Best Smoked Pulled Pork

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The best smoked pulled pork is succulently tender, richly flavored with a perfect balance of smoke and spices, and has a mouthwatering bark that adds a delightful contrast to the juicy meat within.

A close up of the best smoked pulled pork.
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Tender Smoked Pulled Pork

We love big bbq parties. Great friends, great conversation, cold drinks and the best smoked pulled pork ever. The secret? My husband. He’s been slowly tweaking his recipe and method for… well, years. And his pulled pork has become legendary with our friends. Today I asked him to spill the secrets!

Pulled pork is not a quick meal. At all. To get the pork soft and fall off the bone tender- while giving it a deep, rich smoky flavor, you have to cook it for a long time at a low heat.

We use an indirect smoker like this. We like to start the smoker off by heating up wood chips or charcoal in a chimney, and then adding them to the side.

You’ll want to get the grills temperature up to 210, where you will try to keep it for around 14 hours. Don’t worry about that huge number- you will only be working on the pork for about 30 minutes, including prep time. The rest of the time you will just be waiting!

A close up of the best smoked pulled pork sandwich.

How to Make Smoked Pulled Pork

First assemble the following ingredients:

  • Pork shoulder or Boston butt (6-10 pounds) – These cuts are prized for their rich marbling and connective tissues, which break down during the slow smoking process to create exceptionally tender and flavorful pulled pork.
  • Beer (1/2) – Adding beer to the mix introduces a malty, slightly hoppy flavor that tenderizes the pork and infuses it with a unique depth and complexity.
  • Apple cider vinegar (2 cups) – This ingredient contributes a subtle tanginess that brightens the pork’s rich flavors and helps balance the overall dish.
  • Garlic powder (2 tbsp) – Garlic powder offers a savory, slightly sweet taste that enhances the meat’s natural flavors without overpowering them.
  • Onion powder (2 tbsp) – This spice brings a mild, sweet onion flavor that complements the pork’s smokiness and adds another layer of savory depth.
  • Season salt (2 tbsp) – Season salt is a blend of salt and other spices that elevates the pork’s taste by adding a well-rounded savoriness.
  • Ground pepper (2 tbsp) – Ground pepper introduces a mild heat and pungent aroma, providing a subtle kick that contrasts nicely with the meat’s richness.
  • Paprika (3 tbsp) – Paprika adds a sweet and smoky element, contributing to the pork’s vibrant color and enhancing its smoky aroma.
  • Chili powder (3 tbsp) – This spice mix adds a mild to moderate heat and a complex flavor profile, incorporating elements of smokiness, sweetness, and earthiness to the pork.
  • Cumin (2 tbsp) – Cumin lends a warm, earthy note with a hint of citrus, adding depth and a slight bitterness that complements the sweeter spices.
  • Celery salt (2 tbsp) – Celery salt combines the salty tang of salt with the subtle, earthy flavor of celery seed, adding a fresh dimension to the rich meat.
  • Cinnamon (2 tbsp) – A pinch of cinnamon introduces a warm, sweet spice that provides an unexpected twist, enhancing the meat’s complexity with its woody aroma.
  • Cardamom (2 tbsp) – Cardamom adds a sweet, spicy, and slightly citrus flavor that brings a unique, aromatic quality to the pulled pork, rounding out the spice blend with its distinctive character.

Use this Method

Make Rub. Mix ingredients for rub together in a bowl.

Prep Meat. Remove pork from packaging, pat dry with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature. I like to trim off excess fat and silver skin at this point. You do want to keep about 1/4” of fat on the top called the fat cap. As your meat slowly cooks, this melts and keeps the meat moist.

Rub. Apply rub and refrigerate overnight. Soak wood chips or blocks overnight in water. Remove meat from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Next morning, prepare lump charcoal in smoker using newspaper and charcoal chimney. I do not use lighter fluid or compressed charcoal briquettes because I believe the leave a petroleum taste on the meat.

Make Mop. While the coals come to temperature, combine the ingredients for the mop and put in a spray bottle on plastic container.

