Getting a recipe for pulled pork is kinda like getting one for chocolate cake. You’ll get a different recipe from every person you ask. However you will find that in most cases there will always be some parts of the pulled pork recipe that are the same regardless of where you get it. The meat you can use, the final internal temperature of the meat and some of the cooking steps are pretty constant.
Let’s start off with the meat part of the recipe. Most people will use one of just a very few cuts of pork for pulled pork, all of which come from the front shoulder area of the hog. Typically it will be a Boston Butt, a Butt, a shoulder picnic, or on occasion a shoulder roast. Larger cuts tend to turn out a little better as they are more forgiving with the cooking and hold onto their juices a little more than smaller cuts. Boston butts can be as large as 10 pounds, but are more usually 4-7 pounds.
Cooking pulled pork is an exercise in patience. It will take several hours (Minimum!) for the delicious goodness to be cooked to perfection. Most people agree that a final internal temperature of 190 – 205 degrees F. is about perfect. Of course every piece of meat cooks a little differently, so you’ll need to decide for yourself when it is done. Normal cooking temperatures range from 230-300 degrees F. Clearly, the lower the temperature, the longer it will take.
Because this is a very slow cooking process, a lot of moisture and fat will render out of the pork as it is cooking. If you are doing this in a smoker (and you sure should be), you’ll want to either cook the pork in a pan, or at least have a drip pan under the pork to catch all the drippings. Personally I like collecting the drippings and using them as a base for a sauce.
Basic Recipe for Pulled Pork
- 1 or 2 Pork butts 4-6 pounds each
- dry rub of your choice
- good olive or canola oil – but this is optional
- Mustard (optional)
You can choose to score the fatty side of the meat if you want, once done, you can choose to rub some oil onto the meat, but again this is optional. The key thing here is to get a good coating of your favourite dry rub onto the meat and then let it sit for at least a couple of hours in the fridge so that the rub “sets” its flavours. Some people like to add a nice layer of mustard to the pork at this point – I don’t personally, but it is really worth a try.
As you’re waiting for the rub to set in, prep your smoker. You’re looking to get a nice stable temperature in the 250 degree F range. Don’t add any smoke producing wood quite yet. Just focus on getting a nice balanced temperature. When you’re ready, you bring on the meat.
Now some people like to sear their meat before they cook it. This is very much personal choice. Try one seared, and one not and see which you like better. The simplest way to sear the meat it is crank up your barbeque Grill to 500 degrees or so and quickly sear off all sides of the meat. Either way, put the meat in the smoker when you’re ready, close the lid, and add the wood chips. Hickory, maple, and fruit woods are really typical for pulled pork.
Now you’re looking at anywhere from 6-10 hours of cooking depending on the size of pork butt and cooking temperature. When it gets to an internal temperature of about 180 degrees, you should wrap it completely in foil and continue the cooking. This really helps seal in the moisture and balance out the cooking process. You’ll have a couple of more hours cooking before the right internal temp. is reached. Be patient and let things work.
When it is done, take it off the heat and let the meat rest for a good hour before doing anything with it. Many people like to wrap the meat in towels and pop it into a cooler to rest. This helps the juices and flavours redistribute evenly.
Once the meat is ready (it will have cooled off somewhat), you can do the pulling. Use your fingers, or large forks to break the super-tender pork into thin pieces. You can add a sauce to it if you want, but I’d say it is better to have the sauce of your choice on the side so everyone can have it as they want.
Serve it on a nice whole-wheat bun with some slaw and your favourite sauce and frosty beverage. Everyone will be back for more!
Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.
Keep on smoking!