap to leave on the roast and move on to whether or not to brine, marinate, or inject.  Then you decide on the rub formulation and is it applied 8 hours early, just prior to cooking or somewhere in between and how much do you use – and you haven’t yet begun to cook it.

Next to decide is the heat source – wood or charcoal or a combination – or you may be using an electric, gas, or pellet smoker - then what temperature to cook it at.  Ready for the smoker, okay, will it be fat cap up or down, will it be cooked bare the entire time or wrapped in foil or put in a pan at some point.  Will it be basted during the cook and with what, and will you capture the juices.  Finally, at what point will you take it off the cooker, and after removing, what do you do with it?

Oddly enough there are many correct answers to these questions and I’ve seen many different ones just on the blogs and forums I read – the answers are often determined by the type of smoker being used - remember, a smoker is just an oven with a smoky environment.  So what follows is how I do it for myself and my customers. 

First, I buy whatever breed of pork is in the package I get on sale at the local market and it’s nearly always Excel from Cargill Meat Solutions – I’m pretty sure I can’t tell the difference between Berkshire, some other shire, or whatever the local 4-H'ers raise.  I usually load up on sale day and freeze them, always using the oldest ones first thereafter. 

I remove and thaw them in the fridge for a couple of days and around 2pm on the day prior to BBQ day, I remove from the fridge, unwrap, and rinse them .  Then I remove all but about an 1/8” of the fat cap, score the fat in a diamond pattern and apply my rub, which is a 75/25 mixture of Billy Bones Original and XXX Cherry. 

After the rub application, I put it fat side down into a foil pan, where it will stay until done – I leave a little fat to provide some heat protection for the early part of the cook.  Then I cover with plastic wrap and leave it set on the kitchen counter for about 6 hours (don’t tell the food police I do this) and I know some successful competitors also do this.

At the 7- 8pm cooking time, I add a remote probe thermometer (ThermoWorks or Polder), put it into the smoker at 225* and don’t bother it until next morning.  My smoker is a Stumps vertical box-type in which I use all natural charcoal briquettes with some fist sized hardwood chunks (usually oak or hickory) dispursed throughout.  I use a DigiQ controller, which maintains a accurate and even cooking temperature.

When I get up, it will usually be in the 165* internal range with the pan about half full of juice, which I dump into a bowl for later use. 

Whenever it reaches about 170* and has the deep mahogany color I’m looking for, I cover it tightly with foil and cook to around 200*- 205* using the probe-goes-in-like-warm-butter test or looseness of the bone to determine final doneness. 

After removing from the smoker, I again dump the juice, recover with the foil and put into a cooler for an hour or two, then remove, uncover, and allow it to cool to pulling temperature (just cool enough to handle).

When pulling, we flip it and remove any remaining fat cap and break it apart to cool some more.

While pulling, I remove as much of the remaining fat in the meat as possible, then I return the saved and de-fatted juices from the pan to the meat along with some sop (1 tbsp/ meat lb. of secret blend of vinegar, lemon juice, and salt) and mix everything together. 

I find that collecting the rub infused juices and returning them to the meat provides as much flavor as I need which is why I don't inject, while the sop provides a slight tang and needed salt.  I add no sauce at this point and rarely add it to a sandwich.  This is the finished product.

I have no idea how mine would stack up against the product the professional competitors turn out, but I’ve yet to get any I like better from a BBQ restaurant and my customers seem well pleased.

Interestingly, we only occasionally use it for a BBQ sandwich, but rather use it mostly in other dishes – burritos for example.

All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by Almost Heaven South.

One year ago: Hodgepodge Sandwich

Two years ago: Pasta Alfredo With A Twist - Twice



  1. Ooooh..Boy!! Does that look absolutely great!!

  2. You're busted buddy, I'm calling the food police! All kidding aside, I'm trying to picture Bob and I doing this someday which brings up a possibly stupid question. I'm wondering if 225 degrees is hot enough to keep coyotes from knocking the thing around and dragging off the meat. You know we have a critter problem around here. Maybe this is a daytime activity for Colorado.

  3. LA - Cooking overnight requires a smoker that will run by itself for several hours. Butts can be cooked in much shorter time at higher temps with just as good a result. Mine used to cook in about 9 hours at 265* and some folks are cooking them in the 275-300* range. I do mine this way so I can have the big meat nearly done when I'm ready to cook the other items so I can get done by mid afternoon.

  4. Oh ny gosh. I want this now. AND I love your secret vinegar sauce thing back in the pork, I'm going to try that (though I'll have to make my own super secret vinegar recipe :)

  5. Oh my goodness, I would happily eat a plate of nothing but the meat for breakfast right now. I think I need a smoker. Seriously NEED one now. Wow. This sounds perfect.

  6. I'd love a plate of some good BBQ right now! I make a brisket in the oven using KC Masterpiece with beef broth. It's really good and surprisingly better than the BBQ places (2 of them) around here.

  7. Looks delicious, Larry... I'm sure that I would love munching on that!!!!!

    We had a bone in ham for dinner last night.. It was marinated in some kinds of cranberry juice concoction.. Turned out great.... YUM...

    Have a good week.

  8. I've been luck enough to sample your smoked pork butt and it totally rocks! thanks for show your step by step technique, I love the mahogany color the pork gets when its done.

  9. Larry, Just beautiful! Look at that bark! However, as I'm not patient enough to smoke a butt myself and also a bit on the lazy side, I'll just continue to take adavantage of your monthly BBQ event! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

  10. I like your use of the "pork jus" on the pulled pork, great technique. Nice bark.

    You mentioned a lot of variables, made me realize what a fun path it is to learn how to perfect your own BBQ. We are two lucky dudes.


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