This smoked pork butt recipe makes incredibly tender and juicy pulled pork. Whether you have a dedicated smoker or want to smoke it on a simple charcoal grill, I walk you through every step. You've never eaten smoked pulled pork this good!
Here are 5 reasons to make a smoked pork butt (pulled pork) for your next party or potluck.
- It tastes great
- Everyone loves it
- It can be made days ahead (thank goodness!)
- It’s inexpensive
- It feeds a crowd
That’s what I call a WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN!
And it’s so easy to make—you just need time.
It involves cooking a pork butt several hours at a low and consistent temperature. All the while, wisps of smoke kiss the meat, adding all that great flavor you want in your smoked meats.
The long cook time at low temperature breaks down the collagen and fat, resulting in meat that's pull-apart tender and juicy. Plop this on a bun and you'll have the best pulled pork sandwich you've ever eaten.
Don’t have a dedicated smoker? No problem: you can smoke this on a basic charcoal grill. Just make sure to follow my instructions for How to Smoke on a Charcoal Grill.
Here’s a little secret: I own three dedicated smokers, but prefer to make smoked pork butt on my Weber kettle. I think it just tastes better, and the fam agrees.
If you are smoking on a charcoal grill, pay attention to these red boxes in the post: they have additional instructions to follow.
Stick around! I'll show you how to make some truly amazing smoked pulled pork.
Here's a linked outline of the topics we'll cover. Feel free to jump around or just follow along in order:
- What do I need to smoke a pork butt?
- What is pork butt?
- How long does it take to smoke a pork butt?
- How much pulled pork per person?
- How to prep a pork butt
- Pork butt rub recipe
- Time to rub the butt 🙂
- What temp to smoke pork butt
- Pre-heat the smoker or grill
- How to smoke a pork butt
- How long to let pork butt rest?
- Why save the pork juice?
- How to pull pork
- How to serve pulled pork
- What to serve with pulled pork
- Leftover pulled pork ideas
- Can you freeze pulled pork?
- Smoked Pork Butt (Charcoal Grill or Smoker)
What do I need to smoke a pork butt?
- A smoker (or charcoal grill, set up to smoke)
- A pork butt
- Pork rub (recipe below)
What is pork butt?
Right away, I can tell you that it doesn’t come from the pig’s butt. Thank goodness for that (although silly "butt" jokes abound whenever we cook one of these). Pork butt, which is cut from a pig's shoulder, is a medium-size roast that weighs 6–8 pounds.
Butchers can cut the pig shoulder in a variety of ways, resulting in boneless or bone-in versions. Some cuts include the actual pig skin as well. With all these different cuts come several different names . . .
- Pork butt / pork butt roast
- Boston Butt
- Pork shoulder / pork shoulder roast / pork shoulder butt roast
- Pork picnic / pork picnic roast / pork picnic shoulder
Yeah, it’s a bit confusing! Don’t be concerned though. Regardless of which one you buy, they all will produce fabulous smoked pulled pork.
To keep things simple and consistent, I will just use the term “pork butt” throughout this recipe.
Remember when I said earlier that pulled pork is inexpensive? This is how I determine which cut to buy: whichever one is on sale. Every month or so, my local grocery has a sale where they sell these roasts at $.99 per pound. Score!
How long does it take to smoke a pork butt?
This can vary widely on a variety of factors such as cooking temp, whether the pork butt is wrapped or not, and how big it is.
For my recipe, estimate about 1 hour per pound of pork butt. This means the actual cooking time on the grill until the roast is done. Assume another 1–2 hours of rest after it's been removed from the smoker.
How much pulled pork per person?
If you are hosting a party, you want a good idea of how much smoked pulled pork to smoke. To figure that out, there are some questions to ask yourself first:
- Is the pulled pork the main course?
- Will these be served as sandwiches?
- How many side dishes are there?
- Will there be dessert?
- Are your guests big BBQ eaters?
A good rule of thumb is to estimate about a ½ pound of uncooked pork butt per person. Adjust this up or down as needed depending on your answers to the questions above.
Be aware that once a pork butt is fully cooked and pulled, it will lose close to 40% of its weight.
How to prep a pork butt
Before we can smoke the pork butt, we have three prep steps that need to be done:
- Rinse and dry
- Dry brine (optional, but worth it!)
How to trim pork a pork butt
On one side of the butt there is typically a thick fat cap (and sometimes skin). It is important to remove these, because neither the salt nor rub will penetrate them. Don’t worry about getting every bit of fat off: it will render away during the cook process.
