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Smoking Pork Butt BBQ and Time Management

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  • Imby Jul 13, 2006 09:47 PM
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We are hosting a BBQ/Cookout this weekend, and I intend to smoke a pork shoulder, NC-style, on my Weber kettle. I have used it to smoke before, so I'm OK with general technique, but my concern is time management. Rather than risk the BBQ not being ready when folks arrive, I will probably err on the side of caution and start extra early. If the pork finishes an hour or three before folks arrive, what's my best approach?

- Pull right away and put in foil dish, reheat in oven if necessary
- Put in foil and pull later
- Something else?

And are there any good rules of thumb for smoking (e.g. 1.5 hrs per pound at 225 degrees)?

Thanks in advance!

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  1. My husband is the smoker, not me, but I just want to warn you that every time we smoke a pork butt (and it is a certain number of hours per pound at a certain degree, but again, I don't know what), it takes much longer than it should to get to the right temperature. I think for perfect pulled pork it's supposed to be in the 190 range-but it almost always gets stuck in the 150-160 range at the end. The three times we've smoked a pork butt, we've ended up eating around 9 pm, even when my husband put it on at 6 am. Moral of the story-you are better off putting it on earlier rather than later if you are having guests. It's also incredibly hot when it comes off and stays that way for awhile. I think you could take it off, cover it in foil, and still shred/serve it an hour later and it would still be hot enough. I wouldn't re-heat it-that would dry it out. You could also keep it wrapped in foil in a warm oven if it's off too early. BTW, before you shred it, it has to sit for a good 15 minutes.

    Good luck-pork butt is my favorite thing on the smoker. But also the most time consuming!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Samantha

      in the bbq world, we refer to that stuck in the 150 or 160 range as the plateau. For pork butt to be great and wonderful, it takes a while for that fat and connective tissue to render out and turn into soft goodness. When it starts to do that, the temperature starts to sit at the same temperature. Don't fret... keep the faith and it will eventually "break" out of the plateau and start chugging back on up the temps. So you know, 195 is almost always the perfect temp for me to take it off. Great, juicy, tender and not at all dry.

      1. re: Samantha

        I have a Masterbuilt Electric smoker. I smoke my Boston butt at 225 for 6 hours seasoned as you like it. I then put in a pan with about a cup of apple juice, foil cover it and place it in the oven (325 degrees) for about 3 hours or until the internal temp is 205. The bone slides right out and I let it set for half an hour. I put the chunks in a bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon. PERECECT pulled pork every time.

      2. I just smoked a pork butt last weekend. It was five pounds and took exactly six hours in a Weber Rocky Mountain smoker with the smoker's temperature varying between 200 and 250 degrees. You want to get the internal temperature of the pork to 200 degrees at the end and the best technique is to wrap the butt in heavy duty aluminum foil for the last hour at an oven temp of 250 degrees. Since you're effectively done smoking at that point anyway, it is much easier to throw it in the oven for tha last hour.

        Here's a link to a site devoted to the Weber RMS. It has great tips on smoking techniques and recipes:
        http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bob Brooks

          Weber is the Smokey Mountain and not Rocky Mountain. The Virtual Bullet link you gave is excellent. But, I've NEVER done a butt in 4 hours - ever.

        2. I'll tell you what I do for our end of season hockey bbq. It's on a Sunday morning, right after hockey.

          I do my shoulder from Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon. I do it for about 9 hours skin side up (No rub, no nothing. Naked) and then transfer (And flip it) to an aluminum turkey roasting tray. Cover it with aluminum foil and go another 9 hours or so. A trick taught to me by the fine folks at Jack Daniels.
          I take the meat off the smoker and I let it sit on the counter or stove top or whatever for a couple hours covered. It cools enough to handle at this point.
          Before I do anything to it, I drain off all the juice and fat from the bottom of the tray into a 4 cup measuring cup.
          Then tear it apart and start shredding (Put it into another roaster). Once it's all done and all the nasty bits are removed and the juice that was poured out has separated. I sprinkle liberally with my seasoning. I drain off the fat and pour about 2 cups of juice back in.
          Mix it all up to combine. Check for flavour. Adjust if need be.
          I then cover it with foil and she's ready for the next day.
          I reheat it on my grill but you could always use your oven. I add about a half bottle of beer to it so it more or less steams to reheat (Keep it covered). Go slow (Anywhere from 1/2 to a hour.) Check occasionally and stir so as not to burn the bottom.
          I use some of the pork for my beans as well as the fat to cook the onions.

          Enjoy
          DT

          2 Replies
          1. re: Davwud

            you cook it exactly like i do !! and it turns out perfect !! i get more compliments from this recipe. it my preference to just spend all weekend "cooking" pulled pork, having a cocktail, and hanging by the pool !!

