Category Archives: Pork

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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BBQ Spare Ribs

As a pork fan, I cook and eat a lot of ribs. Baby back ribs are family favorites because of the high meat content per rib.

The baby back ribs are at the top of the pig, near the spine. After the baby back ribs have been removed, you have, literally, the spare ribs. These are the St. Louis style ribs, which are those in the middle of the ribcage down the pig’s side, and the rib tips, which are below the St. Louis cut ribs down to the sternum.

Spare ribs explained

As you can see in the picture above, the red polygon is where the baby back ribs used to be. My sister took those before I could get to the meat freezer (dammit). The blue line shows, approximately, the delineation between the St. Louis ribs (below) and the rib tips (above). Note how the inner membrane only covers about the right 2/3 of the ribs.

The yellow polygon shows where the ribs attached to the sternum of the pig. Based on the orientation of the ribcage, these spare ribs are from his or her right side. Rest peacefully, little pig.

The meat on spare ribs is not quite as consistent throughout as in baby back ribs, and there are a couple ribbons of fat, but these can be delicious if made properly. As is often the case, I will prep the meat with seasoning in the fridge for a few hours, followed by indirect cooking with wet wood chip smoking.

I made a mustard-based paste for the ribs. In a large mixing bowl, I added a 12 oz. bottle of ground mustard, 1 cup of brown sugar, and some generous spoonfuls of garlic powder, Lawry’s seasoned salt, Italian seasoning, and cayenne pepper. After removing the membrane from the concave portion of the ribs, I smeared on the paste and wrapped the ribs in foil. It sat in the refrigerator for about 4 hours.

Spare ribs ready for smoke!

The grill was set up for indirect cooking with hickory wood chips. I set it and walked away for a while.

Two hours of smoking

After a couple hours, I rotated the ribs and added more wood chips.

It was a great day. We were making corn, ribs, bratwurst, stuffed chicken, beans, and flank steak. Family was coming over, so it was a BBQ-heavy day. This is the sign your day is going well:

What? You don't see this outside your house all the time?

After about three hours, the ribs were ready to go.


Each rib is long and meaty. There’s a ribbon of fat between the meat and the bones, and there are some small bone bits up near the rib tip portions, so they’re not quite as kid-friendly as baby back. They are still darn tasty. I mean, it’s BBQed pork.

Ribs. Eat 'em.

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Parboiled BBQ Pork Ribs


Parboiling ribs isn’t really recommended. The meat loses flavor and texture, but sometimes you get desperate and have very little time or experience.

I entered a BBQ rib contest on a lark and had never really cooked pork ribs successfully, but somewhere heard about parboiling ribs. So that’s what I did. Only a few people entered, and it was not judged professionally. I wound up winning and thought I was hot shit. This was a mistake based on ignorance, and a website called BBQ Bretheren somehow found the original post below and obliterated me. I’ve learned since that low and slow smoking is the best way to cook ribs.

I keep this post up because deleting it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and because lots of people come here looking for parboiling information.

Some people really like ribs like this, many don’t.¬†Proceed at your own peril.

BBQ Bretheren visitors: Click here for your more formal welcome.

Original Post:

I once entered a local parish BBQ competition, having never cooked ribs competitively. This was “competitive” in that other people were there, but certainly not a KCBS event.¬†I parboiled some St. Louis style ribs, coated them with a brown sugar rub, then BBQed them indirectly. True, the judges were common parishioners with amateur palates who had been drinking beer all day, and maybe I only beat 8 other competitors, but I still won. (Yes, I know… shake your head in shame.) Here is the recipe.

In a stock pot, put about 3/4 of a gallon of apple juice, 3/4 of a gallon of water, one quartered onion, one quartered apple, and a handful of whole peppercorns.

Ready to parboil some ribs

Get this concoction to a rolling boil. You can do it on the grill, as I did in the competition, but it makes a big mess of the stock pot and you use a ton of coals.

Parboiling ribs

I am using two slabs of baby back ribs, each cut in half to give me four large rib portions. They will cook for maybe 15-20 minutes. After adding the ribs, the boil will die down. Once it gets rolling again, turn the heat down to medium. A parboil is partially cooking something through a boil, though a half hour in this boil will cook the ribs sufficiently.

The rub, being sugary, clumps on like plaster. The ribs are going to get pretty tender during the boil. If overdone, they will basically fall off and out of the slab. Be careful not to overlook them.

What the rub does is form a sugary, peppery coating that holds the slab together while it sits on the BBQ and absorbs some smokey flavors. Each slab of ribs gets a generous coating of rub. (By the way, if you are a diabetic these ribs will cause you some serious problems. I’m not joking. This is based on real feedback that I received from a diabetic person.)

Rub: 1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup paprika, “a few” tablespoons each of onion powder & garlic powder, a tablespoon of cayenne pepper

Pull the ribs and lay them on a cookie sheet in preparation for the rub.

Thinly coat the ribs in the rub on both sides. (By the way, this recipe makes a massive mess in the grill.) The loose sugary mixture will fall into the bottom of the grill kettle and turn into sticky burnt plaster. Good luck with that.

Hot, wet, rubbed down.

