Ahhhhhh, pulled pork! Succulent and juicy shreds of awesomeness, perfect as a meal or as an accompaniment.

Pulled pork has always been a hot topic of debate in the barbecue pit. Should it be injected? Should you use apple, hickory, pecan… or another hard wood for smoking? Dry or saucy? In a sandwich or on its own? Smoking temperature, final temperature, duration… I could go on.

But there are some things everyone can agree on. Pulled pork must be made from a pork shoulder (also known as a pork butt). The rub can include many things, but salt and paprika (critical for color) are vital. You need to spray or spritz it during the cook. And last, but not least: it must be smoked low and slow with wood… no slow cookers here!

After traveling all over the US, spending countless hours in “hole-in-the-wall” barbecue joints, discussing techniques with pit masters, reading hundreds of blogs and books, and experimenting at home with obsessive compulsion (much to the dismay of my wife), I have compiled what I think is the best pulled pork recipe.

Smoked Pulled Pork

Hard wood smoked Alberta pulled pork shoulder with optional barbecue sauce. Make your spice rub as shown below, or use Smoke'n Season BBQ Pork Rub. Enjoy this pork recipe on a fresh bun, as a main, or in combination with other ingredients like scrambled eggs.
Servings 8
Author Dan Domanko

Ingredients

Pulled Pork

  • 10-13 lb Alberta pork shoulder/butt (4.5 - 6 kg)
  • 2 cups apple juice (500 ml)
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard (125 ml)

Spice Rub

  • 3 tbsp paprika, smoked is good (45 ml)
  • 2 tbsp seasoning salt (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp black pepper (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp garlic salt (30 ml)
  • 1 tbsp dried onion (15 ml)
  • 1 tbsp cumin (15 ml)

Cooking Spritz

  • 1/4 cup apple juice (60 ml)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider (60 ml)

BBQ Sauce

  • 1/4 cup apple juice (60 ml)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or bourbon (60 ml)
  • 1 cup ketchup (250 ml)
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce (30 ml)
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard (60 ml)
  • 2 tbsp paprika, smoked is good (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp seasoning salt (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp black pepper (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp garlic salt (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp dried onion (30 ml)
  • 2 tbsp cumin (30 ml)

Extras

  • 8 cloves confit garlic, or very finely chopped garlic
  • 1 bag apple wood chips or pellets, hickory or pecan can also be used

Instructions

Spice Rub

  • Mix ingredients together, set aside.

BBQ Sauce

  • Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and slowly heat until fully incorporated. Best to do this 1.5 hours before the meat is finished so the sauce is still warm when used.

The Day Before the Smoke

  • Remove the pork from the refrigerator and trim the shoulder of excess fat. You want to have roughly 0.3 cm (1/8 inch) of fat on the fat cap of the shoulder.
  • If the butcher has not removed the blade bone, remove it now, and trim the fat and cartilage from the area the bone was removed from. A butcher can do this prep work in the store for you.
  • Using a meat injector, inject the entire pork shoulder with apple juice in a grid pattern. When sticking the needle into the meat, move it around slightly to create a pocket for the juice to enter.
  • Using your hands, cover the meat in the yellow mustard and massage it into every nook and cranny of the pork.
  • Mix up the spice rub, and liberally cover the entire outside of the meat with it. This is a large piece of meat and it can handle the large amount of rub. Be sure to cover the fat as well as the meat.
  • Wait a few minutes between coating each side of the meat with rub until the rub itself looks slightly wet (a process commonly referred to as “tacking up”.)
  • Place the entire pork into an extra-large sealable plastic bag and put it back into the refrigerator.

The Day of the Smoke

  • Remove the pork from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before putting it on the smoker. The meat should be at or approaching room temperature before you start the smoke. This is done to save cooking time, allow for even cooking, and smoke penetrates the meat more easily at warmer temperatures.
  • Start up your smoker. If using charcoal, make sure you have enough coals for 8 straight hours. If you have a diffusion plate in your smoker, set it up with some water or apple juice. Do not allow for direct-heat cooking.
  • 20 minutes before starting the smoke, soak the wood chips in hot water. This will allow for a slower “smolder” of the wood. Electric smokers – you don’t need to do this step with pellets or pucks.
  • Stabilize/set the temperature of the smoker to 110°C – 113°C(225-235°F.) Add the smoking chips, and then add the meat to the grill… FATSIDE UP. Close the lid on the smoker as soon as possible to keep the smoke in.Tip: use a digital thermometer on the grill grate to monitor temperatures inside your smoker.
  • While maintaining 110–113°C (225-235°F.), continue to smoke the pork for 4 hours. Roughly every 45 minutes or so, spritz the meat with the juice or bourbon mixture. Maybe pour yourself a glass too. Low and slow is the key… no excessive peeking!
  • Once 4 hours has elapsed, check on the pork. You should have a nice dark bark (crust) on the outside with a reddish hue. If you want more bark, continue to smoke for a bit more. The key here is to smoke to colour… not a temperature. For reference, the internal temperature will be around 60–70°C (140-160°F) depending on size.
  • Once you are happy with the color, remove the pork from the smoker temporarily and place it on top of 4 large sheets of aluminum foil. Wrap the pork along with the garlic in the aluminum foil as tightly as you can. No gaps. Ensure that there is no chance for steam or juices to escape. You can also substitute butcher paper in lieu of aluminum foil.
  • Adjust the temperature of the smoker to 165–175°C (330-350 F.) Place the wrapped pork back on to the grill and close the lid. For charcoal people, this is a good time to add more charcoal.
  • Continue to cook the pork for another 3 hours minimum. At this point the meat is steaming in its own juices. At roughly the 3-hour mark, check the internal temperature of the meat using a digital thermometer. Poke the thermometer through the foil… do not unwrap. You are looking for an internal temperature of 96°C (205°F), and there should be very little resistance when pushing the thermometer in (like hot butter). If the temperature is not at or slightly above 96°C (205°F), continue to cook the meat until it does.
  • Once at temperature, remove the meat from the smoker and leave it to sit for 20 minutes on a cutting board, still wrapped in foil. This allows the muscle fibers of the meat to relax and re-soak up the juices.
  • Unwrap the pork and pull it. An easy way to do this is by using a pair of tongs or 2 forks to shred the meat. It should shred easily into long strands. Remove any excess fat or cartilage that may be in the meat. Mix thoroughly so that the bark outside and center meat is distributed evenly along with the garlic.
  • At this point you can serve the meat as-is (dry), add the BBQ sauce to the mix, or try some combination of them both.
    Serve! Best served the day of the smoke on a fresh Kaiser roll, a pretzel bun, or as a main. Recommended side dishes are potato salad, garden salad, corn on the cob, or a vegetable medley.