We had a great Independence Day here at Prather’s BBQ! It was an opportunity to cook some pork shoulder for my mother-in-law who was visiting from out of town!
A few months ago, I began to log my cooks with notes, times, and temperatures. This has helped me to continue improving and replicating success.
Without spilling too many secrets, I will share with you some of our cooking sessions. I am always open to feedback and ideas for future cooks, so please comment below to share your thoughts!
Let’s start cooking!
I always inject my pork shoulders before cooking! I took a basic injection recipe and added my own flair to it. Since it’s just an injection, I certainly don’t mind sharing with you the recipe for this.
2 cups of apple juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
About 3-4 tsp of Louisana style hot sauce (not Tabasco)
2 tsp of red pepper flakes
1/3 – 2/3 cup of brown sugar
2 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp chili powder
Simmer for about 20 minutes. Don’t let it get to a boil. Get your injector and start injecting!
For this cook, I utilized “Rub Some Butt” and “KC Butt Spice“. I picked these up at Bass Pro, and you can also find them at other online outlets.
Prior to putting on the rubs, I covered the meat with olive oil to help the spices stick. Some people use mustard, butter or anything sticky. I personally like olive oil because it does not interfere with the flavors of the rub on the surface of the meat.
I put on a layer of Rub Some Butt all over the pork shoulders, except for the bottom (the fatty layer). I then put on the KC Butt Spice liberally and rub them in. Once that rub is wet and massaged into the meat, I go over with a thicker layer of the rubs. This is what will make your burnt ends and the bark explode with taste!
Smoking the Pork Shoulders
As you can see in the photo, I utilize aluminum trays. Other BBQ aficionados will tell you that you MUST cook it directly on the grill. For me, I prefer to cook my pork shoulders in the trays and I’ll tell you why.
When the pork shoulders cook in the tray, the juices stay with the meat. I don’t want my juices dripping down into my smoker and evaporating. With the juices staying in the bottom of the tray, the meat is soaking up its own juices and staying moist. Why let all that moisture just drip away?
The target temperature I cook pork shoulders with is 220-250 degrees. If you have used a stick burner smoker, you realize how tricky it can be maintaining a constant temperature! That’s why I use a temperature range because staying in that range is such a fine balance of wood, air and fire.
I almost always use hickory logs. Hickory has a bold flavor, and is a staple here in North Carolina. Every once in a while, I will throw in some apple wood chunks for added sweetness. Otherwise, I normally only use hickory.
I put the pork shoulders in the smoker at 11:00 AM. It was about 74 degrees outside and calm. I maintain a 220-250 degree smoker temperature until the meat reaches 160 degrees.
At 3:40 PM, I got to 160 degrees and covered both trays with aluminum foil. It’s important to seal the foil tightly to the tray so that the juices cannot evaporate. You basically want the meat to boil in its own juices. It was a warm day at 91 degrees.
Because I have a vertical smoker, the bottom rack is hotter than the top rack. When I cover the meat, I move the meat from the bottom rack to the top and vice-versa. Otherwise, the bottom rack would finish a lot faster than the top. At 5:53 PM, the pork shoulder reached the magic number of 190 degrees. That’s when it’s time to come off the smoker because the cooking part is done! I let it sit for about 20 minutes because at that point it’s too hot to pull, even with those protective BBQ gloves!
As you can see from the photo, the juices I talked about earlier are still in the pan! There is a LOT of flavor in this juice. It is a mixture of the natural juices of the meat, the injection and the rub. It’s basically liquid BBQ as far as I’m concerned!
Pulling the Pork
At this point, I grab another pair of aluminum trays to put the pulled pork into. It’s important to separate the fat from the meat. It’s also a great time for a taste test! It’s up to you if you want pulled, chopped, sliced or chunks. You’re the cook, you decide! I personally like to pull it and chop it up a bit finer after pulling it.
Discard the fat and junk meat into the pan you cooked in or in the trash. Hint: It makes great dog treats! You have successfully removed the fat and junk meat from your pork and you’ve got a hunk of meat candy in your new trays.
Please, DO NOT POUR OUT THE JUICES! You’re not done yet, you can still use it! I pour my juice into a fat separator. What this does is allow the fat to float to the top of the container and the good juice is on the bottom. When you pour from the fat separator, the spout feeds from the bottom, giving you the good juices.
I use that juice to pour over the pulled pork and mix it together. There is a good reason to use the fat separator. After the meat and juices cool, that fat will congeal and turn into a jelly at the bottom of your tray. The fat separator helps to minimize this. Plus, using the juices gives your meat even MORE juiciness and moisture!
I came up with this method on my own, and it works for me. I’m sure old-school BBQ pitmasters would scoff at this, but it makes for some mighty fine BBQ!
Monitoring the Temperatures
Before ending this post, I wanted to touch on how I monitor the temperatures. Keep in mind, every time you open the smoker to check the temperature you are letting a lot of heat escape! You will lose 50-100 degrees of cooking temperature quickly if you leave that smoker open checking your temperatures!
It’s important to get in and out of that smoker and quickly as possible. That’s why I utilize the Thermapen. This thermometer has changed the way I cooked forever. From grilling burgers to smoking pulled pork, this gadget will make your meat perfect every time!
The Thermapen is an INSTANT thermometer. I don’t know how they do it, but I mean this literally. When I turn it on, the Thermapen will pick up the ambient temperature of the air in a flash. It does the same thing when you insert the probe into the meat, it’s instant! This will keep you from standing there too long with the door open for too long.
It’s an expensive thermometer at $99, and sometimes they have flash sales at $79. I didn’t mind paying that one bit, because it has paid for itself ten-fold with the way it has transformed the quality of my cooking! Be careful of cheap knockoffs, and I would recommend purchasing it directly from the manufacturer.
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you gained a little insight from this post! If you have anything to add or something to say, please comment below! I’d love to hear how your next pork shoulder comes out!