Smoked Pork Shoulder (Pork Butt)

One of the easiest and most delicious meals you can prepare is a good smoked pork shoulder (pork butt).

Smoked Pork butt on a smoker
Look at that bark!

Why This Pork Butt Recipe Works

Smoked pork butt is a cornerstone of the backyard barbecue. The smoke flavor and a flavorful spice rub on fall-apart tender pulled pork just can’t be beaten.

I have prepared countless smoked pork butts, but every time I pull one off the smoker, it’s like Christmas, and I am 8 years old.

If you want to impress your friends, have them over for some of the best smoked pulled pork they have ever had.

This long cook and slow process produce the most flavorful meat. The best results take time, and it’s worth the effort.

A cutting board with a whole smoked pork butt, shredded smoked pork butt, and chopped smoked pork butt.
Look at that board of goodness!

I have heard more than once from friends and family that this was the best smoked pork shoulder they ever had. That alone is why I don’t care about getting up early in the morning to start this up.

And when the smoker gets fired up, I usually throw on some of our very popular smoked chicken wings and some smoked baby back ribs. If you’re a fan of the fall off the bone ribs, check these out too.

What’s The Trick? Pork Shoulder Brine!

There isn’t really one, but perhaps you have never done this before, and it’s a game changer.

The trick is to keep the meat moist while it slowly cooks all day. The best way to do that is to either inject the butt or brine it.

A pork butt in a simple pork brine.

We usually brine, and you can find an explanation and pork shoulder brine here.

In a few words, the meat remains moist while cooking, and once done, you get the awesome bark and meat that falls apart in your fingers! So, let’s get to it.

Rub Ingredients For The Smoked Pork Butt

When it comes time to apply the pork rub, you can use your favorite or try ours. It’s perfect for pork. We will also use this spice rub on our ribs as well.

A dry rub for ribs and pork butt.

Our rub is most definitely a Memphis-style rub. I have tried this and that over the years, but I will always use our own. It hits all the notes that I am looking for in a rub.

  • Paprika – The backbone of Memphis style barbecue
  • Smoked paprika – Adds a great smokiness to the rub
  • Garlic powder – Adds a subtle flavor to the overall rub
  • Chili powder – Another staple in a Memphis rub
  • Kosher salt – Gotta have the salt
  • Black pepper – Adds punches of heat
  • Onion powder – As with garlic powder, this ingredient adds fullness to the rub.
  • Brown sugar – Adds just a hint of sweetness
  • Dried oregano – Adds herbaceousness to the rub
  • Cumin – More smoky goodness
  • Dry mustard – Adds a touch of tang and heat
  • Cayenne powder – Depending on how spicy you like your rub, this brings the heat.

In a small bowl, combine all the rub ingredients and mix well to combine. I use brown sugar in this rub because I believe the molasses adds to the rub. You can sub it out with white sugar if you’re inclined.

How To Smoke A Pork Shoulder (Pork Butt)

So, let’s say I am wanting to fall face first into a plate of pulled pork at 4 pm on Saturday; this is what I am going to do:

Thursday night, I will put my pork shoulder in the brine. Also known as pork butt or Boston Butt. Any grocery store should have them, I like to get a couple at a time.

note

You might want to look at the fat cap. If you have excess fat on there, you can, and should, trim some of that off. The smoke and the rub will not penetrate through all of that.

Friday, after about 18-24 hours, I will pull out the meat from the brine and let it rest for a couple of hours.

A pork butt with a memphis style rub applied.

The meat will drain some excess brine. I will pat it relatively dry, apply a liberal amount of yellow mustard all over, apply the dry rub on all sides, and wrap it up overnight.

The mustard allows the dry rub to adhere better, and the vinegar aids in the cooking process. Some people like to spritz it with apple juice or apple cider vinegar, but I don’t find that necessary.

