A smoked pork butt is probably one of the most delicious pieces of meat you can pull off your smoker during the BBQ season.
Yeah, it will take several hours of preparation and cooking, but you will be amazed by the tender pulled pork, encased in a crispy, smokey crust.
I know that making a smoked pork butt has several variables and every one has its unique way to do it, so I tried to include everything you need to know when making this recipe, starting from the meat selection, preparation, seasoning, several smoking tips to have in mind and two different style recipes at the end.
Note: Since I will try to cover everything you need to know about smoking Boston butt, you may want to jump to the preferred section by using the table of contents below for quick navigation.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Pork Butt & Where is it Located?
- 2 Smoked Pork Butt vs Smoked Pork Shoulder
- 3 Which is the Best Pork Butt Grade for Smoking?
- 4 Equipment Needed
- 5 How to Prepare the Pork
- 6 Seasoning the Meat
- 7 Smoking the Pork Butt
- 8 How Long to Smoke Pork Butt
- 9 Smoked Pork Butt Video
- 10 Smoked Pork Butt Recipe
- 11 Texas Style Smoked Butt Recipe
What is Pork Butt & Where is it Located?
Pork butt or also known as Boston Butt, is the American name for a cut of pork meat, coming from the upper side of the front leg shoulder. Some cuts may contain the blade bone, which is the bone that connects the leg with the upper side of the animal’s body (like a shoulder in the human’s body).
This cut comes at a relatively affordable price tag and has a good deal of connective tissue, with a lot of juicy, marbled fat, which gives this cut versatility in cooking, making it very preferred from a lot of people.
Smoked Pork Butt vs Smoked Pork Shoulder
Also known as "Boston Butt" or "Boston Butt Pork"
Also known as "Picnic Shoulder" or "Picnic Roast"
The whole pork shoulder consists of two portions: the butt, which is the upper portion of the shoulder and the picnic, which is the lower portion.
It is sold as bone-in or boneless, and if boneless, the whole roast is usually cut into half portions.
The butt pork cut comes from high on the hog, above the shoulder blade and has some connective tissue and a lot of juicy, marbled fat.
While the should is located below the butt. It includes most of the hog’s front leg quarter, and since the leg muscles work a little bit more than the back, this cut is tougher than the butt.
As for smoking, since pork shoulder has more muscle, it will require a little bit more smoking than the pork butt while the pork butt becomes more juicer and tender with less effort.
Which is the Best Pork Butt Grade for Smoking?
Although all pork is first inspected by the USDA, it is not graded for quality, like they do with beef.
The pork is only graded into two levels: “Acceptable” and “Utility.” The “Acceptable” grade can be found in any supermarket while “Utility” is mainly reserved for processed food.
So, unlike choosing beef quality, when shopping for pork butt, you don’t have to worry about quality grades. Just select cuts with bone-in or boneless and with exterior fat removed or not.
What you can have in mind instead, it to pick a pork cut which has a good amount of fat marbling and a red-pink color with a coarse grain.
The characteristics above will ensure you have picked a high-quality, ready-to-smoke pork butt.
To properly smoke a Boston Butt, you will need some equipment. Here is a list with the equipment I use when I make this recipe:
Best Electric Smoker for Smoking Pork
Since most people haven’t any deep knowledge of smoking meat, the best option to consider is picking an electric smoker. Using an electric smoker is much easier to control the temperature when compared to charcoal or other smoker types.
If you are looking for a recommendation, I would suggest the Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Digital Smoker. It is the best entry-level smoker, with decent performance and an affordable price tag for everyone.
If you want something more challenging or you plan to smoke meat occasionally in the future, you may consider a more ‘manual’ smoker, where you have more control over fire and temperature. Models like Big Green Egg, even though are a little bit expensive, provide a very good smoking performance, with you having control over the fire. You can read our Big Green Egg vs. Kamado comparison guide to have a better knowledge on which models works best.
How to Prepare the Pork
When it comes to preparing the pork for smoking, you don’t have to do much. Actually, this whole recipe is relatively simple. You only have to select the meat, apply the seasoning, and wait for the smoker to cook the pork. I may consider it more time consuming than hard to make recipe.
As for the meat, all you have to do before seasoning is remove any wrapping, pat it dry using paper towels and trim off any extended fat layers it may have.
