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COOKING THE PERFECT BOSTON BUTT

Boston Butt

It has many names (Pork butt, pork shoulder, and Boston Roast) but for our purpose here, we’ll refer to it as the Boston Butt.  It is one of my favorites to cook, in spite of the commitment to time and money it takes to prep and cook this succulent meat.  Why is it my favorite you ask? You can eat this in a multitude of different ways which is important because you’re going to have leftovers unless you’re feeding an army.  Some of my favorite are the obvious pulled pork sandwich or sliders, pulled pork tacos and you can add it beans, nachos etc. Keep checking back for recipes and how to's or drop us a message to tell us what you'd like to see.  


 A quick search on google or bing will yield you a sensory overload of recipes and instructions on how to cook/smoke pork but I’ll keep it simplified so we can get right to it.  Next time we’ll be smoking pork spare ribs so keep checking back for others you may enjoy. 

THE MEAT

I usually source meat at the local butcher, it’s not necessary but you tend to get a better product and most definitely is a fresher cut. 

First, we need to understand that we’re cooking the front shoulder of the pig, not the ham which is in the rear. Some folks can get confused when we say Boston Butt or Pork Butt so don’t let the name fool you.  The Boston Butt is the top part of the shoulder, it should have a blade bone in it and will have a large fat cap on the top.

Remember, we are cooking this low and slow so when you are choosing your pork shoulder or butt, look for a good marble of fat throughout with a good fat cap.  The fat will be rendered during the slow cook which will keep the meat moist during this process. I always always choose bone in which enriches the flavor during the cook.  Most places will only have bone in but some grocery stores will remove the bone during processing and hike up the price labeling it a “premium cut”.  If you see a “Boneless Boston Butt or Pork Shoulder” keep looking because you definitely want the bone in. 

What to look for? Meat should be firm, have a good marble consistency, a good fat cap and bone in.

THE TRIMMING

When it comes to trimming the Boston Butt, everyone has an opinion.  Since you’re here, I’ll share mine.  Many will say to leave the thick fat cap on the top of the shoulder. In cooking many of these, and I mean many, I’ve found the fat cap doesn’t render all the way down when it’s more than about ¼” inch thick leaving a pretty large mass of fat sitting on the top that could have otherwise been a tasty bark. 

So my recommendation is to cut that cap to about ¼” inch on the topside. Remember, you still have fat inside the meat that will render down and help keep it moist not to mention the flavor that come with it.  Did I say flavor?  The bone is going to add a second layer of flavor that’s out of this world.  

 THE INJECTING AND/OR MARINATING

To inject or not to inject?  That is the question!   Some always inject and others never do so it totally up to you.  My opinion is, it depends on how much time you have before you have to cook it and whether or not you want to add a secondary flavor.  I inject when I don’t have time to let it marinate or if I want a different flavor to hit the palate on the back side (such as a hot spice).  For the purpose of this blog, I’m not injecting. 

I typically marinate with a 50/50 split of apple cider vinegar and apple juice.  The same if I’m injecting and going right to cooking.  Once trimmed, I put it in a rectangle casserole dish with marinade and let it sit over night to hydrate.  If you have a vacuum sealer, use it.  Will only help to draw the marinade in which it will need when it sweats during the cooking process.  You’ll be cooking this for 10+ hours so that added liquid will keep the meat moist during this long cook.

THE RUB

For Pork, acidity is important, that’s why I start with a yellow mustard glaze to allow the rub to stick.  Some of my friends use a Dijon mustard but I prefer using the straight yellow mustard.  Mainly because I always have it on hand and it’s not as expensive as the Dijon.

Coat the meat after trimming with the mustard paste. Then add your dry rub generously.  I’ve been known to mix my own but an awesome substitute is John Henrys’ Rub.  You want more bark or sweet crunch?  Add an extra teaspoon of brown sugar before you apply.  

THE SPRITZ OR MOP

I spritz when cooking only one or two butts and mop when using my large smoker and cooking several at the same time. This helps me keep the door closed on the smoker.  Keep in mind, every time you open your smoker you’re adding time to the process so when you do spritz or mop, do it quickly and get the smoker closed back up. 

Using a food safe spray bottle, add 50/50 apple cider and water mix.  I use this mixture to cut down on the sweetness since I use a brown sugar rub, so use a mixture to your liking.

After three hours of smoke, spritz every 30 minutes until you wrap. The smoke likes to attach to the moisture which gives us that rich smokey flavor we love.  Continue this until it’s time to wrap. Remember to be quick (but safe) while doing this step so we don’t add hours to the cooking time.  I know I know, we do need to admire our work but trust me, we’ll have time to admire the looks and taste a bit later.

THE WRAP

Some do, and some don’t.  I’ve done both.  For us novice smokers, wrapping will help ensure the meat doesn’t dry out.  Most purists, whom I highly respect, do not wrap or seldom wrap. When I do wrap, (most of the time) I wrap right after the stall or sweat. (The stall is the point in cooking when the meat sweats liquid cooling it down) Don’t freak out when this happens it’s normal just continue and cook through it. The stall/sweat usually ends when the internal temperature reaches around 165°F range.  Keep an eye out for it when you spritz.

