Grilling a pork shoulder, the Boston Butt, is one of the best tests for future GrillMasters to hone their cooking skills. It’s a big piece of meat, however, it’s not difficult to perfect. Once you get your method perfected, you’ll be the toast of the neighborhood.
Are you ready?
Let’s start by choosing what type of grill you will be using. If you’re using a kettle grill, use indirect heat for the cooking process. For smokers, set it up for a six- to eight-hour smoke. Before you begin, soak a few handfuls of pecan chunks (or any wood you choose) for about 30 minutes in water before adding to the coals.
Rub your meat
Start with a pork shoulder in the seven-to-eight-pound range. Some experts say to trim the excess “fat cap,” but we find that doing this is bad to the overall slow smoke. The fat, which essentially melts and bastes the shoulder as it cooks, helps to keep the meat moist during the slow cooking process. Generously shake on your favorite rub, spreading it and patting evenly around the pork shoulder. Save some rub for later in the cooking process.
Place the butt fat-side up on the grill, close the grill and bring the temperature up to a constant 225 degrees Fahrenheit to 250 degrees, using the vents to regulate the temperature. If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer, pick up a digital barbecue thermometer, such as the Thermapen by ThermoWorks. Be sure to check the internal temperature of the grill every hour or so. Add more charcoal and/or soaked wood chips as needed to maintain temperature and steady smoke.
The USDA recommends that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The federal agency says it is lowering the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 degrees to 145 degrees and adding a 3-minute rest time. Although the safe zone temps have been lowered, the science behind the cooking makes the end product better, which means allowing the shoulder to reach 200 degrees is ideal. The high internal temperature allows collagen to break down, making the meat more tender. Keep in mind that the pork shoulder will continue to cook internally by 10 degrees even after you pull it off the grill. Remove the butt from the grill using barbecue gloves or by rolling it onto a shallow cooking sheet, cradling the meat to prevent it from falling apart.
The chopping block
Once the butt is off the grill, let it rest for at about 15 minutes to allow the juices to settle back into the meat, which comes when the temperature gradually declines and stops the cooking process. Pull off any remaining sections of cooked fat and discard. Now you are ready to render the butt. The most common method is to pull it apart with two forks or claws that literally “pull” and separate the tender strands of pork. Another way is to slice, then chop. Either way, be sure to mix the “bark,” or crusted outer meat, with the inner meat so that the varying textures and flavors meld.