Smoked Pulled Pork

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The ultimate guide to cooking smoked pulled pork at home! Cooked low & slow in a barbecue, this pork is incredibly tender & juicy.

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smoked pulled pork

The ultimate guide to smoked pulled pork!

Want to make the most tender, juiciest smoked pulled pork possible from the comfort of your own backyard? Well you’re in the right place!

Here, we’ll be taking you through the entire process of cooking fall-apart pork shoulder on a barbecue! This includes info on what type of pork is best, how to trim it, smoke it properly & pull it ready for a next level sandwich! Don’t worry if you haven’t got a barbecue though because this recipe can also be cooked in the oven.

If you’ve ever wondered where the “smoke” part of this blog’s name comes from, it’s from this style of cooking! Cooking outside, over a live fire is easily one of my absolute favourite ways to cook & it doesn’t get much better than this pulled pork…

What You’ll Need

  • The Pork – For the best pulled pork, I’d recommend using a bone in pork shoulder. For this recipe, we’re using a 2.5 kg joint of pork, which will make at least 8 generous portions.
  • Slather – This is used to help stick the rub to the meat. I like to use French’s mustard but you could use veg oil or even water instead.
  • Rub – I’ve included my favourite rub recipe to go with pork but feel free to use a different one if you’d prefer.
  • Spritz – Spraying the meat throughout it’s smoke helps with bark formation. With pork, I like to use apple juice & water but you could use beer, cider, cola or water instead. Something with a high sugar content helps caramelise the outside of the meat.
smoked pork shoulder

A Note On Barbecues

I cooked my pulled pork on my homemade offset smoker but this recipe will work on any type of barbecue, as long as you can cook on it indirectly. My smoker runs on just wood (I like to use cherry wood with pork!) but if you’re using a charcoal smoker, I’d recommend throwing in a chunk of wood just before adding in the pork.

homemade offset smoker

How To Smoke Pulled Pork – Step By Step

1. Prepping The Pork

Pork prep first. If you’re starting with a pork shoulder that still has the skin on, take this off with a sharp knife. Then, trim the fat on top, down to a thickness of ¼” (6mm) then score lightly in a criss cross pattern. This allows the fat to fully render throughout the cook & for more smoke & rub to get into the meat, adding more flavour.

I like to prep the pork the night before then leave it uncovered in the fridge. That way, we don’t have to worry about trimming early the next morning.

2. Rub & Slather

Before smoking the pork, we need to coat it in a rub/seasoning. To do this, we rub a thin layer of mustard all over the outside of the shoulder (this helps the rub stick) then coat the pork in a generous amount of rub. Pork shoulders can take a lot of seasoning, so don’t be shy with the rub!

Once seasoned, stick the pork back in the fridge & let sit (uncovered) for 30 minutes or so, whilst your smoker heats up. Alternatively, the pork can be rubbed several hours in advance.

3. Lighting The Smoker

Next, light your barbecue with charcoal or wood (depending on the type of smoker you’re using), set up for indirect cooking then leave to preheat to 275°f/135°c. Make sure that you’re barbecue is fully up to temperature & producing clean smoke before adding in the pork.

Clean smoke will be a light blue colour & is vital for proper bark formation & the best smoked flavour. Dirty smoke is thick & white and will make your smoked meat taste bitter.

4. Smoking The Pork

Now your barbecue is up to temperature, it’s time to add in the pork, facing fat side up. Close the lid & leave to smoke for 3 hours without opening up the smoker.

After 3 hours have passed, continue cooking but spray the pork with an apple juice & water based spritz every 45 minutes until a decent bark has formed and the internal temperature of the pork is at least 165°f/74°c.

Including the first 3 hours, this part of the cook can take anywhere from 5-9 hours.

It’s important to maintain a consistent temperature & clean quality of smoke throughout the entire cook.

smoked pork butt

5. Wrapping

Once our pork has reached 165°f/74°c, it’s time to wrap it in foil. We do this because wrapping helps push through the stall, speeds the latter part of the cook up & keeps the pork juicy. At this point, the pork won’t take on any more smoke so the rest of the cook can be done either in the smoker or in an oven.

Wrapping in foil is known as the “Texas Crutch” in barbecue.

The Stall – This is where the internal temperature of meat stops rising for a period of time whilst it is smoking. This is due to moisture loss on the meat’s surface cooling the meat down. With pork, this tends to happen when the internal temperature is around 165°f/74°c.

8. Continue Cooking

Once the pork is wrapped, we continue cooking it until it is nice & tender. You’ll know when your pork is cooked because when you insert a probe in it, it will feel soft like butter. The pork’s internal temperature will be between 195°f-205°f (90°c/96°c).

