Sweet and Savory Pulled Pork from a Smoked Boston Butt
Pulled Juicy, Tender, Smoked Boston Butt
Smoked Boston Butt, or pork shoulder/pork butt is one of the cornerstones of good barbeque due to its flavor, versatility, and ease of smoking. This recipe is really hard to mess up, and you’ll be able to use the pulled pork from it in all sorts of meals. You can enjoy it on its own, in sandwiches, burritos, with other meats, and essentially anywhere you want to add a hearty portion of pork. I typically smoke one 8-10lb Boston Butt and then use the meat in 4-5 meals over the next few weeks.
Boston Butt, what's that?
Most people refer to this cut of meat as pork butt or pork shoulder. I grew up referring to it as a Boston Butt, and it’s a real thing. Wiki suggests the cut of meat originates from New England, hence the name, though I have to imagine people were eating pork shoulders long before New England.
The Butt part of the name has nothing to do with the rear end of the pig, it refers to the packing barrels originally used to transport pork shoulders.
Why use a Boston Butt/Pork Shoulder for pulled pork?
My theory is this, the Boston Butt is relatively well marbled with fat. The fat is thin enough to be eaten, but present enough to keep the meat moist during the long smoke. The fat cap also helps keep the meat moist. This moisture plus the long smoke time tenderizes the meat while cooking and makes the meat easy to pull apart.
Theories on spice rubs and sprays
This recipe, and frankly a lot of pulled pork recipes, flavor the Boston Butt on two stages:
- The rub: When rubbed with spices overnight, the meat soaks in the flavor of the spices. While smoking, the rub helps form the bark of the meat, which provides an incredible flavor and texture.
- The spray: The primary purpose of the spray is to keep the meat moist during a long dry smoke. This is also an opportunity to affect the flavor and texture of the crust.
What’s the rub?
Most Boston Butt rubs go one of two directions:
- Oil and Spice. This was what I chose for this recipe. Oil helps crisp up the bark of the meat and creates a sticky medium to both hold my spices and spread their flavor evenly around the surface of the meat. I used a hot mustard powder in the spice mix, which added just a slight note of heat to the bark and complimented the sweet flavors of my spray. This was an experiment on my part, and I highly recommend it going forward. You can find hot mustard powder in the Asian section of your local supermarket.
2. Mustard rubs are also good! You should feel free to experiment with your favorite mustard flavor and rub down the outside of the meat. You can also mix some spices into the mustard. This method requires less planning of spices and works really well.
Spray down that pork!
Most common Boston Butt sprays are equal parts vinegar and juice. Apple cider vinegar is commonly used, and I’ve seen apple juice, pineapple juice, and lemon juice used before.
Instead of vinegar, I’ve seen others call for the use of bourbon, which sounds really good.
For this recipe, I wanted to try something new. I was inspired by the bourbon idea, as well as slow cooker recipes for Dr. Pepper pulled pork. I went for equal parts brandy and cherry coke, which created a sweet and complex bark on the butt. The spray worked really well, and I’ll easily use it again.
A note on sugary sweetness
It’s only natural to want to add a sweet element to a delicious pulled pork. I recommend doing that through your spray or through BBQ sauce at the end. A sweet spray like the one in this recipe will only add a little sugar at a time to the crust, and avoids charring and burning.
I do not recommend adding sugar to your rub. When smoked for this long, the brown sugar will caramelize and burn, and hurt the overall quality of your pulled pork.
How to time this smoke
This recipe takes around 90 minutes of smoke time per lb, my 8lb Smoked Boston Butt took 12 hours to finish. In order to eat at a reasonable time, I started this smoke first thing in the morning and let it run all day.
With smoking, you can’t beat the low and slow approach. Long smokes and low temperatures lead to more tender and better smoked meat.
That said, if you don’t have 12 hours, you can smoke a similarly sized Boston Butt in as few as 8 hours with a wrap. Cook the pork uncovered for 4 hours at 250, then wrap it in foil or butcher paper and cook for 4 more hours at 225. The wrapping helps the meat lock in heat and steam while it cooks. Even though I preferred the 12 hour version, you’ll still come out with a great meal.
Leave the fat cap on and the bone in
A raw Boston Butt will come with a shoulder blade bone on one side and a large fat cap on top of the meat. Leave them alone until after the cook. The fat cap will add moisture to the meal and can be easily scraped off at the end. The bone could be cut out now, but it pulls out with no resistance after the cook, so why struggle?
