When it comes to classic barbecue, it’s hard to beat tender juicy smoked pork butt. It melts from the bones and shreds into delicious bites after hours on low and slow on the grill. But, is making amazing shredded pork something only seasoned pitmasters can achieve? Nope! Anyone can master this simple recipe for the best pulled pork in their backyard!
Table of contents
When it comes to essential barbecue recipes, mastering smoked pulled pork is a must. It took us about 25 shoulders for an event for iKamper feeding 200+ people to know that we had perfected pulled pork. Learning when to wrap, how to wait out the stall, and when the pork was ready to be easily pulled right between my fingers with no extra tools. (Though, won’t lie, for that many shoulders, I did end up using a cool pair of meat shredders that made me feel like Wolverine).
This recipe has been tried, tested, and is the perfect base for so many other pulled pork recipes. We use a pellet smoker (a Traeger) to make this seamless and easy, but have also tested this on charcoal grills, barrels smokers, and offset smokers as well. With real barbecue, you need to be patient and master temperature, not time.
What’s the difference between pork butt and pork shoulder? 👩🏻🍳
The pork shoulder and butt both make great cuts for smoking, but they are not exactly the same thing. Interchangeable yes, but identical, no. Both are from the shoulder, have lots of marbled fat, are perfect for low and slow smoking where the meat can break down and get tender, and will often be labeled the same thing in the market.
However, they are slightly different. Pork butt is often cut from the top of the pork where the shoulder (also known as a picnic roast) is cut from the lower portion, into the leg joint.
We find pork shoulder often in the market with a lot of the skin still on it and in larger sizes, where the butt only has a fat cap and will weigh a little less. Boston butt, at my local market, also is the same thing but tends to be slightly smaller than a shoulder or butt. All three can be used to smoke really good pulled pork tho!
For the perfect pulled pork you need a few things, the pork, the dry rub, the injection, and the mop (and for those who want it, the barbecue sauce at the end). We’re skipping the binder with no mustard and keeping this one as simple as it gets.
8 to 10-pound pork butt. You can get bigger, but it will take longer. I like to keep my time around 8 to 10 hours and I find that works perfectly with an 8 to 10-pound bone in pork butt.
Spices for the dry rub: brown and white sugar, garlic powder, salt, paprika, ancho chili powder (or regular chili powder), mustard powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.
See my notes for keto pulled pork recipe ingredients in the recipe notes below.
Optional injection ingredients: apple juice, water, sugar, salt, and Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce).
Mop ingredients: white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), cayenne pepper, salt, lemon juice
What is a mop, and why are you spritzing?
A mop is a liquid that is brushed or sprayed over the meat in a smoker to help keep moisture in after it has spent time on the grill absorbing smoke. Meat can only absorb so much smoke flavor, and after a while, big cuts, like this one, or brisket, need extra added moisture to help the finished texture.
For ease, use a squirt bottle with the mixture already inside to quickly spritz the meat and not keep the grill open too long. This helps the grill hold a steady temp instead of major fluctuations that happen if you let too much hot air out.
How to smoke pork butt in a Traeger 🔥
Start by prepping the pork. Remove it from the packaging and pat it dry.
Then whisk the spices together for the rub and mix the ingredients for the injection and the mop to have everything ready.
At this point, go prep your Traeger or pellet grill for smoking. Take the extra time to line the area below the grates with foil for easy clean-up later and make sure the drip bucket or pan is in place.
If you are going to inject the pork, do that before by filling a food-safe syringe and injecting the pork in a variety of places with the liquid.
Next, rub the pork with a thick layer of the dry rub, making sure to coat all sides and edges.
Make sure the grill is holding 225, that the hopper is full of pellets and everything is ready to go before placing the shoulder on the grill.
We have been testing and loving the new charcoal pellets from Cowboy, made with all-natural charcoal and hickory wood for a deeper char-grilled flavor from the pellet smoker.
Let the butt smoke for 4 hours, checking the temperature on the pellet smoker from time to time to make sure it is holding 225. Check the temperature and if it has reached 150, decide if you want to wrap the pork or continue to cook without a wrap.
