Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Barbecued Pork Butt

Every summer we make sure to do a pork butt on the barbecue. This year, we just managed to squeeze it in before the end of barbecue season. As it gets dark earlier, it gets harder and harder to cook outside -- particularly when the dish takes 9 hours...

A whole bone-in pork butt is a beautiful thing. We get ours from Siesel's Meats, a nice local place offering a good selection of high quality meats. (If it's not in the display case, ask. They just might have it in the back.)

Covered in a generous coating of flavorful spices, it's even better.

Our rub is from Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork and includes paprika, chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, brown sugar, ground cumin, ground coriander, dry mustard, dry sage, dried oregano, black pepper and kosher salt. The spice mixture is applied the night before cooking and the whole thing is wrapped in plastic, then refrigerated. Overnight, the rub draws out a bit of moisture to become a sort of dry marinade.

We use a gas grill with indirect heat for this type of cooking. Using a single burner, we can keep the temperature at a reasonably consistent 200 to 250 degrees -- usually about 230. The hard part is getting a good, stable smoke level. But by placing the wood chip box very close to the lit burner, we can usually achieve a nice, if sporadic smokiness. The grill loses a fair amount of smoke, so the chips need replacing quite frequently -- I'm sure everyone in the neighborhood can tell (smell) when we're cooking barbecue.

During the long, slow cooking process, the smoke and spices combine to create a delicious crispy, yet chewy, intensely flavored crust. After resting, all it takes is a couple of forks to pull the pork into savory shreds. Add a little vinegar sauce seasoned with salt, pepper, sugar and chili flakes and you're all set.

When we first started making pulled pork, our primary use of it was the traditional pulled pork sandwich. Recently, though, we've changed our ways. We find that the bread of the sandwich masks a lot of the great pork flavor. As an alternative, we like to make pulled pork tacos.

Barbecued Pork Butt

The Spice Rub:

1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon dry sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

The Vinegar Sauce:

3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork butt
Several cups of hardwood chips (hickory and alder), soaked for 2 hours.

Thoroughly mix together the ingredients for the spice rub. Sprinkle the rub evenly all over the meat giving it a generous coating. Wrap the seasoned meat tightly in plastic wrap, place on a tray to catch any escaping juices, and refrigerate overnight.

Unwrap the meat and let sit at room temperature while preparing the grill. Using a gas barbecue grill, remove one grill plate and center the other in the grill area. Light one burner to the left or right of the grill plate and put a wood chip smoker box filled with damp wood chips near the lit burner -- bring them to a smolder. Place the seasoned meat on the grill, fat side up, and close the lid.

Maintain a grill temperature of 200 to 250 degrees, replenishing the wood chips as necessary to achieve a consistent smoke level. Cook the pork until the internal temperature reaches at least 180 degrees; for improved tenderness, shoot for closer to 190 degrees. Cooking time will take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours depending upon the roast size and grill temperature.

Due to the long cooking time, the wood chip smoker box will fill with ashes, reducing its effectiveness. Every few hours, use tongs to remove the box and empty the ashes into a metal container before refilling with damp wood chips. If needed, turn on a second burner for a few minutes after opening the lid to restore the temperature level and jumpstart the chip smoker.

When the meat is done, carefully transfer it from the grill to a tray. Cover with foil and drape with kitchen towels, then allow it to rest 30 minutes. Prepare the vinegar sauce by mixing the ingredients until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved. Once the meat has rested, use two forks to pull the meat into shreds and transfer to a large bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of the vinegar sauce over the meat and mix gently, but well. Add additional sauce to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. Yum - pork butt - that's great!!

  2. I love the rub you used here and the resulting flaky, rendered meat.

  3. Got the temp up to 185, slow cooked at 250 degrees for 9.5 hours for a 7 pounder. It was tough and fatty. Guess I should have gone for 12.