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Smoking a boston butt for pulled pork

I am sort of new to the "smoking" scene. I smoked my first butt on the gas grill using foil smoke packets and indirect heat. It turned out perfectly. Now have a Brinkmann electric smoker and have done three more since then. The second using the grill method and the last two on the smoker.

Have not had a decent one since the first one I did! Was that just beginners luck?
Yesterday smoked one on the electric smoker, about 4.5-5 lbs for 5 hours. Got to an internal temp of about 190 degrees. Perfect smoke ring. Wrapped it tightly in foil for about two hours and sat it in a dry cooler to "rest".
Bone did not come out cleanly, meat seemed fatty and would not shred.
This is the same thing that happened with butts 2 and 3.
What am I doing wrong???

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  1. You're not waiting long enough. Instead of believing your thermometer, next time grab the bone with a pair of tongs and give it a pull. If it comes out cleanly, it's done. If not, put the cover back on the cooker and let it go for another hour, then test again. Repeat until the bone comes out.

    A 5 lb butt at 275F should take more like 8-10 hours.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ricepad

      Thanks! I'll give that a try! Is there any way to look at the boston butt when you purchase it to make sure it is a better cut than another? Just wondering.

      1. re: ShannonF

        You mean as they sit in the meat counter? Generally speaking, a butt is a butt is a butt. Unless you're going to spring for, say, a Mangalitsa or Kurobuta butt.

        1. re: ricepad

          Yes, I was referring to how it looks in the meat counter.... just wondering. thanks

    2. I agree with Ricepad, it just needs more time. I usually do about 5 hrs on the smoker, then finish it in the oven at about 200 for another 2 hours or so.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jeanmarieok

        In my experience, the best butts turn out when smoked at 225°F, 250°F-ish also yields decent results. The goal is to render the fat sloooowly. Fruit woods (apple, cherry, etc) are my preference for flavor, but too much wood on the coals can give a bitter taste to the meat. Purists go for long smokes 10+hours, often overnight smokes. Many like to foil around 160°F-ish, when the meat stalls, and then take the meat out of the smoker when the bone wiggles freely, and even slides right out (usually about 190°F-205°F internal temp).

        Temps may be harder to control with an electric smoker, but if you know your gear well, you probably know how to regulate the temps to your liking. Resting for a few hours in a cooler (wrap the meat in foil and towels and fill the dead space with crumpled newspaper) finishes the process and should give you a butt that pulls easily.

        There are ways to do butts "hot and fast" at temps as high as 350°, you might want to experiment with foiling as mentioned above if trying this method. Obviously the time taken to cook will be shorter. I have even heard of some people doing a butt on a rotisserie.

        Hope this helps!

        [Sorry, I just noted that you were using a gas grill or electric smoker, so pardon the recs about smoking with charcoal. The point is the temps, which you should still be able to manage with your equipment].

      2. You might check out Alton brown smoking a boston butt with an electric smoker. He recommends 225 degrees F for 8 - 12 hours although you don't have to keep up the smoke that long. 4 hours is plenty. I would recommend smearing it with mustard and then applying a dry rub. Don't worry the smoke will get through.

        After the 4 hours in the smoker, you can wrap it in foil and continue in the smoker without the wood chips or move it to the oven (foil wrapped) for a few hours.

        I do agree with ricepad. Don't stop cooking it until the bone is loose.

        Even if you overcook it, the pork won't be dry. There is a lot of fat plus the collagen that you have been breaking down absorbs liquid so it won't be dry.

        1. Your pork butt is undercooked. The only thing you should use your thermometer for is to probe the meat for tenderness. It should slide in and out with no resistance. Additionally, you should be able to loosen the bone with just a slight tug.

          Don't look at the thermometer reading, and don't worry too much about cooking temperature. People cook pork butts as high as 300-325f and still turn out good barbecue. (I try to target 250-300 myself).

          2 Replies
          1. re: bagofwater

            I agree. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

            I have the same Elec. Brinkmann as the OP and have never had a problem. (I call my Brinkmann R2-D2. LOL.)

            Smoker is designed to hold an even 250 temp. and includes water bowl. I use chunk hardwood, usually hickory or apple wood.