            1. re: itzpms

              Life sucks sometimes dunnit??

              LOL

              DT

          2. You state you are using the Weber kettle grill and not a smoker - this is how I've done NC style pork for several years now. You state you have no problems with the technique, though bear in mind I've had issues keeping the grill cool enough. Could be just me though.

            That being said, I recommend wrapping the smoked butt in foil and putting it on the counter for however long you need. When it comes to pulling the meat your fingers won't get scorched and the finished product will be much moister (in my experience).

            Hope it turns out for you.

            8 Replies
            1. re: xfleetwoodx

              When I say I have no problems with the technique, I mean I'm able to maintain sub-250 temps. I put maybe 10 coals (chimney-started) on one side of the grill and top with soaked wood chunks. I do think that I probably check and switch the wood chunks more often than I need to, making it a high-maintenance cooking experience.

              Speaking of wood, should I expand beyond Hickory for pork butt?

              1. re: Imby

                Apple wood.

                DT

                1. re: Imby

                  As far as wood chunks, this is my first year owning a smoker. I have smoked ribs just about every Sunday this past summer, and experimented with different techniques and types of wood. I had heard that apple wood adds a sweater flavor than most others. I would have to agree. I also use a bottle of apple juice in the liquid pan to add a little more of that sweet aroma and flavor. It does make excellent ribs. As far as a pork butt, I have one on the smoker right now, with about 85% apple wood and 15% cherry. It has been on for about 10 hours. I use an electric smoker. Some may call that blasphemy, but it's all about the temperature and the smoke anyway, not a fire. It maintains an even 220 degrees and I just add some wood about every hour and a half. Another 10 degrees it will be up to 195 and I will pull it off and let it rest for about a half hour. This is my first attempt at a pork putt, but so far is looks and smells great. I gave it a little nudge with tongs and I can tell it is going to be very tender. I have tried other types of wood, but I have found some can be a little harsh, such as mesquite which tends to be a little bitter, and pretty much turns ribs into ham. Not what I was going for. I have had pretty good success with the apple. Bon’ apatite magazine, or however you spell it, rated the three best places to get ribs in the U.S. and the number one is located in, of all places, Southern Illinois. They use nothing but apple wood. That's where I got the idea, and it has been great so far. Best of luck.

                  1. re: ryis36

                    I sure hope you mean that apple wood adds a SWEETER flavor, and not a flavor like a sweater...or worse, like sweat!
                    ;o)

                    1. re: ryis36

                      How long did you soak chunks ? I've had mine soaking for 3 days in apple juice & a little water .Is that bad ? & do I risk mold on chunks ? I so dont want to jack up an expensive 12 lb pork shoulder.Anyone have tips ?

                      1. re: jjensen88

                        If you are using a decent smoker, you don't even need to soak chunks. I never do. chips, yes, chunks, no. In a smoker you don't have as much oxygen as you do in a grill, so chunks won't flame up and burn freely like you would see in a grill. Instead they'll smoke nicely, without any soaking at all. All that said, it's not a problem at all that you did soak it,... it just won't really do much to benefit the bbq. And don't worry about mold either. It won't be a problem given what you stated in your post.

                    2. re: Imby

                      Excellent that you can maintain the sub 250 degree - I have trouble with that, but my work-around is that I mop it often with the vinegar sauce - so there you go. Don't quit until you get the 190 or so degree internal temp. Now, sometimes this takes 5 hours and sometimes as long as 9 (!) I think the fat ratio in the meat has something to do with that - the fattier, the better the taste and the faster it cooks. But the secret my North Carolina Dad gave me was that whenever it was done (actually about 10 degrees shy of the 190 if there's more than an hour before serving), take it out, cover with foil and cloths or newspaper - but do NOT shred it until your just about ready to eat. And let the folks add the vinegar sauce at will - it doesn't taste right if you store the pulled meat in the sauce. Also, the vinegar sauce doesn't keep well, so we make fresh stuff the next day. It's cheap, it's easy - and worth it.

                      1. re: Imby

                        using cherry soaked in beer our 9 pound pork butt. Will start at 9pm tonite and cook until @ 10 am tomorrow, and th

                    3. not sure why folks are so into meat temp on something like this(maybe alton brown,ab,AB, foodnetwerk, etc...)when its done you'll know it. When shredding tender let rest.