Perfect side dishes
For me, good barbeque needs good sides; it’s just part of the cuisine. Here are some of the key staples that will make your dinner table feel like a BBQ restaurant:
- Moist Honey Cornbread: I don’t think any barbeque meal is complete without cornbread. The sweetness of this bread will accentuate the savoriness of your meat.
- Potato salad: Potato salad is another bbq classic. My recipe uses grilled onions and parsley to create a creamy flavor rich salad.
- Mac’n cheese: I just love mac and cheese, it’s a real comfort food for me.
- Baked beans: Like cornbread, their sweetness contrasts and enhances savory bbq meat.
Make other meals with this Smoked Boston Butt
Eight pounds of pulled Boston Butt is way too much for just my husband and I. I smoke large cuts like this, and turn it into a wide array of meals. The meat freezes well, though I prefer to use as much as I can while still fresh.
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches: We went hiking the day after the smoke, and brought along delicious pulled pork sandwiches for a picnic lunch. We based them on our pepper stout sandwiches, and they came out great!
- Mac and Cheese: I use some of this pulled pork to make incredible homemade mac and cheese. The pork and bbq sauce, mixed with the freshly shredded cheese created a rich and hearty comfort meal.
- Quesadillas: Once you have some frozen pulled pork, you can amp up your quesadillas at a moment’s notice.
- Other ideas: pulled pork chili, burritos, tacos, and more!
Let’s make Smoked Boston Butt
Start off by applying the rub the night before. Rinse and dry the meat if you haven’t and then coat the meat with the oil. Mix your dry spices separately, and then pat down the whole butt until well coated in spice. Cover and let rest overnight (at least 4 hours, but longer is better).
Preheat your smoker to 230. If you’re using a pellet grill I recommend using a smoke tube (some details in this post). Make sure you have a water tray filled at the bottom of the smoker, and refill it as needed (every few hours.) Lay out the Boston Butt and smoke for 90 minutes per lb.
Every hour, spray the meat making sure to get the underside as well. This will keep the meat moist and help build up a wonderful outer bark.
Once the meat reaches 200F +/- 5F, bring the Butt inside. Wrap it tight and stow it to keep warm. I use a cooler since its the right size and thermally insulates the Butt. You can also stick it in the (off) microwave. This will keep the meat warm while it rests and equalizes its juices throughout the meat. You’ll end up with juicer meat that’s easy to work with.
Let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour. I went with 30 minutes. Don’t worry, the meat will still be piping hot when you take it out.
Now, using a spatula or fork, scrape off the fat cap and discard. Get any other large chunks of fat you find. Also grab the bone out and discard.
Lastly shred the meat. I break off large chunks with a spatula and shred them with two forks in a large bowl. You might find some sections near the bone have some fat or tough tissue, go ahead and discard those.
Now you can plate and serve! Make sure to taste the meat without any sauce first, marvel at the tender smokey flavor. Taste the bark too! Can you taste how the spices combined into the bark? Think about what you’d change or do differently for your next rub and spray. Enjoy 🙂
Recipe for Smoked Boston Butt
Smoked Boston Butt
- 1 Smoker
- 1 Cooler (optional)
- 8 lb Boston Butt (Pork Butt) (or similar size)
- 4 tsp coarse black pepper
- 2 tsp Paprika (Spanish or your favorite)
- ½ tsp Hot Mustard Powder (optional but recommended)
- 2 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp Cayenne Powder (optional if you want less heat)
- 2 tsp Onion Powder
- 4 tsp Kosher Salt (or equivalent)
- ½ Cup Cherry Coke I used the full cal kind
- ½ Cup Brandy
- Oil all sides of the Boston Butt, then mix the dry spices and pat on all sides of the meat liberally.
- Preheat your smoker to 230F, and fill a tray with water at the bottom. Smoke the Boston Butt for 90 minutes per pound.
- Mix the brandy and cherry coke in a spray bottle. Shake before spraying. Spray top and bottom of meat every hour.
- Once the meat reaches 250F +/- 5F, wrap the meat in foil or butcher paper and tuck it into a cooler, microwave, or box. Let rest 30 min to 1 hour.
- Unwrap the meat, and use a spatula to scrape off the fat cap. Also pull out the bone.
- Break the meat into large chunks with a spatula or knife. Use two forks to shred the chunks into a bowl. Plate and serve.