Smoked low and slow until pull-apart tender, classic barbecue pulled pork is cheap, easy and delicious.
Generally when people talk about pulled pork, they’re talking smoked meats. Barbecue – that’s the Southern way, not direct grilling but slow cooking in a wood-fired pit. To be fair, pulled pork can be made in an oven, slow cooker or even braised on the stovetop, but it’s only barbecued if you actually barbecue it! And it tastes SO much better with a little kiss of smoke, too.
To make pulled pork, you start with a pork shoulder or butt. One of the most hilarious names in cooking, the butt is actually named after the large wooden barrels they were packed in for shipping back in the day. Rest assured, it’s most definitely from the front end of the pig. The shoulder cuts are tough if not cooked right, but when treated to some heat over time, they turn wonderfully tender. Tougher cuts generally have more flavor than their delicate counterparts, so it’s a win-win.
I cook my pulled pork in a traditional offset smoker, but the method is the same no matter which type of smoker you use. (if you want to learn more about smoker types, you can check out this handy video). Unlike brisket (where the two halves/muscle components are very different) any part of the pork butt is great for smoking, so if you prefer to buy a smaller 2-3lb piece it’ll work just as well and cook even faster.
I use Hardcore Carnivore: RED as my seasoning. I designed it specifically for white meats like pork & chicken, and it has a pretty incredible color that’s perfect for pulled pork. To boost the moisture, I create a basic vinegar dressing to toss the meat in once pulled. It helps add a little sweetness, brightness from acidity and coats each piece to stop it drying out, too.
As with all smoking – you are cooking to temperature, not time. It’s impossible to answer the question “how long will it take?” because there are so many variables. Weather, cooking apparatus, meat size, meat quality and fuel type all play a part in the timing of your cook. I take my pulled pork to at least 195f, usually 200f. Competition guys will usually finish theirs a little lower, so they can slice and have larger chunks for presentation.
The most reliable way to know when it’s ready is to utilize feel – is the meat probe tender (meaning, can you push a probe through with no resistance)? It’s a great idea to probe multiple parts of the muscle, because there will be areas that are super soft, but other internal muscles that are a little more stubborn. Be patient and hang in there until there is no resistance anywhere in the meat. I use the Thermoworks Smoke unit to monitor the internal temperatures of my meat in the pit – I’ve used others before, and I must tell you I am so impressed with this unit. It works straight out of the box, and is precise to a fraction of a degree.
Truly, mastering pulled pork is easy. The actual tough part is seeing how much of it you can fit in a sandwich!
Recipe after the pics: