One of the questions I get asked the most is, “What cut of
meat should I use for pulled pork?”
Most of us are probably familiar with chops or pork loin,
but neither of those seem suitable for a delicious BBQ feast. So what cut works
best, and where can you get it?
Typically, when making pulled pork, you’ll want to use a
pork shoulder. Fair warning – this is a big piece of meat. Pork shoulders can
weigh as much as 18 lbs., and will comfortably feed over
If you’re not feeding an army, however, you’ll probably want
to stick to a Boston Butt. This is the top cut of the shoulder,
and can weigh anywhere from 5 to 10 lbs. It’s a nicely marbled cut of meat,
meaning it’s extra flavorful. Usually you can buy it with or without a bone.
Though it won’t make a huge difference when it comes to cooking, having a
bone-in does add more flavor. This beauty will feed a crowd of 12 or more
people. When making pulled pork, prepare to have a lot of tasty leftovers that
can be utilized in countless amazing dishes (more on that later).
Alternatively, you can get a Picnic Shoulder, which is the
lower end of a pork shoulder. This has a larger bone than the Boston Butt,
which you’ll have to cut around when pulling your pork. It also has less fat
marbling and more connective tissue than a Boston Butt, so cooking low and slow
is absolutely essential. Luckily for us, low and slow is the name of the game
when making pulled pork!
Finding these cuts in your run-of-the-mill supermarket can
sometimes be tricky. But don’t worry, this can be a blessing in disguise.
Broadly speaking, supermarket meats will have less flavor than what you can buy
in a butcher shop, mostly because of the industrial way the meat is reared for
An experienced butcher will also be able to help you choose
the best cut and weight for your meal. So you’ll get a better quality meat and
some expert advice if you go to a local butcher.
So you’ve got your meat – now what?
There’s more than one way to make perfect pulled pork, so
it’s just a matter of finding the method that suits you and your equipment.
Chances are if you Ggoogle
“How to make pulled pork”, you’ll find a lot of columns and articles by BBQ afficiandoesaficionados
singing the praises of their smokers. Smokers are designed to maintain a low
temperature (usually around 225 degrees F) while slow-cooking meat with the aid
of smoke. There’s a variety of different kinds of smokers, ranging from small
backyard affairs to smokers big enough to cook a full hog.
The benefits of using a smoker over other methods of cooking
are pretty straight-forward: You get tender, slow-cooked meat infused with a
delicious smoky flavor. When cooking pork in your smoker, it’s best to stick
with hickory or maple wood chips. Though oak is a standard go-to for smoking
meats, hickory and maple will add subtle complimentary flavors to your meat.
Soak your wood chips in water overnight to stop them from burning up in the
smoker, and add a fresh handful of chips
every 30 minutes while cooking. Be sure to spritz your meat each time you add
more chips to keep it moist and tender. A quick spritz of apple juice will do
the trick and bring out the sweet natural flavors of the meat.
Before cooking your meat, let it sit for 30-45 minutes at
room temperature. If you place it on the grill straight from the fridge, it
will be too cold and the outside will burn. Placed on the grill at room
temperature, it should cook nicely and evenly.
Once your meat is ready, place it on your smoker with the
layer of fat facing down. Allow to cook for about two hours before flipping
over. Keeping your smoker’s temperature between 225 – 250 F, allow 90 minutes
cooking time per pound of meat. So if you’re cooking a 10 lb.s
Boston Butt, you’re looking at 15 hours of cooking. Good things come to those
Wrap the pork in foil for the final two hours,
and keep it in the smoker. Cook until your meat thermometer reads 195 – this
means the fat has been rendered, leaving nothing but melt-in-your-mouth, tender
Now, not all of us have access to a smoker or 15 hours to
spend cooking. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy some delicious
pulled pork! Crockpots and standard ovens can save a lot of time,
and will still result in a beautiful bit of meat.
When cooking with a Crockpot or other slow cooker, place
your cut in the cooker with the rest of your ingredients (we’ll get to those
shortly. Set your cooker on low and leave to cook for 8 hours. Alternatively,
you can set it to high and cook for 4 hours. These times are based on a 5 lb.s
cut, as anything bigger isn’t likely to fit in your slow-cooker. The outcome
will basically be the same – succulent meat that falls right off the bone!
Cooking times in a standard oven are similarly speedy.
Season your meat and roast it at 450 degrees F for an hour. After the first
hour, reduce your heat to about 300 degrees and place your pork in a deep
roasting dish or dutch oven. Pour in your vegetables, stock, and sauces and
cover with a lid or tightly-wrapped foil for another 3-4 hours.
While slow-cooker and oven pork has to be smaller for
practical purposes, you don’t have to sacrifice intensely delicious flavor.
Even if you’re not using a smoker, you can still get that trademark BBQ taste
by adding a few drops of liquid smoke into your mix, or a
couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika. Speaking of which, let’s talk