There’s a lot of thoughts and opinions on the best way to cook pork butt, but if you’re new to cooking it, the noise can feel overwhelming.
If you’ve never cooked pork butt, or are new to cooking it you might be wondering: should the pork butt be fat side up or down when grilling?
In this article, we will cover some important information on grilling pork butt, including whether the pork butt be fat side up or down when grilling.
Keep reading to find out all you should know.
What Is Pork Butt?
Pork butt comes from the neck, upper arm, and shoulder blade of the pig.
Many people struggle to find it, as it’s more commonly known as “Boston butt.”
Bearing this in mind, if you’re struggling to locate it in your local grocery store, be sure to look out for this name, too.
Pork butt is a fairly tough cut of pork, and can be quite tough to chew through if you don’t cook it properly.
As a result, this cut of meat needs to be cooked low and slow for a long period of time. Pork butt is sold both boneless and with the bone in.
It can be quite fatty, which makes it very flavorful with bits of connective tissue and cartilage running through it.
The bone is good for the texture and flavor of the meat as well as the cooking juices.
That being said, bone-in cuts of meat will yield less meat per pound. So this is something to consider.
Purchasing Pork Butt
Like many other cuts of meat, pork butt is regularly sold with a fat cap. This is a layer of white fat that is on the top of the meat.
This often contributes to the cheap price of pork butt.
While this might feel daunting for a beginner cooking pork and you may feel tempted to cut the fat off it, it’s recommended that you leave most of that fat on the cut of the meat.
If you get rid of too much of the fat, you’re kissing goodbye to a lot of the flavor and you could end up with dry and tough meat if you’re not careful.
Leaving the majority of the fat on the pork will help to keep the meat moist in the smoker.
Should The Pork Butt Be Fat Side Up Or Down When Grilling?
While you can cook the pork butt in any way you wish, it’s a good idea to cook the pork butt with the fat side facing up.
This comes down to the fact that when you do this, the fat bastes the pork as it renders in the smoker, helping to keep the meat moist and tender.
After all, no one likes dry meat!
Cooking the pork butt this way will also help you avoid flare-ups, which might happen if the pork fat drips onto the coals.
The Benefits Of Cooking The Pork Fat Side Up
The biggest benefit of cooking the pork fat side up is the fact that the fat bastes the meat as it renders out in the smoker.
This helps to keep your meat moist and tender, meaning that you’re left with beautifully juicy pork.
Many people argue that the fat can cause the pork rub to melt away when the pork is cooked fat side up.
However, provided that you have applied the rub correctly, using Dijon mustard to coat the meat before you add your rub, the meat will still have a beautiful flavor to it.
Cooking The Pork Fat Side Down – What’s The Argument For It?
To keep this controversial debate regarding fat going, it’s important to mention that many pitmasters choose to cook pork butt with the fat facing down as well.
So, what’s the argument for it?
Many BBQ enthusiasts say that this allows the fat cap to act as an insulator against the direct heat from the grill, which in turn prevents the pork from drying out as it cooks.
Additionally, when the pork is cooked in this way with the meat side facing up, the pork butt will form an impressive-looking bark.
It’s also important to point out that if the meat rests against the cooking grates on your grill, it will form grill marks, which can prevent you from achieving beautiful bark.
The fat is going to render and drip off the meat regardless, and if it’s exposed to the direct heat, this could lead to flare-ups.
This will give the meat a charred exterior and burned flavor, which will detract from the overall result of your pork.
You don’t want to have worked this hard for no reason, so preserving the flavor of the meat is absolutely crucial.
This is why we recommend opting to cook the pork with the fat facing up.
Flipping The Pork Butt
If you can’t make your mind up on whether you want to cook the pork butt with that fat facing up or down, there is a third alternative you can bear in mind.
You can flip the pork butt every now and again throughout the smoking process, so the fat cap faces up and down at various intervals during the cooking process.
As the majority of pitmasters have their own ideas about which way the fat cap should be facing, this is considered an unorthodox method.
If you decide to flip the pork butt over when it is in the smoker, be very careful to not let a lot of the fat drip down onto the coals.
A Note On Rotation
If you decide against flipping your meat over during the smoking process, you might decide to settle on rotating it.
Different smokers have different hot and cold spots, so moving the meat around can ensure that it cooks evenly.
Be careful to rotate the pork butt around 45 degrees to one side every two hours.
This will also expose more of the surface area to the smoke, adding to the flavor of the meat ten-fold.
Note that you should try to do this as quickly as possible to prevent the smoker from losing a lot of heat in the process.
How To Prepare The Pork Butt For The Smoker
Step One – Preheat The Smoker
Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
At 225 degrees Fahrenheit, the pork should typically cook at a rate of around 2 hours per pound.
Step Two – Trim The Pork Butt
Trim away any excess fat, but don’t trim too much. A good rule of thumb to follow is to only trim the fat that hangs off the edges.
Step Three – Pat The Pork Butt Dry
Next, you will need to pat the pork butt dry with paper towels.
Step Four – Coat In Mustard & Season
Apply a small amount of yellow or Dijon mustard all over the pork butt, then add seasoning rub.
The Dijon mustard helps the rub to stick to your meat instead of falling on your grill grates.
Step Five – Smoke The Pork Butt
Now you can add the pork butt to the preheated smoker fat side up.
When allowing the meat to cook for two hours per pound, an 8-pound pork butt will take around 16 hours to cook in the smoker.
If you want to speed up the smoking process, then you can raise the grill temperature to 250 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alternatively, you could try using the Texas crutch.
A Note On The Texas Crutch
As smoking pork can take a significant amount of time depending on the size of the joint of the meat, the Texas crutch can come in handy when you want to speed the process up.
So, what is the Texas crutch?
In short, the Texas crutch involves wrapping the pork butt in a layer of aluminium foil in the middle of the cook.
It won’t shorten the overall cooking time significantly, however, it can still shave a few hours off.
So, how does the Texas crutch work?
Once a joint of meat has been on the grill for a few hours, the internal temperature will hit a plateau.
This is known as “the stall,” and usually occurs around the 150 to 170 degree mark—about two-thirds of the way through the cooking time.
This is where the Texas crutch can come in handy. Cut out two pieces of aluminum foil and place them down so that the foil overlaps.
Place the pork on the foil. At this stage you can add a tablespoon or two of apple juice or water.
The liquid that you add will evaporate and help to create steam as the pork cooks, keeping the meat nice and moist.
When it comes to wrapping the pork butt up, be sure to wrap the meat tightly in foil to form a good seal.
If you’re cooking with the meat thermometer probe in the pork so that you can regularly check the temperature, make sure that you mold the foil around the meat probe as tightly as possible.
Return the pork to the smoker. Allow the meat to cook until it reaches the internal temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
Now you can unwrap it, and place it back in the smoker to cook over a low heat until the bark becomes crispy.
When your pork butt is finally done, allow it to rest for a minimum of one hour before you serve. Delicious.
You can cook pork butt with the fat facing up or down, but it’s good to smoke it with the fat facing up so that it bastes the meat as it cooks.
That being said, provided you’ve followed the guidelines for the overall cooking time, you should be left with pork that is both tender and delicious.
Regardless of which method you opt for, the key to cooking great pork is to find a great recipe – so be sure to do your research in conjunction with your preferences.
We hope this article has been helpful and that you feel more confident cooking pork butt. Good luck and enjoy smoking pork butt!