First things first. Plan on making this a 2-day event. There’s a reason great barbecue is hard to find. You aren’t going to come home after work and put together a fantastic pulled pork dinner in 30 minutes. Great barbecue isn’t difficult, but you have to be willing to put in the time and effort.
If you’re still reading, then it’s time to go buy your pork shoulder. I use pork shoulder butt roast, but you can also use pork shoulder arm roast, etc. The good news is these cuts of meat are usually among the cheapest you can buy because they are so fatty, but they are perfect for barbecue because you want good fatty meat.
Depending on what your schedule is, I would plan to dry rub the roast in the morning and refrigerate it and let it marinade in the rub during the day. About 5 hours before bedtime start preparing your smoker and let the roast smoke at 225-250° for 4 hours. You can have the crock pot prepared during this time, so that when the pork comes out of the smoker, you put it directly into the crockpot and let it slow cook overnight while you sleep; then the next morning you finish it off.
Now, if you don’t have a smoker or don’t want to smoke it first, you can do it entirely in the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours and it will still be delicious minus the smoky flavor.
So, ready? Here we go:
Rinse your pork shoulder and pat it dry with a paper towel. Get your dry rub ready. If you don’t already have a favorite dry rub, the Ruby Tuesday Dry Rub recipe is a great place to start. You’ll want to coat the surface of your pork shoulder with something to help the rub “stick”. Some people use cooking oil. I prefer mustard. Just squirt a bunch on and spread it all over the meat evenly.
(Note: It’s a good idea to wear latex food gloves during barbecue preparation, but suit yourself.)
Now, sprinkling rub on like salt and pepper is not the proper way to dry rub meat. I use a measuring cup or a pourable spice bottle to heap it on. Then you rub it all over pressing hard so you’re actually rubbing the spices deep into the fiber of the meat. I often actually cover it with cellophane wrap and pound it with the palm of my hand to beat the spices into the meat fibers. A properly rubbed pork shoulder will look like the photo on the right — a solid thick layer of spices completely covering the surface of the meat on all sides.
As this meat sits and “marinades” these spices will liquefy like a thick barbecue sauce and absorb even more into the meat. If you can’t let it marinade all day, at least let it sit for 30 minutes or so until the rub loses it’s dry appearance and starts looking dark and wet.
Prepare your smoker. I always preheat my smoker to about 500° for about 30 minutes to sanitize it, burn off any drippings left on the grates, and gets the grates hot enough to leave nice sear marks on the meat.
Don’t worry about overheating it. Once you open the door to put your meat in, the temperature will immediately drop down below 200° momentarily. With large cuts of meat like pork shoulder you want to use a more intense smoke flavored chip. Hickory and mesquite are the most popular choices. I generally use mesquite.
If you are new at using your smoker, you’ll want to get an oven thermometer to check the chamber temperature. The built-in thermometers on smokers are notoriously inaccurate. Mine has a 40° difference, so when my smoker thermometer says 275° I’m actually cooking at 235°. You’ll want to try to maintain the temp between 225° and 250° for 4 hours. Monitor it occasionally, adjusting temp and adding chips as necessary to maintain consistent heat and smoke.
Once your meat has been in the smoker about 3 1/2 hours, you’ll want to start preparing your crock pot. I use the Ninja 3 in 1 Cooking System, but you’ll want an oval shaped crock pot large enough to hold an 8-10 lb. roast.
I start by slicing a large onion and layering the onion slices in the bottom of the crock pot. I finely slice or chop 3 large cloves of garlic and spread on top of that. Throw in 2 chicken bouillon cubes as well, and I usually sprinkle 2 or 3 more tablespoons of the dry rub over that. Add 2 cups of water and turn your crock pot to low and let it start heating up.
Once the pork has been in the smoker for at least 4 hours, you can turn your smoker off, take the pork out and place it directly into the crock pot. At this point, you will want to reset the time on your crock pot for 8 hours.
Now, you can go to bed and let the crock pot to it’s work. If I wake up during the night to get a drink or something, I’ll usually turn the roast over somewhere during the middle of it’s slow-cooking cycle.
If you slept for 8 hours, your pork shoulder should be done. It will be falling apart tender, so carefully remove it from the crock pot onto a large cookie sheet or pizza pan. You’ll usually have to remove it in pieces. Pour the liquid in the crock pot through a mesh strainer into a sauce pan. Place this liquid on the stove to boil. Let it boil until it reduces by half — like a thin gravy.
While the liquid is boiling, grab a couple meat forks and start pulling the pork apart. You don’t want to try to get it to fine. We aren’t shredding it. We just want small bite size chunks of pork.
Add the pulled pork back to the crock pot. Once the liquid on the stove has reduced satisfactorily, start spooning this sauce back over the pork. Mix the pork up with a spoon or tongs, and spoon some more sauce. Once all the pork has been evenly coated with this sauce, cover and let it stew in the crock pot with the “warmer” on.
Every 20 minutes or so, stir the pork again as the liquid will tend to settle to the bottom. Let it “stew” or marinade in these juices for at least an hour longer.
This is the step we’ve all been waiting for. I’m a low-carb guy, so I’m going to grab my tongs and put a pile of pork on my plate and level it out. I’m going to top that with some ice cold cole slaw. Season that with some fresh ground black pepper and put two large dill pickle spears on the side of the plate.
If you don’t care about carbs, you can pile the pork on a toasted bun, put the cole slaw on top of the pork. Whether you put pickle slices on the sandwich, or stay with the spears on the side is your call. I just happen to like the big crunchy bite of a cold pickle.
There you have it. It’s the closest thing to food heaven I’ve ever found. Enjoy, and if you try any twists, please share those experiences with me in the comments.
Have fun, stay healthy, and keep barbecuing.