Smoked Pulled Pork is a mouth-watering treat that brings together the tangy, sweet, and smoky flavors characteristic of barbecue.
Smoking the meat at a low temperature for a long period allows it to become incredibly tender, so that it can be easily ‘pulled’ apart. The lengthy smoking process also imparts a deep, smoky flavor that’s irresistible. Just wait until you put that first bite in your mouth. It’s incredibly satisfying.
Whenever we’re smoking something all day, like a pork butt, the anticipation grows for so long that the finale – pulling the meat off the smoker and shredding it – is just one part of a larger excitement that’s built up. It’s making me hungry just thinking about it!
If you have a pellet smoker, this Traeger pulled pork recipe should be your next endeavor. I promise it will blow you away. Add some smoked biscuits on the grill as you’re cooking it and you have ready-made sliders at the end.
The Ideal Cut for Pulled Pork
When it comes to smoked pulled pork, the cut of meat you use is key. The most commonly used, and indeed the best cut for this purpose, is the pork butt or shoulder, also known as the Boston butt.
This part of the pork has an optimal balance of fat and muscle, ensuring the meat remains moist and flavorful during the long, slow cooking process. Its generous marbling leads to a deliciously tender and rich end product.
As the pork butt cooks slowly over the low heat of the smoker, the fat renders and bastes the meat, resulting in a succulent and tender meat that can be pulled easily and used for all kinds of great dishes, like smoked pulled pork tacos, pulled pork chili, pulled pork pizza, and sandwiches.
What is Pork Butt?
Contrary to what its name suggests, pork butt is not actually from the behind of the pig. Instead, it is a cut of meat from the upper shoulder area, the same area as the pork shoulder, except it has more marbling and fat than pork shoulder.
Pork butt is a well-marbled and flavorful cut, thanks to its higher fat content compared to other cuts of pork. This fat plays a crucial role when it comes to smoking or slow cooking.
As the pork butt undergoes the low and slow cooking process, the fat slowly renders, basting the meat and infusing it with incredible juiciness and flavor. This makes it ideal for smoking, as the fat helps keep the meat moist and prevents it from drying out.
- Pork Butt – Pork Butt comes in a lot of sizes. Get one that suits your needs. It will take more or less time on the smoker depending on the size so it’s important to use a meat thermometer. You can also use pork shoulder for this recipe. It’s interchangeable.
- Mustard – Use a ground mustard or our delicious Carolina Gold Sauce
- Pork Dry Rub – See our recipe for pork dry rub here, or use any store-bought you like.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Use any vinegar you have on hand.
- Smoker – I use a Z Grills 700 series smoker for most of my smoking, though I also have a Traeger grill. You can use whatever smoker you have – they all work the same.
- Wood pellets – There are many types of pellets available. If you’ve already got pellets in your smoker, use whatever you have. I really like Hickory pellets for chicken.
- Meat thermometer – Many smokers have a thermometer built in, but if yours doesn’t, get an instant-read thermometer. I love this Thermapen.
What Temperature Should Pork Butt Be Smoked At?
When it comes to smoking a pork butt, maintaining a consistently low and slow temperature is key to achieving tender and flavorful results. The recommended smoking temperature for pork butt is 225°F.
Keep in mind that smoking a pork butt is a slow and patient process. It can take several hours, typically ranging from 1.5 to 2 hours per pound of meat, to reach the desired internal temperature. The target internal temperature for a fully cooked and tender pork butt is generally around 195°F to 205°F.
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How to Make Smoked Pulled Pork
Take the pork out of the refrigerator 1 hour before smoking. Preheat the smoker to 225° F. Fill the hopper with your preferred pellets. I like to use apple wood. If you like a more robust smoky flavor, try hickory or mesquite. Once you find the best wood for smoking pulled pork, it will totally change the game.
Place the pork butt into the aluminum pan, fat side up. Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Place the pan on the smoker and smoke, without opening the lid, until the meat reaches 145° F.
Pour the apple cider vinegar into the pan and continue smoking until the pork reaches 165° F.
Remove the pork from the smoker and wrap it in butcher paper. Return the pork to the smoker until the meat reaches between 190-202° F (lower for firmer meat, higher for softer meat).
