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My first pulled pork... Need some advice

  • j

I'm planning to do a 8lb. pork butt dutch oven style this weekend. This is my first time and really don't want to screw it up. I've been doing some research, and have a few things I need cleared up, and would also greatly appreciate any helpful hints you can think of.

Should I brine the butt? If so, should I just use salt, sugar, and water or should I incorporate some other spices? Also, how long do I need to brine?

Should I brown the butt prior to slow cooking?

What are some good suggestions for a good rub? I'd like to end up with a little spice in the finished product. I'm hoping for a slightly spicy and smokey bbq flavor. How should I go about accomplishing this? I am planning to prepare my own bbq sauce prior to cooking the butt, so any suggestions as to the sauce would also be greatly appreciated.

What else should I put in the dutch oven? I'm assuming I'll be using a braising liquid of some kind. What are some good suggestions here and in what amount? And finally, what are some good veggies to throw in there?

Thanks for the help!

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  1. I would definitely brine. When it comes to a question of brining.....always brine (: I don't know about others but I use salt, sugar and water and never spices. I would brine for a few hours or overnight because of the size of the butt.

    For a good rub, I like to throw in: paprika, chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, oregano, brown sugar, mustard powder, and basically anything else that's in the pantry. Experiment...try using a touch of cinnamon or maybe some cloves or nutmeg? I added all three of the last spices to some ribs once and they came out fantastic. However, don't go overboard on them or your pulled pork will taste like pumpkin pie ):

    browning the butt prior to cooking will add texture to the meat. If you don't do it, mostly all of the meat will have the same texture. I did pulled pork in the dutch oven 2 days ago, didn't brown it, and it still came out fine.

    When I make it in the oven I like to add a whole can of crushed tomatoes, and add brown sugar, m olasses, mustard, vinegar, etc to taste. I fill it up to half of the side of the pork , throw it in the oven at around 325 for 4 -6 hrs and the sauce cooks down to a nice thick consistency. Definitely don't throw out the remaining sauce, as it's good to top off the pulled pork after it's done cooking.

    veggies? I have no idea...I never add any, cause they would just turn to mush

    I should add that i never add a rub to pork in the dutch oven, only to pork when I am smoking it. I'm sure adding a rub to the pork in the dutch oven will come out great

    1 Reply
    1. re: bitsubeats

      The first thing I thought was adding cinnamon/clove/nutmeg. I love this in savory, slow cooked dishes. I think it adds a huge level of complexity, although you have to show restraint, or you'll have "apple pie" braised pork.

    2. I'm a big brining fan but I think brining anything that you go on to braise is sort of pointless. Brining is more for dry heat cooking, IMO.

      I'd apply a dry rub 24 hours ahead of time and brown the meat. Make up the rub with stuff that you think will taste good -- it's up to you. I'd suggest always using kosher salt and brown sugar in it, though. For smoky, you might try chipotle powder

      When I braise my PP in the french oven I do it in a combination of water, cider vinegar, a bit of brown sugar, and a hit of hot sauce and a squirt of cheap yellow mustard.

      After it's done, I degrease the cooking liquid (which is very flavorful by now) and add it back in to the shredded pork.

      Don't add any veggies. Bitsu is right, they'll be mushy, plus IMO you really don't want or need them for flavor.

      1. While I don't have any great recipe suggestions, I do recommend that you pull the pork apart in an area that is easy to clean up! I made BBQ'd pulled pork for my inlaws last summer and pulled it apart about an hour before they arrived for dinner. It was still rather tough on the exterior, and I ended up with pork bits stuck to the walls, the ceiling, a picture over the sink, etc. Washing pork bits off the walls wasn't what I had in mind for my final meal prep! =)

        1 Reply
        1. re: ExercisetoEat


          I can't image what you did to have that happen. I've made it a gazillion times and never had it go anywhere.

          Pull it when it's still warm, by the way. Use forks and your fingers.

        2. I have had mixed results with brining. The last time I brined my pulled pork it was way, way too salty. I used the recommended amount of salt and time, so I'm not sure what happened. So now I don't brine and I don't miss it. I'm not sure that brining adds anything in terms of texture to pulled pork because you're cooking it until the meat breaks down anyway, and the added salt is not necessary since there is so much salt in the rub and in barbecue sauce.

          I agree you need a good rub. If you're cooking it in the oven and not on a grill you won't have the smoky flavor, so I would consider using a chipotle chile powder or a smoked paprika in the rub. If you have a grill available use it with some soaked wood chips.

          The most important thing with pulled pork is the final temperature. The first time I made it I pulled it off at 165 degrees and had cubed pork roast, not pulled pork! Make sure you cook it to over 190 degrees (I usually try to hit at least 195). Then I pull it off and wrap it in foil for at least a half hour before I pull it.