Smoke. When coals are glowing and grey, add the brisket to the smoker. Keep the meat as far from the fire as possible. If you have a barrel smoker with a fire box, keep on the opposite side of the grill surface from the fire box. If you have a conventional smoker or Weber-style kettle grill, build small fire on one side of kettle and keep meat on the other side.

Add Chips. Add handful of wet wood chips/block to fire. Cover and let cook. You’ll want to keep your temperature between 200-225 degrees F. That should take approximately 12-14 hours to smoke a 7–10-pound butt. You’ll likely need to check the fire every 30-45 minutes.

Start Mopping. After an hour of smoking you should start mopping your meat every time you check the fire. I like to use a silicone basting brush for this. The inexpensive fibre brushes that are commonly sold at big-box stores begin to come apart quickly and, in my experience, often shed bristles on the meat. I also rotate my meat every hour to ensure that all sides get even exposure to the heat and smoke. This is particularly important if you’re using a conventional kettle grill for your smoking. If you have an outdoor temperature probe, use it to track the internal temperature of you meat.

Keep Cooking after Stall. After several hours, your meat may “stall” around 150F. I usually keep smoking mine. In Texas, they wrap them in foil with a cup of mop to finish. You’re shooting for your meat to get to 185F. Once you hit that mark, remove your meat from the smoker, double wrap in foil and let sit in an unheated over for an hour to hour and a half depending on fat content of the meat.

pulled pork with bbq sauce on it

Tips and Tricks for Perfect SMoked Pulled Pork

Let Rest: Always let the shoulder rest for about 10 minutes after taking out of package to help it dry. Pat dry with paper towels before adding rub. Let your pork shoulder sit in the fridge, with rub, for 12+ hours (we like to go for 24 hours).

Baste a Lot: Add basting mix every couple hours. You can also mix your own- we’ve tried beer, dr. pepper, coke, apple juice, and more. We tend to use apple cider vinegar because we like the taste- but you can use whatever drink and spices you like.

Shred Easily: To easily get your pork to shred without burning your hands, pop it in a mix master with the paddle attachment. A couple minutes on medium and you will have a perfect consistency! Sometimes we like thicker chunks (as pictured) For meatier sandwiches. Just use to forks to pull the meat apart for a thicker style.

FAQS

What’s the best cut of meat for pulled pork?

The best cuts for pulled pork are pork shoulder or Boston butt, as they are marbled with fat that melts during cooking, making the meat tender and flavorful.

Can I make pulled pork in a slow cooker or oven if I don’t have a smoker?

Yes, you can make tender pulled pork in a slow cooker or oven. Slow cook on low for 8-10 hours or roast in the oven at 275°F (135°C) until the meat reaches the desired internal temperature.

What internal temperature should pulled pork reach to be done?

Pulled pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 195-205°F (90-96°C), which allows the collagen in the meat to break down, making it tender and easy to shred.

How do I keep my pulled pork moist?

Keep the pulled pork moist by wrapping it in foil or butcher paper once it reaches 150-160°F (65-71°C) and continue cooking until done. Resting the meat wrapped in a towel and cooler for an hour can also help retain moisture.

Can I freeze leftover pulled pork?

Yes, pulled pork freezes well. Cool it quickly, store it in airtight containers or freezer bags, and freeze. It can last up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.

How do I reheat pulled pork without drying it out?

Reheat pulled pork gently, covered, in the oven or on the stovetop with a splash of apple cider vinegar or broth to add moisture. Microwaving in short bursts with added moisture can also work.

What are some popular seasonings or rubs for pulled pork?

Popular seasonings include a mix of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and brown sugar. Adjust the spices to your taste preference.

A close up of the best smoked pulled pork sandwich.

What to Enjoy with Pulled Pork

Classic Coleslaw: The creamy, tangy flavor of coleslaw complements the smoky richness of the pork, adding a refreshing crunch.

Baked Beans: Their sweet and savory taste pairs well with the meaty, smoky flavor of the pork, creating a hearty and satisfying combination.

Cornbread: Its slightly sweet, buttery flavor balances the savory depth of the pork, and its soft texture contrasts nicely with the meat’s tenderness. Try this cornbread!