Remove the pork from the smoker and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before shredding. If you do the shredding while it’s still warm, the meat will come apart very easily.
What Smokers We Use
Did you know that Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill? The Pro Series 22 is the one most people choose because it’s compact, yet has plenty of space for cooking. You can use any type of wood pellets you like. See the Traeger Series 22 Grill on Amazon.
Expert Tips for Smoked Pulled Pork
- Look for a well-marbled pork butt with a good fat cap for optimal flavor and juiciness.
- Use your choice of wood pellets, chips, or chunks (such as hickory, apple, or mesquite) to add a smoky flavor to the pork butt.
- If using wood soak them in water for about 30 minutes before using them to generate more smoke.
- Store any extra meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it for sandwiches, tacos, or other dishes later on.
What Pellets to Use for the Smoker?
You’ll also need pellets for your smoker, if you’ve got a pellet grill like we do. Pellets come in many different types that you can choose from. I like to use hickory wood, or cherry wood pellets for mine. They also have a bourbon wood pellet that’s very good. My friend Todd swears by the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey pellets.
Uses for Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is a remarkably versatile dish. While it’s traditional to serve it as the star of a sandwich, topped with coleslaw and doused in barbecue sauce, it can also be used in a myriad of other dishes.
You can incorporate it into tacos, nachos, salads, and pizzas, or use it as a stuffing for baked potatoes or empanadas. It can even find its way into breakfast, making an appearance in omelets or breakfast burritos. The possibilities are endless, limited only by your creativity.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to smoke a pork shoulder?
This depends on the weight of the pork shoulder and the temperature of your smoker. Generally, you’ll need to allow about 1.5 hours per pound of meat when smoking at 225°F. So, for a typical 8-pound pork shoulder, you’d be looking at approximately 12 hours of smoking time.
Can I smoke a pork shoulder on a grill?
Absolutely! While a dedicated smoker might provide more consistent temperature control, you can certainly smoke a pork shoulder on a standard charcoal or gas grill. The key is maintaining a low and consistent temperature, which might require more attention and finesse on a grill.
What type of wood should I use for smoking?
The choice of wood can influence the flavor of your pulled pork. Fruitwoods like apple and cherry provide a sweet, mild smokiness that pairs well with pork. Oak and hickory are also excellent choices, providing a stronger, more pronounced smoky flavor.
How do I know when my pulled pork is done?
The key to perfect pulled pork is cooking it to the right internal temperature. Most experts agree that an internal temperature of 195°F to 205°F is ideal for pulled pork. At this temperature, the collagen within the pork shoulder breaks down, making the meat incredibly tender and easy to pull apart.
What to Serve on the Side
For sides, there is an endless array of salads and veggies that would make a good choice. Here are a few of our favorites:
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Smoked Pulled Pork
- 4- 6 pound (4 kg) pork butt or shoulder
- 1/4 cup (59 ml) mustard or Carolina Gold Sauce
- 1/4 cup (59 g) pork dry rub
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) apple cider vinegar
- Take the pork butt out of the refrigerator 1 hour before smoking.
- Preheat smoker to 225° F. Fill the hopper with your preferred pellets. I use apple wood.
- Rub the pork with the mustard and sprinkle on the dry rub.
- Place the pork butt into the aluminum pan, fat side up. Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
- Place the pan on the smoker and smoke, without opening the lid, until the meat reaches 145° F.
- Pour the apple cider vinegar into the pan and continue smoking until the pork reaches 165° F.
- Remove the pork from the smoker and wrap it in butcher paper. Return the pork to the smoker until the meat reaches between 190-202° F (lower for firmer meat, higher for softer meat).
- Remove the pork from the smoker and let it rest at room temperature for 40 minutes before shredding.
- Use the pulled pork to make sandwiches, tacos, or anything else you like.
🥧 If you’re interested in more great recipes, I share all my favorite recipes at A Food Lover’s Kitchen, Instant Pot recipes over at A Pressure Cooker Kitchen, air fryer recipes at Air Fry Anytime, and cocktails and drinks at Savored Sips. Check it out today!
Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.