            I suggest smoking the butt to 200 degrees internal temp or pull off smoker at 175 and finish in the oven to 200 internal temp covered in foil. Let rest at least 30 minutes to an hour and then pull.

            1. re: jjjrfoodie

              thanks to ALL!! @ Hank... I did do the mustard coating before the rub. I like that method.

              I felt like it was undercooked, but after 5 hours and a temp on my thermometer of 190, I really thought it was done! Think the "bone test" is the best method. Thanks for all the tips! Not going to give up and I'll let you all know how the next one turns out.

          2. This is an awesome thread and very helpful. After reading it and rereading it a few more times, I smoked a whole shoulder a few weeks ago. I smoked a 7 lb. bone-in boston butt and it turned out beautifully.

            I did 40 brickets in a chimney till they were white and then piled them on one side of my grate. I soaked hickory chunks (not small chips, fist-sized chunks) in water for an hour, and threw them on top of the coals. I had no foil pan with water. I put the shoulder, which had been out of the fridge for one hour, on the side of the grill opposite the coals in a sturdy, disposable foil casserole, and capped the grill. I monitored the temp closely, keeping it right at 300. After an hour or two, we added 8-10 unlit coals to the grey coals in the grill to maintain heat, and capped the grill again.

            After three hours on the grill, I put it in the oven at 300 degrees for three hours. After three hours in the oven, and a total of six hours cooking, I pulled it out and tested using the bone wriggle method. Sure enough, the bone could have slipped right out, but just to be safe, I tested with a thermometer and it read 200. I let it rest covered in foil for three hours (my pals were running late) and when we finally pulled it, it was still very hot.

            The results were amazing. It required no sauce, some of us splashed a little chili vinegar on it tableside, but it was perfectly smokey and moist on its own.

            Thanks to all for the suggestions, and happy bbqing!

            2 Replies
            1. re: fisherdm

              I see it's in a foil tray. When you're done smoking and everything, pour the liquid in the bottom of the tray into a measuring cup (or fat separator if you have one). KEEP THAT FAT. It's basically smoked lard. Awesome stuff. First and foremost I use it when making the beans for a side dish.

              I don't season my shoulders but use my Q seasoning and the fat removed juice mixed together as a sauce that I mix in. Not a whole lot though.


              1. re: Davwud

                Killer tip. I didn't know what to do with that liquid gold the last time, but since I'm doing another this weekend, you can bet I'll put it to good use. Cheers!

            2. Your problem seems to be your smoking temp is too low for the time your smoking the meat. If your only going for 4.5-5 hrs I keep my smoker at 350-400. The best way I have found with pretty consistent results (with wood smoke in a fire box not electric or propane) is to go 7 hrs at 300-350 with the first four hours with out foil and the last 2.5 - 3hrs wrapped in foil with a stick of butter. You won't regret it.

              1. I would suggest NOT relying on time. Too many factors affect the time it takes your meat to reach internal temperature -> size, weather, humidity, elevation, etc.

                Your therm could have been in a fat pocket or against the bone, not cleanly in the muscle. Pay close attention to your placement- it allows you to trust your temp and back it up by testing the bone as others have suggested.

                Another thing to think about is that collagen begins to break down at 160, the longer you can keep it above 160 without over-cooking the better (the science behind "low & slow"). I typically smoke at 200-225 until 170 internal temp. I'll foil and throw back on until 195-200. Pull it out, drain juices (save them until pulling), rewrap, and let sit for at least an hour.

                Helpful link: http://www.scienceofcooking.com/meat/...

                1. I cook my butts at 220-230 and get the internal temp above 200...I shoot for 203. I agree with ricepad...should take a good 8-10 or maybe longer if you keep the oven temp around 220-230. I've cooked a few from 5-12 lbs. and going with the internal temp at 203 they have come out perfect. I also don't wrap them but pull them about 30 mins after taking them out. My 12 lb Butts took about almost 18 hours. I'm using a Bradley Smoker (4 rack). Hope this helps.

                  I will kick it up about 10 degrees at a time to 250 if i'm getting close to serving time. Usually only after I hit 190 tho.