If you ever wanted to learn how to make pulled pork on the grill, check out this easy guide and simple step by step recipe for creating a crowd pleasing Carolina pulled pork butt for all your summer BBQ needs and beyond!
I’ve spent the last two years learning a lot about grilling, different meat cuts, and the science behind what happens when you combine a lot of different elements like smoke and fire to meat. One of my favorite cuts and recipes to make is a classic pulled pork made from a Boston Butt.
If you’re new to BBQ, old to grilling, or somewhere in between and want some basic tips on what to do and when, my goal is to break it down and guide you through this process with little stress and lots of good eats.
Smoked pork butt or pork shoulder is a fairly affordable cut of meat for what it yields. It’s also fairly forgiving (if you make a few mistakes) and takes little prep work. It was one of the first recipes I made on my charcoal ceramic grill and I love pairing it with this recipe for keto Carolina mustard sauce or even making keto pulled pork tacos.
Don’t be intimidated, get out of your comfort zone, and dive in with my helpful guide to master this recipe on your smoker at home! Read through this post below for tips, tricks, and techniques I’ve learned along the way.
- Baking Sheet
- Aluminum Foil
- Meat Probe Thermometer
- Spray Bottle
- Oven Mitts/ Grill Gloves
Lets talk some good old pork booty! This versatile cut of meat comes from the shoulder area of the pig. Many people interchange pork shoulder or a Boston butt, but they are actually two separate cuts (pork butt is above the shoulder on a pig). Either way, the method for making pulled pork with these two cuts is the same, low and slow process that I’m breaking down below.
Here are a few beginner cooking tips to note before we get started! A pork butt or shoulder is a pretty large cut of meat, often ranging between as small as 5 lbs. (rare) and as large as 18 lbs. (definitely on the heavy side) on average.
This cut is TOUGH and needs low and slow cooking to break down the tissue and cartilage to be the pulled or chopped pork of your dreams.
Meaning, it takes time and lots of it. Read through, prepare, and don’t just jump into this without covering all your bases so you have a successful cook.
Ok, thanks for coming to my #teachertedtalk
How do I prep the pork for the smoker?
Every home pit master has their own methods, here are a few that I prefer to do pre-smoking and what I find works for me!
Remove your meat from any packaging, rinse off excess juice and pat it dry. Look the meat over to remove any excess silver skin (literally silver, shiny looking connective tissue that won’t break down well on the meat and tends to make it tough).
Look your shoulder/ butt over again and remove any larger, thicker areas of fat. Using a carving knife or boning knife that bends nicely to keep as much meat on the cut as possible during this process. It doesn’t have to be perfect, do your best to be thorough!
Scoring the Fat-
If you have ever scored the outside of a ham, you can also do this with a pork butt as well. Locate the area of the meat with the fat cap (usually the top area with a an inch of fat or more). Lightly slice through the fat vertically, then on an angle horizontally with a knife.
This cross hatch grid pattern creates a cool look when smoked on the grill and helps the smoke and flavor penetrate closer to the meat while maintaining flavor and moisture. Sometimes I trim my fat cap down (don’t completely remove it) as well. Experiment with which method your prefer!
What is a binder? It’s the thin layer of “glue” you use to help adhere your BBQ rub to your meat (think olive oil on your steak before you add some salt). Pork pairs really well with yellow mustard but you can also use a little hot sauce or a little BBQ sauce.
My friend Chef Josh will tell you to ALWAYS do a very thin layer of binder. A little goes a long way, and it should not be a thick coating (you should see the meat through the binder). Spread this all over the entire pork shoulder, top to bottom.
Want to achieve that classic “bark” (crusty outside coating that looks burned on but actually isn’t)? THIS IS THE TASTIEST PART! Then you need to use a rub! There are many store bought rubs on the market, but I am partial to this sugar free and keto friendly all purpose BBQ rub or my favorite Spicy Cajun BBQ Dry rub recipe.
If you make your own you can also just stick to using a standard SPOG (salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder) rub. I also always prefer some smoky paprika to add smoke flavor (NO LIQUID SMOKE PEOPLE) and maybe a little red pepper flakes for a spicy kick if you’re so inclined.
Resting & Time-
Depending on how early I plan to start smoking my meat, this process can take a bit of time. I prefer to do this an hour or two before I grill or even the night before. This makes it easier at 4 am to only focus on lighting the grill and get the temp right and can help add more flavors to your meat too.
The pork can definitely sit out for around 30 minutes or so before grilling, putting it on a little warmer won’t hurt it and you’re still practicing food safety. Regardless, let the rub sweat into the meat before putting it on the grill.
How do I set up the grill and cook my pork butt?
Every pork butt is different and so is every grill. Whether you have a pellet grill, off set smoker, or a ceramic style charcoal grill like I do (I use a Big Green Egg for this cook), note that you may have a different experience than I did, but general rules and techniques absolutely still apply.
Choosing Wood & Wood Chips-
Because I have a ceramic style charcoal grill (uses both direct or indirect cooking options). I do use wood chunks for my BBQ. If you have a pellet smoker or other brand of charcoal grill you may need wood chips or flavored pellets.
My honest suggestion when it comes to choosing what wood to use, is to use what you like. Typically with pork I like some milder wood like pecan and mix in some cherry for color. Apple would also be a mild wood as well.
