Step 4 to my pulled pork process deals with smoke and the cooking process.
Part 4 – Smoke if You Got ‘Em!
Screw all of this prep. It is time to cook!!! How do you get this raw mass of porky potential to its smoky success? It’s all about applying smoke and heat in the right quantity. First we prep the meat.
Take your brining bucket out of the fridge and place the pork in a pan. Grab a wad of paper towels and pat the outside of the pork dry. Do not skip this step! Dry the outside of shoulder thoroughly. This will ensure the rub adheres to the outside for a good crust. Many cooks will also apply yellow mustard to the outside for an enhanced layer of flavor and to help the rub stick. I am not a fan of this for my shoulder, but for ribs it is a must. Let the meat rest and warm up a bit by staying on the counter.
Its time to kick the tires and light the fires. For my smoker its a fairly easy process, however once I light the match it requires regular supervision. I light a chimney of charcoal as a beginning later of coals. Once the coals are ashy gray, I dump them in the bottom of my firebox. Then its time to add wood. What type do you ask? There are many choices that add different flavor profiles. Some of the most popular:
Hickory – My favorite wood to use. It adds a deep bacon type smoke that is great with beef and pork. It tends to overwhelm chicken and poultry. It can be too strong for some.
Pecan – Similar profile to hickory but not nearly as strong. Pecan is a great all around wood and flavors most meats well.
Apple – A fruity type of wood that gives meat a slightly sweeter smoke. Goes great with pork and poultry.
Mesquite – Although popular Mesquite is not a smoke I enjoy. It can leave a slimy type aftertaste to BBQ. Many Mesquite BBQ restaurants must clean chimneys and vents yearly from the dense sludge the smoke leaves behind. Many question the effects of Mesquite smoke on the body and its safety. Be careful!
There are many others to consider. Cherry, Oak, Maple, and Walnut are options too. Research the flavor profiles and experiment with different woods to get the taste you want. My smoker is a stick burner meaning chunks and small logs only. I do not use pellets or chips as they burn quickly in my firebox and will not give enough smoke. My smoker is built for sticks and chunks. Pellet smokers smolder wooden disks for the smoke flavor. Ceramic smokers burn charcoal where the smoke flavor is given by wood chips. Learn your smoker and perfect the mix of wood and charcoal needed (if any). Determine what blend gives you the temps needed to properly cook your food.
Which brings us to time and temp. How long will a 9 pound pork butt take to cook? I really don’t know. It’s done when it’s done. You have to maintain the proper temps to get your food fixed. Most pork butts cook at 1 to 1.5 hours per pound. So my 9 pound shoulder takes 9 to 14 hours to cook if I can support a steady temperature of 215 to 230 degrees.
Once my smoker hits the range, its time to grab the pork off the counter. Place the butt in the smoker and grab the probe from your thermometer. Place the probe in the thickest part of the meat. Do not go through the other side. Do not hit bone. Both will give you false readings and bad pulled pork. After getting our pork in and set, close the door and leave it closed! Maintain your temp and watch your firebox. This is why a good thermometer for your smoker is key.
We have a few hours til chow time, so lets consider sauces.