Best Smoked Pork Butt – How To w/ Recipes

by Top Geek  

Last Updated: January 3, 2024

A Complete Guide to Smoking a Pork Butt (Shoulder) – From science, cook times, internal temperatures, methodologies, and our favorite smoked pork butt rubs and BBQ sauce recipes.

how to smoke pork butt

Table of Contents
Part I - PREPARATION
Part II - SMOKING
Part III - RECIPES

Before I explain how to make the best smoked pork butt, you may want to jump over and read a little about what makes this cut of meat so delicious for BBQ and where the name pork butt (or Boston butt) comes from.

Getting Ready to Smoke

completed pork butts
The details of your preparation are going to vary based on your style of smoker or grill, so you’ll need to fill in a bit to turn these concepts into exact directions.

Preparing the Meat

Your first step is to remove most of the big fat cap from the pork. Fat is where the flavor and texture come from, but the big slabs on the outside aren’t the bits doing the work. It’s the little bits of fat inside the muscles that are creating that juicy goodness. Trim the fat cap down to ⅛”‒¼” with a boning knife. This way the smoke flavor penetrates into the actual meat on that side. Save that fat for sausage making – there’s nothing better for the job – after all, you paid for it.

I recommend going with a bone in pork butt, but if you’ve chosen a boneless pork butt you’ll need to tie it into its original shape so it holds together during cooking. You’re going to need food-safe twine in cotton or linen. Use plenty of it – better safe than sorry.

There’s endless varieties of smoked pulled pork recipes to choose from; some call for seasoning or brining a day in advance, others opt for a simple approach by simply rubbing the cut with mustard and a little salt, and if you’re limited on time, you can always add a generous amount of salt and some pepper and tossing the cut directly on the smoker.

pork in smoker
Pork Shoulder Seasoned and Ready for Hanging in a Drum Smoker

However, pre-salting your pork shoulder (or pork butt) at least 10 hours in advance is worth it. For salt, you’re shooting for about 1/2 a teaspoon per pound. Then a generous amount of pepper and whatever other seasonings strike your fancy. Just make sure if you are presalting the meat that whatever additional seasonings or rubs you’re adding don’t contain additional salt. See our smoked pork butt recipes including our favorite brines and BBQ sauces below.

Preparing the Smoker

Whether you’ve got a fancy dedicated smoker or a basic kettle grill, you can make this happen. With a dedicated smoker, do your thing. With a grill, you’ve got to set up for indirect heat. The meat goes on one side and the heat goes on the other. For a gas grill, you’ll use just one burner. For a charcoal grill, you’ll put the charcoal on just one side, with a disposable aluminum drip pan on the other side.
 


Smoking The Pork Butt

Time and Temperature – How do I know when my butt is cooked?

The most common question when it comes to smoking a pork butt (Boston butt or pork shoulder) “how long do smoke a pork butt for”. No matter what your hardware is, you want to be cooking at 225°F for about 1 to 1½ hours per pound. Typically speaking, the smaller cuts (like 5lbs pork butt) will be 1.5 hours per pound, while your larger cuts (like 10lbs pork butt) will be about 1 hour per pound. Here’s quick breakdown for cook times based on weight;

Pork Butt WeightEstimated Cook Time
5lb.5-8 hours
8lb.8-12 hours
10lb.10-15 hours

 
All that being said, it’s important to note that the formula and time estimates provided are just that – estimates. Each cut of meat is unique, with variations in fat content, moisture levels, and density. These factors can impact the cooking time. In addition to these variables, the temperature of the smoker, the moisture levels inside, how you handle The Stall (see below), and the desired internal temperature of doneness all contribute to the smoking time of your pork butt.

In the end, the cook time formula of 1 to 1½ per pound is just an estimate – we always cook by temperature and never time.

When testing for doneness, use a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and shoot for an internal temperature between 195°F‒205°F. If you have the time, wait to get as close to 205°F as you can get, I find 202°F is a winner.

Temperature of Smoker for Smoked Pork Butt

225°F is widely considered the Holy Grail of smoking temperatures, providing the perfect level of controlled, low heat to slowly soften and melt the connective tissue without drying out the lean meat. Of course, as with all things barbecue, there’s still a lot of debate: many meat geeks will argue that 250°F is better, if for no other reason than because it speeds up the process. I always recommend 225° when smoking pork for novices. Also, invest in a good thermometer for reading the internal temperature of your grill.  The factory temperature gauges on grills are rarely reliable.