If wrapping, wrap the pork with a little of the mop liquid and return to the grill.
At around hours 6 to 8, when the pork has reached 170, spritz or brush the pork with the mop every half hour until the pork has reached an internal temperature of 195 to 205F.
Remove the pork, wrap it (or leave it in the wrap) and let it cool 20 to 30 minutes before pulling the meat.
For a little fun, start by pulling out the bone first. If it pulls out easily with no resistance or torn meat, you can pretty much guarantee you nailed this pulled pork recipe! (If you aren’t sure that trick will work, don’t have friends watch for unneeded heckling).
How to store leftovers
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Alternatively, if you have a lot of leftover pulled pork, you can freeze it in a vacuum-sealed bag or resealable bag for up to 3 months. Make sure you squeeze any air out of the ziplock bag to avoid freezer burn.
Label the bag with a permanent marker, you’ll thank yourself later.
What goes with smoked pulled pork?
My favorite answer to this comes from Martin’s BBQ out of Nashville, where they dish up whole hog sandwiches right from their huge pits all day every day. And it’s as simple as serving the meat on top of a bun with slaw and a drizzle of bbq sauce, as he says, ‘the way God intended.’
How to reheat
To keep the meat moist when you reheat it, reheat only what you need in a microwave-safe container with just a dash of the mop added in for moisture. Microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each for even reheating.
Alternatively, if reheating a lot for a crowd, you can reheat in a slow cooker with a bit of the mop liquid. Or reheat in the oven by adding pulled pork to a foil pan and tossing it with a little leftover mop liquid and covering it with foil before reheating it at 325 for about 30 minutes.
If you are out of the mop, make another quick batch, or simply add apple cider vinegar, more bbq sauce, or a little beer to the pan for added moisture.
How to use leftovers
When it comes to how to use up pulled pork leftovers, the ideas are endless. But some of my favorite pulled pork recipes are piling shredded pork on a hot dog, taco filling, in smoked pork and beans, enchilada fillings, folding it into mac and cheese, making bbq stuffed peppers, grilling bbq pork topped pizzas, or go sweet and savory for an epic brunch by piling it over top of French toast.
Also, it’s always great folded into an omelet or scrambled eggs. Oh, or get super fancy with bbq eggs benedict.
For this 10 pound pork butt, smoked at 225 it took about 10 hours on my grill. But, the key to perfect smoked pork is to go by the internal temperature of the meat and not how long you think it will take. Depending on the size of the cut, this could be between 10 to 16 hours.
For the best shredded bbq pork make sure the pork butt internal temperature reaches 195 at a minimum. We like to take ours to 200 to 205 (it’s worth the extra wait).
If you’re staring at the thermometer of your pork butt wondering what the heck is going on, because the temp isn’t going up… Congrats, you just got to the stall.
The stall happens at a key point, after the temp quickly went up and things were looking great. Around 145 – 150 the meat will stop going up. And seem to stay that way for a while, slowly getting to 170 degrees. However, do not be tempted to crank up the heat or rush this process. Let it happen. Or wrap your meat to help it along. But don’t turn up the heat.
If you are short on time, or know you live in an arid climate, a wrap is a great option for helping the stall time shorten and keep the meat moist.
Simply wrap the pork butt in foil or pink butcher paper, which is designed for smoking (so not just any kraft paper), and add a little moisture from the mop liquid if you like, or beer, or apple juice and return the pork to the smoker and let it sit until it is finished grilling.
Alternatively, don’t wrap and pick up a better bark.
There are a few reasons the meat may be tough. And you will know it’s tough the moment you go to pull it. Properly cooked pulled pork has had time for the collagen to break down and will literally “pull” apart in your hand with little effort.
The pork butt may be tough because you cooked it too hot and fast, not giving it the time. It’s still cooked, and will still chop, but it won’t be as easy or tender.
Alternatively, if your pork is tough, it may be undercooked. Pork is food safe at 145, however, for that classic southern juicy tender pulled pork you have to cook the pork until it reaches 195 to 205 internally. This is when it is at its best.
