What’s the secret behind perfectly smoked pork shoulder?
Having spent time recently on the North Carolina barbecue scene I have a new appreciation for the nuance of real southern barbecue – and it’s not just about the meat! Here are the options that make it worth the time to experience southern barbecue:
Meat: Pork, beef, chicken, turkey
Seasoning: Dry rub, wet mop, none
Prep: Chopped, pulled
Drinks: Sweet tea, beer
Sides: Collard greens, hushpuppies, coleslaw, beans, biscuit, green beans, fries
Sauce: Eastern Carolina, Lexington, South Carolina, Kansas City
Recently, I took my turn at the “pit” and smoked a pork shoulder for fellow managers in my fantasy baseball league. Here are my selections: pork (because that’s the origin of barbecue in the south); dry rub (because I like the “bark” – that crispy, flavorful, charred exterior created from the caramelization of sugar and spice); chopped; beer (because it’s baseball season!); Eastern Carolina, Lexington and South Carolina sauce (because I like all three and now I have plenty to last the summer) and coleslaw.
Smoked Pork Shoulder with Coleslaw and a Choice of Sauce
Servings: 8 – 10
Pork shoulder 3 ½ – 4 lbs
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sweet paprika
1 tbs onion powder
1 tbs chili powder
1 tbs kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbs dry mustard
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.
Sauce(s): No need to invent here. I found these three fabulous sauces:
Eastern Carolina (Sam Sifton, by way of NY Times)
Lexington (Fine Cooking)
South Carolina (Epicurious)
24 – 36 hours prior to starting the smoking process, apply the dry rub liberally on all sides of the pork shoulder. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Heat grill/smoker to 225 – 235 degrees. Add pork shoulder and smoke source. I use a smoker box in my gas grill.
Close the lid, regulate temperature and relax! This is going to take a while… 10 ½ hours in this case.
Monitor the temperature on a regular basis to ensure it holds steady between 225 and 235 degrees. My Weber keeps a very consistent temperature, requiring only minor adjustments during the process. This hourly monitoring is also an ideal opportunity to add more wood chips to allow you to achieve your desired smokiness.
Now comes the tricky part. You’ll likely notice the temperature begins to “stall” at roughly 160 degrees. This is normal… and no reason to panic. As a matter of fact, it’s a great time to grab another beer and relax a bit longer. There are many theories as to what causes the stall. I’m partial to the evaporative cooling theory that suggests that the meat is sweating, thus, preventing further temperature rise. Once the evaporation reaches a certain level, the temperature begins to rise again. To help this process I wrap the shoulder in foil.
In this case, I moved through the stall, to a perfect 190 degrees in ~90 minutes.
At this point I removed the pork shoulder from the grill, loosened the foil and let the pork rest for an hour. Now, there’s just one more choice to make: pull it or chop it? Regardless, you’ll find that it falls apart with ease.
I prefer the chopped method, but either way, you’ll want to make sure it’s mixed thoroughly to ensure the “bark” is distributed throughout.
Now grab a potato roll, add your favorite sauce and coleslaw, grab another beer and enjoy the experience!