You all know my roots are American. I was born in Maine and so was my son but by the age of 2 he was living below the Mason-Dixon line. Yes, he speaks Southern and proudly so. This is the way he does BBQ.
His post is long, and it is fully family so I apologize in advance if it’s too much information. This is the first “family” post I’ve ever done. The kids are my grandchildren Jade and Jake. The one with the gray in the chin hair – that’s Al.
He loves to smoke and bbq meat. His list of friends is a mile long and they all get invited when he cooks. Recently I asked him if he’d photograph the next bbq he did and write it up as a guest post on my blog. Now those of us who are parents will understand that I never expected to see it.
Honestly, I don’t know how they do all they do with two small children but in my mail this morning were the photos and BBQ method. I’m thrilled to introduce you to my son Alan. If you live within driving distance of McDonough, Georgia (Atlanta) let him know and he’ll invite you too. My boy’s never met a stranger. He’s also wordy, just like his mother.
I’ve been encouraging him to start a food blog but he’s not convinced he’s a food writer.
It’s about time for some respect for southern cookin’. I may not have been born Southern, but I sure feel it and for a rather long spell we’ve been treated like the red headed stepchild of the kitchen. More and more our own butter wielding matriarch, Paula Dean, sounds like Rodney Dangerfield. Now smoking bbq, pork shoulder in this case, is one of those southern things that’s not foo-foo, trendy, fusion or any other silly catchphrase… It’s just plain ol’ good. Not that my mom’s crock pot bbq pork she made when I was in high school wasn’t good… it just wasn’t THIS good (sorry, Mom).
BBQ means different things in different places. In Texas, BBQ is brisket, in Memphis it’s ribs, in many places anything off the grill and slathered with Sweet Baby Ray’s is bbq… but throughout most of the South, BBQ means pork – pork shoulder to be exact.
For many folks, cooking from a recipe is something they do with the same vigor as if they were reading aloud from the good book at church. That is NOT how you make BBQ pork. So relax a bit, loosen your tie and pour yourself a cup of joe… this is gonna take a while – but it’s gonna be worth it.
First step in BBQ is the rub. A rub is a blend of spices that we “rub” into the meat before we start smoking. Most southern cooks have a rub recipe and getting them to tell you theirs is like trying to herd cats… it ain’t easy.
Do you have to blend the spices together or put them on one at a time?
Well, I’ve actually tried it both ways… and besides taking what seemed forever to season the meat, it wasn’t better or worse. As for me, I put all my seasonings in a big stainless steel bowl and mix it up with a fork. Tried the hand blender before… big mistake. I thought it would make mixing faster with no lumps… nope, all it did was make a fog of seasonings that coated my entire kitchen and made me sneeze every time I walked in it for the next week. Not my proudest moment to be sure.
Take just enough rub to season the meat and put the rest away. We’ll use it later after we pull the pork and we don’t want to cross contaminate the rub with raw pork.
For my 4 butts, I used the recipe below with a 1 cup measuring cup.
Quick note about store bought spices –
I know many folks like to use their mortar and pestle or coffee grinder to get the most out of their spices. Yeah, I agree in most applications that they do a better job. Here’s the thing, today I’m seasoning 4 pork shoulders and these are hefty hunks of meat. I’m going to cook this meat for 10-12 hours in 225°F smoke. Your palate may be able to pick up the nutty overtones of freshly ground pepper on a smoked pork shoulder, but most people won’t be able to.
Today I’m smoking pork shoulder, which is odd because it’s called a butt. Why we take a pig and call his shoulder a butt and his butt a ham, I’ll never know. To make it all the more confusing… a picnic ham is actually the lower part of the front shoulder. While your scratching your head over that one, stop and take some mustard and slather it all over the shoulder. I mainly use plain yellow mustard, but you can use spicy brown or any mustard you have. If you have small children like I do, at this point you’ll want to make a joke about your butt having Grey Poupon on it.
Once you have the butts all lubed up with mustard, start working your rub into the meat and don’t be stingy about it. A helper or two is advised and much more fun. It’ll be sticky and gooey, just like it ought to be. Now set the butts in a fridge or cooler for 12 or so hours, but sometimes if I’m in a hurry I just let them chill out for a couple of hours. As the salt starts to work on the butts, it’ll leach out moisture from the pork and intensify the flavors, so hit it with some more rub.