To avoid tough pork, cook by temperature, NOT time. Use an instant read thermometer with a probe and ambient temp reading like the Themoworks SmokeX4.
Don’t have a pellet smoker? No problem. This recipe works for all smokers. It’s about controlling the temperature and the time. Get your charcoal grill, gas grill, or classic smoker to 225 and maintain the temperature with an indirect heat zone until the pork butt reaches an internal temp of 200F.
If using charcoal, you will need to add more fuel to hold your temp for the duration of this cook.
For step-by-step instructions over charcoal, you can check out our Carolina Pulled Pork recipe in a pit barrel cooker.
We keep it keto in this house, so our recipe is keto approved. We swap the sugar for keto-friendly subtitles and list the ingredients we use in the recipe notes below.
More classic smoker recipes:
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📖 Full Recipe
Smoked Pulled Pork Butt (on a Traeger)
For the Pork Butt
- 10 lbs bone-in pork butt
For the Rub
For the Injection
- ¾ cup apple juice
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup salt
- 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
For the Vinegar Mop
- 3 ¼ cups white vinegar
- ¼ cup cayenne pepper
- 1 tbs salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Prep the pork
- Remove the pork from the packaging and pat dry with paper towels.10 lbs bone-in pork butt
- Whisk the spices for the rub together in a bowl.½ tbs brown sugar, 1 tbs sugar, 2 ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, 2 ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder, ½ teaspoon mustard powder, ½ teaspoon cumin, ⅛ teaspoon oregano, ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the injection.2 ½ teaspoon salt, ¾ cup apple juice, ½ cup water, ½ cup sugar, 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
- Prep the mop by combining the ingredients and whisking together until combined. Store the mop in a clean squirt bottle to make spritzing the pork easier.3 ¼ cups white vinegar, ¼ cup cayenne pepper, 1 tbs salt, 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Inject the meat
- Inject the port butt by filling a food-safe syring with the injection liquid and piercing the meat, at least an inch to 2 inches deep before depressing the plunger. Repeat until the liquid has been used up.
Rub the pork
- Sprinkle the rub over the pork, then using your hands, pat the rub onto the entire surface of the pork butt in a heavy coating. Be sure to coat the edges and sides as well.
Prep the grill
- For a pellet smoker, line the bottom with foil to make clean up easier.
- Set the smoker to its smoke setting, according to the manufactures directions, for 15 minutes.
- Add pellets to the hopper and place wood chunks in the back corners of the smoker on the grill grates.
- Set the grill to 225F and allow it to preheat.
Smoke the pork butt
- Place pork, fat side down in the smoker.
- Close the lid and begin smoking for 8 to 10 hours, checking the hopper and temp every 30 to 45 minutes.
- At hours 4 to 6, check the pork temperature, and begin spritzing with the mop.
Wrap the pork
- At this point, you may notice the pork temperature isn't rising, around an internal temp of 150 to 160F, and decide to wrap the meat and add a little additional liquid.
- Place back on the grill and continue to smoke the pork at 225F.
Spritz or Mop the meat
- Begin spritzing the pork with the mop in the spray bottle or mop with a basting brush every 30 minutes.
- At hour 7, check the internal temparature if you arent using a probe as you continue to spritz with the mop.
- The pork is done when it temps at 195 to 205F and easily pulls from the bone.
- Allow the pork to rest for 30 to 45 minutes.
Pull the pork
- Carefully tug the bone from the pork and then with your hands, meat claws, or two forks, shred the meat. Discard any large reminents of fat. Wear food-safe gloves to protect from the heat and make clean up easier.
- At this point, you may want to add a splash of the mop and toss it into the meat while it cools before serving.
- Serve the pulled pork hot with a vinegar base sauce and chopped slaw.
This part is vital and can be frustrating. Altho pork is safe to eat at 145 and you can stop cooking at 160, it will not shred until the smoked pork butt reaches an internal temperature of 195 to 205F. Storage: You can store the leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze batches in vacuum-sealed bags for up to 3 months. Adapted from Bob Gibson’s Big Book of BBQ