If you like pulled pork as much as my family, the day will come when you want to try and cook a perfect pork shoulder. To do this well requires a little knowledge and some specialized equipment.

Now you can cook a really nice pork shoulder in a slow cooker but you won’t get a smoke ring or any smoke flavor, for that you need a smoker. Also if you cook the shoulder too fast, it won’t pull – you’ll have to carve it, and while that’s quite nice, it isn’t pulled pork!

So why am I writing about this? What do I know about pulled pork and smoking?

Well this year I found a new hobby, smoking or barbequing, which should not to be confused with grilling, is my new summer passion. At the beginning of summer, I went on a course, purchased a smoker and started to experiment. Over the last few months I’ve smoked Chicken, Pork Ribs, Brisket, Salmon and Pork Shoulder (also called Pork Butt or Boston Butt).

In time I’m thinking of posting a number of blog articles on my equipment and how I use it. Heck I may even post some recipes too (I’ve got some really good ones).

But today it’s all about pulled pork.

I should state here that I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while, but to be honest I get so excited when I’m preparing the food that I forget to take pictures, by the time I remember it’s all gone! And I think for this kind of article you really need pictures.

But today I remembered to take pictures as I completed each step so here’s how to cook a perfect pork shoulder.

So let’s start with the pork joint itself.

I went to QFC and purchased a pork shoulder with the bone in. The shoulder was actually 8½ pounds in weight, so pretty big (I would have got a smaller one but they didn’t have any in).

You ideally want to get one with the bone in as it improves the flavor of the cooked meat, plus it feels great at the end of cooking when you can pull the bone out with your hand and it’s clean!

The shoulder I bought had quite a thick fat cap, so I cut some of that off (not all, that will add flavor too as it renders.)

The joint then looked like this:

Now the meat was ready for it’s rub. You can buy rubs but it’s really easy to make your own. I make one here’s the recipe:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup salt
  • ¼ cup paprika
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

This makes around 3 cups of rub. You can make more just make sure the ratios are the same. Once you start doing this you can begin to adjust ingredients to taste.

Thing is a rub won’t stick to the meat by itself, you need a binder. For that I just use French’s Yellow Mustard. This works really well as doesn’t add any taste to the end result.

Here’s a picture of the joint covered in mustard:

Next it’s time to apply the rub. I do this pretty liberally as it creates a nice bark over the meat that tastes great.

After the rub is applied it looks like this:

Now we’re ready for the smoker. Before I started preparing the joint I turned on my smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now this is important. Once you put the meat in, you must not open the smoker until it reaches temperature. The way you know it’s ready is that you insert a temperature probe into the meat that extends to a temperature gauge outside of the smoker.

So the image below shows the shoulder in the smoker with a probe stuck into the joint. Here I was aiming for the middle of the joint, but not near the bone.

Now it’s waiting time! The question is how long do you wait? Well that depends on a few different things, how big the joint is, how hot the smoker is and how long it takes to get through the “stall”.

So what the heck is the stall? I can’t explain the science behind this but meat will raise in temperature to around 165 degrees and then stop going up. It can stay at that temperature for between 1 and 5 hours! I’ve read loads of articles on the stall and the reality is nobody really knows why this happens, but they all say the same thing – you have to wait it out, don’t turn up the heat or play with the meat in any way – you will just ruin it!

I’ve found on average though that it takes around 2 to 2½ hours per pound to get to temperature.

So what’s the temperature? Ideally it’s 205 degrees but I’ve found that anything over 200 is just fine.

The shoulder I cooked today took just over 20 hours. Yeah I know that’s insane! But low and slow means a long time and if you wait it out it’s worth it. So this went on the smoke at 8:30 Friday night and was ready at 4:45 Saturday afternoon.

Once the meat was ready, it looked like this:

Once the shoulder is done the fun begins. First you get to take the bone out. This should just pull free and be clean, if the meat won’t come off the bone – you didn’t get it to 200 degrees

Then it’s time to pull the pork. To do this I use bear claws, it’s so much easier with the right gear. These look exactly like their name you have one in each hand and just pull the pork apart. It should be super easy to do.

The result should look like the following:

At last, it’s time to taste the results of our hard work.

You really need a good barbecue sauce here, in a future blog posting I’ll tell you how to make your own, but added to the pork I promise you it’s all worth the wait.

Here’s the end result.

So what’s the takeaway here? Firstly it’s not hard to do, you just need patience and a smoker, maybe I’ll talk about smokers next time.

Happy smoking folks, I’ve got some pulled pork to eat (if there’s any left, James, Abi and Lisa are there already).