Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my tutorial.
Pulled pork, along with brisket, ribs and whole hog are the cornerstones of low and slow BBQ. Once you make your own pulled pork sandwich you will never visit another BBQ joint again. During this tutorial I will be using a KomodoKamado ceramic cooker however it can be easily adapted to any cooker that burns charcoal such as a Weber kettle grill, Big Green Egg etc.
True BBQ does not use propane or natural gas so I do not recommend using a gas grill.
Be sure to invite some friends over too. Typically pork shoulders will average 8lbs. If you're going to go through all this trouble you may as well do two or three butts. More than 20lbs of butts cost me less than $40 so its definitely an economical choice. If I'm having a large party its always pulled pork and everyone looks forward to it.
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Step 1: Need to make a rub
For great BBQ you need a great rub. Literally thousands can be found on the net so pick one that looks appealing. I found this one years ago. I'm not sure where its from but I did not come up with it so I do not take credit for it. It's a great all purpose rub.
1/4C seasoned salt
1/4C garlic salt
1/4C celery salt
1/4C onion salt
3 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp lemon pepper
2 Tsp ground sage
1 Tsp dry mustard
1/2 Tsp ground thyme
1/2 Tsp cayenne
Mix into a bowl and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid. It makes a lot of rub but it will keep for several months
This is a lot of ingredients to buy so if you prefer, you can use store bought BBQ rub but it won't be as good.
Step 2: Source some good quality pork
Make friends with your local butcher and have him/her give you a nice pork shoulder (or three). You can get them with bone in or bone out. I prefer bone out but these particular examples are bone in. You will also need to tie the shoulders using cotton string. When raw they hold together quite nicely but after they cook they'll fall apart when you try and take them off the grill.
Leave the fat on. Most of it will render off and what doesn't can be easily separated when you pull it.
Once tied, liberally sprinkle the rub over the entire surface and then store in the refrigerator for at least several hours. Overnight would be better.
Step 3: Drain and re-season
After the pork has rested in the refrigerator it will release a lot of juice. This liquid will remove some of the rub so you'll need to reapply the rub before cooking.
Leave the pork on the sheet pans and set at an angle so the juice will run off. Then move the butts to another sheet pan to re-season. Once seasoned, leave the pork on the counter at room temperature while you build your fire. (Not too long though). This will help hasten the cooking time.
Step 4: Build your fire
The first step in building your fire is to choose the coal you will use. There are lots of different options but I prefer lump charcoal. You could use briquettes but whatever you do don't use the "match light" type. For a really long cook, if you have an inefficient cooker, briquettes may be your best choice since they burn longer than lump. Remember these butts are going to take as long as 14hrs to cook so you don't want to run out of fuel in the middle of the night while you're asleep.
Arrange the charcoal with the largest pieces on the bottom and the smallest on top. I like to bury hunks of hickory into the coal and sprinkle apple chips on top. Try not to add too much raw wood as too much smoke can be a problem. You want enough but not too much.
Step 5: Light your fire
I prefer to use a torch to light just a few coals on the top of the pile. Don't overlight! Once started its very difficult to stop the coals from burning. You're trying to slowly work up to operating temperature. Lighting too many coals will get you to the operating temperature quickly but once there it will easily overshoot and be difficult, if not impossible to control.
Step 6: Add some chips
Once its lit, add some apple chips and quickly assemble you're rig. It will start smoking immediately and you don't want it to catch fire so you'll need to work quickly.
Step 7: Indirect heat
In my particular cooker, I use a heavy pizza stone wrapped in foil to ensure my butts don't get any direct heat. If you have a kettle grill or other type of cooker you can build an offset fire (all the coals on one side-meat on the other) to ensure your meat doesn't receive any direct heat. Also, you should use a drip pan under the butts. A lot of grease will render and you don't want it to end up on your patio. I got almost a litre of grease from this cook.
Step 8: Put your meat on the cooker
Once you have everything set up and ready to go you can put your meat on the cooker. Close the lid and don't open it again until you ABSOLUTELY have to. I put my butts on at 8:00pm
Step 9: Controlling heat
BBQ is low and slow. You need to plan for this feast. If you want to eat on Sunday at 5pm, you should put the butts on at 10pm Saturday evening at the latest (depending on the size of the butts). They will usually be ready to take off sometime Sunday morning. The last thing you want is company waiting to eat but your pork is only at 165f. There is no way to speed the process so planning is key.
The ideal cooker temperature is 225f to 250f but no higher. On my rig I use a BBQ Guru. Its a neat little device that controls the pit temperature and monitors meat temperature. That's why you see all the wires in the picture. Its a fancy way for me to easily control the temperature. Most won't have this so just be sure you set your dampers accordingly and closely monitor the temperature. If you're confident, you can put the meat on immediately after you build the fire. If not, then you should get the cooker temperature stabilized for at least 1/2hr before putting your meat on.
Step 10: Wait
Now you need to wait for the butts to cook. While waiting enjoy a few beers or a glass of wine. You can't forget about it though. You'll need to ensure the temperature is stable and you have enough fuel. If you need to add fuel, do it quickly.
Step 11: Middle of the night check on temperature
Its 4am and the temperature is 246f. Perfect. I'm going back to bed.
Step 12: Finally done!
For my cook, my butts were finished at 11:30am. The butts had an internal temperature of 195f which is where I like it. Some go higher, others lower but 195f is perfect for me.
The picture shows what you will be rewarded with. You'll notice the butts have a very dark, crusty exterior known as the "bark". It is without a doubt the best part. Also, the butts have shrunk a considerable amount. This is all normal.
Remove the butts from the cooker.
Step 13: Wrap in foil and dwell
Since my company isn't coming for hours and these butts need to rest, wrap them in foil. Once wrapped tightly in foil wrap in some old towels and place each butt in a cooler. They will literally hold all day. Just before my company arrives I'll pull the butts. Everything is ready with no stress involved.
Step 14: Time to pull
Its been several hours and its time to pull the pork. I like to use food safe latex gloves when pulling. The butts are still rocket hot and it definitely helps cut down on burned hands.
Cut off the string, grab at the butt and pull it apart. It will almost fall apart on its own anyway. You want to essentially tear the meat into bite size chunks discarding the fat that hadn't rendered. Don't discard the bark though, its the best part. Mix that in with the meat.
Step 15: Ready to eat
The finished product! It may not look like much in the pictures but I can tell you its the best eating you will ever have for $1.89/lb. Sometimes I like to sprinkle a touch of rub on the pulled pork at this point just to give it a little added flavor.
My preferred method of eating is on some cheap white bread or buns with some vinegar slaw or some BBQ sauce.Many of my guests just prefer to eat it plain.
Step 16: A look back
BBQ is a great tradition in my family. I got into BBQ over a decade ago and I'm still learning. There are so many different methods, techniques and flavor profiles that the combinations are endless.
This tutorial has worked well for me and its almost foolproof. Its very easy and it does take a lot of time but the fruits of your labor are well worth it.
I hope you try it so your family can enjoy it too.