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Jul 7, 2009 04:23 PM

First time making pulled pork. [Moved from Midwest]

I'm having a mojito party this weekend and I'm going to make pulled pork to go along with the drinks. I've never made "real" pulled pork before and I'm wondering how long it will need to smoke. The party starts at 6 so I'd like to have the pork done an hour or so beforehand. I think about 15 people are coming so I was going to start with about 20lbs of bone in pork shoulder (thinking about going to costco for this since thats where I'm getting the other supplies - thoughts?)

Can you guys give me any hints to make this go smoothly?

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  1. Search for Will Owens recipe in the middle of the "American BBQ in England" thread. Great instructions for a marvelous meal of porky goodness. There are additional tips on a thread called "Help with my Tough Pork Shoulder" [halfway down for a substantial discussion of many philosophies.]

    1. What sort of 'smoking' gear do you have?

      To fit with mojitos, how about cuban style pork, rather than Carolina style smoked pork? It is still slow roasted, and pulled (shreaded), but the seasoning is more along the line of orange (bitter if possible) and cumin, rather than smoky.

      1 Reply
      1. re: paulj

        I'm not sure actually - I'm borrowing the gear from a friend. I'll ask him and get back to you.

      2. if you plan on cooking at 225-250 in a smoker, you might consider starting the night before just to be sure. a 7 lb butt at 225 can take over 10 hours to cook to 205 degrees (although can get to 185 more quickly, if that's where you want it).

        2 Replies
        1. re: tommy

          I have a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, and in fact, just smoked a picnic yesterday. At 225-250, it took 12 hours for a 10 pound picnic to reach 192. Anything over 190 should result in fall off the bone, pullable pork. I try to keep under 210 to prevent dry meat. Anything under 190 and it will be cooked in the center, but will slice like a beef roast, not fall apart into pullable shreds. Just be aware, the meat will plateau at some point under 190 while the energy from the heat source is melting the collagen instead of raising the meat temperature. It varies, but yesterday, my picnic got to 178, then stayed there for 2 hours without moving a bit.. Don't freak out- that's supposed to happen.

          1. re: sbp

            PS: take the skin off the shoulder before you smoke -- otherwise, you won't get a "bark" (crust) on the meat and the smoke won't penetrate as well. I keep the skin , trim off the fat and let it cook on the side. Chewy but delicious.

        2. I cook in a WSM. A 9 pound butt will take about 14 hours. I cooked one for the 4th and let it go all night. Once done to 195F, I wrapped in foil and put it into a dry cooler. It stayed hot for 3 hours. Once the party was ready to start, I pulled and sauced. Came out great.

          1. Bone in shoulder will take roughly 1.5 hours per pound. I do it all the time. If you want a good guide for smoked pork shoulder go to and read the pulled pork smoke "sticky"

            When mine gets to an internal temp of 165 I double wrap it in foil and finish it in the oven set at 250 until it hits an internal temp of 205 to 210. You don't need to have it in your smoker past 165 as it won't enhance the flavor any further. I then let it rest for at least an hour. The best thing to do is make it a day or more ahead. I usually do butts around 8 pounds and after it's completed I freeze the meat in 1 lb portions. It keeps well.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Den

              If I have 2 separate shoulders is it 1.5 hours per total pound, or 1.5 hours per pound of the largest piece?

              1. re: Den

                As Den and a few others have suggested, better to do it the night before. Otherwise, you ahve to get up in the wee hours of the morning, stressing out about time possibly, and not being completely rested for when your guests arrive.

                If you do it overnight, you can wrap it in foil, then wrap in towels and put in a cooler. It will stay warm for several hours.
                And as others have mentioned, the temp can get stuck at 170-180 for several hours. That's normal. Once the collagen breaks down, your temperature starts dropping in a pretty normal fashion.

                Again, your equipment details would help. If you're using a gas BBQ and cooking indirect, it can add to the time of your cook since you're opening the lid a few times to replace the smoke pouches.

                Be sure to trim excess fat from the outside. As sbp mentioned, you want bark formation and skin or fat prevents this. There's enough internal fat to keep the meat moist, so don't worry about that.

                If you're uncomfortable cooking the stuff overnight, then I'd suggest cutting the shoulder into 3-4 lb pieces. I've had successfully made pulled pork with smaller pieces on several occasions. It cooks faster. In some ways, I prefer the smaller pieces because you get more bark.

                Oh, and in terms of total lbs of meat, figure on about 30% lost weight due to the butts shrinking during the long cooking process. Plus you have to factor into the weight of the bone.

                1. re: grandgourmand

                  If I cook overnight how often will I need to wake up and add more charcoal?

                  1. re: kyleboon

                    Again, what is your equipment? If you have a WSM, you'll probably need to wake up 2-3x to go check the temps. You'll do so naturally since it's your first time and will likely be paranoid. It won't be a restful night, even if the WSM is a reliable smoker that arguably doesn't need to be checked at all.

