I’ve had an electric smoker (various types) over the last 15 years or so. The simplest recipe (in my opinion) is pulled pork. I use boneless pork shoulder. This is a very forgiving piece of meat but there are still limits on what you can/can’t do. The explanation of this recipe assumed a smoker but you can easily do this in a regular oven.
The most important things to keep in mind for making smoked/pulled pork are:
- Don’t oversalt. If the the shoulder has been previously brined, be sure to check that there is little to no salt in the rub you want to use. The recipe that follows is a slight dry brine. I like a dry brine since this is less messy.
- For the best pulled pork, it seems best to pull the pork out of the oven (or smoker) at approximately 203 degrees. At this temperature, the meat should feel like softened butter when using the meat thermometer to check doneness.
- Cook low and slow. The sweet spot is typically between 225 and 250 degrees. I find that I like 225 the most but going a little higher may be better if you need to get the food on the table sooner.
- Keep the pork moist during cooking time. I think the yellow mustard helps with this. Using a water pan in my smoker doesn’t seem to make too much of a difference.
- Trim hard fat and any silver skin. Common practice seems to be leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch of of the fat cap on. I only leave it in a few places so the binder (mustard) and rub stick to the meat.
Here is what I like about this recipe. I’ve taken tips from various books, videos, and the Internet to find a good combination of processes/techniques.
As I mentioned previously, the yellow mustard helps the rub bind to the pork. I also feel that the vinegar gives some tenderizing effect. I like smoking in a disposable pan so all of the moisture of the pork, seasonings, and mustard flavor the meat. Lastly, this mixture also has a self-basting effect.
Another good thing about mustard is some of the ingredients reenforce the brining processes. As you may recall, mustard contains vinegar and water. A typical wet brine contains these same ingredients as well as the salt (which we used with the dry brine).
The juice sitting in the bottom of the pan has all of the ingredients associated with fine BBQ sauces. The vinegar from the mustard, rub seasonings, and some of the natural juices from the pork come together to form this sauce.
At the the point in time when the pork is pulled from the smoker, you can choose to either leave the pork in the pan to shred or remove the pork to mix other ingredients in with these juices.
Here are some ideas of things you can do with these juices.
1. Thicken it up as is with some corn starch or tomato paste.
2. Add some tomato sauce and/or paste.
3. Add Ketchup or some kind of cider vinegar to make the sauce more tangy.
4. Divide the juices into separate containers and make different kinds of BBQ/dipping sauces.
5. Leave the juice as it is and mix the pork directly with it.
The following is a detailed overview of the recipe for pulled/smoked pork. The videos that are embedded with show you these processes in more detail.
The porks I used this example were purchased from Shoprite. They were boneless pork shoulders weighing roughly 4.5 pounds each. i want pork with a fat cap and some nice marbling. After trimming, I was left with 2 3.5 pound shoulders.
The fat cap was taken off except for approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch in some places. There is an inside flap of meat that is held together by a thin membrane of silver-skin and fat. I also remove this. I also make cross-like incisions throughout the whole meat. My thinking is that this will allow the seasonings/brines to go through the meat better.
Next, I dry brine the pork for between 12-24 hours by sprinkling Kosher salt on the outside (only a few teaspoons). I wrap the pork in press-n-seal or plastic wrap after brining. I follow the brine with lathering the pork with mustard and rub. The rub is liberally applied. I apply enough rub so that it is is completely absorbed into the meat (no wet spots) and the surfaces of the meat are not visible anymore. It may seem like a lot of seasoning but it’ll be ok.
I try different types of commercial rubs typically but have experimented with making my own rubs as well. This time, I tried a new brand that I found at the store called Twisted Q. I mixed up a sweet rub and spicy one. My favorite ingredients with rubs are the brown sugar, paprika, chili powder, pepper, and maybe some garlic/onion powder but it all depends on your own taste. There is no right or wrong answer. I don’t like ones with too much added salt since I am dry brining ahead of time.
I preheat the smoker to 225 degrees and put the pork into disposable aluminum pans and insert into the smoker (uncovered for the whole time). I add wood during the first couple of hours (maybe one load each hour). You can use whichever wood flavor you like best. The smoke won’t get absorbed into the meat much longer after the first 2 hours of cooking.
The total coooking time was 7 hours. I used the Masterbuilt built-in thermometer for one shoulder and an instant-read thermometer for the other piece. I confirmed the 203 degree temperature and the probe went through the meat like soft butter.
When taking the meat out of the smoker, there was a very nice bark. I covered the pan with aluminum foil and let it rest for a few hours so it was cool enough to pull apart with my hands.
I didn’t change any of the juice flavor or make a thicker sauce (I simply mixed the pork in the juices as they were).
When shredding the pork, I made sure to remove any excess fat and hard pieces that would have been difficult to chew. Another option at the end would be to put this under the broiler for 10 minutes (at 450) to thicken the juice and crisp up the meat a little more.
2 (4.5) Pound Boneless Pork Shoulders
4 Teaspoons of Kosher Salt to brine
1 Pack (5 ounces) of Twisted Q Sweet Heat Rub
1 Pack (5 ounces) of Twisted Q Brown Sugar Hickory Rub
Yellow Mustard for binder
1. The fat cap was taken off except for approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch in some places using a Chef’s knife. There is an inside flap of meat that is held together by a thin membrane of silver-skin and fat. I also remove this.
2. I make cross-like incisions throughout the whole meat.
3. A dry brine is applied to all of the meat using Kosher salt (about a 1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat). Make sure to get all crevices with the salt. Wrap the meat tightly with press-n-seal or plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
4. Remove from fridge and put into disposable aluminum pan. Lather all parts of the meat with yellow mustard. Rub the mustard in everywhere.
5. The rub is liberally applied. I apply enough rub so that it is is completely absorbed into the meat (no wet spots) and the surfaces of the meat are not visible anymore. It may seem like a lot of seasoning but it’ll be ok.
6. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees. After the smoker is pre-heated, insert into the smoker (leave uncovered for the whole cooking time). If you have a meat thermometer/probe, insert that into the meat now.
7. For the first 2 hours of cooking, insert smoking wood (flavor of your liking) into the smoker. Maybe one load an hour. There is no need to put more in after the first couple hours of cooking.
8. You can leave the pork alone at this point. Once the meat reaches approximately 203 degrees, it can be removed from the smoker. Another test is the feel around with the meat thermometer. The pork should feel like softened-butter throughout.
9. Once the pork is removed from the smoker, cover it with aluminum foil and let sit for a at least 30 minutes.
10. At this point, you have two options.
A, You can start shredding the pork with the juices as they are. I like to use my hands because this lets me feel for excess fat and parts of the meat that are hard (difficult to chew).
B. You can remove the pork from the pan and use the juices as a base for BBQ/dipping sauces. See my notes above for some ideas.
11. Optional. To crisp up the meat, heat your oven to broil (450). Broil for approximately 10 minutes.
Serve on a toasted roll with some homemade cole slaw either on or off the roll.