Delicious pork butt smoked low and slow in your electric smoker. This simple barbecue classic is juicy and beautifully tender, and perfect for making pulled pork.
Pork butt (also known as Boston butt) is the perfect smoked meat for barbecue beginners and seasoned backyard cooks alike. Made with minimal ingredients and little expertise, this low and slow classic is an instant hit at any cook-off.
One of the best things about pork butt is that it only needs very little meat preparation. It doesn’t need brining or marinating thanks in large part to the rich fat layers and connective tissue found within the meat’s muscles. This helps keep it tender and moist, eliminating the need for brines and marinades.
Discover how to smoke a Boston butt in an electric smoker today.
What is Pork Butt?
Contrary to popular belief, pork butt is not from the butt of the pig. No, in fact you need to look near the opposite end of the animal to find this unique cut. Pork butt is from the top region of the animal’s shoulder, sitting above the shoulder blade.
Why ‘butt’, then? This name dates back to the colonial period in New England where butchers would transport in special barrels called butts, which were designed to carry a volume of approximately two hogsheads’ worth. It’s thought that this is also when butchers started using the butt meat cut in Boston, which is why it’s also often referred to as Boston butt.
What makes pork butt special is its unique taste and texture, especially compared to other pork meat cuts. Because the pig’s shoulder region does a lot of work, the meat is tough with a deep pork flavor that’s really brought to the fore by low and slow barbecue smoking.
Before you can toss pork butt in the smoker, you need to prepare the cut for optimal results.
The first step is to brush and cut away any bone fragments or dangling pieces of meat and fat. Then, use a thin filet knife to trim the fat cap until less than an inch remains (do this while the pork butt is still cold from the fridge to make it easier to cut). Leave a thin layer of fat to keep the meat moist.
Then, put the pork butt in a basic brine. Use enough room temperature water to cover the pork butt, plenty of salt, some sugar, and your choice of herbs or aromatics. Brine the pork butt for several hours or overnight.
Right before smoking your pork butt, cover it in dry rub. You can add your choice of seasonings to a base of brown sugar. Rub the pork butt with mustard to help the dry rub stick.
The best woods for smoking pork butt and pulled pork are fruitwoods that carry subtly sweet flavors that don’t overpower the meat. This includes applewood, pecan, and maple in particular.
If you want to add a heavier smoke flavor, try combining apple with hickory in a 1:1 ratio. This will allow you to add more heavy smoke aromas without letting the hickory overpower the pork.
Once you get the pork on the smoker, it seems as if everything should be simple. Just wait for the pork butt to cook through and reach the final temperature. However, large chunks of meat such as pork butt hit a point where their temperature stops rising, often referred to as the stall.
There were a few theories as to why pork butt stops heating up for several hours. Some people thought that it was because the collagen was using up all the energy to break down, while others thought that the protein denaturing was the culprit. The real reason why pork butt stalls out is evaporation.
As pork butt cooks, the meat ‘sweats’, or releases moisture onto the surface. Just as our sweat evaporates and cools us down, this moisture evaporates and cools down the pork butt, causing the internal temperature to stop rising and cooking to stall out.
So why does the meat start heating up again? At some point, it just runs out of moisture that can evaporate and resumes regular cooking. You can budget time for the stall in your smoking process and wait or wrap the meat in aluminum foil to skip the stall if you’re in a hurry (this is called the Texas crutch).
How to Shred Pork
One of the best uses of pork butt is to make pulled pork. Once the pork butt is finished, let it cool before shredding. You should let the meat rest anywhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours before shredding it. That way, it will be cool enough to handle and the juices will evenly redistribute throughout the pork.
You have a few options for shredding methods. The first and most common is using two forks. Just grab a pair of sturdy dinner forks, place them back-to-back, and shred the pork. Be sure to keep the meat in a pan large enough to catch stray pieces of meat and juices. The two-fork method is easy but takes forever, particularly if you have a large pork butt.
Many cooks got frustrated with how long it takes to shred pulled pork with forks, so some enterprising grill masters came up with a new tool. If you invest in bear claws for shredding claws, pulling pork gets easier. These broad tools fit on your hand like costume claws and enable you to shred more meat at once.
You can also use some other appliances for shredding pork butt, such as a potato masher or stand mixer. However, using two forks or claws will yield restaurant-quality pulled pork and aesthetically pleasing, even strands.
If you’re storing a whole smoked butt, wrap it tightly in foil as soon as it’s cool. Seal it in a waterproof bag, eliminate all the air if possible, and only refrigerate it for up to four days.
Storing shredded smoked pork butt is a bit more forgiving. Mix the shredded pork with the BBQ sauce and its juices and store in an airtight container. It can last in the fridge for up to four days and in the freezer for up to four months.
You can reheat smoked pork butt in a slow cooker, grill, or stovetop, but the best method is in the oven. Place the leftover pork butt in a roasting pan along with its juices and any sauce. Cover the pan with foil and reheat it slowly at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.