                      1 hour or 3 no prob-its still gonna be hot-before the foodsafety nazis come out let your probe tell all. Wrap, keep in a warm place, do your thing.

                      minutes per elbow is meaningless to me and probably most other folks who pulled something that "should have been done".

                      pork butt will not dry out if reheated unless you really have no skills. I guaranty you that the carnitas at your favorite mex joint wasn't pulled out of the oven just for you.

                      don't worry, be happy :)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: dano

                        Let the smoke take you away. The trip is the best part of it. Let it do it's own thing and you can do your own thing you will know when it's done. Enjoy!!!

                        1. re: dano

                          Most of what you said was incomprehensible but if I gathered correctly you said temp doesn't matter. That's wrong no matter how you "slice it" pun intended. You're still concerned with temp. I bet you just go by more of a feel than a dial. That's fine but it's always about temp.

                        2. If you want to save some time, you can make pulled pork like Americas Test Kitchen. Americas Test Kitchen smoked a dry rubbed pork shoulder/butt for 3 hours on the BBQ. Then they took the pork shoulder/butt off the BBQ, wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it in an oven at 325 F for 2 hours.

                          Americas Test Kitchen found that meat will not absorb any more smoke after about 2.5 hours. So finishing your BBQ in the oven will not affect the smokiness of the finished product.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Norm Man

                            Interesting Norm, I did not know that. Here it is almost 10pm and I have been babysitting a pork but since about 11 this morning, and used up about 3lbs of apple chinks. Drats, I will have to try that next time. Thanks for the tip.

                            1. re: ryis36

                              It takes some of the BBQ mystique out of the process, but smoking first and finishing wrapped in foil in the oven works at least as well as a dozen hours on the pit. Maybe better since it keeps the swine from getting oversmoked and tasting like an ashtray. I do about six hours on the pit and 4 - 6 in the oven, wrapped. The wrapping also keeps the moisture and fat in proximity to the meat and aids the texture.

                          2. Pork butts and picnics are notorious for sticking around 160 degrees-- this is when all the fat is starting to render inside of the meat which is why it holds in that temp range so long. This is not the time to rush as it has alot to do with the tenderness and moisture of the pork. If you can hold on and take it to about 200, it should fall apart when you look at it.

                            As far as how to hold it if you get done early-- wrap it well in foil, then a towel and put it into a cooler to hold-- try to put it one that's not too large-- the less unused room the better, and you can load up the cooler w/ yesterday's newspaper for more insulation. It will hold for several hours that way and still be good and hot when you're ready for it.

                            You can also smoke it for 4-6 hours and then wrap it and stick it into a low oven for the rest of the cook. Wrapping it in H.D. foil will speed the cook. While you'll get plenty of smoke flavor in just a few hours I disagree w/ America's Test Kitchen that the meat stops absorbing smoke-- there's a huge difference in flavor between 2.5 and 16 or more hours of smoke...

                            Hickory is probably the most popular wood for pulled pork in N.C.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: BackyardChef

                              The cooler method is exactly what I do. I frequently do this... pull it out of the smoker at 195, wrap tightly it in 2-3 layers of heavy duty foil, put it in a cooler and fill the extra space with towels. It stays way above 140 (the limit for food safety per the US gov't) for at least 3 hours. If you preheat the cooler (pour in boiling or hot water, let sit 5 minutes, then pour out and dry) as well as the towels (in the dryer for 5 minutes) it will stay hot for more than 5 hours. And that doesn't have any negative effect on the pork.

                              what I don't know is how big the pork butt is going to be that the original poster is planning on smoking. Hopefully it is a full sized butt - around 6-8 pounds. It cooks more predictably and holds its temp after cooking far longer.

                              And... you are absolutely right, smoke will continue to flavor the meat as long as it is applied to meat. The smoke ring stops forming, but you'll still get smoke flavor long after 2 and a half hours. Trust me, I've oversmoked something more than once...

                              1. re: adamclyde

                                I've never oversmoked anything but as a for what it's worth, Steve Raichlen (BBQU) says it won't take any smoke after 4 hours. Personally, I think the meat has a lot to do with it. I've had deep rings and fairly shallow rings doing exactly the same thing. The only difference would be the meat.

                                DT

                            2. Imby,

                              I couldn't tell when you posted this message, so hopefully my response is either in time, or will help you for your next stab at it. First off, I would never use the pork butt (that is if you mean the hind) for this. The much better choice is the shoulder, sometimes referred to as the Boston Butt. This is actually not the hind at all, rather the front upper "thigh".

                              Second, you want the meat to reach an internal temperature of 195, 200 is close, but if it reaches that while still on the grill, take it off and cover with foil. I like to cook it directly in a foil pan, so if need be, I can move it easily in to an oven.