3 or 4 hours before you’re ready to cook set the butts out on the counter. Yes, I know the food police are right around the corner, but you’re completely safe. Setting the meat on the counter is all part of the cooking process.
We want to pull our pork shoulders from the smoker when they’re about 195 degrees. When you have to take meat that is 40 degrees up to 195 it’s a difference of 155 degrees. If I let it sit out for a while and reach 60 degrees, now I only have to raise the temperature of the meat by 135 degrees.
Do you need a smoker to do pork shoulder? Nope, but the more meat you smoke the more you’ll want one. You can use a grill or an oven, but the crock pot just isn’t going to give you a decent crust on your pork. If you’re using a grill, just turn on the burner on the farthest side from your meat. Regardless of what you use to cook in, try to cook between 215F to 240F. I try and stay at 225, but depending on humidity, dryness of the wood, types of charcoal and your mood, just do the best you can.
The kind of wood you smoke with is a personal thing. Some swear by hickory, alder, oak or mesquite. I like to use a blend of hardwoods for pork shoulder. If I was smoking fish, I’d probably use alder as different foods take the smoke flavor differently. Shavings, chunks, mulch or logs, use what works best for what you’re cooking in. Chunks and mulch give more smoke when you soak them first.
I like to let my butts cook for a couple hours before I add a mop sauce. A mop sauce is a very thin sauce that you mop over the meat while it’s cooking. It’s not a barbeque sauce, but it can have many of the same ingredients. It keeps the meat moist while cooking and further imparts flavor.
I like to use a bourbon mop sauce because some of the pork proteins are alcohol soluble when coupled with salt. Here is my bourbon mop sauce.
- • 1 Cup bourbon – yes I used rotgut for a mop sauce, don’t judge me!
- • 2 Parts Sea Salt
- • 2 Parts Granulated Garlic
- • 2 Parts Black Pepper
- • 2 Parts Chili Powder
- • 2 Parts Brown Sugar
- • 2 Parts Paprika
- • 1 Part Onion Powder
- • 1 Part Cumin
- • 1 Part Cayenne Pepper
- • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- • 1 cup apple juice
- • 1 cup ketchup
- • 3 tablespoons black pepper
- • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- • 3 tablespoons garlic powder
- • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- • 3 tablespoons dry mustard
- Place all spices in a large bowl and mix with a fork. Remove just the amount you need for the roast you're seasoning so you don't cross contaminate the rest of your rub and have to throw it away.
- Throw it in a pot and put the heat to it. No need to boil it, just heat it until you can get the garlic powder, mustard and salt incorporated. Check your meat about every hour and slather on some mop sauce each time.
I usually keep one temperature probe in the smoker to watch the temperature and after 4 or 5 hours I keep one in the meat also.
You’ve now come to the part where smoking meat is not that much about cooking as it is about waiting. I like to mow my lawn, play with the kiddos and take care of the honey-do list while I’m smoking. Quite often you’ll see a group of us sitting around a smoker trying to look like we’re doing something useful, but in all honesty, we’re just running our mouths.
Want to make a man happy? Give him a hunk of meat, a fire and a stick… Ta-Da!
At some point your meat is going to plateau. You’ll see it hit say, 160-170°F and won’t seem to go any higher. Guess what… keep waiting. Your mantra is “low and slow”… just keep repeating that to yourself. You want all that connective tissue to turn to collagen and be flavored with the melting fat. It takes low, slow, moist heat and time.
Now you may think that your pork shoulder is starting to resemble a crispy kritter and it is, but that’s not a bad thing. The outside is called the crust and once it’s pulled or chopped, all those smoky seasonings will blend in and be yummy goodness in your mouth. If your using a mop sauce, it’ll help to keep the outside from drying out as well.
I pull my shoulders between 195-205 degrees. Some folks like to slice their pork and in that case, pull yours at 180 degrees. As for me and my house, we like it pulled and falling apart. If it feels like a black bag of jello with a bone sticking out, you should be a very happy camper.
Grab a couple of forks and start pulling it apart. If you did it right… I doubt you’ll even need any bbq sauce.