The other sides may have a bit of trimming needed too, but it will be nothing compared to this fat cap side. Save the fat trimmings: you can use them to make homemade lard.
How to make lard
Homemade lard is perfect when you want to sear your pulled pork (or really any kind of pork). Simply use the lard in place of oil or butter when you sear or reheat your pork.
Lard makes it easy to develop rich, meaty flavor in a variety of dishes, so we use it quite a bit.
To make lard, Simply add fat trimmings to a sauce pan and turn the burner on low heat. Let this simmer for 60 - 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Then, pour the liquid fat through a mesh strainer and into a container. I like to pour this into ice cube trays and freeze them. This enables me to take out a cube or two whenever I need!
Rinse, then dry the pork butt
After trimming, it’s a good idea to wash off any residual brine and/or blood on the meat. Then dry well with a paper towel.
Dry brine the pork butt
Don’t be scared off by the term, "dry brine." Dry brining is just pre-salting the meat. How simple is that?
While this is optional, I strongly recommend it because you'll that it produces tastier and juicier pulled pork. (Here is a great article if you want to learn more about dry brining.)
To dry brine, sprinkle ½ teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of pork butt all over the meat. Use ¼ teaspoon per pound if you only have table salt.
Once salted, let the pork butt rest in your fridge, uncovered, anywhere from 12-48 hours before smoking it. This allows the dry brine process to do its work.
Only dry brine pork butt if you are using a pork rub that does not have salt in it. I provide a great no salt recipe below.
Benefits of dry brining
Dry brining allows the salt to penetrate deeper into the meat rather than only remaining on the surface. This provides more flavor throughout the pork butt.
An added benefit is that when the salt penetrates into the muscle cells, it essentially traps water molecules and holds them during the cook process. This prevents the meat from drying out during long cook times, leaving you with juicier meat.
Important exception: If you are using a store bought pork rub, it likely has a lot of salt in it. If that is the case, DO NOT dry brine or salt the butt separately. Simply apply your store bought rub to your pork butt after applying the mustard.
Pork butt rub recipe
I prefer to make my own pork butt rub. I have tried many commercial rubs, but always come back to this basic sweet rub.
Notice that my rub does NOT include salt. Whether I am dry brining or not, I like to salt my meat separately because this enables me to apply the correct amount of salt for what I am cooking. If the salt is mixed into the rub, it's very hard to tell how much is actually going on.
Mix the ingredients below thoroughly and store the rub in an air tight container. This makes enough for about two 8 pound pork butts:
½ C light brown sugar
¼ C sweet paprika
1 Tbs black pepper, ground
1 Tbs Chili powder
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 Tbs onion powder
½ Tbs ground mustard
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne
Time to rub the butt 🙂
Apply the rub to the pork butt about 1-2 hours before putting the meat on the smoker. If you're doing an early morning cook, applying the night before is fine too.
Start by lathering the entire trimmed butt in yellow mustard.
Don't be turned off by yellow mustard: it is simply acting as a binder. You won’t taste it. But, if you prefer, you can opt for water or oil.
If you dry brined your meat, apply the no-salt pork rub.
If you did not dry brine, salt the pork butt on all sides at a ratio of ½ teaspoon kosher salt per pound of pork butt. After doing this you can immediately apply the no-salt rub.
Apply the rub evenly around the entire pork butt. Once a side has been generously sprinkled with the rub, use the back side of a spoon to work it into the meat. This is a great trick so you don’t end up with sticky, rub-caked fingers.
How much rub to apply to pork butt
The rub goes on heavy. Apply as much that will stick the meat naturally. Once applied, use the back of a spoon to work it into the meat a bit more. I would estimate a ½ cup of rub per butt.
What temp to smoke pork butt
I have found that 250 ºF is the ideal temp for smoking pork butt. This temperature does a better job of rendering the fat than the more common temp of 225 ºF. Plus, it gets done a bit quicker.
Pre-heat the smoker or grill
Time to get smokin'! Pre-heat your smoker to 250 ºF.
If you don’t have a smoker, just cook the pork butt on a basic charcoal grill. Make sure to follow my instructions on How to smoke on a charcoal grill.
How to smoke a pork butt
There are many ways to smoke a pork butt, but usually it comes down to two types of meat smokers: those who WRAP and those who DON'T WRAP. The term “wrap” means that at some point during the cook process, the butt gets wrapped in tinfoil.
I have smoked pork butts both ways, many times, and have determined that the best result comes from wrapping. Wrapped butts simply turn out juicier and more tender.
If you're using the wrap cooking method, there are two phases in the smoking process.