                    If you're using an offset smoker (smoke box sitting next to the grill part) then likely more times. I don't have one of these, but all my research has made me aware that offset smokers require a lot more babysitting, day or night.

                    If you have an electric smoker, probably don't have to check anything.

                    1. re: grandgourmand

                      It's not a WSM, but it is a similar shape, and it isn't electric. I'm trying to ask my friend exactly what it is. I'll publish that ASAP.

                      1. re: kyleboon

                        Let me ask you a question...isn't this at least a little ambitious a project for a party, for the first time, with borrowed equipment...just wondering if you hit your head somewhere?

                        If you want to make great tasting Memphis style Q, here's a recipe we developed before getting a smoker. You'll be a hero and save a lot of brain damage...

                        • 2 ½ - 3 lb pork roast, shoulder or loin;
                        • 3 tbs cider vinegar;
                        • 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce;
                        • 1 tsp ground cumin or chili powder;
                        • ½ cup water;
                        • 1 recipe BBQ sauce or 3 ½ cups bottled BBQ sauce;
                        • Salt and pepper, to taste.

                        Trim fat from the roast and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the meat in a Dutch oven or Le Creuset pot. Combine the cider vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin and water in a bowl and pour over the meat. Put the lid on the pot and place it in the oven for 6 or so hours at 275°. Turn the meat over about every 2 hours and make sure there’s enough liquid (if not add more water). When done, either chop the meat or use two forks and shred the meat. Put meat back in the pot and add 2 cups of BBQ sauce and heat it through on the stove.

                        BBQ Sauce:
                        • 2 ½ cups catsup;
                        • 1 cup finely chopped onion;
                        • ¼ cup brown sugar;
                        • 3 tbs Pickapeppa Sauce (or Worcestershire);
                        • 3 cloves garlic, minced;
                        • ¼ tsp hot pepper sauce or Tabasco.

                        Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for about 15 or so minutes, stirring occasionally.

                        1. re: Den

                          i totally agree that this is a bit ambitious. while bbq pork butt is one of the easiest pieces of meat to bbq, going into this as a novice with the hopes of supplying food for a party is a recipe for disaster. cook it ahead of time. a day or two. if it's good refrigerate it. if it's not go buy some hot dogs (skin on, of course), and call it a day.

                          1. re: tommy

                            I would still do it. Have a backup plan just in case (hot dogs). Part of the fun of hosting a dinner party, and one where people are loaded up on mojitos, is if you pull off a successful Q, you'll be a hero. If not, it becomes a source of entertainment.

                            But overall, as long as you do your research, I don't think pulled pork is that ambitious. In fact, it's one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to serve a large group (if you know what you're doing). That + coleslaw and hamburger buns, and you're rockin'.

                            So if you're deadset on doing a pulled pork, I'd consider:

                            -doing it in advance and reheating; or
                            -starting in the wee hours of the morning, getting it up to 165 and finishing in the oven
                            -maybe avoid bone-in, which can affect your times

                            I don't think I'd do an overnight cook my first attempt.

                            As an aside, I tried to make a pulled pork on my gas BBQ a few years ago for my own birthday. It turned out a disaster. It didn't pull, and I was way too drunk to salvage it properly. However, everyone had a good time regardless. And I hadn't done any meaningful research, and expected it would be done in 6 hours. Fast forward to earlier this year, another party, full of research and proper equipment, pulled it off without a hitch.

                    2. re: kyleboon

                      It's 1.5 hours per pound of any given hunk of meat, not the total number of hunks. That's an estimate, though, since every shoulder is different as far as density(think steroids vs. 98 pound weakling). You really are better off with a thermometer. For about $35, you can buy a relatively inexpensive remote unit. You plunk one end into the meat, set the temp on the remote end (in your kitchen, family room, wherever). When it hits that temp, it alarms.

                      I've done 14 hour cooks and never had to change the coals or do anything. It depends on the equipment (bullet shaped smokers generally hold a temp consistently). There is something called "the Minion method" that helps. You lay about half the coals UNLIT in the smoker. Then you fill a chimney with coals and light them. When those coals are ready, you pour on top of the unlit, drop a few hunks of wood on. This keeps the coals going low and slow for a long time. see for a good guide. If you're halfway on top of things, you CAN do a good job first time.

                      1. re: sbp

                        ime though, first timers really do tend to screw up, just from lack of experience-- lifting the lid to look, being too timid or too generous about the amount of coal required. . . and in an unfamiliar smoker, to boot (they are all different). i'd attempt a few days ahead of the party. if it works out, great. if not, have a backup plan and don't worry/stress about it. either way, post pictures :)

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          Oh, sure, I would recommend cooking ahead too -- it certainly keeps well, and if you're pulling and mixing with a thin sauce, you can even reheat well in the microwave on low heat. My first attempt I didn't have a thermometer, and after 10 hours, I figured "it MUST be done." It wasn't -- didn't shred all the way through. But it was still delicious. Butts aren't very hard.