The second episode of Becoming a Backyard BBQ Master is here! Today, Evan will attempt to smoke his first Pork Butt (also known as a Boston Butt).
Pork butts are a great choice for cooking low and slow. They’re hard to mess up, they taste delicious, and they provide a lot of food for a lower cost (so if you do manage to mess it up you won’t feel too bad).
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or, like Evan, new to the world of Backyard BBQ, there is something to enjoy in this new video series. Watch the episode now, and read on for more insights and instructions on smoking your first pork butt.
Why Start with Pulled Pork?
I have loved eating pulled pork for as long as I can remember. We grew up going to BBQ restaurants and the sandwich was a staple around our house as well. Smoking a pork butt, however, has always seemed like a mystical and unattainable task to me. To be honest, I thought that smoking anything would be difficult.
Turns out I was wrong: Pork butts are actually one of the easiest things to smoke! They may take a lot of time, but it’s low effort and well worth it.
I have cooked a few pork butts in the past, but always using a crockpot. Some recipes claim it is just as good as the smoker – I’m here to tell you that is also not true. If I had to do a blind taste test of my crock pot pulled pork and my new smoked pulled pork, I would guess the right one every time.
So, since I love pulled pork and it’s one of the hardest things to mess up, I decided that this would be my very first smoke.
There are two different sets of materials I need to explain. First, the food ingredients and then my smoking equipment.
Food Ingredients are very basic:
- Pork butt or Boston butt (they’re the same thing). I smoked one that was 9 pounds, which is a pretty large cut of meat.
- Dry Rub to go onto the butt
- A bit of oil for the grill
- Liquid for the drip pan – you want some kind of liquid in your drip pan to keep the meat moist. Some people use juice or soda, but I just used water.
That’s it! That’s all you need to smoke a pork butt. Obviously you may want bbq sauce or buns or coleslaw to make sandwiches with once you’re done, but that’s completely up to you. You could also use your pork for tacos or serve it without bread. It’s a versatile meat, and once you cook 9 pounds worth you’ll get several chances to enjoy it.
Smoking equipment that I used:
- Primo Oval XL 400
- Cast Iron Divider from Primo
- I should have used the ceramic heat deflectors from Primo, but I forgot to order…
- The ceramic heat deflector rack
- The Flame Boss 500
- Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- Pecan Cooking Chunks from Cutting Edge Firewood
The equipment was amazing and made the job much easier. In particular, I loved the Flame Boss. It felt like cheating (and some purists probably would call it cheating), but when you’re new to smoking it is a fantastic assistant.
The Flame Boss deserves its own episode in the future, but basically it monitors the temperature inside the pit and inside the meat. It also controls a small fan, which can blow air into the smoker to raise the temperature as required. It’s a really clever design and makes it very easy to reach and maintain a consistent temperature when you cook for long periods of time. You can monitor and adjust the temperature on the Flame Boss itself, on your phone, or even through Alexa devices.
I had to choose which type of wood to smoke with as well. The Pecan chunks were recently featured in Garden and Gun magazine, so they seemed like the best option for my first smoke. I’ve never cooked with or tried pecan before, so I was excited to try it.
How to Smoke your First Pork Butt (or Boston Butt)
There are a ton of great resources out there from experienced backyard bbq masters when it comes to smoking your first pork butt. One in particular that I used a lot was Primo University: Pulled Pork (Boston Butt) Recipe.
But sometimes the experts forget about the things newbies don’t know, so I’m going to share my experience and hopefully add something useful to the world.
Step 1: Prepare the meat the night before: Preparing the meat is relatively simple. If there is excess fat, you can cut some of it off (but don’t cut too much because that provides flavor and juiciness). Then, choose the dry rub of your choice and cover that butt as best you can with it. I wrapped the butt in plastic wrap and stuck it back in the fridge so it could soak in all the flavor over night.
Step 2: Preheat the Smoker and Prewarm the meat: Most smokers take at least 20-30 minutes to get to the right temperature. Before lighting up the grill, however, make sure you take the pork out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter. Allowing it to warm up a bit and get closer to room temperature will help it cook more evenly.
Then, light up the grill and bring it to temperature. Use lots of charcoal so you don’t have to add more halfway through your cook (any leftover charcoal can be used on the next cook). Don’t forget to add 2-3 cooking chunks as well. Most people smoke pork at 225F, but some will go at 250F. I started at 225, and then bumped it up to 250 in the last couple hours because I was starving.