If you’re looking for a medium smoke flavor try, go for some oak and if you want the smoke to punch you in the taste buds try hickory or mesquite (mesquite is STRONG).
Lighting The Grill-
Add enough charcoal to your grill base to last you for a good 10-16 hours. Light your fire in the middle according to the manufactures instructions. Place your wood chunks so they are spaced out across the coals (some closer to the lit charcoal and some further away) to balance out the cook. Set your grill now for indirect heat and bring it up to temp!
Grill Temperature VS Temperature of the Pork-
I prefer to keep my pork butt very low and slow and shoot for a grill temperature of 225 F. Some cooks go as far as cooking at 300 F. Either way, get your grill preheated and dialed in at a low and slow temperature that you can maintain throughout your cook. Fluctuating temperatures are a NO NO!
I use an internal meat probe to help watch and track the internal temp of the pork. Pork tissue breaks down nicely and becomes tender starting around 195 but sometimes I go a little past if the pork needs it (between 200-203 F.). You can test the tenderness by using your meat thermometer and moving it around inside the pork. It should feel like “melted butter”. When you insert the probe and it easily cuts through the meat, then its a good indicator that the tissue will easily shred and pull apart.
How do I prevent my pork from drying out during a low and slow cook?
The key is moisture! After the bark sets (the outside rub portion can’t be wiped off with your finger and looks almost burnt on) you can spray every hour with some of my Texas style mop sauce (keto friendly), some people like to use apple juice, or dilute your favorite BBQ sauce with some apple cider vinegar.
Giving the bark a quick spritz once an hour or so throughout the cook helps the smoke adhere better, keeps the bark from cracking and drying out the meat, and prevents it from falling off as well.
Why does the pork temperature suddenly stop for a long period of time during cook, or even decrease during the cook?
That my friends, is called the stall. I remember the first time this happened to me and I freaked out that I messed up my food or my grill was no longer lit. But actually, it’s just a point in the process where the meat sometimes needs a little help to keep cooking.
Though you can be patient and wait out the stall (could be several hours) you can also wrap the pork too and speed it along. I have done it both ways and enjoy the pork with either method.
How do you wrap the pork butt?
Get two sheets of heavy duty foil and slightly overlap them. Add a few pads of room temperature butter and add some room temperature sauce (if desired) over the foil to help keep the bark moist. Wrap the pork butt/ shoulder fat cap side down and tightly secure the foil around the meat.
Place it back on the grill and insert the probe and you will notice it will help increase the cooking speed. If time is not an issue, I vote to leave it unwrapped personally. This keeps the bark crispy and delicious!.
How do I know when it’s done?
Though temperature is a helpful indicator (remember that 195 F mark I mentioned), don’t be afraid to listen and be in tune with your BBQ instead. Use the temperature as a guide but feel it out! I have had some pork butts cook nicely by that 195 F mark and as high as 206 F. It’s done when its tender!
Resting, pulling, sauce and serve-
Once the pork is done, take it off the grill and leave it wrapped. If it isn’t wrapped, wrap it now to help keep it warm. I also like to roll mine into a towel and set it in an insulated bag or in my microwave to rest for at least and hour.
Resting helps the juices in the meat redistribute and allows for any additional tissues to break down and tenderize. Also, it’s hot! Trying to pull this right away is a case of burning your hands.
After a decent amount of time, throw on some gloves and pull that baby by hand! Some people like to chop (you could I guess) but pulling is so satisfying (and I also like to remove any larger chunks of fat that don’t fully render internally).
Place it on a platter or a baking sheet for serving. I prefer to leave my pork sans sauce and serve the sauces on the side. My Carolina keto mustard sauce is 100% my favorite with this, but I do love my KC style sauce when I make these pulled pork hot dogs (all keto low carb options by the way).
If you read all this and feel a little overwhelmed or you want something easy and hands off that doesn’t involve the grill, check out my fellow blogger friend Anna over at Keto In Pearls. She has the best Keto Crock Pot / Instant Pot friendly pulled pork recipe too. I also love my girlfriend Andrea’s Slow Braised Carnita Tacos recipe too over on her blog, Howe We Live.
Want to try grilling up some other fan favorites, check out these popular grill recipes as well-
A Basic Guide To Smoked Pork Shoulder (Butt) Recipes
- 1 Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt 10-15 lbs but weight varies
- 2-4 tbsp. Yellow Mustard
- BBQ Rub
- Prep your pork butt or shoulder by patting it dry, removing any silver skin, thicker areas of fat and trim as needed. See the post above regarding how to prepare the fat cap.
- Apply a light amount of mustard to the entire piece of meat. It should be a thin coating. Next, apply the rub of your choice evenly starting on the bottom and then finishing on the top. Let the meat rest out at least 30 minutes. This can be done 12 hours ahead of time.
- Preheat your grill to 225 F and set it for indirect heat. Place your pork onto the rack and cook it until it reaches a minimal internal temperature of 195 F or until the pork is tender when poked with a probe.
- * If you notice a stall in the temperature (a long period of time where the temperature doesn't change, you can wrap it in foil. See notes above for how to do this. Additionally, you can spritz the outside of the bark every hour to keep it moist.
- Remove the pork butt from the grill and allow it to rest at least an hour before shredding. Shred as desired and serve with your favorite sauces, sides, and pickles!