Grilling · Pork · Smoked

Smoked Pork Butt – Of Bark and Smoke Rings and Shreddy Goodness

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Yesterday, starting early, early, early in the morning, I fired up the smoker and placed a lovingly rubbed and injected hunk of pork on the rack.

You can read the first three posts about this day-long project here:

Smoked Pork Butt – Rising Before Dawn

Smoked Pork Butt – Charcoal Couture

Smoked Pork Butt – I’ve Got a Hot Butt (clearly the smoke was getting to me here)

Now, for the final chapter of yesterday’s labor of love….

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The main goal during the whole, long (ultimately about 13 hours) project is to keep the temperature inside the smoker at a relatively constant temperature.

With experience, this becomes easier, of course. 

For me?  Yesterday?  It was like being a very new mother.  The constant running outside to check on it – is it too hot?  is it too cold?  should I give it more coal?  more apple wood?  a diaper change?

There was frustration when the temperature dropped too low or rose too high, and a smidge of smugness when the temperature – like baby bear’s porridge – was just right.

I worked solo until the end of the school day.  I went to pick up Alex and Julia, and Bill arrived home shortly before I returned.

I’ll admit – I was hoping the temperature would be right on the nose when Bill showed up, so I’d added some coals and a piece of wood a little bit before it was time to get the kids.  Didn’t matter, though – by the time I got home Bill had checked the temperature and added some more coal.

It was cold out yesterday.  January is like that.  When I got up in the morning it was somewhere in the teens, and while we hit the low forties for a little while, that’s still cold, and the temperature went down again along with the sun.  The coldness pulls heat from your smoker and, when you’re new at this and concerned about keeping the temperature at 220 F, BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T, THE PORK WILL BE RUINED!!!, it gets a little nerve-wracking.  And, eventually, after you’ve checked AGAIN and it’s down below 200 AGAIN, then it just gets plain old annoying.  Especially if you’re trying to make cheese at the same time.

But I digress.

When Bill got home, he asked if I’d checked the internal temperature at all.  I hadn’t.  I said I didn’t expect it to reach the desired temperature (190 F) during the day, so rather than open the smoker (and let out a bunch of precious heat), I hadn’t bothered.

But Bill was curious, so we checked it.

It was just about 3:00 at this point.  The butt had been in the smoker since 5:00 in the morning, so – 10 hours.

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It’s 170.4. 

At this point my insecurities and paranoia kick in and I start wondering – is that too high?  too low?  did I do something wrong?  have I been a slacker?  AM I A BAD PORK BUTT SMOKER? 

You have to understand – I am pretty damn confident on my own turf, but here, on this day, with this project, I had dared step across the line into MANLY MAN PLAYING WITH FIRE TERRITORY, and I was determined not to fall on my face.

Bill didn’t say much of anything, so of course my paranoia and insecurity moved to red alert and I watched his face annoyingly for a good hour or more after that point, just so see if I could read anything terrible that he wasn’t saying.

Oh, I am a joy and a half to live with, let me tell you.

While I stared at his face in an annoying and pathetic manner (but only when I thought he wasn’t looking), Bill started making the barbecue sauce.  He uses a recipe in Weber’s Big Book of Grilling as a launching pad, and then tweaks it depending on what sort of sauce we want.  Sometimes a bit more heat, sometimes a bit more vinegar….

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No matter what he does, it always turns out delicious.  And even before that – when he firsts starts cooking it – the cider vinegar gets in the air and kicks my salivary glands into high hear.  Really.  It’s magical.

We also made some cole slaw.  Bill had actually dug up carrots from our snowbound winter garden the day before, just so we could add some to the slaw.

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After digging down to the very frozen ground, Bill wiggled his way inside, with a bucket of hot water, and poured it around the carrots, trying to thaw the earth so he could pull something from it.

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At one point it looked like the little winter garden was giving birth.

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He went through this process twice.

It was not fun.

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And here’s what he was able to get.

Small, muddy, broken pieces of carrots here….(and blurry – this was all rushed)

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And two small – but intact – carrots here.

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Hey, enough to say YES, we picked carrots from our garden in late January!

That’s the whole point, right?  To be able to say that.

So anyway, I chopped a small head of savoy cabbage and thinly sliced the carrots while Bill mixed up a dressing that included (more garden bragging) dill seeds saved from our abundant dill forestation last summer.

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Bill made the executive decision to jack the smoker temperature up to about 240-250, in an effort to move the internal meat temp up a bit faster.  We really didn’t want to be dining at nine o’clock.

And it worked.  The temperature started to move up a bit faster, and we figured that since the pork had spent the vast majority of its cooking time surrounded by 200-220 degree heat, then bumping the temp up another 20-30 degrees for an hour or so wouldn’t cause any harm.

A little after 6pm Bill went outside to check on the internal temperature of the meat.  It had been at 180 about an hour earlier, and we were hopeful.  Bill came inside – it was at 188!  Almost time to eat! 

At 6:12 we marched outside. 

It was dark.  The pork butt started smoking 13 hours earlier in the dark of morning, and we were pulling it in the dark of evening.

Here’s the temperature.  It’s a bit hard to see, but it reads 190 F.  YAY!

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Here’s the pork, below, with the probe of the thermometer still in it.

After I took this picture, Bill moved the butt from the grill onto a big wooden cutting board, and as he picked up the meat, it started to fall apart.

And the angels sang.

He tightened his grip and placed the pork but tenderly, lovingly on the wooden board.

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A few shredded bits of meat had stuck to the rack. 

We ate these ourselves, out in the cold, dark, pork-smoked night.

Angels sang some more.

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I took one more picture, and then we carried our meal into the house.

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We were giddy with joy.

Bill started shredding the pork and I set the table and dished up everything else.

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You know that whole falling-off-the-bone thing that’s so desirable in smoked pork?

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Yeah, we got that.

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That’s Alex’s shoulder in the right of the picture.  Bill had summoned the children so they could behold the marvelous sight.

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And taste little bits of meat and bark.

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The bark, in case you hadn’t heard that term before, is the outer layer of pork.  It had the rub on it, and as the whole thing smoked, the rub and underlying meat darkened and darkened and developed a slightly chewy texture and an incredible smoked flavor.

Bark is good.

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Right below the bark (or, in the picture above, it’s on top of the bark) is the smoke ring.  A reddish layer that all the people who smoke meats will point out to you as a very desirable, admirable, manly-man (or womanly-woman) component of your smoked animal.

Smoke ring is good.

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Actually, all of it was good.  Tender, moist, flavorful.  All good.

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Bill, I swear, was practically weeping happy tears the whole time he was shredding the meat.

It just fell apart in tasty, shreddy pieces.

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Right off the bone.

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The shredded pork went into a bowl and was brought – trumpets blaring – to the table.

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And then we made our pulled pork sandwiches.

Nothing fancy for this – just plain ol’ hamburger buns, some pork, some sauce, and, if you like, some cole slaw. 

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(The kids didn’t do the slaw thing.)

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Alex ate two sandwiches.  Julia tried to.  Bill ate two.  I ate two.

We were stuffed.

And that is the end of this smoked pork butt story.

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3 thoughts on “Smoked Pork Butt – Of Bark and Smoke Rings and Shreddy Goodness

  1. I just stuffed myself with tenderloin but I’m still drooling over the sight of this, until I saw the slaw…. on the sandwich. That’s just not right, well at least it’s not right in Texas. We keep our meats separate from our veg. As the hubby would say that’s the stuff my food eats.

  2. Great work. You had my mouth watering the whole time. I love the carrot hunt too. I will have to de-ice my smoker sometime soon. Thanks for the post and good eats.

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