Step 3: Drip pan and Meat into the Smoker: Once the smoker is at temperature, it’s time to start cooking! First, place the drip pan into the grill below where the meat will go. Don’t add liquid to the drip pan until you have placed it (or you can be like me, and discover how difficult it is to slide a pan full of liquid into a hot grill). Once placed, add your liquid and then place the pork butt into the smoker. You should place the meat on the grill with the fattier side facing down.
It’s also important that you place the meat on indirect heat! In other words, you don’t want burning charcoal directly under the pork butt. You should use a ceramic heat deflector, which will allow the smoker to have an even temperature throughout and help your butt cook evenly. Since I didn’t have the appropriate heat deflector racks, I ended up piling all the charcoal onto one side and cooking on the other. This worked just fine, except I ran out of charcoal quickly because I only had it on one side.
Step 4: Play the waiting game: Pulled pork can take a long time to smoke. If you want an estimate, plan for 1-2 hours for each pound of meat. This creates quite the broad range. My first Boston butt was 9 pounds and took about 13 hours. My second one was 10 pounds and took 22 hours!
You really shouldn’t open your smoker throughout the day either. Each time you open it, you lose a lot of heat and it will only cause the process to take longer. You may need to check it a couple of times to ensure the drip pan still has liquid in it or that your charcoal is still in good shape, but otherwise resist the temptation!
This is where having a Flame Boss can be really helpful. The picture above shows how it monitors the temperature of your pit (red line), your meat (yellow line), fan output (green line), and goal temperature (blue line). You can where, when I opened the smoker, the pit temperature dropped significantly. It gives you good info on what’s happening, so you are not tempted to open and check.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is an actual thing called the stall. Basically, the Pork butt will heat at a pretty quick pace until it reaches 150F. Then all of a sudden, it stalls! It may get stuck there for an hour or two, but don’t worry – this is normal. Eventually it will get going again and reach the goal temperature. Just keep playing the waiting game!
Step 5: Remove when the pork reaches 195F: You need to cook pork butts to a pretty hot temperature. The extra heat breaks down the tough tissue and makes it juicy and tender. Once your meat reaches 195F, it is time to take it off the smoker.
Wrap it in aluminum foil and let it rest for 30-60 minutes. This lets it cool down a bit and helps the juices distribute themselves.
Step 6: Pull that pork! There are several ways to pull pork. The most basic (and the one I used) is a couple of forks. This can be difficult if your meat is still tough, but hopefully it will be very tender and fall apart easily. Bear claws are another great option, and I know some people who use a certain type of blender.
Step 7: Eat it! Once pulled, your pork is ready to eat. I was really happy with how my first pork butt turned out. It was far more juicy, tender, and flavorful than anything I had made on a crockpot. The pecan wood added a subtle nutty flavor that was quite enjoyable. We had pulled pork for several days, shared with friends, and even put some in the freezer.
And now I feel one step closer to becoming a backyard BBQ master.
Each episode, I want to share a few lessons I learned. I mention 3 in the video, but there are a couple more I want to add:
- Add more charcoal: I think I lost about an hour of cook time because I ran out of charcoal. The Primo temperature started dropping and really fell off when I had to add the charcoal. The flame boss worked pretty hard to get it back up to temperature, but it took time. It’s always better to have excess charcoal because you can use it again for your next cook – so you don’t have to worry about wasting it!
- The Flame Boss was amazing: Seriously recommend this tool to anyone wanting to improve their low and slow cooking skills
- If you’re looking, you aren’t cooking: It’s really tempting to look at your meat and check it throughout the day. Don’t do that. Every time you open it, you lose significant cook time. Not just while it is open, but the pit also needs time to heat back up.
- Add liquid to the drip pan after placing the drip pan: I made this mistake, and it took me a lot more time to get the drip pan positioned.
- Cook the day before a party: This didn’t really hit home until my second cook. We had some friends coming over on Friday, and my original plan was to wake up really early and start cooking the butt so it would be hot off the smoker in time for dinner. This would have worked great if it took 14 hours, but instead it took 22 hours to cook! Our dinner party would have been a disaster, but fortunately circumstances forced me to start on Thursday. The nice thing is, pulled pork is easy to reheat and still tastes just as good! So, if you’re making food for an event, always give yourself plenty of time!
All in all, this was an awesome first experience with cooking low and slow for me. If you have any points or tips for others new to the world of Backyard BBQ Mastery, then please share them in the comments below!
Don’t forget to subscribe so you can catch the next episode of Becoming a Backyard BBQ Master.