This part of the cook will roughly take between 2-5 hours, taking the entire cook to a total of 7-14 hours. This is just an estimate though. With barbecue, cook times depend on the size of the meat, the temperature of the smoker & even the weather. It’s important to cook to temperature, not time!

7. Resting

Once our pork is cooked, it needs to rest for 1-2 hours (wrapped in foil) so that the meat can relax & the juices can redistribute. This will make our pulled pork juicer & more tender than if we didn’t rest.

8. Pulling

Time to shred the smoked pork! This is best done by hand (gloves come in handy here!). As your pork will be nice & tender, you should be able to pull the bone out easily & cleanly.

Once pulled, mix the pulled pork with any juices then serve immediately, whilst still warm!

shredded smoked pork

The Ultimate Pulled Pork Sandwich

I don’t know about you, but when I think of a pulled pork sandwich I think of tender, smoked & shredded pork, piled into a bun with a homemade barbecue sauce & slaw.

If this sounds good to you, there’s recipes for all of these right here, on the blog! I’d recommend going for our potato burger buns, tangy apple slaw and cherry cola whisky barbecue sauce.

the ultimate pulled pork sandwich

How To Reheat Smoked Pulled Pork

Any leftover pulled pork should be stored in the fridge & will keep for up to 3 days. If you have a vacuum packer, vacuum sealing the pork will extend the shelf life by a couple of days.

The best way to reheat pulled pork is to mix it up with a splash of barbecue sauce (or water), place in an ovenproof dish, cover with foil then bake in a 180°c/356°f oven until nice & hot. This way, the pork will still be tender & juicy.

Smoked Pulled Pork Tips & Tricks

  • Use a bone in pork shoulder – Cuts of meat with the bone left in are more flavourful & are ideal for low & slow cooks.
  • Trim & score the fat – Trimming the fat on our pork shoulder down to a quarter inch, ensures that it will all render out during the cook. A thinner, scored layer of fat also helps the rub & smoke penetrate & flavour the meat better.
  • Season well – A generous coating of rub is key for proper bark formation & flavour development. Fatty cuts of meat like pork shoulders can take a lot of seasoning so don’t be shy!
  • Maintain a consistent temperature – One of the most important parts of cooking in a smoker/barbecue, is maintaining a consistent low temperature throughout the entire cook. Temperature fluctuations will affect how long the meat takes to cook & how the bark forms.
  • Leave to smoke undisturbed – As the saying goes, if you’re looking you ain’t cooking! Try to open your smoker as little as possible as this brings the temperature down, increasing the cook time.
  • Spritz with apple juice – For smoked pork shoulders, I like to spray the meat with apple juice as the sugars in the juice help caramelise the bark as the meat smokes. Apple & pork is also a classic combination!
  • Wrap in foil – Wrapping the pork in foil towards the end of the cook, helps it cook quicker & stay moist. In barbecue, this is known as the “Texas Crutch”.
  • Use a digital food probe – When cooking bbq, it’s important to be able to check the meat’s internal temperature. A good digital food probe like a Thermapen is a crucial bit of kit!
  • Rest well – Once cooked, it’s best to rest the smoked pork for at least an hour before shredding. This lets the meat relax & the juices redistribute which makes the pork more tender & juicier once pulled.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make pulled pork without a smoker?

If you haven’t got a smoker, pulled pork can be cooked in an oven at 275°f/135°c, in a roasting tin. Leave the pork uncovered to begin with then wrap in foil if the pork starts to colour too much.

What wood is best to smoke pork with?

Apple, cherry & pecan wood smoke has a sweet & delicate fruity flavour, so works great with pork. For something a touch stronger, oak would be another good choice. Or try experimenting with a mix of woods!

When is smoked pulled pork done?

The best way to tell when your smoked pork shoulder is done is by feel. When you insert a probe in the meat, it will feel soft, like butter. If you were to take the internal temperature, it should be between 195°f-205°f (90°c/96°c). When you shred the pork, the bone will come out clean as well.

What cut of pork is best for smoked pulled pork?

Pork shoulder (also called pork butt) is by far the best cut of meat for pulled pork. The internal fat marbling makes this cut best suited for long, slow cooks & it won’t dry out. Try to use a bone in shoulder as this has the best flavour!

Do I have to wrap smoked pork shoulder?

You don’t have to wrap smoked pork shoulder, it’s all down to personal preference. If you like a darker, crunchier bark, leave the pork unwrapped. If you’d prefer a softer bark & for the pork to cook quicker, wrap it in foil. Or if you’d like your pork somewhere in between, wrap it in butcher’s paper.

How long to smoke pulled pork for?

For pulled pork, pork shoulder should be smoked until it probes like butter & the internal temperature is between 195°f-205°f (90°c/96°c). Depending on the size of your pork shoulder this could take anywhere from 6-18 hours of cooking time in total.

