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Tips For Making The Best Pulled Pork

Posted by Mary M. on August 17, 2013

Tips For Making The Best Pulled Pork


Pulled pork is the feast of champions. (especially champion smokers!) It's the most fool-proof of the beloved low and slow smoked food and is the perfect solution for feeding those large hungry crowds that seem to gather every time you remove the cover off your Traeger. Pulled pork is the perfect way to make pork shoulders sing the song of tasty glory. Pork shoulder is laced with flavorful fat and connective tissue which melt when cooked low and slow, giving it an incredibly tender, moist texture and succulent flavor. And all at a price that's not very hard on the pocketbook - often under $2 per pound.


We found some excellent pulled pork tips from Amazingribs.com, written by Meathead - a Barbecue Whisperer, Hedonism Evangelist and competition barbecue judge. We had to bring these helpful tidbits straight to you to make sure that you're making that competition-worthy pulled pork everytime. 


Tips For Making The Best Pulled Pork

A full pork shoulder can weigh from 8 to 20 pounds. It has two halves: the "picnic ham" and the "boston butt". Butts, which are ideal for making pulled pork, can weigh from 4 to 14 pounds and they usually have the shoulder blade bones in them, although you can buy "boneless butts". The plus side of buying bone-in is that the bone helps hold the meat together and imparts more of that delectable "porky" flavor.


There is significant shrinkage and waste due to the bone and globs of fat you discard when pulling. Count on about 30% loss, and if there is less, lucky you. You'll have leftovers. It's safe to plan on 1/2 pound per person on average.


1. Keep it simple. Skip any marinades, injections or brines. This cut of pork is flavorful enough that a good rub and the kiss of smoke combined with the moisture provided by the internal fat and collagen will make it taste wonderful.

2. Trim off most of the fat from the exterior of the meat, but not all of it.  Remember that you want the seasonings to hug the meat and get that crunchy, flavor-blasted bark.

3. Season it well. Rinse and dry the meat. Oil it, coating all surfaces (this will help the rub adhere). And don't have a stingy hand when seasoning. Cover it thoroughly with your favorite rub (might we suggest our Pork & Poultry Shake or Sweet Rub?) and let it sit for at least an hour (if you have time) to allow the salt and spices to penetrate. BUT don't let it sit too long of the rub will start to pull out moisture.

4. Pulled pork's best friend (aside from a good rub) is a good meat thermometer. Carefully watching the temperature can be the difference between juicy pulled pork delight and tough, over-cooked or under-rendered dog food.

Tips For Making The Best Pulled Pork

5. Cooking temperature all depends on how much time you have to really work some love and smoke into that pork. If you have the time, 225 degrees F is an excellent sweet spot for low and slow cooking pork shoulder. Keep in mind that butt is utterly unpredictable. Perhaps you just happened to pick an overactive piggy and it takes longer to get that truly tender pulled pork. Sometimes it can be done in 1.5 hours per pound and other times it takes 2 hours per pound.

6. THE STALL: Ah, the scary "Stall". The temperature of the pork rises steadiliy to about 150 degees F and then hovers there for what feels like FOREVER while the moisture moves to the surface and evaporates. It could hold that temp between 150 and 160 for up to 5 hours. Be patient. Don't crank up that heat just yet. The big determining factor of the duration of the stall is the thickness of the meat. Just remind yourself, you're working with flesh here - not a timer.

7. When is it ready? When it hits about 170°F, collagens begin to melt and turn to gelatin. The meat gets much more tender and juicy when this happens. When it hits 195°F, it may or may not be ready. When you check it, you're looking for the exterior to be dark brown. Even though it may look burnt, it won't taste burnt. If there is a bone, use a glove or paper towel to protect your fingers and wiggle the bone. It should turn easily and come out of the meat, meaning the collagens have melted and she is done. If there is no bone, insert a fork in the meat and try to rotate it 90 degrees. If it turns with only a little torque, you're done. If it's not done, close the lid and let it go for another 30 minutes. 

If the internal temp hits 195°F but the meat is still not tender, push it on up to 203°F. At this number the meat seems to soften significantly. If it is still not soft, you've just got a tough butt. Try wrapping it in aluminum foil and let it go for another hour, but don't take it above 205°F or else the muscle fibers will start giving up moisture and toughen. 

Tips For Making The Best Pulled Pork

8. Don't forget to LET IT REST. When it is finally ready, go ahead, take a taste. You should notice a thick flavorful crust, or "bark", and right below the telltale "smoke ring" (above), the bright pink color caused by smoke mixing with combustion gases and moisture. Let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes in a faux cambro, in an oven at about 170°F, or wrapped in foil. If you are more than an hour from mealtime, you can leave the meat on the Traeger with the heat off or put it in the indoor oven and hold it there by dialing the temp down to about 170°F.

Make a faux cambro using a tight plastic beer cooler. Leave the probe in the meat. Wrap the hunk tightly in foil. Wrap the foil with more towels, and put it the whole thing in the cooler. Fill up the cooler with more towels, blankets, or newspaper to keep the meat insulated. Hang the thermometer cord over the lid of the cooler, and close it tightly. Make sure it never drops below 145°F. (Just know that this technique will soften the bark and change the texture of the meat very slightly.)

Tips For Making The Best Pulled Pork

9. The Pulling: When pulling the meat apart with your paws or a good set of Bear Paws, resist the temptation to cut it into chunks. You maintain the most moisture by pulling it apart by hand since the meat separates into bundles of muscle fibers. And it is called pulled pork, so why disappoint? You could also put it in a stand mixer or kitchen aid to help with the process. Try not to eat all of the flavorful crusty bits when you are doing the pulling, and distribute them evenly throughout. Make sure you save any flavorful drippings and pour them over the meat.

10. Don't make it too saucy! It's easy to get carried away with one of our delicious barbecue sauces, but don't add so much that you can't taste the meat and the smoke!

Lastly, don't forget to ENJOY it. Part of the fun and the love is the slow process. So, grab a drink and enjoy the smoke.