          Good luck!

          2 Replies
          1. re: nealhbeck

            That's good advice on the temp. you can do anything you want to that pork butt and you won't mess it up... all you need to do is cook it til it reaches 195 -200 internal... and it will fall apart when you touch it. I use a dry rub and smoke on the kettle for 10-12 hrs. In the dutch oven I would (never have, but I would) still use a dry rub, then add a bit of a brown sugar/cider vinegar/crushed red pepper sauce. That will give you a bbq-y taste. don't brine... this cut has lots of fat to melt away and it will not dry out.

            1. re: nealhbeck

              Much of the pork you buy in the stores these days are injeced with solutions that contain salt. If you brine an injected butt or shoulder, you run the very real chance of it being over salty.

            2. Doesn't most of the BBQ flavor in pulled pork come from the vinegary sauce that is mixed in with the meat when it is pulled? When I've seen Carolina cooks prepare the meat on TV shows, they tear the whole hog apart while wearing industrial rubber gloves (and in some cases chopping it afterwards), and then tasting as they add salt and their sauce.

              Dry rub, and smoke, will flavor the outside of the butt, but not do much for the interior. Cooking the butt in a closed dutch oven is, at best, an approximation to the slow roasted meat. The meat that is not immersed in the liquid will brown as it is cooked. Browning the meat before closing up the oven may add some flavor to the overall package, but is not essential. The primary purpose of the DO cooking is to tenderize the meat so it can be pulled, not to develop complex flavor.

              As to brine, why? Pork butt has plenty of connective tissue. Combine that with the closed environment of the DO and it should remain moist. Also check your package, it may already come brined (watered down). As to the salt - it is easier to correct for that after cooking than to get the amount right before.


              4 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                Depends on what you consider "BBQ flavor". To me, real BBQ flavor comes from wood smoke.

                1. re: paulj

                  It is true that the rub and the smoke does not do much for the interior of the pork butt, but don't forget that after you pull the pork the dark brown, smoky exterior (Mr. Brown!) is mixed in with the pork from the interior. When done right, every bite includes some of that smoky crust.

                  1. re: nealhbeck

                    These points about the smoke apply to meat cooked in a smoker. When done in a dutch oven (i.e. closed pot in a conventional oven), the only smoke flavor comes from artificial essence. I imagine that can be added at any point.


                    1. re: paulj

                      Thanks for the great pointers. I just picked up a 7lb. butt and made a rub that smells great. I used S & P, ground chile powder, chipotle chile powder, cumin, onion powder, mustard powder, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, cinnamon, brown sugar, and oregano. I went heavier on the chile powders and held back on the brown sugar and cinnamon. It smells great and gave me quite a flavorful kick when I touched a bit of it to my tounge. I made enough so I'll be able to mix some into the braising liquid. I also picked up some apple cider vinegar and a good chile sauce for braising. I think this is going to turn out awesome!

                      Oh yeah.. I also wanted to ask if it makes a difference whether the butt is covered or not in the fridge while the rub is setting? Right now it is uncovered. Let me know if my instinct was wrong.

                      Thanks again!

                2. jmunn, a lot of BBQ competition guys http://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/ seem to prefer injecting vs brining when it comes to pork butts.

                  1. I'm going to kick this thing off tonight so it's ready for lunch tomorrow. I really want to get the braising liquid right so I can use the reamaing liquid as a great sauce to return the pulled pork to. Please offer some suggestions here. I'm planning some combo of cider vinegar, chile sauce, tobasco, werchtershire, liquid (I know, GASP!) smoke, and some spices. I'm looking for some guidelines so I don't overdue anything or mix some un-mixables. My Mom tells me to be careful with the cider vinegar... Tablespoons only. How much do you hounds suggest?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jmunn

                      I get the feeling you're looking for a BBQ-y effect with this braise effort. Here's the mop sauce that I use when I smoke the butts with a wood-charcoal fire. It is similar to a western N. Carolina sauce, I believe. For me, the sugar cuts the vinegar. I also use water that I don't think is part of the real tangy carolinas version. Works very well for me. Just a little for the braise... when it's tender, pull the pork, and add the sauce to the pot with the finished product. Gives lots of flavor while letting the roasted (in your case) pork flavor get through. Forget the liquid smoke. Please. I'm begging you here. "Don't taze me, bro!!"

                      1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
                      1/2 cup brown sugar
                      1 tablespoons kosher salt
                      1 tablespoons red pepper (crushed)
                      2 1/2 cps water
                      3/4 cup ketchup

                      Here's the rub I start with:
                      2 tbs paprika
                      1 tbs each brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, granulated sugar
                      2 tsp kosher salt
                      1.5 tsp black pepper
                      pinch cayenne

                      1. re: woodburner

                        Thanks woodburner! You da man!

