Step 6 to my pulled pork process deals with finishing the cook.
Part 6 – Bring on the ‘cue
It’s time to get to eating! You’ve brined, rubbed, prepped, smoked, and sauced. Let’s get this done!
As mentioned earlier, the secret to good pulled pork is temperature. By maintaining proper smoker temperature you’ve cooked your pork butt low and slow. If you kept your smoker to 225 degrees, your pork shoulder cooks around 60 to 90 minutes per pound. Our goal is removing the pork at 200 degrees, no more…no less. If people ask you when it’s ready, give them the proper response, “BBQ is ready when it’s ready.”
Watch the probe thermometer in addition to the smoker thermometer. If you look closely, the pork will indicate the breakdown of connective tissue and fat into juicy goodness. How? Well it has to do with the low and slow method. Pretend you want to quickly cook a pork shoulder. Say cooking it at 400 degrees instead of 225. It would be juicy but tough. You must give time for the fat and connective tissues to slowly breakdown on the way to our goal of 200 degrees. For the first several hours the temperature will slowly rise hour by hour. Once you hit 160 or so, you will notice a big drop off. The temperature will stop rising. Is it still smoking? Yes!! But you have hit a huge wall in the cooking process. When I cooked this pork, that wall was 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours at 165 degrees. But once past this process, it will begin to slowly rise again. You may notice an additional delay around 180 degrees. That is ok. It’s finishing the slow process of getting to 200.
So the pork is finally at 200. This 8 pounder took 11 hours to get to 200 degrees. You may think it is time to eat, but not so fast! It has to rest. Grab your insulated BBQ gloves and place the pork in a pan. Cover your pork with foil. Place the pan in a cold oven for 45 minutes. Some rest for 30 minutes, some an hour. Many suggest a small cooler instead of an oven. That works too. The point is you have to let it rest. Like a good steak, you want to allow the meat to rest so the juices can redistribute. This keeps a majority of the tasty juices in the meat instead of the bottom of your pan. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!! It smells awesome and you will be so tempted to tear into the shoulder. Resist temptation. You will be rewarded.
Once fully rested, get your grub on! Take out that pan and your BBQ Gloves. First, pull the shoulder blade out of the side of the Butt. See how cleanly it came out! That means your low and slow method worked. This will also give you the first glimpse of the meat and the smoke ring. A good smoker will put a nice pink smoke ring around the outside layer of meat under the bark or crust. If you look on the shoulder blade, there is a small groove or channel. Sometimes there is meat inside this groove. Take your finger and scrape it out. This is your first sample of a hard day’s work. After bone removal, literally squash the pork with your hands (gloves on!). It is still very hot so be careful. You will notice the meat will easily shred apart. Some use forks, claws or other hardware. To me, I can shred the pork in about 3 to 4 minutes with my hands. And it’s time to eat!
That is it! Wasn’t it worth it? A day of smoking and cooking that pork paid off. If you are nice, you may have shared some with your spouse, friends, bros, or chicks. That is what I love about BBQ. Friends beers and good food. Don’t forget to experiment. Again, rubs, sauces, and wood types can change the flavor profile of your pork. That is the fun of it! Once you get your process down, you will be hooked. I hope you found this helped elevate your pork. Good luck and good ‘cue!