At this point, you should be seeing a nice bark.  I use a heavy-duty foil from Sam’s, but any foil will do so long as you wrap it tightly and completely.  Since you are choosing to wrap you don’t want the moisture to escape.  I will say there is a difference in texture between wrapped and not but the taste is going to be awesome nevertheless.

 

THE COOK

Now that it’s wrapped, it’s now about getting it to the final internal cooking temperature. I like my Boston Butt to reach 212°F internally. When the temperature reaches 212° it’s ready to come out.  At this temperature your thermometer should easily go into the meat.  That marbling in the meat we talked about earlier, this is where it’s magic happens. That marble has been rendered out during the slow cook and become liquid awesomeness.  Pull wrapped at 212 and then rest it. Ideally in a cooler, with no ice, wrapped in a towel. If you don’t have a cooler, wrap it up in a towel and sit it out on the kitchen counter.  This allows the pork to slowly come down in temperature which is what you want.

This cool down period is key! Letting the pork cool allows the meat you just expanded while cooking, to contract and pull all that rendered fat and moisture back in to give you an awesome smoked Boston Butt.  Let it rest for at least one hour.  If you’re traveling to an event, the cooler should keep it warm for a couple hours. 

THE SHRED

After the meat has rested for an hour, it’s time to shred it up.  The meat should be falling apart.  Using these gloves and meat claws makes easy work of the shredding process.  They’re easy to clean and are even dishwasher safe. 

Remove the pork from the cooler and remove the foil wrap. Take out the bone and start pulling. As you pull you may find some minor pieces of fat or cartilage that you want to discard. Get it pulled to you desired consistency and then cover again until ready to serve.

Want a little extra flavor? Add apple cider or your favorite BBQ sauce.


THE EAT

Have you tasted it yet?  I find it near impossible to shred it up and not have a few bites here and there.  The key is to enjoy the steps that got you here and the flavor you created.  Have fun with it, try not to over smoke and just enjoy.

 

For the purpose of this recipe we kept the size around 10 lbs. 

 

SMOKED BOSTON BUTT (PORK SHOULDER, PULLED PORK)

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INSTRUCTIONS

  1. The night before the cook, prepare the meat. Cut excess fat cap leaving 1/4”, and any glands. Rinse off with cold water and then place in a large casserole dish, fat cap down, Mix 50/50 apple cider vinegar with apple juice and pour over meat until dish is half full. Pull vacuum if available or cover with saran wrap and put in refrigerator.   Save any left over mix to use when spritzing. 
  2. Day 2 – Remove from fridge and drain excess marinade. Let stand for 15 minutes in dish for all excess marinade to settle.  Remove from dish and apply mustard base.  Starting with the fat cap down, apply dry rub thoroughly.  Once dry rub is applied, let stand for at least 30 minutes, I prefer 1 hr.  You’ll notice the rub begin to paste up as all the ingredients interact with the meat.
  3. Preheat smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. I like using hickory and apple wood for smoking, then I switch to oak (if I have it) or charcoal to finish the cook.
  4. Insert your meat probe now. (Ensure the probe is not touching the bone)  Electric smokers typically have a built in probe, or use a remote probe for wood smokers.
  5. Place the pork in smoker, fat cap up and smoke for about three hours. After three hours, you’ll start seeing the bark at this point. Spritz every 30 minutes for the next 4-5 hours.  Start checking the temperature after 4 hours and when the pork hits 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to wrap. This will change depending on the meat you’re smoking.  You will see the temperature hover and only go up in a few degrees per hour. As it pushes through the sweat, you start to see the temperature increase at a much faster pace.
  6. Once the sweat or stall is complete, remove the pork and place in a pan, remove your temp probe and wrap tightly in foil. I usually add an ounce of spritz in with the foil wrap.  Once wrapped, put the temp probe back in place.  (Ensuring the probe is not touching the bone)
  7. Continue cooking wrapped until the internal temperature is between 210 and 212. The thermometer should slide out very easy at this point.
  8. Remove from smoker (leave wrapped in foil), and wrap in a towel (one that you’re okay with getting dirty). Place into a cooler (with NO ice) and let it rest for an hour. It will act as a warmer and keep the pork warm for a couple hours. If you are planning an event, just leave in cooler until you’re ready to serve.  It’s better to be done early and let it sit.
  9. After one hour, remove from cooler and begin pulling. Remove the bone (it should slide right out clean), and then pull with your favorite tool or with your hands. If you come across some cartilage or other fatty pieces, be sure to pull and discard those out before serving.
  10. Serve and enjoy!!!

1 comment

  • Tried this recipe at home with my family and it turned out great! Thank you for all of the detailed instructions, it made the recipe so much easier to follow!

    Breanna

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