Two tips here: First, get the ribs out with long tongs such that you can get the whole half rack supported. If you try to pick up the rack by the end, it could fall apart. Second, put on the rub right after taking the ribs out. Hot, wet ribs + sugary dry rub = instant plaster.

I use a nifty rib rack contraption that I found at Lowe’s a couple years ago. After putting the rubbed ribs into the rack, I sprinkled some additional rub over the top. (Cleaning the rib rack sucks, by the way.)

Nice rack

I put the rack on the Weber 22.5″ over semi-indirect heat and covered. After about 30-45 minutes, the rub will have melted onto the ribs and the smoke will have added significant extra flavor. Be sure to use a sharp knife.

Very unconventional ribs.

If you like competition quality ribs, or ribs with bite, then these aren’t for you. They fall off the bone and then some.

They’re super-tender, and fairly sweet. Again… not typical and not particularly recommended.

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Smoked Pork Ribs

You know what’s awesome? Pork ribs.

Smoking pork ribs on the BBQ requires patience to properly tenderize the meat. If you season them well and have give them time for smoking, you won’t need any sauce. None.

The first step is to make the overnight rub. What follows is the rub recipe for a single slab. Duplicate as necessary, but I am making one slab here.

Rub: 1/4 cup paprika, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2-3 tbsp Lawry’s seasoned salt. Add one tbsp each of Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, onion powder, & garlic powder.

Rib rub ingredients

The brown sugar will want to lump together as you whisk it together with a fork.

Spicy, sweet, salty... great on oatmeal

A key to smoking ribs is removing the membrane from the concave side of the ribs. This is important for two reasons. First, the membrane will act as a smoke barrier if not removed, which would diminish tenderness and flavor. Second, the smoked membrane would become dried out and flaky, like a thin film of plastic – really gross. This is a common rookie mistake.

Get a hold of one end of the ribs and use a knife to get in under the membrane along the end rib, then tug the membrane straight off. It will take a little effort but should come off as one piece. Throw it out.

Useless pig stuff removal

Put down some heavy duty foil and generously rub each side with the dry rub mixture.

Post-rubdown ribs

These are the baby back ribs, which are literally the ribs near the pig’s back – at the uppermost part of the pig near the spine. The next cut down the pig are the St. Louis ribs, which are the center part of the ribs. St. Louis ribs are typical competition ribs and have consistent amounts of meat down the slab, though the membrane only covers about 2/3 of the ribs. The spare ribs are the St. Louis ribs and the rest of the ribs down to the belly, literally the “spare” ribs after taking off the baby back ribs..

Wrap this up and leave it in the fridge over night. The next day, set up the grill for indirect cooking with plenty of soaked wood. Today I am using half hickory chunks and half cherry wood chips.

Indirect cooking on a Weber 22.5" kettle

After an hour and a half, add some more chips and turn the ribs.

Too bad you can't smell these!

All this grilling is exhausting. Time for a beer… or few. I found this variety pack at Friar Tuck’s in Crestwood. Southern Tier makes good beer with wide appeal. Look them up.

Southern Tier varietal... hard to go wrong

Finally, after about three hours on the grill, pull the ribs. I like to cut each rib flush against the bone so that each piece of rib is just rib on one side and meat on the other.

The paprika gives it a nice smokey & spicy flavor. The brown sugar caramelizes the rub to the ribs and negates the need for any sauce, which is just packed with sugar and all the same spices anyway.

If you look closely, you can see the some smoke lines (pink) against the otherwise super-tender rib meat (gray). Time to eat some ribs and knock back a few more of the Southern Tier beers.


By the way, when you take a single small bite and the entire rib disintegrates into your mouth, it’s probably been cooked to proper tenderness. The bone should be completely clean after a bite.

Maximum meat in belly; Minimal effort

Have some additional cold brew with your ribs. Let me recommend this stuff:

Who doesn't love hot acrobats?

North Coast Brewing knows what they are doing. Good luck on the ribs; don’t let them get overdone.

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Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

I’ve made this BBQ recipe with great success in the past. If you prep everything in advance, the BBQ process is quite easy. It’s really simple.

Make a “bed” of bacon. I used a 9″ x 13″ glass pan and lined up the bacon so that they slightly overlapped each other.

Bed of bacon

I cored an apple and sliced it, followed by a generous helping of gorgonzola cheese.

Who will sleep in this bed?

Mr. Tenderloin followed. I repeated the layering of apple and gorgonzola cheese.

Someone needs to be tucked in

After it’s wrapped up in bacon, I let it sit in the fridge overnight. It doesn’t necessarily need to rest overnight. I was just prepping a day in advance. Once it’s grill time, I put it on a wood soaked cedar plank over indirect heat in the Weber 22″. (At this point I would normally brush the outside of the entire thing with some olive oil, but I forgot to do it this time.)

Bacon mattress, cedar plank box spring, apple pillows

I let it smoke on the plank, with some of my leftover soaked hickory wood. It sat for two hours.

Two hours later...

Things have gone well. The cheese has not escaped, though the bacon is a little blackened.

Looks great sliced up

This is a seriously easy BBQ recipe and technique. The bacon fat seals in a lot of the moisture and the sliced apples supplement what would be lost. The plank prevents the bottom from burning and provides an amazing smoky flavor. You can omit the gorgonzola (as my kids prefer) if that’s not your thing. Good luck!

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