                        I was thinking that creating my sauce from the brasing liquid would work well. Are you suggesting I prepare some sauce seperatly, then add to the braising liquid?

                        1. re: jmunn

                          I forgot to be explicit about that: I'm suggesting that some of the sauce for braising would be good, but that once it's cooked, there will be waaaaay to much fat coming out of the butt to allow it to be a good sauce. Sure, you could let it separate and pull the fat, but you'll find that virtually all of the "juice" is really fat. It is a hugely fatty piece of meat -- heavy, tough collagen-type fat -- that once the fat melts off, the meat is moist and delicious. I'm saying this is a case where you want to dump the "juice" from the pan, pull the pork, then add fresh, reserved sauce to the meat. I've done this maybe a hundred times LOL. If you want, try the pan juice on a little meat, and compare to some of the fresh sauce on another small bowl of meat, and go the way that works for you. And be sure to post your results for us.

                          1. re: woodburner

                            So I see... I was worried about all the fat that would end up in the remaining braise. I think I'll do as you suggested - some sauce on the side, and I'll attempt sauce from the braise. Thanks again! I'll post the results of the "sauce-off."

                            1. re: woodburner

                              There is a lot of really great flavor in that liquid. All you need is a gravy separator. Don't dump it!

                      2. Couple hours 'till go time.. Any final thoughts?

                        1. Well, I'm going to consider this a success, but there is definitely room for improvement. I started the thing cooking in the oven on 200F around midnight. I took it out today at noon. The inside of the dutch oven was all charry black. There was no liquid left. Just thick, hard char. Internal temp of the pork butt was about 205F. I took it out in about 4 pieces and wrapped in in tinfoil. The pork inside of the charry crust is awesome, but I ended up discarding a fair amount of char. I should have started checking the pork earlier. I made a great sauce with woodburner's previously suggested recipe and am about to eat my 5th sandwich now.

                          Thanks everyone for the advice!

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: jmunn

                            Glad it worked out (partially). I'm surprised that you had no liquid in there... after about 8 or so hours it would have started throwing off quite a bit of rendered fat and juice. I guess the covered dutch oven intensified the heat and led to that result. It was probably ready to come out after about 10 or 11 hours. At 205 internal, I'm sure the center was still moist and tender. Now you're ready for next time!

                            1. re: woodburner

                              I was wondering if the dutch oven could intensify heat. So even when the oven is set to a certain temp, it can become hotter in the dutch oven?

                              1. re: jmunn

                                No, it is not going to get hotter than the oven. But the moisture in the closed pot will transfer heat to the meat better than the dry air of the oven.

                                But I don't think that is the issue. With that long cooking, all the liquid evaporated and escaped from the pot. This includes both the liquid you started with and the juices rendered from the meat.

                                Did you take any special steps to improve the seal of the DO lid? For example, use foil or parchment paper under the lid? Seal the lid with a ring of pasty dough? Have you used this pot with other long braises, and observed how well it holds moisture?

                                Do you know how well your oven regulates heat? Is there a thermometer in the oven?


                                1. re: paulj

                                  The thing that confuses me is that a pork butt cooked in a smoker, at 200-250 for the same 10-12 hrs, will generate a fairly significant amount of fat and juice. The drip pan will have a good bit of fill when the meat comes off. Inside a dutch oven, where did that moisture go?

                                  1. re: woodburner

                                    I'm guessing it all evaporated due to a loose fitting lid.

                                    I have some pieces of cookware that I consider to have a tight fitting lids and their infamous for leaking cooking liquids. I think that's one of the reasons why I have problems cooking rice.

                                    BTW, great bbq sauce recipe. Damn, I love me some pulled pork and Carolina bbq sauce!

                                  2. re: paulj

                                    I didn't do anything to improve the seal. I have only used the dutch oven about five times previously, all on the stove top, and have not had any problems with moisture evaporating. My last two projects were pot roasts that I cooked for about 6hrs. a piece and they seemed to gain moisture.

                                    I also do not know how well my oven regulates heat. It does not have a thermometor, just a turn-dial where I set the temp.

                                    I have never heard of using foil, parchment paper, or pasty dough to improve the seal of the lid.

                                    1. re: jmunn

                                      Get a cheap oven thermometer and check your oven. There can even be large variations within the oven box itself.

                                      I consider myself an advanced cook and I'd be real nervous making this dish but I think you did a damn good job.

                                      The next time you'll do better and be smarter than the rest of us.

                                      1. re: Scagnetti

                                        Thanks Scagnetti.

                                        I think I'll be picking up a fresh pork butt tomorrow. I'm reseasoning the dutch oven now. Might try this one stove top.

