Intro: Tried and True Pulled Pork for a Crowd
I have made pulled pork at least 30 or 40 times, for a crowd, or for the family, eating what we can, and freezing some for the next time we need that BBQ fix. It is a pretty forgiving process, and I have made in various smokers, and a few times on a Weber Kettle grill. The pictures are from a cook on the Weber Kettle, that I used the snake method of charcoal lighting (Make a half circle of charcoal around the side of the grill that won’t have meat on it, and light one end. The grill keeps a consistent temp through longer periods of time). I will try to be as complete as possible, so you can make quality BBQ for your family and friends while still being generic enough so that you can make this with the equipment that you have.
Step 1: Meat Selection
The Boston Butt is the front shoulder of the pig. It is fatty, and that is a good thing for you. The fat does a few things and should be kept on this piece of meat. It protects the meat during the long cook, and if there is a flair up, will keep your meat from being burnt. It also keeps your meat moist. Pieces of meat that are very lean tend to dry out during the long smoke and are tough. You want moist soft meat, not shoe leather. This Boston Butt is the perfect piece of meat for this long, slow cook. Your roast will most likely be 6-10 pounds. I included a picture here, of a perfect roast. This one was on the small side, at 7.38 Lbs, and took 10 hours at about 230 degrees.
Step 2: Prep
If frozen, it is important to have the meat thawed at least a day before you plan to cook. 12 hours before the cook, sprinkle kosher salt at the rate of ½ tsp per pound onto the pork. Rub it in well, and all the way around the roast. Put the roast in the fridge and go about your day. 8 hours later you can rub the pork with a rub that does not contain salt. I usually use ½ cup paprika, ½ cup black pepper, and a TBS of each of the following – minced Garlic, minced Onion, Brown Sugar, White Sugar, chili powder and cayenne pepper.
Step 3: Starting the Cook
Prepare your smoker or grill for indirect heat. For a grill this means charcoal and wood chunks on one side of the grill, and the meat on the other. For a smoker this is an easier task, as your smoker is set up for indirect heat in most cases. Your target temperature for this cook session is around 230-240*F degrees. I wouldn’t worry if I gets to 250*F, likewise, down to 225*F just tells you that you want a bit more fuel. I tend to go for smaller fires, requiring more attention, rather than build a larger fire and either choking it but closing off oxygen or letting the temperature spike, and then letting it all but go out. You really want a small fire, maintaining that constant heat range. This fire will produce a thin blue smoke. That smoke is perfect and what you should be striving for. I like to use Pecan wood, but have also had good results with oak, and fruit woods as well. If the bark is loose, I usually pull that away and throw it out, bark does not contribute anything nice to the process. If it is firmly attached, I tend not to worry about it, and leave it attached to the wood.
Step 4: The Cook
During the next 8-10 hours you can find a hobby that you enjoy, while not being too far away from the smoker. You will want to look for that smoke from the smoker, tend the fire every thirty minutes or so, and be available to adjust air vents and the like. I smoke all meats with the top (exit) air vent open all the way. I will sometimes close down the bottom vent just a bit, but usually manage my fires with all vents open, and going for the smaller fire. If I am continually struggling around the 225*F area, I will add some charcoal. Most of the time, I am adding chunks of wood as previous chunks have turned more into embers.
The outside of the meat is going to get dark. The rub will turn dark brown, and sometimes even black from the sugars. This is called The Bark and is delicious. It is what makes this the finished meal. Do not be afraid of the color and resist the urge to pick off and eat too much when the time comes to shred the meat.
Step 5: Finishing the Cook
“If you are lookin’, you ain’t cookin’”. While it is unavoidable to tend the fire in a kettle grill without taking of the top, many smokers do have a way to get to the fire chamber that is separate from the food chamber. When making pulled pork on a smoker, I try not to even look at the meat for about 6 hours. I know it is in there because I put it there, and I’ve been on my porch watching for the signs from the fire that it may need more wood or air. At 6 hours I take an internal temperature reading with a probe just to see what is going on. Final temps should be around 195-205*F. By starting at 6 hours in, and checking every 30-45 minutes, I can start to guess when it will be done. There will be a meat stall at some point, that is a point in time that the meat seems to keep the same temperature even though you are still applying heat via indirect cooking. Just keep going, and know that it is going to eventually break and the temps will once again start to climb again. At this point, when I have the food chamber open, and I have taken a temperature, I use a squirt bottle and mist the meat. Many people use different liquids to mist with and I have heard of water, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and the list goes on. I personally make my own hard apple cider, and use that. Commercial apple ciders would work just as well. I use about 4-6 ounces total, misting the meat whenever I open the chamber
Step 6: Pulling and Serving
When the internal temperature is in the range listed above, and the meat feels like a big chunk of soft butter (or some people have said it feels the same as your cheek), pull the meat off the smoker, and put in a large bowl, Dutch oven, or some other vessel like a crock pot or spaghetti pot. Put a lid on, or wrap the top of the bowl with Aluminum foil and let rest for 30 minutes. The benefit of using a crockpot is that you can keep it on warm at this point until your guests arrive. After 30 minutes, it is time to pull the pork, or shred it. I use two forks and pull it apart and shred into pieces. I do this mostly in the pot, but sometimes, as the pot gets full, I will use a cutting board to help. Any big pieces of fat that didn’t render during the cook can be pulled out at this time, juices produced should stay with the meat. After shredded, I add BBQ sauce directly to the pork and stir. Usually about a cup will do, but I’ll leave you to figure the perfect amount. Flour tortillas work great for this, as do hamburger buns. Does this meal take a long time to make? Sure does, but will your guests be eternally grateful that you made such a wonderful treat for them? You can bet your last dollar!