Pulled Pork Shoulder

Oh yeah.  Pulled Pork Shoulder.  One of the easiest and darn right tasty cuts of meat that you can do.  I use the shoulder as my “go-to smoke” when I need to bring a lot of food to a party / work / etc.

It’s cheap, you get a lot for your money, and it’s really hard to screw up.

If you’re looking to break into meat smoking, pork shoulder is a great “gateway meat”  =)

So without further blathering, here is how I’ll prep one up – even complete with what to do if something goes wrong!

1.  Look at your schedule

Even if you use an electric smoker, you still are investing a lot of time in this – and moreso you need to really plan your time so that you deliver hot and done (read:  safely cooked) meat at the right time.

2.  GET MEAT

Honestly, you can head to Costco / Sams Club and pick up a big hunk of meat – and I definitely do that from time to time.  Every now and then I’ll treat myself (and my guests) with a nice cut from the local butcher shop.  For the amount of meat to plan for – I’ll usually plan for 1 1/2 lbs per person I’m serving (including myself).  I’ve never run out – usually always left with a nice little lunch bundle for the host.

If I end up getting something over 12lbs, I’ll usually end up cutting it roughly in half to keep each hunk around the 6-8lb mark.  I’ve had the best and most reliable success doing it that way.

3.  Pre-game

If you read my top-level article on this topic, you’ll remember I’m a dry-rub guy.  I’ve tried many sauces, but I always come back around the the dry-rub…so that’s what I’m going to cover here.  I did a search on the Internet a while ago for a good dry-rub base and found this recipe (see below).  The measurements below are for a 6-8lb hunk of meat, but it’s not exact.  Rub it in double – spread it out…it all comes down to your own individual taste.

8 TB light brown sugar
3 TB coarse salt
1 TB chili powder
1 tsp each ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp each thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon

Once you mix up the rub, prep and trim your meat as you see fit (opposite to grilling, I leave most of the fat on) and then get some latex gloves – liberally apply the rub to the meat and do exactly what the mix says…RUB.  Don’t be afraid to be aggressive about it – the harder you rub the seasonings in the better things are going to turn out.  (Ok children, stop the giggling now…hehehhehe)

Once you have exhausted your rub mix, wrap up each cut up in two overlapping layers of plastic wrap, and then in two overlapping layers of tin foil.  Why?  That dry rub is going to pull an incredible amount of moisture out of the meat – if you don’t wrap it up, it’ll get everywhere.  Don’t worry though – by doing this you aren’t setting yourself up for a dry nasty end product…

24-36 hours in the fridge.  That’s how long I let the dry rub work its magic.  When you take it out and unwrap it, it’s going to be JUICY – collect all of the juice in a container…you’ll be using that shortly.

4.  Prep your smoker

Never put meat in a cold unseasoned smoker.  You’re just prolonging the ordeal and robbing yourself of good smoke time.  With pork, I’ll set the temperature to be 190-200 degrees (never go above boiling!) and fill your water pan about 1/2-way with clean water.  To top the water pan off, I’ll dump the juice that came off the meat during the soak – it gets nice and warm and just adds to the overall flavor.

5.  Smoke time!

For a 12-15lb shoulder, my target time is about 11 hours.  At the 11th hour, I’ll open the smoker up and stick a temperature probe in the thickest non-bone part of the meat and make sure it’s safely cooked.  If it’s still on the raw side – smoke for an additional hour at a time until you hit temp.

For introducing flavor via wood chips, I’ll start out with apple wood – about a cup every 30-45 minutes through the side loader (or biscuits if you have an auto-feeder) to keep smoke billowing out of the top of the smoker.  You can then alternate in some other flavors (mesquite, etc) about 1/2-way through…a lot of this is “to taste” though.  Play with different options and you’ll find something you like.

6.  EAT.

That’s really about it.  For safety’s sake, make sure you have a digital meat thermometer and test in the thickest non-bone part of the shoulder.  Shred it up, throw it in a bowl.  Viva Meat.

7.  OH NO!  IT DOESN’T TASTE / SMELL / BBQ-EY!

Don’t fret.  This just happened to me a while back.  If you’re working with a wet sauce vs. dry rub, it’s easy enough to throw it all in a crockpot and add more sauce / mix it up.  With a dry rub, all of your seasoning is contained in that rub…and you don’t want to apply more at this point.  What I do is to throw the entire mess (meat, fat, gristle, “bark” – the outside -, everything) in a crockpot for 1-3 hours (again, to taste and temp) and KEEP MIXING every few minutes.  The “bark” that has formed is going to somewhat dissolve in there and nicely season up the meat.  It works…have faith.

Last Thoughts…

Be calm – this is a labor of love and experience.  Just try it…odds are you won’t be disappointed enough not to try again.  =)

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