I love smoking meats on a sunny day. There's something magical about taking an incredibly cheap cut of meat and turning it into smokey gold. Pulled pork is one of the easiest cuts to smoke but it can take a very long time. Typically 10-12 hours for a full pork butt or shoulder. I recently purchased an Instant Pot and I wanted to try an experiment. What if I smoked a pork shoulder for a few hours to get the smokey flavor but finished it in a instant pot to speed up the cooking time? How would it compare to a regular fully smoked pork shoulder? I was nervous I would miss out on all the smokey flavor it typically has so I smoked two shoulders side by side to find out.
Step 1: Preparing the Meat
I started off with two pork shoulders that were similar in size. I made a basic rub and coated both shoulders:
-1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
-1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
-1/4 Cup Paprika
-2 TB Garlic Powder
-2 TB Black Pepper
-1/2 TB Cayenne Pepper
Feel free to customize the rub. I typically make the basic rub and then throw in little bits of other spices while tasting it. I fired up my Weber Smokey Mountain using the Minion Method. Essentially you fill the charcoal bin up with unlit charcoal and pour on a small amount of lit charcoal. This slows down the burn and keeps the smoke from getting too hot right at the start. You keep the vents open until you reach the desired temperature ~250F.
Step 2: Pulling the First Butt
After 4 hours of smoking, I pulled the first butt off the smoker. The meat was still very tough and nowhere near done. I cut the shoulder in half and stuffed it into the instant pot. I added the following and cooked it on the "Pressure Cooker" setting with "High Pressure" selected for a total duration of 45 minutes.
-1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
-1 Cup Apple Juice
-1 Cup Water
The liquid allows the build up of pressure. Without it, the shoulder would just burn. After the Instant Pot finished, I pulled the shoulder out and allowed it to cool off and rest for about 15 minutes. The Instant Pot did the trick and the pork was completely tender and fall apart. It was easily shredded with two forks.
Step 3: The Fully Smoked Butt
After 10 long hours, the other butt was ready to come off the smoker. I let it rest for a few minutes and cool off, like the other shoulder. The bark on the outside was crispy and delicious and the pork shredded very easily. Now for the pros and cons.
Step 4: Pros and Cons
I love cooking meats low and slow but pulled pork can sometimes be a bit much, whether it's loading more charcoal in or babysitting it all day. It can also be a hassle if you are hosting a party and it just won't seem to finish. When comparing the two pork shoulders, the flavor was nearly identical. The Instant Pot version still had plenty of smoky flavor and was super tender and juicy. The fully smoked shoulder had a bunch of crispy bark, which the Instant Pot version lacked, and seemed to be a bit more dry. I suspect it's because the long cook allowed more fat and juice to render out of the shoulder, while the half smoked shoulder still had a lot of that left. All in all, I think I may have to start utilizing the Instant Pot to cut cooking times unless I'm really craving some of that delicious crispy bark.
Pros of Using a Smoker/Instant Pot Combo
-Cooks in Half the Time
-Tastes Nearly Identical
Cons of Using a Smoker/Instant Pot Combo
-No Crispy Bark