There are very few meats as magical as North Carolina pulled pork. This simple meat is always a great crowd pleaser, a great make ahead, re-heats wonderfully, and holds up fantastically in a serving line. However the best part is, it’s a fun cook.
Keeping true to the purpose of this blog, I’m going to attempt to show you how you can do it on a simple charcoal or gas grill. You don’t need a big smoker to make a good pulled pork, unless your feeding 150 people like we did this past weekend. Even at that we just used the ol’ UDS.
First off you need the right cut of meat. You have three choices
A) Bone in Boston butt (our preference)
B) Pik-nik roast
C) Full bone in shoulder (it ain’t going to fit on your grill, so just move along)
So let’s begin by asking the butcher for a bone in Boston butt, around 8lbs. You can go larger or smaller depending on the size of your grill, but 8lbs will fit comfortably on most grills, and will give you quite a nice meal, with leftovers.
Now this ain’t a hunk a meat you can just slap on the ol’ grill an hour before dinner and start setting the table. This is going to take a little planning. First is the cook time. Start by figuring ABOUT an hour per pound, but to be honest I’ve seen them cook anywhere from 30 minutes a pound to 90 minutes a pound. I can’t find any rhyme or reason, all things being the same. Which is why you really want to do this as a make ahead thing.
It’s now time to prep our butt ( I love saying that).
Let’s begin by injecting it. You have several options here. You can use your favorite rub and beer. Or your favorite mob sauce. Or any number of injections recipes you can find on the internet. But not here (sorry got to keep some secrets between my wing man and me)
If you don’t have an injection needle you can pick one up about anyplace, you’ll find yourself using it a lot, so go ahead and spend the $5-10.
However I must say injection is not necessary for great pulled pork. I cooked it for years without injecting it, and it came out more than quite fine. But come on it’s fun and looks cool. There’s really no other time you stick a 4 inch needle in a butt and not get either sued or arrested.
Ok, now that we have our butt all pumped full of flavor and moistness, it’s time to rub it up.
Unlike injection, this step is a rather important one. This is going to give us our bark, those crunchy little tid-bits of exploding flavor. Also a good rub will actually help it take on smoke and pull it down into the meat. When choosing a rub look for one with a good sugar and sodium content. The sugar with harden and lock in the flavor, while the salt and other high sodium things will draw the smoke into the meat.
No need to be stingy with the rub here, I’ve never over rubbed a shoulder. Ribs, yea, but this is a big chunk of meat, so your going to be fine.
Now you can let it rest outside of the refrigerator, and come up in temperature while you set up the grill. Again due to it’s size it can set out for quite a while before you need to worry. You never want to drop cold meat on a grill or smoker.
The set up is going to be a basic “indirect” set up. Add one nice size wood chunk, oil your grates and your ready to cook.
Now simply place your meat on the grate along with a couple of other VERY IMPORTANT items and you’ll be “smokin’ butt”. The other two things you want to see on your grill grates is 1) some form of moisture, we prefer to use a mix of 1/3 apple juice to 2/3 water, and 2) an oven thermometer (if you don’t already have one on your grill).
Your going to want your meat as far away from the fire as possible and your thermometer (if using one) as close to your meat as you can get it, in order to get accurate readings.
Now just cut your vents to about 1/2 closed, you’ll probably read a little hot at the beginning but it’ll come down soon enough.
Every hour your going to want to go out and:
A) Check your temperature. We’re looking for a steady 225f – 250f here.
B) Rotate your meat 180 degrees
C) Replenish your liquids
D) Add wood if needed
Once our meat hits about the 160f we prefer to foil for the remainder of the cook. Another thing to look for is if the bark is starting to get hard, go ahead and foil it regardless of the temperature.
We’ve found that by far the easiest way to do this is drop them into aluminum pans and cover them with foil. This will make turning them easier and keeps you from loosing the juices later when it comes time to pull.
Now continue to add your 10 coals to the fire and monitor the temperature. You can quit adding smoke and liquid at this point. But now you need to start keeping an eye on the temperature of the meat also.
When’s it done?
There’s a few signs that will let you know:
1) First and foremost your looking for an internal temperature of 190 – 210f
2) If the blade bone has let go of the meat and can be moved easily.
3) It feels like it’s going to fall apart when your trying to pick it up.
You can usually get 2 of the 3 signs, if you get all 3 look up to the BBQ gods and whisper “Thank you”. Because your in for an epic treat.
It may be off the grill, but it’s not done yet. Bring it inside leaving the foil nicely wrapped around it, and LET IT REST for at least an hour, two is better. It’s going to be too hot to pull anyhow. This will allow it to continue to cook, and most of those wonderful juices to draw back in.
It’s time to pull pork. Now grab yourself a ball bat, your going to need it to beat the people back when you pull the foil off the top of this magically transformed piece of meat.
Go ahead taste it, your the cook dang it! You’ve been fawning over this for HOURS you deserve it. All that’s left now it to simply shred it by hand and toss any fatty scraps to the dogs or in the trash. A good cut won’t have many.
We have one last step we do but only three people know what that step is and only my son and I know what goes into it. Sorry……
Please don’t mix the BBQ sauce in with the meat, serve it on the side, letting people add it as they please. After all that work you want them to taste the meat and see the smoke ring.