Phase 1 - Smoke the pork butt unwrapped
At this point the smoker should be pre-heated to 250 ºF and clean smoke should be emanating from your grill. Clean smoke is important because it is in this first phase that all the smoke absorption happens.
Place the rubbed pork butt on the smoker and cook until you reach an internal temperature of 165 ºF. This will take 5-6 hours.
If you're smoking a on a charcoal grill, rotate your meat and grate after 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Phase 2 - Wrap the pork butt and cook until it’s done
If you're smoking on a charcoal grill , make sure that the grate has been rotated before placing the wrapped butt back on the grill. This ensures that the temperature probe clipped to the grate stays between the hot coals and the meat.
The best time to wrap a pork butt is when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 ºF. Let's review the benefits of wrapping pork butt!
Why wrap pork butt?
- It stops the absorption of smoke. Five to six hours of smoke is plenty. Yes, you want smoky flavor in your smoked meat...but nothing ruins BBQ more than too much smoke.
- It shortens the cook time. That’s always a good thing!
- Most importantly, it keeps the pork juicy and tender.
How to wrap a pork butt in foil
We double wrap our pork butt in tinfoil. To do this, start by tearing off two pieces of tinfoil, each 2.5 feet in length. Place them on top of each other, forming a plus (+) symbol. This enables us to wrap from two different directions.
Next, place your 165 ºF pork butt in the center of the top sheet, like I've shown below:
Fold all four sides of that first sheet of foil up and over along the top of the pork butt:
Next, turn the foiled pork butt upside down so the tinfoil seams are now facing down. Make sure not to change the orientation of the butt when turning it over.
Now take that second sheet of foil and fold all 4 sides up and over the top.
Wrapping from two different directions ensures the butt is sealed along all four sides.
Insert your meat thermometer through the foil and into the center of your pork butt and place back on the smoker. Make sure sure the seams from the second sheet of tinfoil are facing up when placing on the grill.
What temp is pork butt done?
Your pork butt is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 203 ºF. This temp allows the fat and collagen to break down, resulting in extremely tender, juicy pulled pork.
A wrapped pork butt will take about 3 hours to reach this temperature.
If you're smoking a on a charcoal grill, rotate your meat and grate after 1.5 hours.
Once your pork butt is done, you need to let it rest after cooking.
How long to let pork butt rest?
Place the wrapped pork butt on a baking sheet and allow it to rest at room temperature for 1–3 hours. This rest time lets the meat relax and redistribute its juices back into the center of the meat. Do not open the tinfoil during this rest time.
The butt just came off the smoker at 203 ºF so it will take a while for this temp to drop.
For example, I let my 8 pound butt rest 3 hours and it still had an internal temp of 150 ºF. In case you're wondering, hot food is safe down to a temperature of 135 degrees.
Once rested, it’s time to get that flavorful pork juice from inside the wrap.
Why save the pork juice?
Smoked pork butt has a tendency to dry out soon after pulling it. I always add some of this pork juice back into my pulled pork to keep it moist and enhance the smoky pork flavor.
By adding the juice to the pulled pork, you don’t need to drench it in BBQ sauce to keep it moist. Simply serve BBQ sauce on the side for any guests who want it.
The best way to get the juice out of your wrap
To get the juice from the wrap, hold the wrapped pork butt at a slight downward angle into a large mixing bowl. Then, with a knife, poke a hole into the bottom end of the wrap that is positioned into the mixing bowl.
All the juice will run out from the wrap and be captured in the bowl. Then transfer to a fat separator to remove the fat, which will leave you with smoky, rich pork broth.
Now, fully unwrap the butt and place it onto a cutting board for pulling.
How to pull pork
You can use a couple of forks to pull it apart or just use your hands. It comes down to how “shredded” you want your pork to be.
You will notice some major fatty areas while you're pulling the meat. Although the fat will have rendered down quite a bit, there will still be a few lingering pockets: these will NOT be enjoyable to eat, so make sure to discard all that you find.
Once the meat is pulled and the fat removed, use a butchers knife or cleaver to cut the meat into 1–2 inch pieces.
How to serve pulled pork
Once you have pulled, cleaned, and cut your pulled pork, simply add it to a crockpot to keep warm.
I like to add a tablespoon of my pork rub and mix it all in with some of that flavorful pork juice we saved. This enhances the pure smoked pork flavor.
You can always stir in your favorite BBQ sauce as well. Either way, this meat is REALLY good!
