Motor City Smoked Pork Butt

What are they?

A pork shoulder (front part) can be divided into two parts:

Butt end — so called because it is the butt end of the shoulder (it isn’t the actual butt of the pig…just the shoulder).

Shank end — so called because it has the shank bone in it. The back shoulder of a pig would be called a haunch or a ham.

You generally make pulled pork from a pork shoulder cut (either butt or shank). The butt portion is most popular because it has less bone and less connective stuff in it. The shank portion can make some tasty pulled pork as well, but it will have a slightly different texture, and more connective stuff in it, not to mention the big ol’ shank bone (good for soup stock).

Cook to Time or Cook to Temp?

The preferred method of cooking pork is indeed to use an instant read temperature gauge (or other remote probe thermometer) and cook to internal temperature rather than time. There is some controversy as to what temperature; I’ve seen mention of everything from 180ºF to 205ºF.

I shoot for an internal temp of 200ºF (and I check several places before I’m sure; it’s hard to get a good consistent read on pork because lots of fat can throw the reading off). If it’s a small pork butt, I might cook it only to 190ºF. I go on my instincts more than my temperature gauge.

My recommendation: plan for 1 1/4 hours per pound, but don’t do this blindly. I start checking mine about halfway through my estimate and keep an eye on it when I’m mopping it. I’ve seen everything from 1 hour per pound to up to 2 1/2 hours per pound (yes, really).

I did a 9 pound pork butt on the MCS V6 and it was a perfect 195ºF in 8 hours.

A Note about the Stall

When cooking butts, the internal temperature can often stall while the connective tissues and fats break down; this occurs usually around 180ºF. This can last 45 minutes or can last up to 2 hours…it’s just one of those things. Sometimes, when I hit it and it’s been a while, I’ll bump the cooker up to 250ºF. Remember, it’s done when it’s done.

To Foil or Not to Foil

I’m not a fan of foil, but it does a great job of keeping the moisture in. My complaint is that I want some of the “renowned Mr. Brown” bark with my butt, and you can’t get that with foil — it’s too mushy. It’s also hard to get some mop onto the meat. A good vinegar-based mop does wonders for pulled pork.

My Suggestions for Pulled Pork

Once you’ve cooked it, let it sit for 10–15 min (always let the meat you cook sit for a few minutes to let the juices settle).

You can then pull (you can pull with your fingers, you can pull with forks, you can pull with whatever you got; you just pull). Some actually like it sliced, but you have to cook it only to 180ºF to do that.

Pulled Pork Bark

Now, when you’re pulling, look for “Mr. Brown and Mrs. White” in the pork. There will actually be two slightly different colors of meat, hence the names. Look for these and taste them, they WILL be different. Some swear by the Mr. Brown. If you didn’t cook in foil, then you’ll also have some bark; this is also something many pork pullers look for and eat. When done right, it’s not all dried and crusty, it just has a firmer texture and is not quite dried out. So, now you have this huge mass of pulled pork.

There are two traditional ways to eat pulled pork: either on white bread or cheap, small hamburger buns. And you know what, it’s great that way. Now, for the hard part. Some will eat this with cole slaw on the top — yup, on the sandwich (also called a samich in some parts). Depending on which side of the mountain in Carolina (Lexington) you are, you’ll either use a mustard-based sauce, a tomato-based sauce, or a vinegar sauce.

So, there you have it, the pulled pork tutorial (short version). Hope that helps.