Pork Smoked to Perfection

Carnivores, of which I am one, tend to appreciate smoked goods. One of my favorites is what I call PSP – Pork Smoked to Perfection. In fact, I like it so much that I make it in two different forms; we will go over both in this post. Pork shoulder, which may be known as Boston butt or pork butt depending on your locale, is an ideal cut for this dish. It’s an upper part of the shoulder from the front leg; it may be boneless or contain a blade bone – either will do. They come in various sizes, and any will work perfectly; if you are new to smoking techniques, you may want to start with a smaller piece and ramp up to a larger one when master the recipe. Times mentioned in the recipe are approximate, just to give you an idea of how long it will take for your meal to arrive; the exact degree of doneness will be determined by the internal meat temperature. That guarantees the perfection promised in the title.

That reminds me – get a reliable meat thermometer if you want your creations to taste like perfectly done juicy meat instead of moving toward a cardboard taste. There are all kinds of meat thermometers available; if you go for a simple one, make sure it’s capable of quick measurement, so you don’t have to keep the lid open for too long. That’s something many of them promise but few deliver. It also needs a thin probe allowing accurate use on thin cuts, like steaks and chops. That said, you don’t have to spend a fortune for a reliable and quick thermometer; this one, for instance, does the job perfectly.

You also need to be familiar with the concept of indirect heat for cooking on your grill. If it’s an unfamiliar method for you, or you feel you need a refresher, there is a perfect article for that at my favorite site for all things grilled, smoked, and barbecued.

Optional but very tasty step: cut two garlic cloves like this:

Insert a thin-blade knife in the pork shoulder, turn it slightly to widen the hole and insert garlic slivers in. If the meat is thick, insert two slivers in each hole vertically, to cover more of the thickness. In the image below, they are shown peeking through for the illustration purposes; don’t leave them like this, but push them deeper instead.

Pork with garlic prepared for smoking

Get the fire going on one side, take the temperature to about 220 F (105 C), add wood chips (don’t bother soaking them) and put the meat in. I use charcoal Weber and trims from my backyard trees – apple, pear, cherry, or plum. Hickory is great too.

Backyard smoker going

Whatever you use, do NOT rely on the thermometer in the lid. The difference between its indication and actual temperature at the grid level can be large. This is what you are aiming for:

Oven thermometer

As you can tell, mine is getting a lot of use.

In about 30 minutes add another portion of wood chips. Let the smoking process go for about 2 hours overall, making sure that temperature stays between 220 and 240 F. From this moment on, you have two options (remember, I promised two recipes in one?).

First is straightforward. Check the meat internal temperature (depending on the piece size, initial temperature etc, it’s likely to be about 100 F at this point), and continue cooking making sure the temperature in the grill stays in the same range. Add charcoal if needed; do NOT add any more wood chips. Your meat will be done to absolute perfection at 140-145 F:

Meat thermometer

and will look like this:

Smoked pork shoulder

When you cut it, this is how it looks:

Cut smoked pork shoulder

Now, look at this close-up and pay attention to the bright ring right under the crust. This is highly prized smoke ring – sign of a smoked meat done just right:

Cut smoked pork shoulder, close-up

With me still, or stopped reading and went to cook?

OK, here is the second way you can finish this dish. You see, the smoking process in a sense of imparting smoked scent and flavor is over within first 1-2 hours; after that, it’s just cooking. So, suppose you want a pulled pork, or you run out of charcoal, or rain starts. Or you have other things to worry about than checking on a grill and meat temperature periodically. Then you simply stop the smoking at this point and take your meat inside, plop it in a slow cooker and run it on high for 3-4 hours or low for 5-6. If you see a similarity the Hawaiian pulled pork we made earlier – you are correct, this is the same idea. You won’t need any fancy additions from that recipe, though – no banana leaves or liquid smoke. The flavors your meat took in during smoking will require nothing else but the salt to taste – you may have noticed that salt hasn’t entered our process yet. Just as with that Kalua pig, shred the meat with forks or claws when done, sprinkle with juices from the slow cooker and with salt.


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