Some people believe that leaving the thick fat layer on top will baste the meat during cooking, but the truth is that the smoke and the rub will not penetrate a thick layer of fat.
In addition to that, a thick fat layer will make the pork requiring more time to cook. Also, pork butt is already rich in fat marbling inside, so there is no need for external fat. You will end up cutting and discarding it anyway after cooked, leaving you with spots which don’t have the delicious, dark, smoked crust that everyone enjoys so much.
Seasoning the Meat
After you have the meat ready and prepared, it is time to prepare the rubbing and season the meat. I prefer to do a dry rubbing for this recipe and an additional Cuban Mojo Marinade for injection.
Recommended Rubs for Boston Butt
When it comes to rubs and seasoning ingredients, you are free to combine and use what fits your preferences more. Below is a list with the rub ingredients I personally use. You are free to add or remove anything which you don’t like.
(For a 5-7 Pound Boston Butt)
Smoking the Pork Butt
After you finish seasoning and dry rubbing the pork, now it is finally the time to start cooking it. As I said before, take the pork out of the refrigerator around 1-2 hours before cooking it. Meanwhile, set up your smoker to preheat at 225-235°F and get ready to add the wood chips.
What is the Best Wood to Smoke Pork Butt?
As for the best wood chips to smoke a pork butt, I would suggest you use either apple, cherry, or hickory wood chips. All these types of wood chips are sweet and don’t overpower the taste of pork meat. Wood chips such as pecan are more powerful in flavor, much more than they should for pork butt.
Also, don’t forget to soak the wood chips in the water around 30-45 minutes before using them.
Low and Slow Smoking Method
Since this cut is rich in fat marbling but at the same time has a great deal of connective tissue since it comes from the animal’s shoulder, it is recommended to follow a low and slow smoking method.
To get most of the flavor from that fat marbling, the goal is to cook it at a low temperature, around 235°F for a long period of time, until the internal temperature of the pork butt reaches 195-205°F.
When this temperature is reached, the connective tissues will break down, and the meat will be super tender.
At this cooking temperature, it will take around 90 minutes per pound for a 4-pound pork butt to be cooked. During this time, it is important to monitor the internal temperature frequently, so you know exactly what is happening.
If you don’t like the meat to be super tender and “melt in your mouth” texture, you can remove it off the smoker when it reaches 160-170°F internal temperature. At this point, the connective tissues are not completely broken down, and the meat has a more compact texture but still is pretty tender and moist.
How Long to Smoke Pork Butt
The smoked pork butt cooking time depends on your cut, but in general, it should take around 1:30-2 hours per pound of pork to cook at 225-235°F. In average, an 8-pound pork butt should take around 16 hours to be completely cooked.
Have in mind that each cut is different and the amount of connective tissues and fat marbling impact the cooking duration. There might be situations where an 8-pound smoked pork butt takes 12 hours to finish while a 10-pound cut takes 10 hours. So, the exact cooking duration is a little bit relative, and it depends on your cut.
If you want to have more control over your Boston butt, you can invest in an instant-read thermometer. It will help you to keep track of the meat’s internal temperature.
When using such thermometer, you will notice that the meat will reach quickly up to 145°F, and then the smoking process will slow down a lot. It may take a few hours to cook from 145°F to 165°F. This phase is totally normal and is called ‘Stall,’ so don’t worry. The temperature will eventually start to rise again.
There are some techniques which may help speed up the Stall phase, and it consists of wrapping the meat in foil or butcher paper, but I am not a big fan of it since it will prevent the meat from creating the dark, caramelized exterior crust, which I think is absolutely delicious.
Pork Butt Temperature & Cooking Times Table
Internal Meat Temperature
1:30-2 Hours per Pound of Pork
When meat reaches 195-205°F
Smoked Pork Butt Video
Smoked Pork Butt Recipe
(For a 5-7 Pound Boston Butt)
Texas Style Smoked Butt Recipe
This recipe is from our friends from DadWithaPan. It is a Texas Style Smoked Butt for those who want a more Texas-style recipe and rubbing, with a nice dark crust, very similar to smoked brisket.
(Servings: 9-10 People) - (Prep Time: 30 Minutes - Cook Time: 8 Hours)
Notes: For wood chips, I use a combination of a 30/70 blend of apple and hickory pellets.
If your pork is cooked earlier than you need, you can keep the wrapping and place it in a cooler. The wrapping will hold the temperature for around 2-3 hours.