Macaroni and Cheese: The creamy, cheesy goodness offers a comforting, indulgent contrast to the smoky, savory pulled pork.

Sweet Potato Fries: Their natural sweetness and crispy exterior provide a delightful contrast to the rich, tender pork.

Grilled Corn on the Cob: The smoky char from the grill complements the smoked pork, while the corn’s natural sweetness adds a fresh dimension. Try this recipe!

Collard Greens: Their earthy, slightly bitter taste balances the richness of the pork, adding a nutritious and flavorful side.

Potato Salad: Its creamy texture and tangy flavor profile provide a cool, refreshing contrast to the warm, spiced meat. Try these roasted potatoes!

Garlic Roasted Brussels Sprouts: The caramelized, crispy edges and savory garlic flavor offer a bold, tasty counterpoint to the soft, smoky pork. I love these baked ranch brussels sprouts!

Jalapeño Corn Pudding: The creamy, spicy kick of the pudding cuts through the pork’s smokiness, adding a unique, zesty flavor twist.

Try these sides with your pulled pork sandwiches:

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pulled pork with bbq sauce on it and a brush

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The Best Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich with Coleslaw and Fries.
Print

The Best Smoked Pulled Pork Ever

The Best Smoked Pulled Pork Ever – foolproof never-dry method for delicious smoked pork shoulder with a crunchy bark and tons of flavor!
Course Pork
Cuisine American
Keyword bbq, keto, pig, pork, pork shoulder, smoker, super bowl
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 12 hours
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 13 hours 20 minutes
Servings 12
Calories 101kcal
Author Courtney O’Dell

Ingredients

  • 1 pork shoulder or boston butt 6-10 pounds
  • One half a beer
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar

Rub Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp season salt
  • 2 tbsp ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp celery salt
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp cardamom

Instructions

  • Mix ingredients for rub together in a bowl.
  • Remove pork from packaging, pat dry with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature. I like to trim off excess fat and silver skin at this point. You do want to keep about 1/4” of fat on the top called the fat cap. As your meat slowly cooks, this melts and keeps the meat moist.
  • Apply rub, and refrigerate over night. Soak wood chips or blocks over night in water.
  • Remove meat from refrigerator and let come to room temperature.
  • Next morning, prepare lump charcoal in smoker using newspaper and charcoal chimney. I do not use lighter fluid or compressed charcoal briquettes because I believe the leave a petroleum taste on the meat.
  • While the coals come to temperature, combine the ingredients for the mop and put in a spray bottle on plastic container.
  • When coals are glowing and grey, add the brisket to the smoker. Keep the meat as far from the fire as possible. If you have a barrel smoker with a fire box, keep on the opposite side of the grill surface from the fire box. If you have a conventional smoker or Weber-style kettle grill, build small fire on one side of kettle and keep meat on the other side.
  • Add handful of wet wood chips/block to fire. Cover and let cook. You’ll want to keep your temperature between 200-225 degrees F. That should take approximately 12-14 hours to smoke a 7-10 pound butt.
  • You’ll likely need to check the fire every 30-45 minutes. After an hour of smoking you should start mopping your meat every time you check the fire. I like to use a silicone basting brush for this. The inexpensive fibre brushes that are commonly sold at big-box stores begin to come apart quickly and in my experience often shed bristles on the meat.
  • I also rotate my meat every hour to ensure that all sides get even exposure to the heat and smoke. This is particularly important if you’re using a conventional kettle grill for your smoking.
  • If you have an outdoor temperature probe, use it to track the internal temperature of you meat. After several hours, your meat may “stall” around 150F. I usually keep smoking mine. In Texas, they wrap them in foil with a cup of mop to finish.
  • You’re shooting for your meat to get to 185F. Once you hit that mark, remove your meat from the smoker, double wrap in foil and let sit in an unheated over for an hour to hour and a half depending on fat content of the meat.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 101kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 1854mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 1g

About Courtney

Courtney loves to share great wine, good food, and loves to explore far flung places- all while masting an everyday elegant and easy style at lifestyle blog Sweet C’s Designs. Sweet C's devoted to finding the best food and drinks you'll want to make or find, around the world!

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