                                        1. re: jmunn

                                          I think stovetop is a bad idea. the heat coming just from the bottom is not as even as the heat all around -- whether in an oven or in a smoker. You want even heat to carmelize and brown all sides of the butt, I think. I mentioned before, BBQ butts go into the smoker uncovered... just exposed to the heat. I would try it in the oven in a roasting pan, up off the bottom with the sliced onions mentioned below, uncovered, till it hits 200 degrees internal. Nice brown bark (crust) and moist on the inside.

                                          1. re: woodburner

                                            Searing the meat before adding liquid and closing the pot partially compensates for the browning that would happen in the oven. Stove top braising is a further step away from slow cooking in a smoker, but the meat can still be tender and tasty.

                                            For supper we just finished up a chunk of pork butt that I cooked in a pressure cooker, reheated in its own juices. Earlier we ate it with a home made BBQ sauce. I had initially cooked it with a fresh ham hock, which added body to the juices.


                                            1. re: woodburner

                                              Agree 100%. IMO needs to be braised in the oven with heat all around.

                                2. re: jmunn

                                  Congrats. As usual with something new you learn a lot the first time! Next time will be perfect!

                                  1. re: jmunn

                                    Next time check on the liquid and make sure it doesn't boil off. Also it doesn't need to cook for that long, IMO.

                                    And when you do have cooking liquid left over after it's cooked -- do NOt throw it away. Simply defat it with a gravy separator. It's hugely flavorful and helps ensure moist pulled pork when you add it back in/

                                  2. Here is how I do it here in Georgia.
                                    I take a Boston Butt and lay it in the crock pot on top of a layer of sliced onions. Turn heat on for as many hours as it takes to get done (I've used high temp, lower temp... it doesn't matter as long as it is done when I feel like pulling it). Nothing else added at that point. After it is cooked (and you can check it with a instant read if worried?) I take it out of all the broth and let it cool down a bit while I pour the liquid (save in case you want to use to moisten pork later) and onions off and wash out the crock. I then hand shred the meat removing every trace of fat and such, and make it into thin threads. I think hand shredding yields a nicer end product. I toss that back into the now clean crock pot and add equal amounts of : Franks Hot Wings Sauce, Maurices South Carolina style (mustard based) BBQ sauce and my own (or store bought) Kansas City style BBQ sauce. I've found that those three combined make the tastiest sauce, but I never add so much that it makes the pork "wet" and sloppy. Just enough to coat nicely. If it is too dry for some reason and I can add a bit of the pork liquid that I poured out of the crock pot from the cooking. Then I turn the crock on and let it all heat up again for a few hours. Serve on buns with cole slaw on top. That's some good eating! Great for a crowd.

                                    1. Just picked up a 10 lb'er... Here we go again.

                                      4 Replies
                                        1. re: woodburner

                                          I used a rub like last time. After 24hrs. I made a thick glaze with apple cider vigegar, brown sugar, molasses, and spices. I covered the butt with the glaze and browned on my bbq. This formed a great golden brown carmel coating. Then I made my brasing liquid with apple cider vinegar, water, hot sauce, worshterchire, spices, and put the butt in. I put the dutch oven in the oven at about 180F and let it go for 10hrs, removing the butt at 205F internal temp. I checked it after 3hrs, and 8hrs and was not loosing any moisture this time. Perfection!! After removing the butt, I was able to skim the fat from the remaining liquid and make an awesome sauce from it using your suggested ingredients again. The meat from the outer carmel crust is unbeleivable... I really like the glaze idea I came up with. I have a serious pulled pork surplus now. I froze a bunch of it in the sauce and some of it without... Contemplating some tacos in the future.

                                          Thanks for helping me out through this.

                                          Short ribs are next!

                                          1. re: jmunn

                                            The fact that the meat got up to 205 with the oven set at 180 means the oven actually runs hotter than the setting.

                                            1. re: jmunn

                                              I just cooked a pork shoulder (fresh picnic ham), but with more of Latin American twist. It was 6 lb, with half of the lower leg bone, so too large for any closed pot. It came with a factory brine.

                                              Several hours before cooking, I stabbed it, and covered it with rub make of bitter orange juice, crushed garlic, and spices like smoked paprika, black pepper, all spice, and cinnamon. I figured the factory brine had plenty of salt. Some recipes call for working the rub deep into the meat, and letting it sit for 24 to 48 hrs.

                                              I roasted it at 300F for about 4 hrs, partially covered with foil, turned it a couple of times, and basted with the drippings. By the time I pulled it at 180, it had a beautiful mahogany color.

                                              I liked the result; inner meat was still quite juicy, outer drier. All a bit on the salty side (due to the brine), and well flavored. It was, so degree or other, pernil. The Puerto Rican version has been discussed here, though I was aiming more toward the Ecuadorian version, with is supposed to be drier and more intensely flavored, and served as a ham or sandwich meat.