Barbecued Pork Shoulder

I may be about to step into a viper pit.  I’m going to talk about barbecue.  People are fierce in their allegiances in regard to this culinary delight and I acknowledge this.

Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina or some other region.  You’ll have no problem finding those who will swear on about anything you like, that the barbecue from their region is the best. 

I’m not here to come anywhere near deciding, or even commenting, on where it may be better.  What I’m going to do is talk about a recipe that works for me.  Feel free to use a little or a lot of this recipe.   (I’ve been a bit more narrative on this one as I believe good barbecue is as much art as it is preparation.)


7-10 lb pork shoulder (Boston Butt)
Dry Rub*
Wood Chips
Apple Cider Vinegar

The real beauty to pork shoulder barbecue is the simplicity behind the dish.  Barbecued Pork Shoulder, or pulled pork, as it is commonly called starts with a large cut of bone-in pork and other than some minimal spices, the real focus is the taste of the meat that comes from spending so much time over low heat.

Trim the fat as you see fit.  Pork shoulder is a wealth of fat and some cooks like to trim. Me, I generally don’t.  Trimmed or untrimmed, before you start cooking, you need to prepare the pork.  I use a dry rub. 

I, like many barbecue cooks, have my own special blend of spices that make up my rub and I’m not quite ready to share it in total, but there are several things I’ve found that impart a noticeable flavor.   I love a bit of cinnamon in the rub.  Also I have found several smoke flavored salts that are nice.

Apply your rub and let the pork rest overnight (at least 12 hours) in the refrigerator. 

Take the pork out 45 minutes before you put it over heat.  Some will inject seasoning before putting the pork on the grill 

While the pork is awaiting the grill, ready the grill.  I cook over gas on indirect heat; however, you can also use charcoal.  Just remember the key to great pulled pork barbecue is what barbecue chefs call “Low and Slow.”  This means that you can’t decide at noon you want to have barbecue at 5:00 for dinner.  Patience it not only suggested, it is critical.  If you have a question about whether the meat has been on heat for a sufficient time, wait another 15 minutes before you remove the meat from the heat.

You need to add some smoke to the equation, particularly early on in the cooking process.  I use wood chips which can be a bit of a challenge on the gas grill.  I use a cast iron smoke box placed directly on the burner guard.  Soak the chips for at least half an hour in a cup of the apple cider vinegar then apply them to a hot smoke box.  Give them a few minutes and they’ll be smoking.  Literally.

Once the grill is ready – after the meat has rested and the smoke is rolling –  place the meat on the grill off the heat.  To achieve the indirect heat, I use a 4 burner grill and light only the outer two burners (remember to place the smoke box over one of the operational burners) and place the pork shoulder in the middle.

Close the grill and adjust the heat to between 250 and 300F. 

Check back about every hour and turn the pork shoulder.

Then wait. Then wait some more.

I find that using my grill it takes about an hour per pound, but this will depend on your grill.

Use an instant read thermometer and cook until the internal temp is around 200.  At this point the meat should be close to falling off the bone and the outside should have a lovely charred appearance.  This is called the “bark.”

Take the shoulder off the heat, cover it and let it rest an hour.  I cover with foil and place in a cool oven.  The pork will cool so you can pull it and softens the bark so you can enjoy it as well.

After it’s cooled, take it out and pull it.  After having cooked like this the barbecue will literally fall apart.  Pull/shred the pork.  You’ll also want to season it.  I like to splash apple cider vinegar over the pork and I also have a spice blend I use.  Again, I’m not quite ready to share this, but experiment and see what you like to bring out the flavor.   Keep in mind the pork will be quite tasty, so you don’t need a lot added to it.

That’s it.  Serve and enjoy.

As to barbecue sauce, I rarely use any, but I’ll be posting a couple of different recipes – one simple, one a bit more complicated, but both quite tasty.

Thanks and check back soon!

*Experiment and have fun!

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