                              Lastly, and speaking of the oven, after 4 hours or so, there is nothing wrong with covering it in foil and putting it in an oven at about 250 for an extra 2 hours or so to bring it up to the magical 195.

                              Good luck, and I recommend using a mix of Steven Raichlen's method and Americas Test Kitchen.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hankstramm

                                As someone who smokes on a regular grill (well, sorta regular, it's a dual zone jobby), I'll ditto this post. The magical 190 deg is all about the tenderness, not food safety. I've tried the exact same method and left it on the grill/smoker until it gets to 190 and also stuck it in the oven after about 4 hours. The one from the oven was much better and I didn't have to fight with the grill much longer.

                                As for other parts of the timing - don't worry about having the pork done X number of hours before the guests arrive. You'll go nuts that way. Once it's done, let it rest - covered, for 30 minutes or so, then pull it and stick the meat into a casserole dish with the vinegar sauce. Cover that up and keep it warm in the oven until you're ready. It won't dry out at all.

                              2. I realize that I'm too late to give you info for your cookout, and I hope you had a great time. I'm sure it all worked out well. I've got two answers for you regarding smoking the butt early. First of all, the 190 degree temperature is just a point where you should start checking the butt for tenderness. What you're looking for is to be able to stick a skewer or probe into the meat (and you have to check all the way around the meat) with VERY LITTLE resistance. It should go in "like butter". If you're not going to serve it immediately, wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil and have a cooler standing by that has been pre-heated with boiling water. Place some towels on the bottom of the cooler, place the butt in there and then put more towels around the butt before closing the cooler. You should be able to keep the butt in the "safe range" for 3 hours. You can then take it out and pull it. My favorite method though is to do my butts in advance (days, weeks, months), shred them ahead of time, add a little apple cider/juice) and then vacuum pac them with a Foodsaver and freeze them. I've tested pulled pork side by side with 6 monthg old pulled pork and one that was made that day and truthfully the only difference was that there was no crunchy bark on the previously frozen meat.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jnk

                                  I have to feed 100 people smoked pork, so I smoked my meat early. Glad to have the apple cider tip because I was afraid it would be too dry. It took only 8 hours at 250 to smoke 6 butts in my electric smoker. Two meat thermometers indicated internal temp 197.

                                2. I have developed my own technique that will make you feel like a pro. Don't bother with any seasoning of the butts prior to smoking. From my experience, the natural smoke flavor is all you need when smoking the meat, the seasoning of the butts comes later. I smoke the butts for about two to three hours (or whenever my wood chunks have given it all) at 225 degrees and then transfer them to an electric roaster. An electric roaster is perfect to finish the job since you can control the heat, you don't need foil, and you don't have to heat your whole kitchen. The electric roaster should be set at 225 to 275 (depending on how soon you want to eat). If you have all day and night 225 is great. Sometimes I use 250 to 275 to speed it up. Couple the roaster with a good thermometer like the Taylor or Polder digital cooking thermometer and it takes out the guesswork.

                                  I'm with those that say 195-200 degrees is good for a final cooking temp. 190 degrees will still be a little tough to separate. After you hit 195 shut off the roaster and let it rest for a couple of hours, I usually crack the lid to allow the heat to dissipate. If you're pressed for time remove the roast from the roaster and cover it with foil. I discard the fat and liquid.

                                  The resting time does wonders for the pulling. It's wise to buy some disposable gloves (like the blue medical ones) for the pulling. I'll bet those Playtex dishwashing gloves would do a fine job too. You'll know the meat's done when the bone pulls out easily and the roast falls apart in big chunks. Remove as much fat as you can when pulling. There's a lot fat and connective tissue that's unappetizing. Personally, I remove the cap on the outside as well. I know some people like a little fat chopped into it, but I find my guests prefer it a little leaner. There will be plenty of juiciness and smoke flavor without re-adding fat.

                                  While pulling the pork generously season with salt and black pepper (I pre-mix my salt and pepper into a large shaker 5 to 1 to make it easier). Season to taste. For moisture and flavor, I usually add at least 1 cup of cider vinegar per roast. Don't over mix the pork when seasoning, You don't want it to get mushy in appearance. Make yourself a good Carolina sauce, or K.C. style sauce and you are set..

                                  I didn't add up the hours, but I would guess 10 to 12 hours is likely to do it right. The roaster does give you some flexibility, but this is no quick meal.

                                  1. Me personally, I wouldn't try to smoke a pork butt in a Weber kettle. It takes a very long time to smoke a pork butt and to keep the temperature low enough, you can't use very many coals in a kettle, the meat is just too close to the heat source. I use a Weber Smokey Mountain, and typically smoke about an eight pound butt, usually two of them. It typically takes 14 to 16 hours and I have started to consistantly use the Texas Crutch (wrap it in foil when it stalls), it works out great.