Quote check doneness with thermometer

Keeping your smoker or grill at an exact temperature can prove troublesome for newbies, but don’t let it scare you off. In no time at all you’ll dial in how much fuel and oxygen your grill or smoker requires. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how often you need to add in more fuel (briquettes). As long as the smoker stays between 225°F and 250°F, you’ll be fine. If ambient temperature spikes do happen (as they do), reduce the ambient temperature to keep things under 300°F. There’s enough mass here that a few short spikes won’t ruin a smoked pork shoulder. This is also a good reason to pick up a nice wireless BBQ thermometer – it could save your butt.

Did you know: You don’t need a smoker to yield glorious BBQ? See how you can smoke a pork shoulder or butt on a charcoal kettle grill using this unique snake method.

The Stall – Why is my pork taking so long to smoke?

So things are going well so far. You’ve got the heat dialed in, the internal temperature of the meat is steadily rising, and you’re mentally setting a dinner time, but then something happens: the temperature just sits around 150°F and won’t move. There’s nothing wrong with your meat thermometer though – you’ve encountered The Stall.

As the muscles cook, they contract and push out water starting around 110°F and finishing around 160°F. That water gradually makes its way to the surface of the meat and starts cooling the meat through evaporation, much like your body cools by sweating.

funny smoking meat meme

Around 150°F, this cooling starts to cancel out the cooking power of the 225°F environment. At this point, the pork can’t cook until one of a few things happen: the water cooks off, you wrap the meat in foil to prevent evaporation, or you crank up the heat.

Partially Smoked pork butt before hitting the preverbal stall.

How to Avoid the Stall

Your first option is to do nothing until the meat has exuded all the water it’s going to. This might take 2 to 4 hours, but the results are well worth it. This period is perfect for developing collagen on the interior and bark on the exterior. If you’ve got the time, just grab another drink and let it be.

temperature graph throughout cooking
Aside from maintaining consistent pit temperature, the biggest thing that newbies struggle with when working with a large roast is the Stall. It’s the time where everything seems to come to a halt and no matter what you do the meat’s temperature doesn’t increase. This arouses contempt into the stomachs of your guests — you begin to panic because you told them they would be dining on delicious BBQ come 6pm — lucky for you, you know better and prepared in advance for the Stall. Bravo.

If you haven’t gotten it by now, I’ll summarize: the Bark is the key to making the best pulled pork.

It’s crispy and salty, a little spicy…and just jam-packed with smoky flavor. Every crunchy bite is a treat and pulling apart the bark of a smoked pork butt roast with your hands to reveal all that gooey, juicy and fatty smoked pulled pork is incredibly satisfying. You can break up the bark and mix it in with all that shredded pork…or just rip off big, salty chunks and chow down with your fingers. For me, nothing is better than pulled pork sandwiches consisting of 50% bark – no sauce needed!

Cook at a Higher Temperature
The Stall happens because the cooking power of the smoker comes into balance with the evaporative cooling of the water. You can beat it by pushing on the cooking power side of the balance. Crank up your heat to about 310°F and keep a very close eye on your temperature readings. Once the meat gets up to about 170°F, bring the heat back down to 225°F to glide into a smooth finish.

The downside of this method is that it’s high-risk. Overdo it, and you’ll ruin your meat. You also miss out on prime collagen development time, making your meat a little less tender.

Apply the Texas Crutch
The Stall is caused by water evaporating into the air, so you can beat it by removing the air. It sounds like it should be a wrestling move, but the Texas Crutch is to wrap your meat tightly in aluminum foil for two hours or so. This keeps the water from evaporating and shuts down The Stall. The downside is that your meat is now braising instead of smoking. Nothing wrong with a good braise, but it’s not what we’re going for here.

Wrapping the meat too early inhibits the formation of bark. Wait until you have a nice bark formed all around the meat, usually around the 160°F internal temperature mark before wrapping.

Texas Crutch Tips;

  • Use butcher paper instead of aluminum foil. Butcher paper will allow for moisture to escape even when tightly wrapped. This will help limit braising.
  • Add a sugar based mop into your Texas Crutch. Mixing vinegar and sugar will add flavor as well as caramelization throughout the remainder of your smoking session. I like to go with a basic Carolina stile vinegar based sauce for this. This is a similar concoction you can expect to find in most competition award wining rib mops; 1/2 cup of white vinegar, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tbsp. of brown sugar, 1/2 tbsp. of ketchup, 1/2 tsp. of black pepper.
  • Your Texas Crutch wrap will take you through the remainder of your cooking session. Once the meat’s internal temperature reaches around the 200°F it’s time to remove it from the smoker – but don’t unwrap and dig in just yet. Transfer the wrapped pork onto a tray and let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour. This will allow the juices to settle evenly throughout the meat.