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About The Wood For Smoking

After much trial, I found that using unsoaked wood chips works much better. You want that smoke to start smoking, not waiting until the water evaporates (don’t soak the chips).

In an offset smoker, each chunk usually takes about 45 minutes before needing to add more. You need to keep an eye out and toss another couple of hickory chunks in when the smoke stops.

Pellet smokers and gravity-fed smokers usually handle the smoke all on their own.

In my opinion, I think hickory or pecan wood is the best to use for this. I like an aggressive smoke on my shredded pork. Some people like to use fruit wood, such as apple wood or cherry wood, to add sweetness. Smoke with what you like.

Two pork butts with rub applied, wrapped in plastic wrap.
Why do one pork butt when you can do two!

The typical 8-pound pork shoulder needs to go for about 12 hours. So I am up at 3:30 am to start my charcoal.

I want my smoker/grill to be between 225-250 when I put my meat on. It usually takes me about that long to get the temperature regulated using an offset smoker.

For those that have just a smoker, this might take you less time. Those with a Weber-type grill can do the same as well. Put your meat onto one side, and smoke it with indirect heat.

Before placing it on, you may want to add some additional rub.

Two pork butts just placed into the smoker.

Place the meat on the grill, fat side up. Again, this is a preference. Some maintain that the fat side up will baste the pork butt as it is smoked while the fat side down will protect the meat.

I have tried it both ways, and it’s always been a success either way.

Two smoked pork butts at about 6 hours into the smoking process.

I will smoke the meat for 6 hours. During this time, watch your temps. You may need to add more wood or fuel for your fire, but do your best to maintain 225-250.

Spritz the bone-in pork butt with a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water to keep it moist during the smoking process, especially if you decided not to brine.

Two pork butts wrapped in butcher paper on the smoker.

After 6 hours of cook time, pull the meat and wrap it in butcher paper.

Some people want to use aluminum foil, but the paper allows some moisture to escape, so it won’t end up stewing in its own juices.

In the 11th hour, I usually start checking the temps. The internal temperature of the meat you’re looking for is 192-195 degrees. In the 11th hour for me, I am usually right at 190.

note

When the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit, all that connective tissue starts to break down, making this piece of meat super tender. And tender meat is what we’re after.

When the meat is done, pull it off and let it rest for a bit. You will be tempted to tear it apart right there, but it’s really hot. I wouldn’t recommend it.

You may also need to defend the meat from your wife, who can strike like a cobra at the smoked ends of the meat. Watch out for that as well.

The pork butt shoulder bone pulled out clean from the meat.

After letting the pork butt rest for at least an hour (we wait a couple of hours), place the meat in a rectangular pan because the juices will run.

Grab hold of that shoulder bone and watch it slide out. It will still be hot, but it will come apart with some meat claws or forks. When it’s cooled down, your fingers work just as well.

Smoked pulled pork HEAVEN! You’re gonna get the juicy meat, you’re gonna get the pronounced smoke ring, you’re gonna get that tasty bark.

Now all you have to do is decide how to eat this.

Chopped and shredded smoked pork butt on a cutting board with pickles and barbecue sauce.

I’m a fan of pork sandwiches with some pickles and chow chow. A few hits with a cleaver, and I have my chopped pork. My wife likes adding a touch of her favorite bbq sauce and eating it without the bun.

Feel free to use any bbq sauce you like because it’s all good each and every way!

Chopped and shredded pork butt on a cutting board.
Chopped, shredded, or pulled. It’s all up to you!

Wondering what to serve with your new favorite pulled pork recipe? You can never go wrong with an herb potato salad or some banging barbecue baked beans.

Enjoy, and happy BBQing!

Pro Tips

I honestly cannot count the number of pork butts I have smoked over the years. Here are some tips that I have picked up over time.

Temperature is key, not time.

The thought process is that at temperatures between 225-250, it takes about 90 minutes per pound to smoke a pork butt. All sorts of things can throw this off, but it’s a good rough estimate.