What to serve with pulled pork
- Creamy Pasta Salad
- Chimichurri Pasta Salad
- Easy, Zippy Coleslaw
- Traditional* Potato Salad
- Tangy 3-Bean Salad
- Deviled Eggs with Relish
- And don't forget dessert! Try our Cast Iron Chocolate Chip Cookie
Leftover pulled pork ideas
Leftover pulled pork can be used in so many different ways. This is why we smoke pork butt so often…for the leftover meals! Here are some of our favorite leftover pulled pork recipes:
Pulled pork nachos
Reheat some pulled pork with some lard (or oil) and mix it with some taco seasoning. Once you're warmed up the meat, add it on top of a layer of tortilla chips covered with grated cheddar cheese. Place into a 300 ºF oven for 10-15 minutes. Finish with your favorite nachos toppings!
Pulled pork fajitas
This is a huge family favorite. Add sliced peppers and onions to some oil in a hot skillet and saute until softened. Remove and set aside.
Now, melt some lard in in the same skillet and add your leftover pulled pork. Stir it around to let the meat sear up all over. Finally, toss the meat with some taco seasoning, turn off the heat, and stir the seasoned meat in the residual heat of the skillet for one minute.
Serve the meat and pepper-onion mix with lightly toasted corn tortillas and and a lime for squeezing over the top.
Pulled pork enchiladas with green sauce.
We sometimes use leftover pulled pork instead of turkey in our Creamy Green Chile Turkey Enchiladas recipe: simply awesome!
Pulled pork tacos and quesadillas
Just reheat leftover pulled pork with some taco seasoning and you can easily add it to tacos and quesadillas. It's so much better than ground beef. For example, simply sub the pulled pork for the chicken in these BBQ Chicken Quesadillas!
Can you freeze pulled pork?
YES! We do this all the time. It comes in handy when you don’t have time to make dinner or you just want awesome smoked pulled pork for dinner.
Tightly wrap the leftover pulled pork in clear plastic wrap. Then put it into a freezer bag, squeeze out as much air as you can, then zip the top and place it in your freezer. Or better yet, vacuum seal it! (Here's the one we use)
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Good luck and happy smoking!
- 8 lb pork butt
- 4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pork Rub Ingredients
- ½ C brown sugar
- ¼ C paprika
- 1 tablespoon black pepper, ground
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder, granulated
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder, granulated
- ½ tablespoon ground mustard
- ⅓ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- Add all pork rub ingredients to a bowl and mix thoroughly. Store in an airtight container until use (this amount of rub is enough for two pork butts).
- Prep the pork butt 24 hours before smoking. Rinse and dry the butt to remove brine, trim the fat cap (see Recipe Note #1), and apply 2 teaspoon of salt all over the butt to dry brine. (If you don't have 24 hours, you can also follow these prep steps right before smoking: this will give you the right amount of salt, but it just won't be a dry brine.)
- One hour before smoking, apply a thin layer of yellow mustard all over the butt. Immediately apply the pork rub all over the butt. Apply a heavy coat until it stops sticking to the mustard coating, pressing the rub into the mustard with the back of a spoon.
- Pre-heat your smoker to 250 ºF (if you're using a charcoal grill, see my post on How to Smoke on a Charcoal Grill.)
- Smoke the butt, unwrapped, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 ºF.
- Once you reach 165 ºF, wrap the butt in two layers of tinfoil. (See post for images and details on how best to do this.)
- Insert a thermometer probe through the tinfoil and into the thickest portion of the butt and return back to the 250 degree smoker.
- Continue to smoke the wrapped butt until it reaches an internal temperature of 203 ºF.
- At 203 ºF, remove from grill and allow it to rest fully wrapped at room temperature for at least one hour and up to three.
- To capture the juice inside the wrap, lift the wrapped butt over a large mixing bowl. Pierce a small hole at one end and tilt the butt toward the bowl to catch all of the juice. Transfer the juice to a fat separator to remove the fat. Save the juice to add to the pulled pork as needed.
- Once wrap juice is drained, fully unwrap the butt and place it on a cutting board. Using two forks, pull the pork and chop into as desired size. Discard any big fat pieces you find.
- Add pulled pork to slow cooker with some pork juice and a few shakes of pork rub to keep warm until serving.
- We highly recommend saving the fat cap: render it over low heat for a couple of hours, then strain to make lard. You can cool it and save refrigerated in an airtight container for a month or more, or freeze in an ice cube tray and pop out a cube whenever you need.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: About 5 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 643Total Fat: 43gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 195mgSodium: 484mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 53g
Nutrition data provided here is only an estimate: if you are tracking this information for medical purposes, please consult a trusted external source. Thanks!