Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to Grill/Smoke Pulled Pork or Boston Butt or Pork Shoulder - Steven Raichlen recipe

BTW, as a reminder, I am offering a FREE copy of HOW TO GRILL as a prize in a contest I am holding. Please read over yesterday's blog entry for the details... free, free, free! Click HERE for those details for 1st GIVEAWAY CONTEST - FREE How to Grill Book

OK, on to Boston Butts and pulled pork sandwiches. It was a great weekend on the smoker, I smoked 4 Boston Butts, also known as Pork Shoulder, and made enough pulled pork to feed 55 guests! I blogged about the event on this page, Backyard BBQ party for the neighborhood - 55 people showed up, and you can get to that page by clicking HERE. I did a few variations of the recipe that Steven Raichlen advises in his book, HOW TO GRILL. For one of the shoulders, I followed Steven's recipe and procedures exactly. For the other three, I either injected instead of mopped, altered the rub slightly or a combination of those. there were small changes in each, and on another day soon, I will be comparing and contrasting each of these outcomes, but to day, I want to talk just about Steven Raichlen's recipe and procedure from his book...

The recipe starts on page 106. There are 4 pages of detailed photos and a simple 2 page recipe to follow to achieve piggy nirvana. And it does not disappoint. First, a couple of words about the cut of meat. Head to Wikipedia for a word about where the term "Boston Butt" and why on earth a hunk of meat cut from the shoulder of the pig is named after the rear end. My personal theory is that there are tailgating Yankee fans having yet another joke at Red Sox fans. A more likely explanation has to do with snooty New Englanders keeping the best parts of the pig (thus the term, "Living High on the Hog") and shipping the less desirable hunks of pig to the south in casks or barrels, also called Butts for storage and shipment. Those clever grillers and smokers of olde in the Carolina's started looking forward to the casks from Boston that held the pork shoulder. I can imagine a line of pit masters hanging out on the dock hoping that today would be the day that the Boston butts (or kegs containing pork shoulders from New England) would arrive. And that is why to this day, me and most 12 year old boys prefer to call them Butts instead of shoulders.

But I digress, back to Steven Raichlen's recipe. No wit, another digression... I love this cut of meat for many reasons. Not the least is the cost. I buy mine from Sam's Club (a great place to buy meat, high quality at a low price). They come two to a package, each one weighing in at an average of 7 to 8 pounds. The price is less than $1.15 a pound. Serving a Boston Butt will feed a bunch of people for very little price. It is among the most economical cuts of meat to serve. It also accepts the smoking process very well, the flavor of the smoke is absorbed deeply, and that beautiful smoke ring that master smokers always seem to achieve is always visible on the finished product. It is also one of the easiest cuts of meat for a beginner to achieve spectacular results. Do not be scared of the size or the long cooking time. This is easy and forgiving. Novices can achieve the same results master pit bosses have achieved for years. Just follow a few easy steps...

Steven provides a very simple spice rub to use on the butt. The recipe calls for mostly common ingredients, with the exception of SWEET Paprika. I have a great spice guy at my local farmer's market that had this. I did look at my neighborhood grocery store, and there was only "standard" paprika. The beauty of a rub is that ingredients are easily substituted. It also calls for CELERY SEEDS, which I found easily, but honestly can not figure out why it is included in the recipe. I am trying my hand at making my own rubs. I am trying to think about each ingredient and what it adds to the whole. I tasted the seeds, and they had a mild taste that would very easily be overpowered by each of the other ingredients. But I digress, I added everything (including the celery seeds) and made the rub. It took about a cup and a half of rub for each of the butts. The recipe as listed only made one cup, but i was making plenty. If you are only making one butt, best to double the recipe.

I happen to have a dedicated smoker. But Steven assumes that you would make this on a grill. It is very easy to set up a grill for indirect grilling, and Steven provides detailed photographic instructions on how to do this. Adding wood for smoke and mopping each hour to add moisture is another important step that is covered in detail...

Let me drop in my standard disclaimer about me and recipes...Long time readers of the blog, I am going to start coloring the lettering in the disclaimer, it will be the same for each review, feel free to skip to the standard black colored text...

OK, here's my generic talk about Steven Raichlen and his book...and me... As long time readers know, I am doing my own tribute (rip-off) off the Julie/Julia project, cooking my way through Steven's amazing grill guide, HOW TO GRILL. Unlike Julie, I won't be finishing this in a year, but I will be making an item at least once a week.

