Smoked Pork Shoulder (a/k/a Boston Butt)

Today’s task for Big Blue is a whole pork shoulder, also known as a Boston Butt. A nice sized shoulder like this one is about 8 lbs, so it will take a while to smoke and cook.

Nice butt

So why is a pork shoulder called a Boston Butt? Frankly, given the history of St. Louis sports teams vs. Boston sports teams, including two significant, highly tainted, recent events in my lifetime (Super Bowl XXXVI and the 2004 World Series), I am strongly inclined to dislike all things Masshole-related. Apparently, back in the day, pig shoulders were popularly cut in Boston, then shipped out in barrels known as butts. Well, there you go.

I set a nice base of coals at the bottom of the basket in the smoker, about 3/4 of a coal chimney’s worth.

Ready to heat some pork

This was followed by several generous handfuls of soaked cherry wood chunks, left over from last week’s brisket.

Ready to smoke some pork

Before putting the shoulder on the grill, I made a dry rub. This didn’t sit overnight, though I do often like to give smoked meat a night in the fridge with their rub. I was busy cutting cake a the local fish fry.

The rub was basic: 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup paprika, 1/4 cup cayenne pepper, 1/4 cup garlic powder, 1/4 cup Lawry’s seasoned salt. Most of my rubs have three components: Sweet, salt, spice. You can have a heavy or light hand on whatever suits your mood that day. I make most on the fly and approximate as I go. Don’t be a slave to rub recipes – make your own and see what you like.

Now give a good butt rub:

Would you like to rub my butt?

I am cooking this thing fat side up. Why? I was chided recently by a far more seasoned BBQer that he always cooks his brisket fat side up so that the fat drippings go over and through the meat, providing more flavor. Fine, fat up for the first few hours.

Butt fat facing up

While this gets started, I check the smoker thermometer. I am about 175 degrees. No problem. In 15 minutes, I will be at a steady 200 degrees, about where I would like to stay for the next 5 hours or so.

In addition to the rub and the cherry wood, I am going to further flavor this butt with a mop. A butt mop? Things are getting strange. A mop is really just a sauce or liquid applied with… a mop. I am using a fancy silicone and metal brush in lieu of an actual mop.

Butt mop

My mop is simple: 1 12 oz. can Budweiser, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, about 2 oz. lemon juice.

At the two hour mark, I give the shoulder a heavy mopping. This turned the crisping rub into a pasty consistency, which I brushed all over the sides of the shoulder.

The easiest mopping job ever

In the photo above, you can see the distinctive Y-shaped bone that makes up the heart of a St. Louis Pork Steak, which is what you get when you cut a shoulder into one inch slices. As spring turns to summer, this blog will devoted heavily to the preparation and consumption of pork steaks. In fact, I enter the World M-Fing Championship of Pork Steaks each year on Memorial Day Saturday. I never win (and neither does my competition partner), or even come close to winning, but it is one of the absolute highlights of the year.

After two hours, I finally flip it fat side down. All this grilling is exhausting. It’s time for a beer. It’s March, right? Close to St. Patrick’s Day? Good.

Smithwick's and butt mop

I’m a big fan of Smithwick’s, something apparently pronounced Shmitt’-icks. I’ve got plenty of Irish in my blood, so this affection is only natural.

Big Blue is doing so well today. I’m feeling like a proud papa. Still holding fast at 200 degrees. I tossed in some more wood and coals, but not too much.

Big Blue holding it down

From here on out, things get easier. Check the temp and rub with mop every 20-30 minutes or so. Mix in some cold beers and you should be ready to go anywhere from 4-6 hours, depending on how hot you get your smoker or how big your shoulder happens to be.

You’re looking for the shoulder to get up to 160 degrees or more. The USDA says 145 for pork, but I prefer to be on the safe side. After 2 hours 45 minutes, I am at about 120 degrees. This is not unexpected. I planned on a 6 hour cook or so, and this is right on target.

Amazingly, even after 6 hours on the smoker, I still only had an internal temperature of 150. It took a full 7 hours to get up to 160. With all of the mopping, the meat remained juicy.

Only the fat was blackened

Instead of shredding it, something I couldn’t really do because I didn’t take the extra time to tenderize the meat, I carved it like a turkey breast for sandwiches.

Too bad you can't smell this!

I took some French bread, a little provelone cheese, some relish, and hot sauce. Yum.

Pork shoulder sammitch

With all of the delays in getting this thing prepared, the kiddos had hot dogs and bratwurst for dinner. That meant tons of leftovers.

An uncommon sight in my house: BBQ leftovers

Tomorrow all this beautiful BBQ shoulder will get some hot sauce / BBQ sauce drizzling and a some time in a skillet before becoming lunch. After trimming all of the fat and cleaning the bone, only a few pounds was left.

My lessons from this will inspire changes in the next shoulder: (1) get a boneless shoulder from the Schnuck’s butchers, (2) give myself at least two more hours cook time than anticipated, (3) do the overnight rub, (4) trim the huge outer fat layer.

In the end, this was a very tasty, labor-intensive project. I would do it again, but with the changes above. Good luck trying this out on your own.

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