Finishing -When is a Pork Butt Done?

Target internal temp is 195°F‒205°F, but you should augment the number by feeling the meat. Grab the bone with a protected hand and give it a little twist. If the bone moves really easily, you’re ready. If it still offers resistance, you need a little longer to pull it properly. If you’re cooking a boneless butt, use a fork to gauge resistance. If the meat pulls right apart, you’re there.

Cooking Internal Temperatures for Pork Doneness

ChopsTenderloinButt (Shoulder)
Pull Temperature 138 - 140 °F 135 - 137 °F 195 - 205 °F
Done Temmperature 145 °F 145 °F 200 - 210 °F
Rest Time 3 - 5 min 15 min 30 min

If you’re used to cooking steaks, you might be thinking about carryover heat and pulling your smoked pork early to coast into the good zone. That’s a concept that doesn’t really apply here. Carryover is an issue when the inside and outside of your meat are at radically different temperatures, like a rare steak with a 400°F exterior. Here, the inside of the meat is 200°F and the outside is 225°F. They’ll equalize a little, but not enough to matter.

Holding – My Pork is Done, What Now?

Smoked pork butt is a wonderful thing, but there are no guarantees.

Maybe you get a long stall, or maybe it cruises through quick. Maybe your smoker was a little cold, or a little hot. In any case, you should start your pork shoulder roast (pork butt, Boston butt) with plenty of time to spare, and be prepared to hold it for serving later — your wife and/or guests will thank you.

Holding Tips

Food service guidelines say that hot food should be kept over 140°F — lower temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria. Your smoked pork is well over that now, so you just need to keep it in an insulated environment so it holds onto that heat. You’ve got two devices around the house that can accomplish that right now.

Using the Oven for Holding

The oven is the obvious choice. Set it as low as it will go, wrap the pork in foil tightly, and pop it in. The problem is that home ovens can’t really hold a low temperature that well. You’ve already got a thermometer in the meat, so keep an eye on it. Your oven might be OK, or you might need to cycle it: 15 minutes on the lowest setting, 30 minutes off, and don’t open the door.

Use a Cooler for Holding

The better choice might be an ordinary cooler. Modern coolers, especially the fancy ones, are extremely well-insulated. Wrap up the cut in foil, a few towels, and put it in the cooler. If your weather is on the cool side, you can charge up your cooler by filling it with hot tap water first to heat it up. In any case, keep an eye on the thermometer.

For more adventures with a cooler, check out The Food Lab and see how to cook sous-vide steaks with a cooler!

Pulling

pulling pork shoulders
When it’s time to eat, start by removing the bone from the bone-in pork butt. It should slide out with ease, in fact, some say its the signature of a well smoked butt/shoulder. Once you’ve removed the blade bone shred away. You can pull the meat apart into shred-like chunks, using claws, gloves, a couple of forks, or with whatever utensil you prefer. The key once the meat is shredded into ideal consistency for how you plan on serving it, be sure to mix it so the bark is distributed evenly throughout.
 


Smoked Pork Butt Recipes

done pork shoulder shredded
The main ingredients for delicious smoked pulled pork is the cut of pork, smoke, and time. Everything else is details, but the details matter.

There are three components that you need for great smoked pulled pork – salt, sugar, and spices. The salt brings out the flavor of the meat and the flavor of everything else you put on it. It also draws moisture out of the meat which enhances browning. The sugar also draws moisture from the meat, but its main job is to brown and add flavor to the bark. Brown sugar adds molasses flavor since modern brown sugar is just sugar and a little molasses, so it’s a natural partner for BBQ. The spices are the fun part.

You’ve got a few strategies when it comes to getting these ingredients into your pork and a world of spice blends out there (plus three in this article). You can combine them together like Legos to build your perfect smoked pulled pork.

 

Brining Recipes

All of these strategies start with a trimmed whole bone-in pork shoulder (AKA pork butt or Boston butt) cut.

adding salt to shoulder

Dry Brine for Pork

Top Geek
Salt works best when it has time to work on the meat. Salt gets pulled in and water gets pulled out, giving you a great canvas to work on. You’ll rub the meat with the salt and white sugar first, then let it rest overnight in the fridge. When you’re ready to cook, rub on the brown sugar and spices. The meat should be damp from the water that the salt extracted, so the rub should stick well.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Brine Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 10 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 1 pork butt/shoulder
Calories 180 kcal
Equipment
  • Plastic wrap
  • Baking dish
Ingredients
  