A word about reprinting recipes... I asked for some advice a few posts back. I understand that it is done, lots of people do it, and there would be no consequences. But, I decided not to reprint any of Steven's recipes from this book. I have several reasons, first and probably most important to readers, I just think that this is a book that should be in every one's library. Buy the book. It is very detailed, comes highly recommended by someone who cooks on the grill often (me), lots of photos, lots of instruction... Darn near idiot proof. But, most important to me, I want to respect the copyright. In another life, I owned a book store. I have met and socialized with authors, and I have a great deal of respect for the effort it takes to produce a work like this. It may take a couple years, but eventually, I intend to make every single recipe in the book. Starting to reproduce the recipes, intending to do them all would certainly offend me as a book seller, and probably Steven as the copyright holder. Buy the book, Amazon has used copies available for under $7. Worth every penny.

OK, back to the recipe... Internal temperature is important. I start measuring after cooking at 225 degrees for about 11 hours (an hour and a half per pound is necessary to get it cooked through. I got the butts up to 180 degrees, and then double wrapped it in foil, after adding a drizzle of honey (my own touch). I stored the foiled butt in an ice chest (no ice) for 4 hours. When I took it out, the internal temperature measured 195 degrees, and it was still plenty hot enough.

There are several ways to tell when the meat is done. I have seen master pit bosses tell the internal temperature just by pushing on the meat. Others will jiggle the bone to make sure that it moves easily separate from the meat (fall off the bone phrase sound familiar). Me, I like to test with an instant read thermometer. Some day, I would love to get one of those fancy wireless probes that will tell you the temperature of the meat while you are taking a nap (complete with an alarm). Of course, me, instead of napping, I would be working on my wife's honey do list, cleaning gutters, sweeping the garage, painting the fence, that kind of stuff. Honest, if I had that specialty temperature prob thingy, I would never squander the extra time I had napping and watching football, I would be working on my honey do list.. honest I would... Honest.

But I am digressing again, back to Steven Raichlen and his Boston Butt. Once the meat is ready to be served, it is time for the all important - SHREDDING OF THE MEAT!Pulled Pork should not be cut. It should be... well, it should be pulled (clever name huh). It is easiest and best to pull the meat apart while it is hot. You want to pull the pork away from the fat (and discard the fat). Pull away from the bone and toss it. Then start shredding into pieces about 2 inches long and narrow. You can do this with your hands, but the hot meat will get hot. So you either need to wear special insulated gloves or use what I do which are these clever little bear paw thingies. Oddly enough, they were originally marketed as a meat lifter and a way to hold meat while it is being cut. As frequent readers of this blog know, you should never pierce your cooked meat until it is ready to slice. Using bear paws to lift meat is terrible, as all the juices would run out. Using them to shred your pork is fabulous. Of course, just a couple of big forks can work as well, but it looks so macho to pull your pork with those bear paws.

Steven gives the classic way to serve your pork, shredded on a bun, with a thin North Carolina vinegar sauce, topped with Cole Slaw (all recipes are provided).

This was... FABULOUS. Of course a 5 out of 5. The detailed instructions make it nearly idiot proof. The price and amount of servings make it very much worth the time and effort. The taste was excellent. Personally, I would have liked a little more spice to the rub, but that is me. Serving to the masses as I did, I know that not everyone likes a heavily spiced meal. I also know that I am probably in the top 80% of wanting spices on my rub VRS the majority of people who want a flavorful rub (which this was) and not hot. It was a great rub for the average folk. Since you will probably never cook a 7 or 8 pound piece of meat to individual taste, make something most people will want (and then offer different sauces that can be spiced correctly (or differently)). If you are trying a smoked item for the first time, you can do a lot worse than trying a Boston butt and following Steven raichlen's technique.

And while you can make a Boston Butt with a very simple setup, here are a few items you really should have around the house in order to really show off your skills...


  1. The pork looks absolutely mouthwatering. The only time I had pulled pork was years ago when I visited my brother. He has a smoker and did pulled pork with two different kinds of sauce. Amazing stuff!

  2. That is super macho!! Pulled pork is one of the best things ever...I would add it to just about anything ;) mmmmmmmmm!

  3. I LOVE the bear claw idea for pulling - excellent use of resources at hand. The pork looks stunning...Another thing I really want to try to do on my own. I should make it one of my winter projects, though I'll have to do it indoors in my slow cooker. I know this won't be the same, but I can't BBQ in the winter under 8 feet of snow!

  4. Started cracking up when you began pleading your case for a wireless remote probe thermometer to Mrs. MYOTG, very funny!

    Love butts! Ingles has them on sale for .98 per lb so you know what I'm making this weekend.

  5. I cooked one of these this weekend following Raichlen's instructions to the letter. It was the first time I have barbequed, ever, and it went like clockwork. There was a nice smoke-ring and the flavour and texture was superb. I was a little concerned about controlling the temperature but the Weber made it easy. Now I'm hooked! I now need to find a mop - they do not seem to be readily available in the UK.