Ah, the pork butt. It is perhaps the most forgiving of all the BBQ cuts. Smoked pork butt is packed with flavor, feeds a lot of people and has enough fat running through it that it will usually turn out tender. The key ingredient is time and as long as you plan accordingly, you are practically guaranteed a good outcome.
Why Bone-in rather than Boneless?
A great smoked pork butt starts with good meat. As with most cuts of meat in general, the presence of a bone usually indicates more flavor. It’s hard to back up that claim in a cut of meat as large as a pork butt, but what it does do is keep the butt intact on the smoker. A boneless cut will begin to fall apart during the low and slow cooking process, leaving you with a pile of mushy meat to contend with. A boneless pork butt will require you to adequately truss the meat to ensure that it stays together in order to develop a thick flavorful crust on the outside and maintain a tender, moist interior. Nobody needs (or wants) that extra work.
The bone also conducts heat, which is very important in a cut so large. It will help the pork butt cook evenly throughout. Finally and perhaps most importantly, it serves as the ultimate doneness indicator. If you are able to pull the bone cleanly away from the connective tissue at the end of the cook, your smoked pork butt is ready to make a crowd of people very happy. Or at the very least, your family and friends. Plus, there are fewer things in life more satisfying than pulling that bone clean out.
No brine, injection or binder?
These are unnecessary steps that yield little or no improvements to the cook. A brine compromises the exterior of the meat, hindering the proper formation of that delicious bark.
An injection does not add enough flavor to warrant the extra step. One could argue that it keeps the interior of the meat moist, but pork butt has so much fat running through it that it does this adequately on its own.
A binder is completely pointless. Whatever rub and seasoning you choose to crown your butt with just needs a little time. That’s it. Save the mustard for your hotdogs! Season it liberally at least 30 minutes prior to smoking and the salt in the rub will begin to pull out some of the moisture onto the surface of the meat. A few more minutes and that moisture will begin to reabsorb back into the meat taking some of that salt and seasoning with it. For best results, season it liberally and pop it into the fridge uncovered overnight. Then lightly season it again once you’re ready to smoke.
The Big Green Egg
We exclusively grill/smoke on the Big Green Egg. The only other outdoor cooking tool we use is a DiscIt made here in Albuquerque by our friend Nevin Montano. It does everything the Big Green Egg can’t do and between these two outdoor cooking marvels, we could easily close up our indoor kitchen and survive quite happily.
The set up below is in reference to using the Big Green Egg, but the technique can be applied to any smoker.
Smoked Pork Butt (bone in)
Meat Bone in pork butt, 8-10lbs
Rub AlbuKirky Seasonings Sweet Red Rub
Fuel JD Lump Charcoal & Pecan Wood
Set Up Indirect with drip pan (with water)
Cook Temp 250 – 275
Cook Time 1 hour per pound
Internal Temp 205 – 210
The butt is ready to go out of the bag. Pat it dry really well with paper towels and score the fat cap.
Coat the entire butt generously with AlbuKirky Seasonings Sweet Red Rub and allow the rub to dissolve, approximately 30-minutes. This is a very large piece of meat and can handle a lot of seasoning. If you have the time, let the seasoned butt sit uncovered in the fridge overnight and hit it with a little more seasoning before smoking.
*Why the Sweet Red Rub? We’ve extensively tried all of our rubs on smoked pork butt over the years. All of them are fantastic, but this one happens to be our current favorite. The heavier sugar in the rub surprisingly plays up the red chile making it the perfect combination of sweet and spicy.
Set up the large BGE for an indirect cook, adding a drip pan filled 1/2 to 3/4 of the way with water. Keep an eye on the drip pan and add more water as necessary. It’s a long cook so the water will begin to evaporate over time.
Maintain the cooking temp between 250-275 degrees. Pork butt is very forgiving and can be cooked at 275-300 if you’re in a hurry.
*Kirk is team drip pan and uses one on every slow cook. Don’t confuse the taste of burning fat with smoke. In the final product we only want the clean taste of smoke, meat and spice to be present.
Place the butt fat side down on the grill. This will expose as much of the meat to the smoke and heat as possible, which is important for forming a good bark. As we know pork butt is all about the bark.
For the first 4-5 hours keep the heat closer to 250 to maximize smoke absorption and bark formation. Be sure to keep water in the drip pan during the cook. When you’ve achieved a nice bark, you can flip it over and smoke with the fat cap up, if you want, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
When the internal temp reaches 165-170, aka The Stall, its time for the wrap. At 160 degrees the meat fibers and the pores in the butt have tightened up and it cannot absorb any more smoke.
At this point, you’re not sacrificing any of the bark or smoke flavor so it’s safe to wrap and it will get that hunk of meat through the stall. Be patient and don’t panic. The stall is inevitable. Use enough foil to go around the butt twice and wrap it really tight. After the butt is wrapped return it to the smoker. Place the butt fat side down. The fat cap will fry in the renderings like a chicharron, making it a very tasty chef’s snack.
Once the butt is wrapped and back on the smoker, increase the temp to 275-300 for another 3-4 hours to reach an internal temp of 205ish. You can remove the drip pan if you like.
Checking for Doneness
At this point in the process, the internal temperature is not that important, it’s how easily the probe of the thermometer passes through the meat. Push the probe past the middle of the butt. If it feels tight around the middle keep cooking until there is no resistance on the probe.
If you like a bark that has some woof to it, unwrap the butt and return it to the smoker for another 30-45 minutes. Remove and allow the meat to rest for at least 45 minutes. It can also be stored up to 3 hours wrapped and warm in an ice chest.
The moment of truth, pull the bone out. If you have cooked it correctly the bone will slide right out and be completely clean.
When pulling the pork be sure to pull out any connective tissue or fat that didn’t break down during the cook. Kirk uses a pair of insulated rubber gloves to pull pork. These can be found at any of the big box home improvement stores or your local hardware store. During the pull, he drizzles the meat with a little apple juice and more Sweet Red Rub and works it into the meat. For a little extra oomph he adds a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the juice. The acid from the vinegar cuts through the fat and brightens up the flavors of the meat and rub.
Pair this smoked pork butt with homemade buns and your favorite AlbuKirky Seasonings BBQ sauce. The one we reach for most is the Red Chile BBQ Sauce, but honestly, they’re all amazing! If you’re looking for a great side dish check out our Homemade Broccoli Slaw recipe HERE and our Perfectly Soft Dinner Rolls recipe HERE.