Introduction: Perfect Pulled Pork

I have been doing a lot of barbecuing over the last few years, with excellent results.  People always ask what my secret is for perfect ribs, brisket, and pulled pork.

This Instructable will cover my technique for pulled pork.  The methods are similar for brisket and ribs as well.

The smoker that I'm using in this Instructable is a Traeger pellet grill, but the cooking and preparation are the same regardless of smoker type.  I also smoke with charcoal with Weber Smokey Mountain, and a Weber kettle grill with a Smokenator attachment.

Just remember - low and slow.  Low temperature cooking for a long period of time!

Step 1: Start With the Meat

Pulled pork comes from smoking a pork shoulder.  Often times, you will hear this referred to as "pork butt".  That is also correct.  When you buy a pork shoulder, it will come as two pieces.  One of the pieces is the Boston butt, and the other is the Picnic.  Not sure where the names came from.

When you buy a pork shoulder, they are available as boneless or bone-in.  I use either, depending on what's available.  Some prefer the bone-in, and say that the meat is more flavorful.  I have not been able to tell the difference.

I usually buy meat at Costco.  They have great pork shoulders, ribs, and brisket.

Most of the shoulders are between 14 - 18 pounds.

Step 2: Prepare the Meat - Mustard

Preparing the meat is pretty basic.  Two primary ingredients - yellow mustard and some type of rub.

Rinse the meat thoroughly after removing from the packaging.  Apply a generous coat of mustard, and rub it in thoroughly.  Make sure that you get into all of the nooks and crannies!  

The mustard doesn't leave any distinctive "mustard flavor" on the meat.  Others folks will use vegetable oil to rub the meat, but I've always had the best success with mustard.  

Step 3: Prepare the Meat - Rub

There are many different kinds of rubs available for barbecue.  I have yet to find one that I didn't like.  Each is a different blend of spices, usually containing sugar, salt, paprika and other spices.  My daughter even made a custom rub for me for Father's Day.

Make sure the meat is well coated with rub.  The mustard will help hold it all in place.  Again, make sure you get into all the cracks and crevices.

The mustard and rub combination give the pork the distinctive crust, or bark that is so tasty!

Step 4: Time for the Smoker

The pork is now ready to put on the smoker.  Generally cook between 225 - 250 degrees.  The meat will take somewhere between 1.5 and 2 hours per pound to cook.

I use a remote thermometer that has sensors for both grill temperature and meat temperature.  Insert the meat probe deep into the center of the pork, and make sure it is not touching bone.  The remote thermometer is not a requirement, but cuts down on the number of trips you have to make outside to check on things.  

Step 5: Let It Cook - Low and Slow

Now, just wait.  Estimate about an hour and a half per pound.  Watch the temperature sensor to make sure the smoker is not getting too hot or too cold.

Pretty soon the whole neighborhood will smell like bacon, and neighbors will be finding excuses to stop by or chat with you over the fence.

The biggest mistake people make is not allowing the pork to cook long enough.  You need to allow it to cook until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.  

Beware of "the stall".  The meat will get to about 160 degrees, and then just sit.  It will stay at that temp sometimes for hours as the collagen in the meat breaks down, and the meat sweats.  Just be patient!  It will eventually make it to the magic 190 degree number.
This is a key part of the process that leads to tender, succulent meat.

Step 6: It's Done!

Allow the meat to get to 190 degrees internally.  This means that it should be done, but it is not the only indicator.  Give the pork butts a poke with your finger while still on the smoker.  I call this the "jelly test".  When done, the meat will "jiggle", almost like a bag full of jelly.  You can also stick a fork in and twist.  It should twist freely with almost no resistance.  If you have bone-in shoulder, give the bone a slight twist or tug.  If the meat is done, you will be able to twist and almost pull it out with little resistance.


I also use a second instant read thermometer to test the temp of all the butts.  When the meat is cooked properly, the thermometer probe just slides right in.

Step 7: Pull That Pork

You can pull pork by hand (wait till it cools a bit!), with forks, or some folks in some areas of the country chop it with a knife.  I use a product called Bear Paws, which really cut down on the time to pull.

I take out any big chunks of fat, and try not to eat too much of the smoky bark pieces while pulling.

Step 8: Ready to Serve

I don't like to put barbecue sauce on the pork before it is served.  I love the taste of the pork by itself and it's smoky, tender, goodness.  Serve on a bun or on a plate, and add sauce at that time.

Enjoy the compliments, and make sure you keep some of the pork for yourself!