As such, it’s always best to go by temperature. At 165 degrees, the pork is safe to eat but will not be fork-tender. At 180 degrees, the pork butt starts to break down the collagen and connective tissues. At this point, it will begin the process of becoming more tender.

At 190 degrees, the pork butt will be at a decent tenderness, but I would allow it to go even further to 195 degrees before pulling the pork butt off and resting.

When I smoke a pork butt, I pull at 195 degrees. It is always fork tender without getting too soft. If you want pulled pork that melts in your mouth, this is the temperature I would aim for.

A fireboard makes it super simple to watch your temps.

I use a Fireboard to watch my temperature. You can also use an instant-read thermometer to quickly check where you are at.

So keep in mind that it is all about the temperature of the pork butt, not the time on the smoker.

Wood Matters (in my opinion)

I usually tell everybody to use the wood that you like the best. But I am biased. Here in the south, we are known for our smoked pork. And in the south, we use hickory.

When I smoke pork butt, I always use hickory. It is an aggressive smoke, but not as strong as mesquite.

I recommend hickory for smoke butts because I want to taste the smoky goodness on that pulled pork. I want that bark to sing!

I have also used a mix of hickory and oak, which was just as good. I have used pecan, which will do as well, as my second choice.

Also, to add a fruitiness that goes great with pork, apple wood is amazing.

I know that, regionally speaking, everybody has their favorites. But if you want authentic, southern pulled pork, try the hickory.

What is ‘The Stall’?

The stall occurs when smoking large pieces of meat at low temperatures for a long period of time. Between 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, you may notice that the temperature stops rising in your meat.

This is typical, and it shouldn’t freak you out. What is happening is that the meat’s liquid is evaporating and cooling the meat, much like how sweat cools us off on a hot day.

The relative humidity of your location can reduce or increase the time of the stall and can last for hours.

Wrapping the pork in either aluminum foil or butcher paper will get you past the stall or eliminate it together. The directions for our smoked pork butt call for this around the 6th hour.

Wrapping Or No Wrapping

Wrapping the pork butt in this recipe has a two-fold purpose. First, I am not going to roll smoke for 12 hours, it’ll just get too smoky. The wrapping prevents the smoke from penetrating.

If you want more smoke, wrap it later. Less smoke, wrap sooner. I have found this is the perfect time to wrap when rolling a decent amount of smoke.

Two pork butts wrapped in butcher paper.

The other purpose is that it helps with the stall, or Texas Crutch, as they call it. There are purists out there that will suggest that it destroys the bark, but I haven’t found that to be totally true using butcher paper.

If you don’t want to wrap and you do experience the stall, just increase the temperature of your pit by about 10 degrees until you move out of it.

Smoking A Pork Butt Ahead Of Time

Yes, smoking a pork butt takes time, but you don’t have to get up at midnight to smoke this for a 12 o’clock party. Prepare it ahead of time.

Smoke the pork butt as instructed a day ahead. Shred the pork, retaining the juices, in disposable aluminum foil pans. Seal well and refrigerate until the next day.

The next day, reheat in the oven, grill, or smoker at 225 degrees Fahrenheit until hot, about 30-40 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

Variations

Binder – We use plain old yellow mustard typically. Olive oil is a solid choice. Also, no binder as well works just as well, to be honest. If you don’t use mustard, I would recommend that you spritz often with a 50/50 mix of water and apple cider.

Rubs – So many rubs to choose from. You can really mix things up. While I am a super fan of our Memphis-style rub (used in this recipe), I have also used (and enjoyed) Bad Byron’s Butt Rub. Meat Church also has some very good (and popular) rubs, which can be found at Academy Sports.

Wood – Mix it up now and again with various kinds of wood. It does indeed change the flavor profile. While I mentioned that I am a hickory guy, the apple wood often comes into play.

