I like barbecue. Beef Brisket, Smoked Chicken, Baby back Ribs, and most definitely Pulled Pork. When done right, it is moist, fall apart tender, without being mush. It should have the pink smoke ring, a great seasoning rub, and make you want to over eat. Not that I ever over eat. That would be silly. Ok, maybe just once or twice.
What I am not really keen on is stoking a fire every half hour for thirteen hours. And a good Pulled pork takes about thirteen hours to become excellent. Then a friend of mine introduced me to the Traeger pellet smoker. Basically, load it with pellets, prep your meat, put it on, and forget it. I added a barbecue thermometer to it (the Maverick is the one I got). This will let you monitor the smoker temperature as well as the internet temperature of the food, from anywhere in your home, and alarm when it gets to where you set it.
My desire for Pulled Pork and my laziness could finally co-exist!
And yes, some barbecue purists tell me that a pellet smoker isn’t true barbecue. it looses some of the art, the love, or the expression. And do you know what? Those same people are usually the ones eating all my pulled pork! I’ll let the results speak for themselves.
And one last product that made my Pulled pork life complete: The Pork Puller. It revolutionized the pulling. No longer do I spend 15 minutes per pork shoulder (Boston Butt) pulling it by hand with a couple of forks. Now I get to use power tools! Just be careful, as you can turn the meat to mush if you get too enthusiastic and go too far. Honestly, I only did that once. Meat paste is not what we are after here, though it was still tasty.
Ok., so the first step is to mix up a bag of rub (recipe below). The Pulled Pork rub is enough for two butts (pork shoulders), roughly 14 – 16 pounds each.
Once the rub is ready, get the butts out of their packaging, and rinse them off to make sure to remove any bits of bone or unwanted packaging sludge. Pat them dry, then put on a pair of food gloves, and slather them with yellow mustard (if you don’t use gloves, your hands will be yellow and smell of mustard for days). And yes, the kind of mustard that goes on hot dogs and broccoli. (OK, so most people don’t put it on broccoli; if you don’t, you should try it.) Prepared yellow mustard is mostly water with a little vinegar and ground mustard seed. It mostly will hold the rub on well, but it also adds just a little something to the rub.
Once the mustard is on there, evenly spread the rub all over it. It should look something like this.
Once that is done, get the smoker ready using whatever instructions came with your smoker. Then (if you are using a barbecue thermometer) stick the meat thermometer into the meat in the thickest part (avoid fat deposits for the probe, they will read improperly) and the grill probe on a smoker section next to the meat (but not in a hot spot). If you don’t have a barbecue thermometer then first go order one. I’ll wait. For today you’ll have to time it and use a hand held meat probe to test occasionally.
Close up the smoker and let it do it’s thing. On the Traeger, set it to “smoke”, everyone else aim for 160 degrees. Leave it for three hours to get that joyful pink smoke ring. Then go turn up the smoker to 225 degrees. Set the food alert to 190 degrees, internal temperature.
Also, one quick note about stalls. You will think the meat is increasing in temperature really quickly for a bit, then it will stop and stay there for an hour. This is normal; it is when the water in the meat is boiling and we all know that boiling water stays the same temperature until it’s done boiling.
Now you have a choice to make. You can leave it on the smoker until it gets to the 190 degrees. It will turn out well, and have a slightly hard, crunchy bark (the dark, smoked exterior). After you pull it, it will mix in and you will get a really good Pulled Pork.
I personally like it to be more moist, so it comes off the smoker at 150 degrees internal temperature. I then wrap it in aluminum foil (heavy duty, extra wide), and put it in my oven at 225 degrees until it gets to the 190 degrees internal temperature. Why, you ask. Why bother with it and sidetrack all that wonderful laziness when I could just leave it alone? Three reasons. 1) I am a little cheap (frugal?) and pellets cost more than natural gas. 2) The Pulled pork doesn’t take much more smoke after that point. and 3) wrapping it makes the juices redistribute rather than cook off, so it ends up more moist. The disadvantage is that it has a soft bark. I can live with that, especially since it softens on it’s own after it’s pulled and sits with the rest of the meat.
If you went the route of keeping it on the smoker the entire time, then once it’s done, pull it off the smoker, bring it inside, put a little aluminum foil over the top (tent it) and let it sit 20 minutes before pulling.
If you went the oven route, then when it is done, pull it from the oven, wrap it in towels and put it in a cooler. You know the kind, you usually put drinks in it to keep them cold? Well, this time you are keeping the meat warm. For one to two hours. Don’t worry, it will have plenty of heat to keep it above the Danger Zone for that time. This gives it the chance to tenderize a little more, redistribute the juices, and gives you a time margin of error while waiting for the guests to arrive. Your patience will be rewarded.
Now comes the fun part. Unwrap the butt, put it in a large metal pan (and a cloth under it to keep it from spinning), and get your drill out! The pork puller really does pull the meat effortlessly. I should have gotten it years earlier. Oh, and if you don’t have one, you can use two forks to pull apart the meat.
And let’s not forget the bun, and Cole Slaw (which is another post entirely).
This really is good stuff. And it will ruin you for other people’s Pulled Pork. You will never again get it at a barbecue place again without thinking “I can do better!” It’s that good!
Edit: And I now do better.
Follow the directions above, but at 150 degrees internal temperature, take it off the smoker, and tightly wrap it in extra wide heavy duty aluminum foil. Put it on a cookie sheet, and into the oven at 225 degrees until the internal temperature it 290 degrees, then wrap them in towels (still in the foil) and put into a cooler chest (“faux Cambro”) for one to two hours. Once the guests show up, dump the entire contents of the foil into a large pot, juices and all, and pull it in front of them. This way, it is extra moist and tender, and will keep them returning for more!
- 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- 2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
- 3 Tablespoons Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
- 3 Tablespoons Sugar (granulated)
- 3 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
- ⅜ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- Prepared Yellow Mustard (enough to rub down a Boston Butt)
- 2 14-16 lbs Boston Butts (Pork Shoulders)
- Mix all dry seasonings together in a bag.
- Rub down butts with yellow mustard. Evenly spread rub across both butts.
- smoke at 160 degrees for three hours
- smoke at 225 degrees until the Internal Temperature of the meat is 190 degrees.
- rest the meat.
- Pull (shred) the meat.