Pork Butts

img_0162Pork butts are the epitome of slow BBQ with cheap meat that results in some good eatin’.  This recipe is a variation of the Renowned Mr. Brown recipe found at the wonderful Virtual Weber Bullet site run by a fellow Pacific Northwetter, Chris Allingham.  For those of you with an eye to detail (all you engineers out there), go to his site and check out everything you ever wanted to know about a WSM but were afraid to ask…

What you need:

  • Pork butts (duh)
  • A bunch of spices and other ingredients (see below)
  • A smoker of some sort (grills not advised)
  • Plenty of time and patience
  • A big appetite and lots of family and friends with no fear of artery clogging diseases

What you don’t need:

  • An engineering degree
  • OCD
  • PETA (either one) hanging around your house

Acquiring the butts

The first step in this process involves getting your hands on some nice butts (Hi honey, I’m talking pork here, so please put the knife down).  Much discussion exists out there as to the right cut of pork; my criteria is whatever cut of pork shoulder I can get cheap (generally at the local Costco or Cash n’ Carry warehouse store) and in the heavy Cryovac packaging.  They usually come two to a package, so this recipe will assume that is what you are cooking.  When it gets right down to it, if you are going to spend all the time necessary to cook this, you might as well make it worth your while and cook lots of it…

Prepping the butts

Once you have the butts, it’s time to prep them for the smoker.  I like to tie them up with some cooking string so that they cook evenly and don’t fall apart and make a (bigger) mess of your smoker.  Check out this YouTube video if you want to see how to truss up your butts (or just tie up a roast).  Once you have that done, you’ll want to mix up a batch of rub:

Southern Succor Rub

  • 1/2 cup fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup paprika
  • 1/2 cup Turbinado (raw) cane sugar
  • 4 tbs salt
  • 4 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix all of this up real good and divide into 2 equal portions, one for each butt.  You might want to set a little aside for the Southern Sop, which will be used to baste the butts later in the cooking process.  Rub the mix onto the butts, making sure that you have good coverage.  Set the butts aside so that the rub will soak into the meat; you can do this a day in advance if you like (and have room in the fridge).  I generally let them sit at room temperature for an hour or two prior to the cook and get pretty good results.  Don’t get too hung up on these type of details unless you are into BBQ competitions (and if you win with this recipe, I’d like to know about it).  Part of the fun here is dealing with all those challenges that crop up, like substitution of missing ingredients with whatever happens to be in the spice cupboard, rigging tarps because of the unexpected rainstorm, and use of coolers to keep things hot when the food is done long before the expected time.

img_0159Preparing the smoker

Since my current smoker is a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker (old style, pre-2009 with no built-in thermometer), all the directions below apply to it.  If you have an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) or some other variant, you’ll have to adjust the instructions accordingly.  Anyway, enough of the disclaimers, it’s time to get the fire going.

First, get yourself a big bag of charcoal, lump, briquettes, or otherwise (your choice) and some good smoke wood.  My charcoal of choice is Kingsford as they are relatively inexpensive, available locally all year round, and can be counted on for consistent results.  Lump charcoal is fine, but in my experience requires more attention during the cooking process due to the inconsistencies in size and burn times.  Select a smoke wood that goes well with pork; I prefer to use a combination of apple (I have a ready supply in my backyard in the form of trees that need trimming on a regular basis) and mesquite chunks (purchased by the large bagful from a local BBQ shop).

Fill the smoker using the Minion Method.  Pay no attention to the controversy surrounding unlit charcoal; as long as you aren’t using charcoal that has a bunch of additives to make it light quicker (like Match Light) then you shouldn’t have any problems.  Fill up the charcoal chamber as much as you can, as this will save you from having to add more fuel anytime soon.  Fire up between 20-40 briquettes in a chimney, and when they are burning well, dump them on the top of the rest of the coals.  Assemble the smoker and carefully fill the water pan to the top with warm water.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em…

img_0161Place the butts on the grill.  With only two of them, I generally use the top grill only, although I have been known to use the bottom one if I plan on adding something else to the grill later.  Put the lid on the smoker and adjust the vents until the temperature reaches between 215°F and 225°F.  Since I have a pre-2009 WSM, it doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, so rather than drill holes in it I use a candy thermometer stuck through a wine cork and jammed into the top vent.  As such, I can only adjust the bottom vents, but to date that hasn’t been a problem for me.  If you don’t have a way of monitoring the temperature in your smoker, I highly recommend you get one if you ever want to get consistent results.

Leave the cover on the cooker closed for the next several hours.  At about the 10-12 hour mark, turn the meat over and get a reading of the internal temperature to give yourself an idea of how fast (?) it is cooking.   At this point, since you have the cover off of it, you might as well give it a good basting with some Southern Sop.

Baste the butts

 Here is what you will need for the Southern Sop:

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbs ground black pepper
  • 2 tbs salt
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbs paprika
  • 1 tbs cayenne pepper
  • The remainder of the Southern Succor Rub (above) or 3 heaping tbs of Basic Rib Rub

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl.  You can heat this up over the stove if you want; it helps to better blend the ingredients but it isn’t required.  This should be enough sop to baste two butts four times.  You can get yourself one of those fancy BBQ mops if you want, or simply grab the turkey baster and slop it on that way.  I use the turkey baster as it is easier for me to control the amount that goes on the butt, and as long as I am careful, most of the sop ends up on the butts rather than in the water pan of the smoker or stuck to the mop.  Use about a 1/4 of the mix for each baste, and try not to baste more often than about once an hour.  The rest of the time you should be leaving the lid on that smoker so that the butts can keep cooking.

Prepare to serve

img_0165When the internal temperature of the butts reaches 170°F, take the butts off the grill, wrap them in foil, and stick them in an ice chest (without the ice) to rest.  This allows the juices to set, the meat to finish cooking, and the pork to be ready to pull.  It also allows you to keep the meat warm if you are finished and meal time is still a ways off in the future.  After at least 30 minutes of resting, the pork should be ready to pull.  Pulling the pork can be a messy process; consider getting yourself some latex or silicon gloves that are heavy enough to keep out the heat yet not so heavy that you lose all tactile sensation in your fingers.

img_0166To pull the pork, remove the bone (if any) and pull the meat into thumb-sized pieces or smaller.  Grab the butts with both hands and separate it into large chunks along the natural seams in the meat.  Then remove any areas of fat or connective tissue by hand or by scraping with a knife.  Once this is done, get a couple of dinner forks and break the large pieces down into small, bite-sized ones. Remove any remaining fat or connective tissue.

Pulled pork butt can be served on a plate by itself or in a sandwich. It’s common for a pulled pork sandwich to be served on a bun with a drizzling of vinegar-based sauce and a scoop of cole slaw.  Either way, it’s a tasty treat that is sure to satisfy.