BBQ Sauces – Wow, so many to choose from again. If you like sweet heat, go with that. If you’re a fan of mustard-based, look for some North Carolina sauces. There really is no bad option here.

We have an awesome Bourbon Chipotle barbecue sauce. It’s ketchup-based with pretty decent sweet notes.

bourbon chipotle barbecue sauce in a saucepan with a whisk and brush.

The chipotle brings the heat, and the bourbon adds a great smoky depthness. We keep this in stock! Plus, it’s homemade, which means it’s better than store-bought!

Keto – Are you following a keto diet? This is a perfect dish for you. Grab up some of Bad Byron’s Butt Rub (pretty much any store) and use that as a rub. No sugars, just a great blend of spices that go great with pork.

FAQ

How long to smoke a pork shoulder?

A standard 8 lb pork shoulder usually takes about 12 hours at a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit.

How long should I let a pork shoulder rest?

An hour is the minimum amount of time. We allow it to rest for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Allowing the resting period allows the meat to relax and reabsorb the juices.

At what internal temperature can I pull my pork butt off the smoker?

For us, the perfect temperature is 195 degrees Fahrenheit. The pork butt will be ready to be pulled at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. We recommend at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

Eating at 165 degrees F is safe but will not be tender enough to be considered “pull apart”.

Other Amazing Barbecue Recipes

Smoked Pork butt on a smoker

Smoked Pork Shoulder (Pork Butt) Recipe

Smoked Pork Shoulder – This recipe and method produces a juicy, tender, perfectly smoked pork butt/shoulder EVERY TIME!
4.78 from 27 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Barbeque, Main
Cuisine: American, Barbecue, BBQ, Grilling
Keyword: pork, pork butt, pork shoulder, smoked, summer
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 12 hours
Total Time: 13 hours
Servings: 16
Calories: 249kcal
Author: Brad Harris

Ingredients
 

  • 8 Lb Pork Shoulder (Butt)

Memphis Dry Rub (makes .5 cup):

  • 1/2 cup Paprika
  • 1/4 cup Chili powder
  • 3 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp Black pepper
  • 3 tbsp Brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp Smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp Garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp Onion powder
  • 1 tbsp Dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

  • Brine pork shoulder for 18-24 hours
  • Pull pork from brine, allow to rest for app. 1-2 hours
  • Apply a liberal amount of mustard, coating the entire surface of the meat
  • Apply a liberal amount of rub, rubbing or patting it into the meat
  • Wrap and leave overnight
  • Smoke at 225-250 for 6 hours
  • Pull pork from grill, wrap in paper or tin foil. If tinfoil, allow some moisture to escape by not completely sealing it
  • Return to grill, continue to cook for 6 hours at 225-250
  • Using a meat thermometer, remove cooked meat at 195-200 degrees and allow to rest for 30 minutes to an hour before shredding.

Notes

Prep time is indicated at approximately one hour. This does not include the time to brine the pork if you decide to do that. Please read the entire recipe.
Rub recipe makes enough rub for appx. 4 pork butts.
Remember to smoke to temperature, not time. The size of the butt, ambient temperature, and humidity all can affect cooking time.

Nutrition

Calories: 249kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 93mg | Sodium: 1480mg | Potassium: 695mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 3266IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 62mg | Iron: 4mg

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54 Comments

  1. Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah, I want a bite right now, please! I love the recipe and the video! Thanks so much for sharing with us at Full Plate Thursday and have a great weekend!
    Miz Helen5 stars

  2. This looks great!! My son-in-law is the smoker in my family and does a good job too!! Thanks for sharing on My 2 favorite Things on Thursday! Pinned!

  3. Congratulations!
    Your recipe is featured on Full Plate Thursday this week. Enjoy your new Red Plate and have a great weekend!
    Come Back Soon,
    Miz Helen5 stars

  4. I’ve heard such great things about brining meat! Your Smoked Pork Shoulder looks amazing. Love the ingredients in the delicious rub too. Thank you for sharing with us at The Hearth and Soul Hop.5 stars

  5. The absolute best!! I cant say enough for the brine step.. and have tried many different recipes. It is wonderful!! Thanks..

