Culinary Arts

How to Smoke Pork Butt (Pork Shoulder) With Barbeque Pitmaster Aaron Franklin

Written by MasterClass

May 17, 2019 • 4 min read

The relatively forgiving nature of the pork butt cut of meat, along with consistent cooking temperature, make this a great cook for beginners or anyone who wants to practice their fire-maintenance skills. Learn pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s method for smoking in the pork recipe below.

Franklin received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2015. His popular and critically lauded restaurant, Franklin Barbecue, was awarded Texas Monthly’s coveted Best Barbecue Joint in Texas, and Bon Appetit’s Best Barbecue Joint in America.

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What Is Pork Butt (Pork Shoulder)?

Pork butt, also known as Boston butt or pork shoulder, is a cut of meat from the upper portion of a pig’s front shoulder. It’s a relatively inexpensive and forgiving hunk of meat that you’ll most often see served as pulled pork in barbecue restaurants. The muscle has a lot of connective tissue that needs to be broken down through slow cooking, but it’s also extremely fatty, so it’s less prone to drying out, even at higher temperatures.

Bone-in or Boneless: Which Butt to Buy

Pork butts are sold both bone-in and boneless, but Aaron recommends bone-in. Boneless butts have a less uniform shape, which can result in uneven cooking. Leave the bone in, and once the meat is done, it should slide out easily.

How to Trim Pork Butt

If your pork butt was sold with the skin on, remove it or ask your butcher to do so. The skin will block the smoke and dry rub from penetrating the meat, and by the end of the cook, it will be too tough to eat.

Like brisket, pork butt often has a lot of fat on its surface that won’t render and isn’t great for eating. However, because you’ll be shredding the pork rather than slicing it, it isn’t necessary to trim the excess fat in advance. You can simply remove those larger pockets of fat with your fingers once the cook is done.

Slather and Rub: How to Season Pork Butt

Pork butt is almost impossible to over season. However salty or peppery your bark is, it’s going to end up torn apart and mixed with the less seasoned interior meat. For the dry rub, use equal parts kosher salt and 16-mesh “caf. grind” black pepper mixed with a small amount of paprika for color. You’ll need about ½ cup of seasoning for an 8- to 10-pound pork butt. Mustard or hot sauce make for a good slather.

The fattier side of your pork butt is its “presentation side,” so apply the slather and rub to this side last. As always, use one hand to slather and turn the meat and the other to sprinkle the rub. Starting with the non-presentation side, slather the meat with mustard or hot sauce, then shake or sprinkle the rub from side to side in an even layer until the surface is covered. Next, slather the sides of the meat and season with the rub. Cup one hand along the side of the pork and use it to catch the rub and press it evenly onto the meat. Flip the butt over, so the fat side faces up. Slather and rub. Allow the pork butt to rest for 30 to 40 minutes. This will give the rub some time to penetrate the meat and begin drawing out the internal moisture.

How Long to Smoke Pork Butt (Pork Shoulder)

It takes a total of approximately 10 hours to smoke an 8–10 pound bone-in pork butt. The smoke happens in 5 stages.

Diagram of stages of cooking pork butt

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Aaron Franklin’s Smoked Pork Butt: Barbecued Pork Shoulder Recipe

  1. Once your smoker has reached a consistent temperature of 270°F and you’re producing clean smoke, place the pork butt inside the cooking chamber with the fat cap facing up. The high fat content of pork butt means you don’t have to worry about starting the heat lower as you would with brisket. Spend the next three hours tending to the fire, maintaining a constant temperature and the cleanest possible smoke, while the pork butt cooks undisturbed.
  2. After three hours, open the smoker and give the pork butt a thorough spritzing of water, beer, or apple cider vinegar to cool off the exterior. Continue to cook at 270ÅãF for approximately another five hours, checking and spritzing the pork butt once per hour. As the meat continues to cook and the fat renders, the pork butt will gradually shrink, eventually causing the bark that’s formed on top of the fat cap to split. Once that happens, you’re ready to wrap.
  3. Your pork butt should be ready to wrap approximately eight hours into the cook time. Learn how to wrap your pork butt in aluminum foil with our complete guide here.
  4. Once the pork butt is wrapped, return it to the smoker and cook for another hour at 270°F, then raise the temperature to 295°F and cook for one final hour.
  5. After 10 hours in the smoker your pork butt should register an internal temperature of just over 200°F. You can poke through the wrap with a meat thermometer—try not to make more than a couple holes—to get a temperature reading and to feel the meat for tenderness. If you want to judge the doneness entirely by feel, pick the pork butt up and move it around in your hands. It should be squishy and soft when you pat it. Remember that the meat will continue to cook for a while even after you’ve taken it off the smoker, so if there are any pockets that don’t feel exactly right just yet, they will soon enough. Allow the wrapped pork butt to rest at room temperature for an hour before serving.

How to Serve Smoked Pork Butt

Carefully unwrap the pork, being careful not to let the trapped juices spill out of the aluminum foil. Pour the juices over the pork, then shred with your fingers or tongs. Discard the bone, which should slide out easily, or save for another use. If there are big unrendered pockets of fat, you can remove them with your fingers or chop them up and mix them into the meat. Serve.

Learn more Texas barbeque recipes and techniques in Aaron Franklin’s MasterClass.