How to Smoke Pork Shoulder

If you aren’t willing to get your hands dirty, stop right now. If you can’t invest several hours of your time then I suggest you go to the store and buy pre-made pulled pork. Don’t read this article. Save yourself some time and eat shitty pulled pork from the store.

In the event that you want a challenge, you have a smoker, you don’t mind destroying your kitchen, and you don’t mind man handling a 10 lb piece of meat, continue reading.

I’m not an expert in any way, this is how I do it. There are never leftovers.

Day 1 – Brine
Day 2 – Rub
Day 3 – Smoke

Selecting a Pork Butt

The first thing that you will need is a piece of pork. Many people think that pork butt comes from the rear end of the hog. It does not. It comes from the front shoulder of the hog. The pork shoulder consists of two pieces, the upper portion of the shoulder which is called the butt and the lower portion which is called the picnic.

I typically use the pork butt. It is sold bone-in and boneless. A lot of times you will see different names for pork butt at the grocery store. Some of these names include: Boston butt, Boston roast, Boston shoulder roast, and shoulder butt.

If you want to save time, I would recommend purchasing a boneless pork butt. Most of the exterior fat has been trimmed off of the boneless pork butt. If you were to get bone in, you would have to do a lot of the trimming yourself. Also, boneless butts cook faster because they have less weight than the bone-in butts.

If you buy the bone-in pork butt that is fine, just remember, you will have to trim the excess fat from the butt. The rub doesn’t stick to a thick layer of fat as well as it does to the lean meat. Also, the smoke will not penetrate the external fat. You will also have to allow for extra cooking time because of the large bone in the butt.

Brine

Remove your pork but from its packaging and trim any excess fat. When you are done, your pork butt should look similar to the picture above.

I like to brine my pork butt. Brining is a process similar to marinating in which the meat is soaked in brine before cooking. Follow my Basic Brine Recipe for smoking meat and let your pork butt soak in the brine over night. You may need to double and even triple the brine recipe to cover your pork butt depending on the size of your pork butt. Be sure to place your brine in a large container which allows for the pork butt to be fully submerged.

Rub

Remove your pork butt from the brine and pat dry. You will notice that the pork is no longer a red/pink color. It is now a gray/brown color. That is ok. The meat has absorbed the brine.

Pat your pork butt dry with a paper towel. Lay down two sheets of Saran Wrap. Make the sheets long enough to completely wrap the entire pork butt. Place your pork butt in the middle of the Saran Wrap.

Completely cover your pork but with a layer of French’s Classic Yellow Mustard. Sounds weird right? It is ok, you will not taste the mustard at all after the pork butt has smoked. The mustard will help the rub stick to the pork. Generously cover the entire pork butt with a dry rub of your choice.

Creating your own rub can produce great results. However, if it is your first time smoking and you are beginner, you may want to buy a rub from the grocery store. Spice companies like McCormick have invested lots of money in developing well balanced spice mixtures. Trying to recreate something that has already been done well as a beginner may produce a bad product. Once you are comfortable with smoking and what flavor profile you prefer, try making your own rub. I often use McCormick Pork Dry Rub because it is readily available in most grocery stores. A dry rub that is sometimes hard to find at the grocery store is Sticky Fingers Dry Rub.

Apply this rub generously covering the entire pork butt. Fold the Saran Wrap tightly covering the entire pork butt. Make sure there are no gaps that expose the meat. Put your pork butt in the fridge overnight to let the rub absorb into the meat.

Smoke

If you have gotten this far, I would assume that you have a smoker. If you do not, I cannot refund you the time you spent reading this article. I may suggest getting a smoker ASAP, that way you at least didn’t lose 10 minutes of your life.

Depending on your smoker, instructions for getting it fired up may vary. Do what you must to get your smoker going. I am using the Master Forge Vertical Smoker.

This smoker will burn at a steady temp between 200 – 225 degrees. Some people like to cook hot and fast, while others use the low and slow method. I’m a low and slow kinda guy. You will need to smoke your pork but about 1 hour per pound or until your pork butt reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees Fahrenheit. A 10 lb pork butt will need to smoke approximately 10 hours assuming that your smoker holds a 200 – 225 degree temperature.

During the smoking process you will want to baste your pork butt. I typically baste with a squirt bottle filled with 1/2 cup apple juice, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Occasionally open your smoker and spray the pork butt. You may want to turn your pork but over a few times during the cooking period.

Remove the meat when it reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit and wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Store the wrapped butts until ready to pull and serve.

Master Forge Smoker

I got the Master Forge Vertical Smoker from Lowes for about $60.00. The Master Forge Smoker is a good charcoal smoker for beginners. Not too expensive and does an ok job. Below you will find my instructions on how to use the Master Forge Smoker.