  6. After the initial 6 hour smoke, do you continue adding more wood chunks after you’ve wrapped it, or do you just maintain heat without additional smoke?

  7. Hello there, I have a 4.5 pound boneless pork shoulder – do you have any advice on how long to smoke/cook. Thank you!

    1. Hey Katharine. With a butt that size I would still follow the directions posted in the recipe but I would basically cut the time in half, as well as the ingredients. I would smoke it for three hours then wrap it up and cook for another couple of hours watching the internal temperature, pulling it off when it reaches close to 195 degrees F. Then let it rest before you shred it up. Good luck!

    1. Hey Martha, you could allow it to rest in your fridge, covered or uncovered it really is up to you. What you’re really doing is allowing any excess brine to release from the meat and drain. Personally, I just leave it out, as it will remain cold while it drains, and it’s going to the smoker right after.

      Thanks!

  8. No need to respond to my last inquiry. I’ve got my plan. I’m gonna drain the meat place it on a rack on a sheet pan, cover it with with craft paper and chill overnight. I’ll put it in the smoker cold (40 degrees)Start it hot, get a light sear all over while allowing the fire to cool down to 225 – 250 and follow your directions from there. Any ideas about basting? I’m thinking apple cider vinegar, honeyand whiskey infused with rosemary and/or basil.

    1. Hey Martha, I have never seared the meat and then smoked so let me know how that goes. I will say that I am not sure how well the smoke will penetrate the meat wit a sear so watch out for that. The pork will develop a nice bark with just smoking at that temp and really doesn’t need a sear. BUT … if you follow through that way please let us know how it turned out.

      In reference to your earlier post regarding the overnight rest with the mustard and rub: The mustard is used basically to keep the rub on. The rub will continue to work on the butt while resting, breaking down the muscle and making it more tender. Also, the vinegar of the mustard adds to the overall flavor of the meat.

      As far as basting, I do not baste. There have been times where I will hit the pork with apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle every hour or so. I have found that I have not really noticed a difference. If you find that you’re heat is teetering on the high end, it won’t hurt to do that to avoid the meat becoming too dry.

  9. This looks amazing! I currently have my roast chilling in the brine! What kind of mustard would you recommend?
    Thanks!5 stars

  10. I’ve made this MULTIPLE times and each time has been a certified winner by everyone! I’ve yet to do the brining, but only bc I keep forgetting to; I’ll have to make a point to do that next time. I actually make a mustard bbq sauce and an onion relish when I make this and they pair about as perfectly as you can imagine! Thank you!!!5 stars

  11. When you say to let it rest for a couple hours after pulling from the brine, where is it resting? In the refrigerator?

  12. Delicious! Better than anything I’ve eaten from a restaurant, even the local smokehouse. I’m about to make my third one. Thank you!!5 stars

  13. You mentioned that you always keep on in the freezer. I’m wondering how you thaw—do you thaw first or thaw in the brine?

    Also, this last one I smoked turned out pretty salty. The only thing I can think is I used more mustard and was maybe too heavy on the rub. But the rub doesn’t have much salt. Or maybe since the only option was boneless, and the store gave me one 4 lb. and one 2 lb., I should have brined way shorter time? Any ideas?

    1. Hey Lara,
      You want to thaw the shoulder (butt) before brining. Also, the brine is for about an 8lb pork shoulder. I am not sure how long you brined but cutting back on the salt for the brine would be a good way to go when the lbs of meat is less. Or less time in the brine.

        1. Wow! Yesterday, I use your brine recipe for a couple smaller pork butts and used your rib recipe, substituting smoked paprika for regular. Also, I rubbed yellow mustard onto the meat before applying the dry rub. I used a charcoal smoker using the indirect method. Stuff was so good, even my father-in-law said it was some of the best pulled pork he’d ever had! Thanks!