What’s the best liquid to spritz smoked meat with?

This is down to personal preference. Sweet liquids like apple juice or soft drinks will help with bark caramelisation, vinegar, cider & beer will enhance meaty flavours or hot sauce will add a touch of heat. For pulled pork, I like to use half apple juice, half water.

How to avoid dirty smoke when smoking on a barbecue?

Make sure that you are using well seasoned wood to build your fire & that it has a good amount of air flowing through it, throughout the entire cook. Clean smoke will be a light blue colour & produces a sweet, subtle flavour.

Equipment Used

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Smoked Pulled Pork

The ultimate guide to cooking smoked pulled pork at home! Cooked low & slow in a barbecue, this pork is incredibly tender & juicy.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time12 hours
Total Time12 hours 30 minutes
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Servings: 10 Portions
Author: Ben Racey

Equipment

  • Barbecue/Smoker
  • Digital Temperature Probe
  • Spray Bottle

Ingredients

  • 2.5 kg Pork Shoulder With The Bone Left In

Rub & Slather

  • 30 g Fine Sea Salt
  • 30 g Demerara Sugar
  • 20 g Coarse Ground Black Pepper
  • tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 tsp Garlic Granules
  • ½ tsp English Mustard Powder
  • ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • French's Mustard To Slather

To Spritz

  • 100 ml Apple Juice
  • 100 ml Cold Water

To Serve

  • Burger Buns See Notes
  • Slaw See Notes
  • Barbecue Sauce See Notes

Instructions

Prepping The Pork

  • Remove any skin/rind from the pork shoulder then trim the fat with a sharp knife so that it's a ¼" thick.
  • Lightly score the fat in a criss-cross pattern then leave the pork uncovered in the fridge until ready to cook. I like to trim the pork the night before so that it's ready for the following morning.
    Make sure to only score the fat, don't cut all the way down to the meat!

Rub

  • To make the rub, place the salt, sugar, pepper, paprika, cumin, garlic, mustard powder & cayenne pepper into a bowl then mix to combine.
  • Next, rub a thin layer of French's mustard (or veg oil) all over the pork then cover completely with the rub. Place the pork back in the fridge & leave to sit for 30 minutes or so, whilst your smoker heats up.
    Alternatively, leave the pork in the fridge for several hours before smoking.

Smoking

  • Light your smoker/barbecue & leave to preheat to 275°f/135°c. Make sure that your barbecue is set up for indirect cooking.
  • Once up to temperature, place the pork shoulder fat side up in the barbecue then leave to cook undisturbed for 3 hours. Make sure to maintain a consistent barbecue temperature throughout the whole cook!
  • In the meantime, add the apple juice & water into a spray bottle then set aside. We'll be using this to spritz the pork.
  • After 3 hours have passed, continue cooking but spray the pork with the apple juice spritz every 45 minutes, until a decent bark has formed & the internal temperature is at least 165°f/74°c.
  • Next, lay down a couple of sheets of foil, overlapping them slightly then place your pork shoulder in the middle. Give the pork a good spritz then wrap up tightly in the foil.
  • Return the pork to the smoker (or into an oven) & continue cooking at 275°f/135°c until it is tender & probes like butter. The internal temperature of the pork will be between 195°f-205°f (90°c/96°c) once cooked.
    If you're cooking in an oven, place the wrapped pork into a roasting tin then pour in a thin layer amount of water. Once wrapped, the pork will need anywhere from 2-6 hours of cooking to become tender.
  • Let the pork rest (still wrapped in the foil) for at least an hour then shred the meat by hand, discarding the bone (it should pull out clean). Mix the meat with any juices then serve!

Serving Suggestion

  • Serve the pulled pork in buns with homemade barbecue sauce & slaw.
    Any leftover pork can be reheated with a splash of barbecue sauce (or water) in a 180°c/356°f oven.

Notes

1. Pork – For this recipe, you’ll need a 2.5kg pork shoulder. Any skin should be removed & preferably, the bone will be left in.
2. Smoker/Barbecue – You can use any barbecue to cook pulled pork as long as you can cook indirectly on it. If you’re using a charcoal barbecue, I’d recommend adding in a chunk of wood just before adding in the pork. Cherry or apple wood work really well with pork.
3. Rub – I’ve included the recipe for the rub that I like to use on pork shoulder but feel free to use a different one if you’d prefer.
4. Spritz – Spraying the meat helps with bark formation but you don’t have to use apple juice. Cider, beer or cola would be some other good options.
5. To Cook Without A Smoker – This pulled pork can also be cooked in an oven at 275°f/135°c. I’d recommend cooking it uncovered in a roasting tin then wrapping in foil once it’s taken on a good amount of colour.

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