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Published April 4, 2022. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Fire up those smokers and get ready to enjoy a perfect smoked pulled pork shoulder recipe that has the ultimate bark with a fantastic BBQ rub. This will absolutely be your new go-to smoked pork recipe.
Similar to my obsession with Corned Beef Hash, I pretty much only eat pulled pork whenever I go to a BBQ restaurant. I don’t even know what it is about it, but golly is it delicious. Pork shoulder has plenty of fat on it to make this recipe loaded with flavor. Just like I always say, fat equals flavor.
Smoking obviously requires you to have a smoker and plenty of time to smoke it. I would suggest setting aside at least 10 hours of your day to properly prepare and smoke this pork shoulder.
Difference Between a Pork Butt and a Pork Shoulder
More often than not, pork shoulders seem to win the popularity contest in the grocery stores. It’s not that pork butts aren’t available; it just seems that pork shoulders are more common. While they both come from the same part of the big, there are a few differences.
A butt is meatier and has more marbling than a pork shoulder. The pork butt sits a little higher as well towards the back area while the shoulder is further down on that same cut of meat towards the top of the leg. Together these two cuts of meat are commonly known as the butt shoulder. The bottom part of the shoulder and into the leg is known as the picnic shoulder, which maybe you’ve heard before.
Best Wood for Smoked Pork Shoulder
When it comes to selecting wood for smoking pork no matter if it’s a shoulder or a butt, you should immediately think of fruit. Pork and fruit go fantastic together. In addition, the wood used for smoking will depend upon where in the US you live. Texas is often known for pecan or oak, while hickory is identified with Memphis BBQ.
- Alder Wood
- Cherry Wood
- Apple Wood
- Peach Wood
- Maple Wood
- Mesquite Wood
While these woods are great for smoking pork, don’t let this list confine you. If you love smoking with wood that is not on this list, then I encourage you to use it when making this pork shoulder recipe.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke?
A few things will depend on how long it takes to smoke a pork shoulder or even a pork butt, the most important being the weight of it, and the temperature at which you smoke it. A basic rule of thumb, but in no way is it an exact guide, is 90 minutes of smoking time per pound at 225° to 250°. Another way is to use a thermometer the entire time for indications of when your pork may be done.
- Remove it from the smoker once it reaches an internal temperature of 165°.
- Wrap the pork shoulder in foil or butcher’s paper and return it to the smoker and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of between 200° and 205°.
- Rest in the foil at room temperature before serving.
What Do You Spray on It When It’s In the Smoker?
I like to personally use a combination of apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and water to spray onto the pork shoulder. This process is also known as spritzing. Since I use more of a savory rub, I like the subtle hint of sweetness from the apple juice. Spritzing is mainly used to keep the pork moist, but because there is already so much fat on the pork shoulder, you may not be able to tell the difference in flavor in the end. The measuring combination of my spritzer is:
- 1 cup apple juice
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup of water
Should I Wrap My Pork Shoulder?
It is always encouraged to wrap your pork shoulder at some point in the smoking process. Many BBQ pitmasters believe that you should wrap it in foil or peach paper once it hits an internal temperature of 165°. Wrapping helps to further elevate the internal temperature of the pork and also helps to tenderize it by steaming it. This process also assists in breaking down the fat and collagen to make the meat more tender and juicier.
The Resting Period
I’ve always learned ever since my days in culinary school that it is incredibly important to let the meat rest before cutting into it or serving it. During this resting time, the juices soak back into the pork bringing about a lot more flavor and tenderness to it. This process can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes and I advise covering the pork in foil or butcher’s paper while it rests.
What Is Bark?
The bark is the crust that forms on the outer surface of the meat you are smoking. Smoke particles stick to the outside seasoning and begin to make a firm outside edge that appears to be dark red and black in color. This crust is coveted and acts almost as a caramelized outside of the meat bringing about a ton of flavor to your meat. Think of it as a candied outside crust.
Dry Pork Rub Recipe
I’m a little bit of an outsider when it comes to rubbing my pork shoulder with a dry rub. I don’t believe you should rub it and let it sit for a long period of time. My reasoning is that all rubs have salt in them, and the salt draws out moisture. Moisture is what keeps meat tender, juicy, and flavorful. If you’ve ever rubbed a piece of meat and let it sit until morning, you’ll notice quite a bit of water in the bottom of the pan. Right or wrong, that’s my belief based on my cooking background and knowledge.
When it comes to rubbing the pork, I like to do so for 30 minutes before it goes on the smoker. I also prefer a savorier rub on the meat because I like sweet BBQ sauces, and I believe the two make a perfect balance. Here’s what’s in my rub:
- Garlic Granules
- Onion Granules
- Sea Salt
The Best BBQ Sauce for Smoked Pork Shoulder
Pairing up a good BBQ sauce with this pork shoulder is a bit up to the maker of it. I believe BBQ sauce should be added in moderation and only to compliment or even further enhance the flavor of the pork butt. Here are some great homemade BBQ sauces that would go well on this recipe:
How to Prepare the Pork
Pork shoulders usually come in weights of between 6 and 9 pounds. Obviously, the weight of the pork shoulder or pork butt will determine how much time it takes to smoke until it is finished. Don’t freak out if you feel your pork is incredibly fatty because most of it will cook off and help flavor it.