                                    You can use all the rules of thumb you like, but there are so many variables, that I don't even give that thought, I just for for internal temperature of about 195 F.

                                    If you finish early, wrap if foil if you have not used the foil earlier, then wrap it in a couple of old bath towels and place it in an ice chest, sans the ice. This will hold it for at least 2-3 hours. Then take it out and pull it. You want it hot when your guests eat it, so don't pull it in advance.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: mikie

                                      here are a couple of photos of the "snake method" of setting up coals in a kettle for a low and slow smoke. I used this method for a couple of tears before I bought my WSM. It really does work very well, and as you burd down coals, you can replace them for a longer cook.

                                       
                                       
                                      1. re: jnk

                                        I'll have to try that. I would have never imagined something like that, and I am always looking for a better method.

                                        1. re: Retrowbridge

                                          I've used what I named the fuze-method since 2007-2008. It works great. I light it and let it burn around. I don't worry about cooking temps at all...just let it burn. If the meat isn't done when the fuze is gone you can add more coals or crank up the kitchen oven to finish.

                                          Works great when you don't have a dedicated smoker.

                                        2. re: jnk

                                          picture is kinda small-
                                          are those pine cones in 2/2?

                                          1. re: macsak

                                            These aren't my photos but the white chunks should be your choice of wood. Actually, I didn't put my wood chunks that far around since I only smoke for 2 hours (arguably, that's as long as the meat will acquire smoke flavor) and the rest of the charcoal is for the low and slow cook.

                                        3. re: mikie

                                          You smoke an 8 pound pork shoulder for 14 to 16 hours? Why?

                                          I have smoked many pork shoulders on a 22" Weber Kettle grill using indirect heat and wood chips. I have smoked many racks of ribs on the same grill and they come out great. I usually only smoke them for 4 to 5 hours because that's all that is necessary to get the smoke into the meat. When I smoke the pork shoulders, they are usually done in pairs weighing about 10 - 12 pounds each because that's how they come from Costco

                                          1. re: John E.

                                            I smoke ribs for 4 hours on the WSM, about 230 - 240 °F, 2 hours, then wrap them in foil and place them back in the smoker for an hour, then unwrap them and back in the smoker for another hour. Ribs I do on time, everything else is by internal temperature. I also go straight from the fridge to the smoker, the cooler meat has more time to build a smoke ring before the protein sets at 120°F, after that it's not going to pick up any more smoke flavor.

                                            The pork butts may be a little larger than what I stated, going by memory and mines not all that great. My butcher sells them to me and they are already trimmed and the gland removed. 14 to 16 hours is more or less the start to finish time, not including lighting the smoker. I know if I want to have pork butt for lunch I need to get it on the smoker no latter than about 10:00 p.m. I try to smoke it at about 230°F to an internal temperature of about 205°F.

                                            My son-in-law and I won the prize for best ribs in our smoking BBQ class, everyone used the same techinque as that's what was being taught, but everyone had their own equipment and made their own rub. We were able to maintain a very even temperature with the WSM and it was our rub that made the difference.

                                            1. re: mikie

                                              I smoke meat on a Weber Kettle, a smoker with a sidebox, and occasionally even a gas grill. I'm considering a verticle pellet smoker. I had a cheap bullet smoker, but I didn't like needing to lift a rack of meat in order to gain access to the other meat.

                                              1. re: John E.

                                                I had a cheap vertical smoker as well, boy was I glad to get rid of that thing. It is a pain to get to the bottom rack, but I don't have to get there all that often. It goes in first and I put a thermal probe in it. Maybe I've just been lucky, but both racks seem to get meat smoked at about the same time, so the only time I have to access it is when I put it in foil and then again when I take it out of foil. There are worse things to deal with.

                                                Of all the smokers at the class I took, the WSM was the biggest bag for the buck. Many sidebox smokers had trouble maintaining temperature, not that all do, but many of the ones there did. The guy with the Weber Kettle had trouble with keeping the hot side far enough away from his ribs, or his ribs far enough away from the hot side. But my son smokes on his Kettle all the time. His BBQ is not up to mine, JMO, but he is perfictly happy with his results. Other than moving racks, the WSM is soooooo much better than the other vertical smoker I had, there is no comparison.

                                              2. re: mikie

                                                "the cooler meat has more time to build a smoke ring before the protein sets at 120°F, after that it's not going to pick up any more smoke flavor."

                                                Just want to point out that the smoke ring has nothing to do with smoke flavor...or the meats absorption of smoke for that matter.