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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Barbecuing Pork Shoulder

Pulled pork and chopped pork are a staple of almost all barbecue regions, particularly South Carolina and Tennessee. Whether shredded up and topped with a thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce or chopped up and pile high on a sandwich with a spicy vinegar sauce and topped with cole slaw, pork shoulder is delicious.

Of course, the best way to get pulled or chopped pork is by doing whole hog barbecue. This way, the juices of all meat portions, including the bacon cuts, seep into each other as it cooks. As we all know, bacon is one of the greatest things ever.

However, a smoker that can handle a 100 pound pig is not a luxury most of us possess (and yes, usually such smaller pigs are used). Pork shoulder (also called pork butt for some reason) is the next best thing. This one is inspired by Carolina barbecue, with a thin, very peppery sauce. As usual, measurements are approximate, so tailor it to your own liking.


Bone-in pork shoulder, if you can find it


One cup vinegar (cheap stuff is fine)
One cup water
Two tablespoons salt
Two tablespoons sugar
A few dashes of hot sauce if you like

Half cup apple cider vinegar
Half cup white vinegar
Tablespoon dijon mustard
Tablespoon brown sugar
Two teaspoons black pepper
Teaspoon cumin
Teaspoon garlic powder
Teaspoon onion powder
Teaspoon paprika
Teaspoon ground mustard


1. Obtain bone-in pork shoulder if you can. These generally weigh 8+ pounds. Do not trim off the fat, but rather score it with a knife.

2. Prepare your brine. Boil a cup of water, a cup of vinegar, and two tablespoons each of salt and sugar, let it cool, then set the pork shoulder in a container with this mixture. Try to find a container that allows the mixture to cover the meat.

3. Fire up your smoker with a medium batch of coals, plus some soaked hickory wood chunks... or whatever wood you like. You'll probably need to light a few small batches of coals as the pork cooks.

4. Pork shoulder does not necessarily need a thick rub like the one pictured on the left, especially if it's been brined, as a lot of Carolina chopped pork recipes include a zippy blend of vinegar and spices added after cooking. It all depends on the recipe, and all styles are valid!

5. Cook for about an hour per pound, adding coals when the heat goes down. At a temperature of about 225-250 degrees, it should take about an hour per pound. The pork shoulder will be done when a dark crust, or "bark," covers the meat. It may appear burnt, but it isn't. Internal temperature should be about 195 Fahrenheit.  Wrap in tinfoil after the first 4 hours or so.

6. Let meat rest about 10-15 minutes. It may not necessarily fall apart easily and be fork or finger shreddable, unless you wrap it in foil and cook for an additional hour or two at a higher temp. We like to do that, but it's fine to pull apart segments and chop the meat up with a cleaver. This is NOT cheating! Real barbecue gurus do this all the time.


This sauce need not be cooked.

1. Combine all dry spices and mix up with your fingers to break up brown sugar lumps.

2. Mix vinegar and mustard together with whisk or spoon until well blended.

3. Mix in dry spices. Pour everything over the chopped pork and mix it all up. Try the chopped pork on a sandwich roll with mustardy cole slaw.

GOT YOUR OWN PULLED PORK OR CAROLINA CHOPPED PORK RECIPE? Send it to Sizzle Grove. Don't forget to snap some pics!

(Raw pork shoulder photo licensed by Creative Commons)


Janelle said...

I ADORE pulled pork, especially with a vinegary sauce on top of it. I'll have to try yours, and I'll send you the one I've had :)

Nick said...

Absolutely send it to us, Janelle!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure this is good, but you have a few details backwards, if you want better results a few minor tweaks would produce much tastier yield.

Wrap in foil later, not earlier. Pork shoulder takes in more smoke flavor early. Once the temp hits around 140-150 it won't take as much. Foiling early prohibits the best flavor. Wrapping later helps retain moisture during the last leg of the cook, not the beginning.