If you’ve dropped a bunch on a huge bit of pork shoulder, you can’t be messing around with the cook.
You’ve got to make sure that you get it just right, and that you get it well- if you want to get the most out of this prime cut of meat and be the big cheese at your big family function or barbecue with your pals.
A pork shoulder is a delicious, delicate piece of meat… when it’s cooked right.
Pork is nothing to be trifled with, and you want to make sure that it’s cooked properly and all the way through so that you don’t make anyone sick: a tough thing to do with larger cuts of meat.
That delicateness is also very important though- so many people in the U.S. have never been able to appreciate a properly cooked piece of pork because they’ve overcooked it, dried it out, ruined it; often people have no idea how to cook it and they’re scared of undergoing it.
250 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended temperature to set your smoker to for the best results with a good bit of fresh, boneless pork shoulder; treated with all your rubbings and salts.
At that sort of temperature, you can probably gauge the cooking time at about 90 to 95 minutes per pound of meat.
This is enough time for all the fat and connective tissues to have broken down, the skin to be nice and crispy, and the flesh to still be juicy and tender. That’s a mouthwatering bit of pork right there.
And what about the process of smoking? How does that affect things? There’s a lot to get through- so let’s not beat about the bush.
This is the definitive guide for getting the most from smoking a pork shoulder.
What is a Pork Shoulder?
Where the pork shoulder comes from on the pig should be pretty self-explanatory.
What you might not know though is that since this muscle group is so well-worked, the meat develops an incredibly rich pork flavor.
This also means that the joint is thick with fat and connective tissues, but never fret: the cooking process breaks down all of that, and it all contributes to the unique experience of this deliciously juicy piece of meat.
A whole pork shoulder, should you find one while shopping, consists of a ‘picnic shoulder’ and a ‘pork butt’.
Taste and texture-wise they’re both very similar, so each can be substituted for the other if you’re just cooking one today. The whole thing together is quite large.
What Temperature Should I Cook Pork Shoulder At?
The USDA recommends that an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit be reached for pork to be safe to consume.
However, this is accurate for smaller cuts, like tenderloin or chops.
A pork shoulder is a huge piece of meat that you want to make it tender all the way through, all that fat and gristle having been cooked away.
We recommend that when you smoke your shoulder you do it whole; and then only slice it up afterwards when serving.
For this, an internal temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal.
If you’re planning to make smoked pulled pork, you need to make sure that shoulder is REALLY tender.
Prepare for a slog as you get that internal temperature up to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit; soft enough to pull it all apart with just a fork.
To make sure you’re accurate (and safe) with all these temperatures, the best way of measuring you’re getting it right is to use a meat thermometer.
These are fairly cheap, and come in so much use if you’re trying to make sure that your meat isn’t overcooking and drying out.
How Long Should I Smoke a Pork Shoulder at 250 Degrees Fahrenheit?
The general rule for cooking a boneless pork shoulder is that it cooks at a rate of about 90 to 95 minutes to a pound.
Yes, that’s right- your massive ten pounder pork shoulder will spend no less than fifteen or sixteen hours in your smoker before it’s ready to eat.
So if it’s three o’clock and you have guests coming round at five, you might just want to order a pizza.
This is a long time, but it’s standard practice for smoking enthusiasts. Once you come to accept the tenets of authentic barbecue, you’ll have to learn to accept the odd sleeping patterns and not leaving the house for a day, as well as keeping the smoke detectors well stocked with batteries for when you’re getting on with other things.
What is the ‘Pork Butt Stall’?
Seasoned barbecue pitter and smokers alike tell hushed stories of the dreaded ‘Pork Butt Stall’.
This is a phenomenon that can affect other meats such as beef brisket and turkey too, so pay close attention. This is what it is, and what to do when you meet it.
At some point, maybe five hours into your cook, a strange quiet will fall over your pork shoulder.
The internal temperature, which had been steadily increasing each time you checked it, may have stalled.
Unaccountably, no matter what you do or try, your pork butt may seem suspended in time, barely cooking any further- for hours.
What is this black magic? Well, it actually has a good explanation. At around 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature, the water in your pork butt will begin to evaporate- cooling the meat.
There’s actually no way of knowing for sure just how long this process will take, but the fact of the matter is, until that water has stopped evaporating, your pork shoulder can’t continue to cook. It’s been known to add hours to cooking time.
How to end the ‘Pork Butt Stall’
The most obvious solution to the Pork Butt Stall is to simply wait for all the water in your meat to evaporate so that at some point it just continues to cook. For those with a schedule to keep, however, there is a better way.
At around 5 hours into your cook, check the internal temperature of your pork shoulder.
If it reads 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to act: this is prime time for the stall.
Remove the meat from the smoker and wrap it tightly in foil. Don’t worry, your meat will already have been smoking for a while so it’s not going to miss out on that smokey taste.
The foil will prevent the water from evaporating- and your pork shoulder should begin climbing quickly back up in heat.
In around two hours, you should be hitting around 200 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature.
How Not to Overcook Your Pork
If you’re under the impression that pork can be just left to take care of itself, you’re way off the mark.
The whole flavor of pork is tied into how juicy it is, and just because you have to make sure that it’s properly cooked doesn’t give you any excuses for drying it out and ruining it.
Even on the smoker, it’s possible to devastate the flavor of that pork you’ve put so much effort into.
Once the internal temperature of your pork has hit 205 degrees Fahrenheit, it is done. Any further cooking after this will just lead to dry meat.
The exterior should go a dark color, known as a ‘bark’; but don’t forget that like many meats, pork continues to cook even after it has been removed from the heat.
Place the pork on your smoker fat side up- the fat will baste the meat as it cooks and the fat renders. That’s all wasted in the coals if you place it facing down; and your meat will just dry out.
That fat is so important to the flavor that we say to try and keep as much of it as possible, even when you are applying your seasoning. All of the best flavor is in the fat.
Other Tips For Making Smoked Pork Shoulder
Don’t overseason – This is a flavorsome cut of pork that shouldn’t be overwhelmed, especially since you’re smoking it. Create a simple rub from kosher salt, cracked pepper, mustard powder, sugar and garlic powder.
Use a meat thermometer – Frankly if you don’t already have one of these, you’re missing out! They revolutionize the way in which you cook meat.
Keep smoker temperature stable – If your grill is fluctuating all over the place this will make it a lot harder to track the progress of your cook
Cook in a controllable area – Wind and weather can affect the temperature of your grill or smoker, no matter what you have it set to. In cold weather, invest in a grill cover to help keep that internal temperature up against God’s wishes
Bone-in vs. boneless – Bone-in pork takes longer to cook than boneless pork, but the flavor is much more toothsome.
For a 10-pound bone-in pork shoulder, prepare to be standing by that smoker rubbing your belly for about 20 hours.
Picking out a cut of pork – When you’re choosing a cut of pork, what you’re really looking for is the marbling – the veins of fat and tissue running through the pork.
Your instinct may be to avoid these cuts. Your instinct would be incorrect. This fat and tissue renders as the meat cooks and is packed full of flavor.
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