Boston Butt Basics
courtesy of Longmill
A Boston butt is an ideal choice for the beginning BBQ pit master. This cut is from the shoulder (front leg) of a hog. A whole shoulder consists of the butt (top half) and picnic (bottom half). The same smoking principles apply to all three cuts of meat. i.e. shoulder, Boston butt, or picnic.
Cook your choice of cut at 220-250*F for approximately 1.5 hours per pound until the internal temperature reaches 180*F for slicing or 195-205*F for pulled pork. Note: Cooking time can vary widely due to local conditions and the condition of the meat. Always cook to desired internal temperature. Use cooking time as a rough idea of the duration of the cook.
A Boston butt is a good choice for the beginner because it is much more forgiving when things don’t go, as planned, during a cook. In part, due to the fat content, it can withstand a broader range of temperatures than many other cuts of meat. The meat doesn’t dry out as easily if temperature exceeds recommendation due to heat spikes, for example.
The following is a set of basic instructions to prepare and smoke a Boston butt for pulled pork. Once you master these basics, then you’re set to explore the fascinating world of pork BBQ in all it’s variations.
Preparation & Supplies Needed: The day before the cook.
Boston Butt (NOT been injected with flavor enhancers - Read the labels.)
Plain yellow mustard
Steven’s Basic BBQ Rub
(1 ) Rinse the butt with cool water. Pat dry with paper towels.
(2 ) Apply a thin coating of yellow mustard to all surfaces . Rub it in well.
(3 ) Coat the meat with a heavy application of rub. Make sure all surfaces are well coated, rubbing it thoroughly into the flesh.
(4 ) Cover the butt with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Pit Preparation: Day of the cook.
Set up your smoker in accordance with the applicable instructions for indirect cooking. While the principles are nearly the same, set up steps will vary depending on the fuel source and the style of cooker. The following applies to an charcoal fired offset. Make the necessary adjustments for propane, electric, or wood fires and for vertical smokers or when using a grill.
(1 ) Place a drip pan (disposable aluminum pan) under the grate, below where the butt will be placed. Add ½” of water to the pan. If using a temperature probe to monitor grate temperature, place it on the grate over the water pan.
(2 ) Use the Minion Method to start your fire to bring your pit up to approximately 230*F. Add your choice of wood chunks.
(3 ) Oil the grate well.
(4 ) When you’ve reached cooking temperature, remove the Butt from the refrigerator. Add an additional application of rub to the fleshy portions of the butt. Rub it in well. Insert a probe thermometer to monitor internal temperature of the meat.
(5 ) Place the cold butt on the grates, over the water pan and close the lid.
(6 ) Monitor the grate temperature, adjusting the intake vent, as needed to maintain the range of 220-250*F. Additional fuel will be needed, as the cook progresses.
Notes: Add additional wood chunks for the first 2-3 hours of the cook. Time depends on both your preferences for the amount of smoke flavor you want and the wood choice you’ve made. For a light smoked flavor, using hickory, quit adding wood after about 3 hours.
During the smoking of a butt, internal temperature will stop rising and may even drop a few degrees. This is called a plateau and generally happens around 160-170*F. This is normal. During this time the fats and collagens in the meat are being broken down. Resist the temptation to add more fuel to speed up the process. Allowing the process to continue at it’s own pace results in a better end product.
Basting is optional.
(7 ) If you are planning on sliced pork, remove the butt when it reaches an internal temperature of 180*F. If you are planning on pulled pork, remove the butt when the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 195*. Allowing the butt to reach an internal of 205-210*F, also results in a better end product.
(8 ) Remove the butt from the pit and place it in a clean disposable pan or other suitable container. Cover with foil. Cover that with a heavy bath towel and let it rest for at least a half hour. Recommended time is to let it rest for one hour or more. This allows time for the juices in the meat to redistribute themselves throughout the meat. Premature cutting will result in moisture loss.
(9 ) After resting, prepare the meat for your choice of serving methods. For pulled pork, remove the skin and underlying fat layer. Either discard or place aside for another use. Separate the muscle groups, removing any excess fat. Tear the chunks of meat into bite sized pieces. Chop, if desired.
(10 ) Add your choice of BBQ sauce, depending on your choice of BBQ style. Serve additional sauce along side for those who like extra sauce.
For additional information:
Complete List of Steven’s Books
Topic specific Book recommendations:
The Barbecue! Bible
How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques
Barbecue! Bible™ Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters & Glazes
The Art of Smoking
BBQ U: Barbecue Basics
BBQ U: Sauces and Rubs