  14. In the commentary, you mention vinegar; however, I do not see vinegar anywhere in the recipe. Is this part of the recipe? If so, when is it added and how much?

  15. Hi,

    After Brining for about 24 Hours and leaving it to rest, do I apply the rub and immediately place it in the smoker? In the recipe it is said to leave it again overnight? What is the benefit of letting it sit in the fridge overnight with the rub? Thanks

    1. Hey Francis, this is just another layer of flavors that will be pulled into the meat. The wet brine is to really moisten the meat and break down the muscles and get salt into the meat throughout. The dry brine is to get the flavors of the rub into the meat as well. I have tried doing it all in the wet brine overnight but it wasn’t the same. I have also just done the dry brine and the meat was not as tender. I follow this method when I have time and I am super duper serious. If I was in a pinch, I would probably just apply the dry brine for overnight and make sure I cook it low and slow. Hope this helps!

  16. About to try this for the first time! Excited as this is the inaugural recipe I’ve chosen for my FIRST EVER smoke session! After reading through TONS of stuff (there’s so many recipes, opinions, etc. out there), I landed on yours and felt you were passionate, but laid back. Both traits I admire!
    I’ll keep y’all posted…about to pull from the brine…wish me luck!
    Thanks for all the insight in the recipes and for everyone’s comments that also work as a guide.

    1. That’s awesome! You nailed it too, passionate about good food and ‘que … and laid back 🙂 Let’s us know how it turned out!

  17. I used your brine and rub recipes. WOW!!! It was delicious! My wife and I just stood around the pan of pork as I was shredding it. Eating it until we were stuffed!! Thank you for the recipe and directions!! It’s going into our family recipe book.5 stars

    1. Hey Kevin,
      Man, that’s awesome and I know exactly what you’re talking about. We also have stood around and just ate it while pulling it apart! 🙂

  18. Thanks For Sharing this amazing recipe. My family loved it. I will be sharing this recipe with my friends. Hope the will like it.5 stars

  19. I going to use this recipe for my first smoke on my new Bronco drum smoker. I love the taste of smoked paprika on grilled chicken legs. Is your preference regular paprika or smoked?5 stars

    1. If your preference is smoked paprika I would go with that. We use regular paprika for this recipe because I smoke with hickory which gives me a very aggressive smoke all on its own. I love paprika and all of its versions: smoked, hot, sweet, etc.

  20. This is an easy-to-follow recipe for grill amateurs like me. My pork shoulder came with a heavy fat/skin cover. Do I need to remove it if I want ro brine it or should also work if I leave it?

    1. I will trim excess fat off of my shoulders. Some people don’t, but smoke wont penetrate that fat layer. You want SOME but yeah, lose some of it.

  21. just trying my first one. I leave the fat on to crisp. In this time scale, when to flip on the fat side. Every hour? I also crisp at 320F at the end normally. Comments help please.

    1. Hey Bruce. I actually trim away any excess fat if its more than say, 1/2 inch thick. I smoke mine cap side up. I let that render down and baste the meat. When it is all said and done and I am tearing it apart all that rendered fat gets added / mixed with all the other meat for a glorious, unctuous tray of smoked pork! 🙂

  22. Man this looks good. I never considered brining a pork shoulder. I plan to smoke one for Christmas using your recipe on my Weber kettle. I’ve had lot of luck with the Slow N Sear setup for smoking ribs, so it will be interesting using the set up to run 11-12 hour rather than the 5-7 hours for ribs.

    Nice job with the website by the way. You guys provide well-written (and humorous) instructions and beautiful pictures. And, I’m on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, so we are practically neighbors. Cheers.5 stars

    1. Thanks so much, Geo! And yep, we’re pretty close! Thanks for the kind words regarding the site, that must made our day 🙂 Let us know how it turns out if you think about it!

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