  • 2 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp White sugar
  • 2 tbsp Brown sugar
Instructions
 
  • Mix 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 2 tablespoons white sugar in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the surface of your pork so it’s completely covered. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a baking dish or other vessel to catch the drips.
  • Refrigerate pork butt overnight.
  • Remove and discard plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature while you prepare the spice rub. Mix 2 tablespoons brown sugar with one of the spice mixtures in a small bowl. Rub spice rub all over the pork butt.
Keyword dry bbq pork brine, dry brine, dry brine for pork, dry salt brine

 

Wet Brine for Pork

Top Geek
A dry brine is most effective at extracting moisture from the meat, but a wet brine is great for adding flavor.
It replaces some of the plain water in the meat with flavor-infused salt water. This is going to take time and a vessel big enough to fit the pork butt covered with brine. It also calls for what looks like a lot of salt – don’t sweat it. Most of the salt will wind up going down the drain with the brine. You’ll make the brine first, then immerse the pork butt in it overnight. The next day, you’ll pull the pork butt and rub on the brown sugar and spice blend.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Brining Time 12 hours
Total Time 12 hours 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 1 Pork Butt/Shoulder
Ingredients
  
  • 5 cups Ice cubes
  • 4 cups Water
  • 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal Salt
  • 1/4 cup White sugar
  • 4 whole Onions chopped course
  • 6 tbsp Morton’s Kosher Salt
  • 2 tbsp Brown sugar
  • 8 cloves Garlic smashed
  • 2 sprigs Fresh rosemary whole
  • 1 bunch Fresh thyme whole
Instructions
 
  • Bring 2 pounds (4 cups) of water to a boil on the stovetop. Add 3¼ ounces salt (that’s about ½ cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 6 tablespoons Morton’s Kosher Salt, or 5 tablespoons Morton’s Table Salt). Add 1¾ ounces (¼ cup) white sugar and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Take the brine off the heat and add 2 pounds (4 heaping cups) ice. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  • Add 4 onions, chopped coarse; 8 cloves of garlic, smashed; 1 bunch fresh thyme; and 2 big sprigs of fresh rosemary. Note: change this part up as you like it, just make sure to use lots of your flavor ingredients. It’s an inefficient process, so you’ve got to overdo it to make an impact.
  • Transfer the pork butt and brine into your brining container (or maybe use the pot you cooked the brine in). Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Remove the pork butt from the brine and let sit on a wire rack to drain while you prepare the rub. Mix 2 tablespoons brown sugar with one of the spice mixtures in a small bowl. Rub spice rub all over the pork butt.
Keyword brine for pulled pork, pork butt brine, pork wet brine, pulled pork butt, wet brine

I Forgot Until the Day Of! No worries, here’s your play:

Relax, it’ll be OK. You’ll need an hour for the salt to do some work on the outside and really start to adhere, but you can make a fine pulled pork (or pulled pork sandwich for that matter) without an overnight brine. You’ll also need something for the rub to stick to, so you’ll start with a layer of yellow mustard. That’s mostly water, so it’ll cook off, plus the vinegar will do a little work on breaking down the surface of the meat.

  1. Mix together 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 tablespoons white sugar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and one of the spice mixtures in a small bowl.
  2. Rub the pork shoulder all over with ¼ cup yellow mustard. Rub spice rub all over the cut. Let it sit and rest at least 1 hour before cooking.

 

Pork Butt Rub Recipes

classic rub

The Classic Pork Rub

Top Geek
FOR BBQ GEEKS WHO DON’T LIKE TO MESS AROUND
This is a nice, down-the-middle rub that goes well with any preparation. It’s great for pulled pork sandwiches with some sauce and diced onion.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Course Main Course, Rub
Cuisine American
Servings 1 Pork Butt/Shoulder
Calories 175 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • ¼ Cup Cup Sweet Paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
  • ½ Teaspoon Chili Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon Cayenne Powder
Keyword classic pork butt rub, pork rub, pork rub recipe, pork shoulder rub, pulled pork bbq rub

 

southwest spicy rub

Southwest Pork Rub

Top Geek
A LIL' PHOENIX HEAT
This dry rub has a little fire to it, depending on your style of chili powder, but it’s the supporting spices that make this more Arizona than Carolina. If you want more than an ordinary sandwich, serve this on a tortilla topped with a little pickled red onion.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Course Rub
Cuisine American
Servings 1 Pork Butt/Shoulder
Calories 102 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • 2 Tablespoons Sweet Paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoons Ground Cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Coriander
  • 2 Tablespoons Mexican Oregano
Keyword pork rub, rub, spicy pork rub

