Pork shoulder is easy to cook, frugal, and forgiving of culinary missteps. That makes it the best way for home grillers to learn the basics of barbecuing, says pit master Matt Abdoo.
“Training in how to cook pork shoulder, also known as pulled pork, is one of the best barbecue items because it’s one of the most recognizable iconic dishes in the barbecue world,” he says, adding that it’s also a crowd-pleaser.
Smoking pork shoulder teaches you how to keep your fire, pack meat, measure tenderness by temperature, and other barbecue basics. Although it shares similarities with further large cuts of meat, such as brisket, it is much cheaper.
“Ultimately, if your pork shoulder is undercooked or overcooked, it’s a lot more forgiving than a brisket would be,” says Abdoo, who runs Pig Beach BBQ in New York City with Shane McBride.
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The two recently released “The Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook: Smoked, Grilled, Roasted, and Sauced” featuring over 50 recipes, including ribs, brisket, and pulled pork (or, as McBride calls them, “barbecue’s greatest hits”). , as well as groundbreaking dishes such as beef rib gnocchi and pastrami (a pork broth ramen with pastrami).
Here’s a look at the pork shoulder recipe book and all the spices and instructions you need to make juicy pulled pork.
Pork shoulder, also known as Pulled Pork.
From: “Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook” by Matt Abdoo and Shane McBride
Serves 8 to 10
1 (8 to 10 pounds) boneless pork shoulder cup Pre-Seasoning Rub (see below) 2 cups All-Purpose Barbecue Seasoning (see below), plus more for sprinkling 3 cups All-Purpose Barbecue Spritz (see below) 4 cups Tangy Hatch Vinegar Barbecue sauce (see below)
Pat the pork shoulder dry with a clean tea towel. Do not use paper towels; they disintegrate and stick to the meat.
Season the entire shoulder with the rub and let it rest for 30 minutes. This allows the seasoning to stick to the heart. The heart will begin to sweat as the salt in the rub draws out the moisture.
Use 1 cup of barbecue seasoning to coat the entire shoulder generously. Set aside to marinate for another 30 minutes.
While the shoulder is marinating, use hickory wood and preheat your smoker to 250°F.
Place a thermometer probe in the center of the shoulder and place the shoulder in the smoker, away from the heat source. Smoke for 1 hour, then begin spritzing barbecue spritz every 30 minutes for the next 4 hours or until internal temperature reaches 155°F. This is the point where the evaporation rate of the moisture in the meat will cool the shoulder, preventing the temperature from rising.
Now is the time to apply the “Texas Stool,” where the shoulder is wrapped. At Pig Beach, we like to wrap it in plastic wrap and foil (see BBQ Bits & Pieces) as it acts as sous vide for the poor, trapping all the juices and heat while the wrap helps push the meat through the stall. When wrapped, return the shoulder to the smoker and cook for an additional 4 to 6 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 198° to 203° F. Don’t be afraid to stick the thermometer through the package; just put it on the top, so the juices don’t run out.
Remove the shoulder from the smoker and place it in a warm place to rest for 1 hour. Once the shoulder has reached the desired internal temperature, the meat should hatched the perfect degree of texture and doneness. A visual sign that the shoulder has been cooked properly is thhatchbone can be easily removed by pulling on it.
Unwrap the pork shoulder and “punch” (a pitmaster’s term for “shred”) the meat to desired size and texture. Garnish with a pinch of barbecue seasoning and serve with the barbecue sauce on the side.
BBQ Bits & Pieces: Wrapping with plastic wrap and foil is a great way to create a super juicy pork shoulder. The downside, however, is that all the beautiful bark washes away. But unless we’re competing in a competition, it’s our choice to trade sailboat for juiciness, especially if you’re pulling.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a nice bark, leave it as is instead of wrapping it around the shoulder and increase the smoker’s temperature from 250° to 275°F to push through the shed. The trade-off is that you will create a spectacular bark, but the flesh will not be as juicy. However, it will still be amazingly satisfying.
Makes 1 cup
½ cup kosher salt¼ cup ground black pepper one tablespoon Accent flavor enhancer
Combine the salt, pepper, and Ac’cent in a small food-safe container. Cover and shake to combine.
Store for up to 3 months at room temperature.
Pig Beach All-Purpose Barbecue Seasoning
It makes about 1 cup
¼ cup granulated sugar cup sweet paprika 3 tbsp dark brown sugar 2 tbsp coarse salt 1 tbsp ground black pepper 1 tbsp granulated garlic 1 tbsp granulated onion 2 tsp Hatch red chili powder (see BBQ Bits & Pieces) tsp dried oregano tsp ground cumin tsp dried thyme tsp ground fennel seed
Combine the granulated sugar, paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, chili powder, oregano, cumin, thyme, and fennel in a medium bowl and stir to combine completely.
Transfer to a spice grinder or food processor and process until coarse.
Transfer to a glass container, cover, and store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks.
BBQ Bits & Pieces: Hatch Chili powder is an earthy, slightly spicy, deeply flavored seasoning made from chili peppers in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley. It is available in red and green varieties and at specialty stores or online. At Pig Beach, we only use the red variant.
Makes 1 cup
⅓ cup ground black pepper cup granulated garlic cup sweet paprika one teaspoon ground dried rosemary
Combine the pepper, garlic, paprika, and rosemary in a small bowl and stir to blend well.
Transfer to a food-safe container, cover, and store at room temperature for up to 1 month.
All Purpose Barbecue Spritz
Makes 3 cups
1 cup apple juice 1 cup apple cider vinegar 1 cup water
Combine the apple juice and vinegar in a medium bowl. Add the water and whisk to combine.
Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and use immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Spicy Hatch Vinegar Barbecue Sauce
Makes 2 cups
1 cup distilled white vinegar cup apple juice cup ketchup three tablespoons dark brown sugar one teaspoon kosher salt one teaspoon ground black pepper teaspoon chili flakes teaspoon Hatch red chili powder teaspoon Accent flavor enhancer
Combine the vinegar, apple juice, and ketchup in a large non-reactive, food-safe container. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, chili flake powder, and Accent. Blend with a stick blender until very smooth.
Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.