Pulled Pork

I've always wanted to barbecue Pulled Pork but never did since it sounded so daunting and difficult.  And although it does take a while, it is totally worth the effort!

Yum.  Does this look great or what!  Pulled Pork hot off the barbecue just waiting for a bun, cole slaw and barbecue sauce.  What a treat!

Pork is pulled and ready for a great meal!

The meat is inexpensive and the process is very forgiving. You will enjoy a great pork fest!  I cook on either my Traeger or Memphis pellet grills, generally using 100% Hickory pellets.  The meat ends up with a great smoke flavor and is incredible.

What you need:

1 Pork Shoulder Picnic 8-10 lb
or Boston Butt, approx 5 lb.
Merlin's Magic Rub or other dry rub
Apple Juice
Apple Cider Vinegar
Injection Mix (see separate recipe)

Meat Thermometer
Oven Thermometer (not the one built-in to the grill)
The keys to success: 1) Inject marinade into the meat and apply dry rub, 2) Cook low and slow,  3) maintain 225F-240F, 4) season after pulling and 4) be Patient!

You really cannot ruin pulled pork as long as you cook it "low and slow" and take it off the smoker when the meat reaches 190F.  The question is merely how delicious it will be!

If this is the main meal, you'll want to end up with 6-8 oz of pork ready to serve per person.  I've found that a 9-10 lb. bone-in pork shoulder will make about 4 1/2 lbs of meat. A 5 lb. Boston Butt will make about 3 lb of meat. Govern yourself accordingly!
This 9 lb pork butt is rubbed and ready for the grill
To prepare a pork shoulder, trim the "pigskin", the heavy skin, and leave a cap of fat. The fat cap will baste the meat and give it flavor. For a Boston Butt, just trim any excess fat on the exterior.  A few hours before cooking, inject with marinade (see "Injection" recipe) and rub with Merlin's Magic rub (see "Rub" recipe) or with your favorite rub.  Cover all the meat with the rub and make sure to get the rub in all the folds and cracks.

Let the meat sit out of the refrigerator for up to two hours at room temperature. Place it fat side up on the grill.  The fat will baste the meat.

Cook Low and Slow
If you are using a pellet grill with a digital controller, set the controller to 225F.  After it starts up, put the meat on the grill and close the cover. Make sure the hopper is filled, and check it half way through the cooking.  On a smoker or other cooker, start the fire and flavor wood and maintain temperatures between 225F and 250F.

You do not want the smoker temperature to exceed 250F for any length of time.  If the temp falls a little below 225F that's OK but it will take longer to cook. If the temperature exceeds 250F for an extended time the meat will cook faster and will not be as tender as it should be.  Low and slow cooking tenderizes and sweetens the meat because the interior temperature of the meat rises very slowly.

To monitor the temperature of both the smoker and the meat I use a Maverick Model ET-73 thermometer.  It has two probes and a remote display so I can monitor the smoker and meat temperatures from inside the house.  Do Not open the smoker any more than is absolutely minimally necessary.

Maintain Patience!  Do not increase the heat in order to speed up the process. Have a beer.  Have a drink.  But maintain patience.

Spritzing / Basting / Mopping

Spritzing, basting or mopping is controversial.  Some people swear it helps the meat retain more moisture and that apple juice adds flavor.  Some swear it is a waste of time and that opening and closing the smoker, along with the basting sauce cooling the meat, just adds time to the process.  I have done both ways, and my conclusion is that no basting works just as well as basting.

But if you have the need to baste or mop, here's how: About 3 hours into cooking start basting with a combination of 8 parts apple juice to 1 part apple cider vinegar. If you use apple juice too early in the process the bark might burn because of the sugar in apple juice.  A plastic spray bottle works well to spritz.  Baste every couple of hours.

When a meat thermometer registers 190F in the deepest part of the meat, it's ready. Remove from the grill and let it sit for 30-60 minutes.  Use two forks (or "Bear Claws") to pull the meat.  You'll find that this is the tenderest pork you'll ever make and the meat will absolutely fall off the bone.  You'll know it's done because the bone will slide out, clean of meat.

If you want to store the meat for a while before pulling, wrap it in aluminum foil and place it wrapped in towels inside an ice chest.  This will hold the pork for at least 3 and possibly up to 6 hours at an adequate temperature, over 140F.  (Under 140F becomes a health danger).

Nice bark and ready to pull!
The reason that such an inexpensive cut of meat becomes so delicious is that the "low and slow" cooking renders the fat and breaks down the collagen, the connective tough tissues, into sugars.  This all happens around the 150-160F cooking level.  So the process tenderizes the meat and makes it lean while adding sweetness.  How can you beat that? You end up with a lean, tender, sweet pork dinner!

Pulling and Final Seasoning
I'll use a couple of forks to separate the  meat from the bones and to remove the fat and cartilage.  Trim and toss ALL the fat and cartilage you find.  I  also scrape the fat off the inside of the bark.  Then I use "Bear Claws" to pull the meat. With Bear Claws it takes less than 10 minutes to pull a 9# pork shoulder.

Now comes the final critical part of the entire process -- seasoning the meat after pulling.  For each shoulder I add about 1 1/2 cup apple juice, 1/2 cup Cuban Mojo sauce and 3 Tbsp rib rub.  Toss with the meat.  It makes the final dish really moist and tasty.  Everyone has their own "secret" flavorings or seasonings, and this one works for me!

 Let's Eat

Serve as a main dish, on hamburger buns or as sliders on small dinner rolls with your favorite BBQ sauce, baked beans, cole slaw, corn on cob and Mac and Cheese.

Bon Appetit!


  1. Anonymous18/6/13 18:10

    I just bought a Traeger and need some clarification. In the recipe above you did not use the smoke setting of the pellet grill? Will there still be smoke flavor if "grilled" at 225? I thought the only way to get the smoke flavor is if the setting is set to "smoke".

  2. Merlin's response:
    The smoke setting cooks at temps between 160-220 depending on the "P" setting. As set by the Traeger factory, the smoke setting will cook at around 180. For meats that need to be cooked for long periods of time you could end up with too much smoke flavor and the cooking time would be very long.

    You will absolutely get smoke flavor at cooking temps up to 225, which is the standard for smoking meats. Ribs take 4-5 hrs and pork shoulder 12-16 hrs. I will sometimes use the "smoke" setting for the first 30-45 minutes on chicken or turkey and then increase the temp to 225.

    Try experimenting with ribs at 'smoke' setting for the first hour or so, and then increase temp to 225 for the remainder. And then do another cook totally at 225. You'll decide for yourself.

    The standard for smoking ribs, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc is 225, and it has worked for all of us for a long time. So that will be your benchmark. But the fun thing about smoking is that you can experiment!

  3. With my Traeger set at 225 how long will my 10 lb bone in shoulder take??

    1. It will take 12-16 hours. Allow for 16 hours. Most of the time my porks take 13-15 hours. When the internal temp reaches 195f the meat is done and ready to pull. The diff in time depends on the meat, ambient temp, how well the smoker holds to the set temp.

      The best of smoking!