When it comes to making smoked pork, it should be as easy as making a cake. However, it can sometimes be intimidating and down right frustrating. Here's an amazingly simple way to guarantee a moist pork butt for family or friends.
Getting Started with a Smoker
I would consider myself a bit of a novice when it comes to smoking meat in general. I love that smoke flavor you can infuse into so many cuts of meat out there. I especially love the simplicity of this ancient cooking technique and the love for cooking I am slowly building inside.
What's more, smoking meat has now planted itself so much deeper into my life experience with my boys. Our journey to become a family of hunters and fishermen has moved our cooking experience so miles further from just the kitchen and dinner table. So much so that it's now bound to last for at least two sets of lifetimes.
Making a Brine for Smoked Pork
One of the more amazing things I learned about making smoked meat with a pellet smoker, like my Traeger Timberline 1300 or Pro 780, is the value of a meat thermometer as well as the value of a brine. This knowledge was solidified when I made my first Smoked Venison Roast and the meat was incredibly tender.
Since I am working on my first smoked pork butt, which is a great piece of meat to smoke with, I figured I would give the brine process another try. Not that it's much of a spoiler, but this worked fantastically. One of the best parts about using a brine is the penetration of the salt flavor deep into the mean means less salt just sitting on the surface when using a dry rub.
Furthermore, the brine not only helps give the meat a deeper flavor and supports later seasoning efforts, it really helps tenderize the meat and keeps it very moist deep down inside. This brine is also good for smoked pulled pork for eating straight or in a pulled pork sandwich.
After you make your brine solution (recipe down below) place your pork butt into the liquid and ensure it stays submerged. You can place a cereal bowl on top and then press that down with plastic wrap before placing the whole thing in the fridge. You will want to keep this in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and possibly up to 24.
What Type of Meat is Best for Smoking
The truth of the matter is that the best type of meat to smoke is the meat you feel most comfortable with and, in general, prefer to eat. Really, that's all there is to it. My goal is to help make this an easy experience so you can shorten your learning curve and enjoy the process a bit more.
I am a bit stubborn and take things into my own hands, even when I really shouldn't have. Trusting some of the great advice out there will help you set a proper baseline for all types of meat and their characteristics. So, when it comes to making a smoked pork, aka smoked pork shoulder, butt, pulled pork etc, take it easy and remember “low and slow” is best.
Using a Homemade Dry Rub
I recently developed my own homemade dry rub using some of my Got Your Six coffee dark roast coffee beans and absolutely love the flavor. I did learn that my first batch of this dry rub needed the help of a bit more salt on larger cuts of meat but the spices in general were perfect.
It was because of the need for additional salt that I decided, the second time around, to brine my pork meat. This meant that the spices in my own coffee rub would be perfect on their own for this piece of meat. I chose to leave some of the pepper corns from the brine on as I spiced the meat.
After being in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours, I removed the pork from the brine and placed it mostly dry onto a cookie sheet. I applied a health amount of my home made coffee rub to all sides of the meat and let it sit. Personally, I do not think it is vital to let the meat come to room temperature before smoking and in some cases prefer it stays cold.
Setting Your Smoker's Temperature
The great thing about my Traeger grills is the built in WiFire system and control settings. Not only do I have the ability to set my exact temperature and even add “super smoke” to my lower temperatures, I also have the ability to set and monitor (and even reset) my meat thermometer remotely through my phone. This is fantastic if this is the first time you've smoked a pork shoulder.
So, make sure to set your grill to 250 degrees. Let the smoker preheat for approximately 15 minutes before heading out with any meat to cook. When the meat gets on the grill, then we will add the thermometer and set it to monitor the internal temp of our pork.
The Best Smoking Pellets
As your Traeger Smoker gets started, ensure you have a full hopper of pellets. Making a smoked pork shoulder means a long cook time, and that means a lot of pellets usually. You definitely don't want to make the classic mistake of running out of pellets mid cook.
