The secret to smoking a delicious pork shoulder is using the right smoking chunks. Also known as a pork butt or Boston butt, pork shoulders contain natural marbling that, when smoked, provide flavorful moisture. But you need to use the right type of smoking chunks to achieve a truly mouthwatering flavor. All smoking chunks can release smoke and, therefore, cook a pork shoulder, but some are better suited for this task than others. So, what type of smoking chunks should you use for a pork shoulder?
How Smoking Chunks Affect a Pork Shoulder
There are countless types of smoking chunks, each of which will affect your pork shoulder in different ways. Some smoking chunks, for example, offer a sweet flavor, whereas others offer a nutty flavor. If you use the former type of smoking chunks, your pork shoulder will taste sweeter. If you use the latter type, it will taste nuttier. Of course, sweet and nutty are just two of many flavors offered by smoking chunks.
Even the tenderness of your pork shoulder can be influenced by the type of smoking chunks you use to cook it. Some smoking chunks smolder for longer than others, meaning they’ll release more smoke to break down the fibers of your pork shoulder. The end result is a pork shoulder that’s tender enough to pull apart with a fork.
Stick With Smoking Chunks, Not Chips
While you can technically smoke a pork shoulder using smoking chips, it’s recommended that you use smoking chunks instead. Smoking chunks are larger, thicker pieces of flavorful wood, so they tend to burn slower and longer than their chip counterparts. If you use smoking chips, you’ll have to continuously add more chips to maintain a stable smoking temperature.
Smoking chunks are also less likely to ignite and burn to ash than smoking chips. Because they are so thin, smoking chips can easily catch fire when placed inside a grill or smoker. When this happens, they’ll burn to ash while producing minimal smoke. Choosing smoking chunks with which to cook your pork shoulder, however, allows for consistent smoke and heat.
Cherry Smoking Chunks for a Pork Shoulder
You can’t go wrong when using cherry smoking chunks for a pork shoulder. Cherry is a fruit-bearing hardwood tree that’s prized for its delicious flavor. It offers a sweet, though still relatively mild, flavor that enhances the flavor of pork, including pork shoulders.
In addition to pork, cherry smoking chunks are also an excellent choice for chicken and turkey. The mildly sweet flavor of cherry smoking chunks complements the natural flavors of these meats.
Hickory Smoking Chunks for a Pork Shoulder
Hickory is another type of smoking chunks that works well for a pork shoulder. It’s not as sweet as cherry. Rather, hickory offers a stronger, richer mesquite flavor — similar to that of bacon. The great thing about hickory smoking chunks is that even a small amount will inject your pork shoulder with a delicious flavor. Hickory has a particularly strong flavor, so even tossing just a handful of hickory smoking chunks over your charcoal can improve the flavor of your pork shoulder.
In addition to a pork shoulder, you can use hickory smoking chunks to cook hamburgers, steaks, ribs and fish.
Create Your Own Combination of Smoking Chunks
You don’t have to rely on a single type of smoking chunks when smoking a pork shoulder. Some chefs use multiple types of smoking chunks to achieve unique flavors that aren’t possible with just a single type. If you enjoy the flavor of hickory smoking chunks but find it to be somewhat overbearing, for example, you can use a combination of hickory and white oak smoking chunks. White oak is a milder type of cooking wood, so you can mix it with other, stronger types of cooking wood like hickory.
It’s also fine to use charcoal with smoking chunks. In fact, using smoking chunks with charcoal is recommended because it offers both heat and smoke. The charcoal will produce heat that smolders the smoking chunks to release their flavorful smoke.
Brine Your Pork Shoulder Before Smoking It
Regardless of which type of smoking chunks you use, you should brine your pork shoulder before placing it in your smoker. Brining involves submerging the pork shoulder in seasoned water or juice, typically for at least 24 hours. As your pork shoulder sits in the salty brine, it will absorb the water or juice as well as the seasoning. After allowing your pork shoulder to brine for at least 24 hours (keep it in the refrigerator, of course), you can toss it in your smoker.
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