If you want to, you can remove a thin layer of fat from the top of it, but it is not necessary.
How to Make Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Preheat your smoker using your favorite flavored wood to 250°.
- Place a metal drip pan underneath the grill grates and fill it up with water.
- Make the BBQ rub for the pork shoulder and set it aside.
- Pull it out from the refrigerator and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Trim away any access fat that is unwanted.
- Rub it down on all sides with yellow or Dijon mustard.
- Coat the pork on all sides with the rub
- Place it on the smoker.
- After 3 hours of smoking, begin spritzing with 15-20 sprays every hour for 3 more hours for a total of 3 separate spritzes before removing it.
- Once the shoulder reaches an internal temperature of between 165° and 170°, remove it from the grill.
- Add it to a double sheet of large foil or butcher’s paper and spray it again with the spritzer generously.
- Wrap it well in the foil and return to the grill.
- Continue cooking it until it reaches an internal temperature of 200° to 205°.
- Remove it and let it rest in the foil for 30-60 minutes.
- Unwrap it, remove the bones and any large chunks of fat, and shred using forks, tongs, or hands.
- Serve pulled with your favorite BBQ sauce or as a sandwich.
What Do You Serve It With?
There are many side dishes that you could serve this with, but here are my absolute favorites:
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: You can make this smoked pork shoulder 4-6 hours ahead of time. Keep it covered in a pan with foil in the oven at 165° until it is ready to be pulled or served. If you have already pulled the pork, mix 1 to 2 cups of beef stock to help moisten it back up.
How To Reheat: Add the desired amount to a large pot with a little bit of beef or chicken stock, cover with foil and cook at 325° for 30 minutes.
Storing and Freezing: Store it in a plastic container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It also freezes well in a plastic container and can be reheated at low temperatures in the oven with a small amount of liquid and covered in foil.
chef notes + tips
- I am using a pellet smoker for this recipe; however, please feel free to use a regular charcoal grill or even a digital smoker to create this recipe.
- Both pork shoulder and pork butt are on the tougher side and require long cooking times to tenderize, such as smoking or braising. In addition, by the looks of it, my cut of meat in this recipe video looks like a cross between the butt and the shoulder.
- It’s important to look for signs when it’s done. Make sure the top of the pork skin has split before wrapping it in foil. Remember to let it rest at room temp for 30-45 minutes before pulling.
- The vinegar in the spritzer will also help to tenderize the meat since you know fat, acid, and salt heat makes for the best tasting food.
- Be sure to double wrap it in foil or peach paper because a lot of juices will be trying to come out of it while smoking.
- You can also include seasonings such as sugar, brown sugar, chili powder, and oregano into the rub.
- You can also brine the meat or inject it with vinegar, juices, and seasonings.
- Try using mustard to help the dry rub stick to the pork as well as assist in creating good bark. Also, I used Dijon mustard in this recipe.
More Amazing BBQ Recipes
- Smoked Turkey
- Smoked Country Style Ribs with Mustard BBQ Sauce
- Kalbi Korean Short Ribs
- Smoked St. Louis Style Ribs
- Fall Off the Bone Ribs
Smoked Pulled Pork Shoulder Recipe (Pork Butt)
For the Rub:
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 tablespoon garlic granules
- 2 tablespoon onion granules
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons cumin
For the Spritzer and Sauce:
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
For the Pork:
- 6-9 pound pork shoulder or pork butt, fat trimmed
- 4 tablespoons of yellow or Dijon mustard
- Preheat, the smoker to 250°. Place a drip pan filled with water under the grill grates.
- Rub: Combine all of the ingredients and set them aside.
- Spritzer: Add the apple juice, cider, and water to a spray bottle and shake. Set aside.
- Rub the mustard on every side of the pork shoulder, creating a thin layer.
- Next, generously season the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub.
- Add the pork shoulder to the smoker over the drip pan filled with water and smoke for 3 hours.
- Next, spray the pork shoulder with 15-20 sprays of the spritzer. Repeat this process for the next 3 hours every hour with the same amount of spritzes.
- Once the pork reaches an internal temperature of between 165° and 170° or the top part of the fat on the bark has split, about 6-7 hours, remove the pork from the smoker.
- Place the pork shoulder on a large sheet of double foil, generously spritz it, and wrap it extremely tight by folding over and covering up the pork shoulder.
- Place the pork shoulder back on the smoker, bone side up, and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 200° to 205°, about 2-4 hours.
- Remove the pork shoulder from the smoker and rest in the foil for 30-60 minutes before removing the bone, large chunks of fat, and pulling it using forks, cloves, or tongs.
- Serve pork shoulder with BBQ sauce on the side or as a sandwich.