I highly recommend using the pork butt instead of the picnic when making pulled pork. The picnic will work fine but it does have a thick skin that needs to be removed and in my opinion it is not as flavorful as the butt.
The butts are usually called a “Boston butt” and range anywhere between 6-8 lbs and may have a fat cap on the top side.
I have seen these lately being sold as 3 and 4 pounders as well but upon closer inspection you will notice that they are actually just halves.
Tip: The pork butt normally shrinks by 40% during cooking which is great information if you are calculating how much meat to cook. i.e. an 8 lb. butt will yield just under 5 lbs of meat.
Preparing the Meat for Smoking
I decided to inject my pork butts this time which is something I rarely do. my original rub is amazing and adds a lot of flavor to the meat. Injecting with the cherry Dr Pepper adds flavor to the inside of the pork butt and increases the juiciness of the finished product.
I put an ounce or so of cherry Dr Pepper about every 2 inches across the top of the butt. There are various methods for injecting meat but I usually go in at a 45 degree angle and once I push the needle in.. I back up about 1/2 inch before pushing in the plunger.. seems to work well for me. It is ok if some of the fluid runs out the top of the hole you made.
After creating this recipe several years ago, I found the Cajun Bayou injector and I've never looked back. The needles are larger than most others allowing for larger ingredients if you so desire.
I normally use yellow mustard or some olive oil to help the rub to stick but in staying with the theme, I used more cherry Dr Pepper to simply wet the outside of the meat and help the rub to stick better.
Once I moistened the outside of the meat, I poured about 1/2 cup of Jeff's original rub on top and proceeded to massage it into the meat. As the rub mixed with the beautiful deep red color of the soda, it turned into a paste and made the pork butt look good enough to eat right then and there. I added more rub for the sides and bottom of the pork until it was well coated on all sides.
Smoking the Pork Butts
Leave the pork butt(s) on the counter to warm up a little and go get the smoker ready to go. If this takes you more than about 25-30 minutes then you might want to do this before prepping the meat so it does not sit out too long.
I highly recommend setting the smoker up for cooking at about 225°F (107°C). This does take a little more time but then my rub does not burn so it’s worth it to me.
If you have a water pan, be sure to use it. It does seem to help keep the air more moist and while I don’t subscribe to the idea that the moisture actually gets into the meat, I do think that moist air has less of a drying effect than completely dry air so it does help.
If you like you can add some juice, more Dr Pepper or even an onion or garlic bulb to the water pan if you’re feeling it.. I threw in an onion and garlic bulb for good measure;-)
Once the smoker is setup and ready to go, place the pork butt directly on the grate and let it smoke away for a while. If your pork butt has a fat cap like mine did, place it fat side down.
What Type of Wood for Pork Butt? : I use heavier flavors for the larger cuts such as mesquite, hickory or pecan. In this session, I used a 50/50 mix of Hickory and Cherry to stay with our “cherry” theme a little bit.
If you are using a charcoal, electric or gas smoker, keep the smoke going by replacing the chips/chunks as needed for at least 4-6 hours.
Be sure to insert a digital probe meat thermometer either in the beginning or sometime in the first 4-5 hours so you can monitor the internal temperature.
Note: you can also use a thermapen to check the temperature once the pork butt gets close to being done. The new Thermapen one reads in 1 second or less and I always keep mine close by anytime I am cooking.
Once the pork butt reaches about 160°F (71°C), you may opt to place it in a pan and/or wrap it in foil to finish it off. At this point the butt has been exposed to plenty of smoke and some time in the foil will not only super tenderize it, it will help it to get done a little faster in some cases. You can always just leave it on the grate until it’s done if you wish.. your call.
Here’s one of my pork butts.. at 3 hours in.
Then at about 5 hours..
At around 6 hours, I checked and they had reached 160°F (71°C) so I placed them in a foil pan, added some cherry Dr Pepper to the bottom and covered the top with foil before placing them back into the smoker to finish.
Let the pork butts cook until they reach about 205°F (96°C) being about perfect. At this point they are very tender and will practically fall apart with very little effort.
Here is one of the butts once it reached 205°F (96°C). As you can see the pan is full of liquid which is part cherry Dr Pepper and mostly rendered fat and juices from the meat.
Beautiful smoke ring and it is absolutely delicious.. albeit very hot!
Pulling the Pork
If you follow my cooking instructions and let it cook to an internal temperature of 205°F (96°C), this process will be very easy. After letting it rest on the counter for an hour or two, I usually pull the bone out (unless, of course, it's boneless) then start pulling the meat into large pieces and discard any fat that I find.
I then stir the meat around in a bowl and it just sort of falls apart. If you have any trouble with this, just use 2 forks and pull the meat in opposite directions to shred it.
As I stir it around, I am still looking for any pieces of fat that can be removed. I do not like clumps of fat in the meat so I am very careful to remove as much as possible. This is a little tedious but I think it is worth it.
Add more of my original rub if it needs it. I usually add several tablespoons more and stir it around to coat. Do a taste test to make sure you added enough.
Smoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.
It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.