When it comes to flavor, if you are just starting out, Traeger's “Signature Blend” makes it simple and provides great flavor with little thinking. As you get more advanced, you might want to consider focussing on something like a Maple wood, Apple wood, or even Cherry Pellets. When it comes to smoking meat, there are so many ways to approach just one cook that you'll have plenty of ways to experiment with your own tastes.
Using a Water Pan When Smoking
After your smoker is up to temp, you are ready to place your pork roast on the grill. One new technique I've been trying is placing a water pan under the roast. There are a number of theories of why a water pan improves smoking and I have found at least a few to be true.
First, the water pan helps stabilize the temperature of the smoker (water holds a temperature well) and helps keep the environment more moist. Another factor some have claimed is that by adding some spices like rosemary or thyme to the water, you can add another flavor layer to your meat as you smoke it. Other than helping keep the meat more moist, my favorite reason for a water pan is helping catch any extra fat and grease that falls off the meat making cleanup really easy.
Smoked Pork Internal Temperature
After smoking for approximately four hours, we are looking to get the internal temperature up to approximately 165 degrees. This slow cooking process helps keep the meat soft while also infusing as much smoke flavor as possible into the meat. It takes a while but yields the best results.
You may have heard that some like to spray their pork shoulder with apple juice or apple cider vinegar after the first hour of smoking. I've tried this in the past, and for the most part, didn't really notices a huge difference. Another reason I didn't feel the need to do this for this cook is because I had already brined the roast for 12 hours and was sure there was plenty of moisture inside the meat already.
After you get to 165 degrees internally, wrap the pork in two layer of foil or butcher paper and smoke for an additional four to five hours at 250 degrees. At this point you aren't really focussing on the cook time as much as you are waiting for the internal temperature to reach between 210 and 215 degrees. At that point, your meat fibers will be tender and the fat layers will have rendered and infused into the meat.
Let Your Meat Rest
Once you've hit 215 degrees as an internal temperature, remove your smoked pork and let it rest (still covered) for approximately 30 minutes. Cutting the meat too early will allow all that rendered flavor to pour out and you will be left with dry cuts of meat. Trust me when I tell you, just let it rest.
Once the thirty minutes is up, you can remove the bone with your fingers or a pair of tongs. The meat should be so tender that it slides right out. That is a magical little moment of smoking meat and you should be proud when it happens.
Getting the Perfect Smoke Ring
I assure you, one of the more satisfying things to see after you've smoked a pork shoulder, other that glimmering juice inside your meat, is the depth of your smoke ring. This is where the smoke penetrate and infuses flavor past your brown sugar rubs and that wood pellet choice starts to shine. When it comes to larger cuts of meat, you will definitely grow to love seeing that red-ish pink layer once it is time to cut into your work.
The only thing left to think about is what to pair your delicious smoked pork with once you've finished letting it rest. In my case, I like to keep things light when going with thick cuts of meat so a simple mixed green salad is the way to go. Of course, if I am slicing things nice and thin, then pairing something more substantial like mashed potatoes and a vegetable like corn or peas.
What ever it is you wind up doing, my ultimate hope is that you have fun doing it and take the whole process in stride. Not everything turns out perfect your first, second, or even third time, but if you stick with it, you will begin to make something you can be proud of in the end. What's more, you might just make something that your friends or family remember for years to come.
- 10 C Water
- 3/4 C Kosher Salt
- 1/2 C Sugar
- 4 Rosemary Sprigs
- 2 tbsp Peppercorns
- 2 Bay leafs
- 1/2 Onion
- 6 cloves Garlic (cracked)
- 1 tbsp Paprika
- 1/4 tsp Cayenne
- Mix Brine ingredients in a bowl
- Place pork butt into brine and submerge
- Refrigerate for 12-24 hours
- Remove and drip pork butt dry
- Apply Coffee Rub to Pork roast
- Pre heat smoker to 250 degrees with water pan in center of smoker with one inch of water
- Place Pork Butt in middle of smoker above water pan
- Smoke until internal temperature is 165 degrees
- Wrap Pork Butt in 2 layers of tinfoil
- Continue to smoke until internal temperature is 215 degrees
- Remove and let rest for 30 minutes
What meat did you, or would you, like to start smoking first?