 

warm rub

Warm Spices Pork Rub

Top Geek
NOW, FOR A BIT OF A CHANGEUP
This rub brings out the sweetness of the pork and adds just a little bit of jerk style island flavor. Throw your family a curve and try something different.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Course BBQ, Rub
Cuisine American
Servings 1 Pork Butt/Shoulder
Calories 40 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • 2 Teaspoon Sweet Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
  • 2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
Keyword jerk pork rub,, rub, unquie pork rub,

 

BBQ Sauce Recipes for Pulled Pork

 

Vinegar-Pepper Sauce (Eastern North Carolina)

Vinegar-Pepper Sauce (Eastern North Carolina)

Top Geek
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 minute
Course BBQ, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people
Calories 10 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • 1 Cup Cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Brown sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Red pepper Crushed
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • ½ Teaspoon Black pepper
  • ½ Teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Notes
Whisk these ingredients together and you are good to go.
Keyword bbq sauce, north carolina bbq sauce, pulled pork sauce

 

Tomato Sauce (Western North Carolina)

Tomato Sauce (Western North Carolina)

Top Geek
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people
Calories 99 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • Cup Ketchup
  • ¼ Cup Molasses
  • 3 Tablespoons Cider vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ Teaspoon Salt
  • ½ Teaspoon Pepper
Notes
Whisk these ingredients together and you are good to go.
Keyword bbq sauce, tomato bbq pork sauce, tomato bbq sauce

 

Mustard Sauce (South Carolina)

Mustard Sauce (South Carolina)

Top Geek
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people
Calories 50 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • 1 Cup Yellow mustard
  • ½ Cup Cider vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Hot sauce
  • ½ Teaspoon Salt
  • ½ Teaspoon Pepper
Notes
Whisk these ingredients together and you'll have a tasty and tangy mustard based BBQ sauce. Here’s a good writeup on it.
Keyword bbq sauce, favorite bbq sauce, mustard bbq sauce, mustard sauce for bbq

 

See more serving ideas to go with these iconic pulled pork sauces here.

About the author Top Geek

I have always been a believer: “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I’ve been lucky enough to use my professional experience in the meat industry over the past 20 years to create a business where I love to go to work.

Smoking Meat Geeks is all about bringing people together that enjoy food as much as I do. We provide a place for everyone to share thoughts, ideas, and recipes; to be a go-to spot for cooking inspiration. Feel free to leave a comment, say hello, or provide any tips. There is no right or wrong input, as long as you’re engaging, you’re a Meat Geek!

  • I smoke alot of butts. I’m in North Carolina so my preference on sauce is sweet and vinegar based. As far as the slaw goes it has to be the red with cabbage, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and a little dash of Texas Pete. When it comes to wood for the smoker, apple and cherry are best. Although peach is pretty good too. And before you go rubbing the butt down you have to lather it up with yellow mustard for the rub to stick. The mustard cooks off and doesn’t add any flavor. I actually hate mustard so trust me it doesn’t leave any flavor.

    • Great feedback David, I’m sure readers will appreciate it. I was just writing up a rib recipe when you posted this which incorporates a slather of mustard prior to adding the rub; and I as well don’t care for mustard much, but agree that it does provide a nice base which is tasty as well as functional.

  • I followed your recipe for the tomato sauce, or dip as we say here in Lexington NC, and was absolutely disgusted by the gloppy mess it turned out to be. Then I doubled the volume with water and had a perfect dip. Both taste and texture was spot on and it was perfect for my fresh smoked butt and chopped cabbage.

    Did you forget the water in your recipe?

    • Like the song says, it takes different strokes to move the world! I wrote this up as a thick sauce for hanging onto a bun, but if you’re looking for something thinner and clingier, cutting it with water is a great plan. This is giving me ideas – what about some chicken stock for body? Maybe tomato juice plus a bump of vodka – alcohol carries flavors that water doesn’t. Next time I do some pulled pork, it’s time to experiment…

  • Thank you for this. I am getting my first smoker next weekend and after I season it my first smoke is going to be a pork shoulder (the common name in SE Michigan). Reading this has given me some great direction on what to do and is inspiring me to throw a backyard party with a traditional NC pulled pork theme. Have to make sure I have the pulled pork with a super nice bark nailed down first. :-)

  • Hi! Does the timing on this (90 mins per pound) account for “The Stall” ? I know the timing of the stall can vary.

    • Yes, exactly, several factors affect time. A good rule of thumb for a pork shoulder reaching 200°F (including stall time without wrapping it) is 90 min per pound with a an average pit temperature of 230°F.

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