Drink a beer for each step of this setup process. Rinse and repeat.

Acquire Supplies

These items are not required, but they are highly recommended. Your life will be much easier if you have these on hand before getting your smoker fired up.


I prefer Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal over Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes because it is 100% natural hardwood, lights quickly, burns long, burns hot and also provides authentic smoky flavor.

The Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter is a must have. I have no problem getting my charcoal lit and burning hot. Even in high wind, it isn’t a problem. I’ll never light charcoal again without this thing.

I personally like large wood chunks like the Weber Hickory Wood Chunks. I do not use a box to put wood chips in. I like large wood chunks so that I don’t have continuously add woods chips. However, both will work. If you have access to a store like Gander Mountain, I’d recommending getting a large bag of wood chunks.

I do not use this, but I can see the benefit. I may try this in the near future especially since it is hard to get apple wood chunks where I live. So, I’ll probably get one of these and put apple wood chips in it. Give it a try, let me know what you think.

Master Forge Smoker Assembly

Obviously you have to assemble your smoker. Depending on your skill level, this can take some time. For me, it took about 30 minutes. If you need instructions to assemble the smoker please see – Master Forge Vertical Smoker Assembly Instructions.

Lighting the Charcoal

Don’t cook anything until you get a Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. When cooking on the Master Forge Smoker, it is essential to have hot burning charcoal. It is damn near impossible to get the charcoal burning in your smoker’s firebox without the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Do yourself a favor and get the damn thing. It is only $15.00.

Once you have your charcoal burning hot, fill your firebox with lit charcoals, I use Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes or Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal. Let your smoker burn (not cooking food) for at least 2 hours with the lid closed. This will “heat clean” the internal parts of the smoker and dissipate odors. Do not open the lid during this process. After 2 hours, apply a light coat of vegetable oil or vegetable oil spray to all interior surfaces of the smoker.

Once you have done this, you should be ready to start smoking.

Some things that you should consider when cooking with the Master Forge Smoker

Selecting the Wood

Buy wood chunks, not wood chips. If you are smoking for over 4 hours and you are using wood chips, you’ll be adding chips to your smoker all damn day. I prefer wood chunks. This way, I don’t need to continuously add wood to my smoker. I tend to use hickory and oak wood chunks when smoking pork butts. I recommend Weber Hickory Wood Chunks.

Master Forge Smoker Temperature

The Master Forge Vertical Smoker is designed to hold an internal temperature of around 250 degrees. You will notice that there are no vents to open and close for airflow like on some other smokers. This becomes a problem after several hours of smoking, because the charcoal ashes fall to the bottom of the firebox, clogging the vents, preventing airflow. There are some modifications that you can make to your smoker to prevent this from happening. I haven’t made any of these modifications yet, I’ll save that for a rainy day. When/if I decide to do that, I will provide the instructions here.

Master Forge Smoker Water Pan

Many people have the misconception that the water pan in your smoker makes the meat moist. This is a myth. The water pan is not used to moisten the meat. The purpose of the water pan is to help maintain normal smoking temperatures in the smoking chamber. Water boils at 212 degrees. The 200+ degree steam fills the chamber and helps regulate the heat.

Price breakdown of this project

Master Forge Vertical Smoker – $60.00
Kingsford Original Charcoal – $10.00
Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter– $15.00
Weber Hickory Wood Chunks – $13.00
Beer – $10.00
Miscellaneous – $10.00
Your Time – FREE

TOTAL: $118.00

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Master Forge Smoker turn into a regular barbeque grill?

The Master Forge Smoker can turn into a grill for cooking over direct heat, it is pretty easy to setup. Just remove the main body of the smoker all together. Start the charcoal in the base pan like usual, but instead of replacing the smoker body, just place one of the cooking grates directly on the top of the charcoal pan.

Do the wood chips go in the water pan in a Master Forge Smoker?

No, the wood chips do not go in the water in the master for smoker. For details about the Master Forge Smoker water pan, see section above about the water pan. The woods chips go in the firebox directly on top of the charcaol, or you can put the wood chips in a metal smoker box and set it on top of the charcoals in the firebox.

For related information about using your Master Forge Smoker, please see, How to Smoke Pork Shoulder and Basic Brine Recipe.

Basic Brine Recipe

This is a basic brine recipe for smoking meat. You can add ingredients based on your personal taste. I sometimes add apple cider vinnegar or soy sauce.

Ingredients

This makes 1 quart of brine

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 cups water

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the salt, sugar and water. Whisk vigorously until all the salt and sugar is dissolved. Then pour this mixture over the meat. Soak for several hours, or overnight. Make sure that the meat is fully submerged in the brine, and make more brine as needed to fully cover the meat.