One of the best things that you can do with a Traeger smoker is smoke pulled pork. As you probably already know, pulling pork means taking the meat and slow-cooking it until it is nice and tender. So tender that you can just pull it apart.
Smoking pulled pork not only turns tough meat into an edible dish but also imparts a whole lot of flavor. The smoke, the seasoning, the low and slow heat. All of it combines in a beautiful symphony of luscious pork that’s too delicious to pass up.
The reason why smoked pulled pork tastes so good is due to the full cooking process. To put it simply, this happens when the meat is held at the right temperatures for long enough that the connective tissues and collagen break down. When you smoke pulled pork with a Traeger, you can enjoy the taste and texture that comes from smoking meat.
You do not necessarily need a Traeger to take advantage of this recipe. You’ll just have to know your own smoker. Adapt the recipe to your needs and hold the right temperatures and general time to get quality results. Let me know if you have any questions about it.
What Cut of Meat Is Used to Make Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork is one of the most popular barbecue dishes to make. But, in order to make this delicious dish, you first have to start with a good piece of meat. To do that, we’ll start with the right cut of pork.
The cut used for pulled pork is usually the pork butt, which actually comes from the shoulder despite the name. Also known as the Boston Butt, it has high proportions of fat and collagen, which helps to keep it moist while cooking. It is perfect for cooking low and slow until fall-apart tender.
This cut of meat will likely be bone-in with a kind of thick layer of fat on one side. This is perfectly normal and is exactly what we are looking for when smoking pulled pork. It will likely be cut into a kind of rectangular shape.
Most of the fat will render out during the cook and when we shred the pork after cooking. So, the bone will come right out.
Do You Need to Brine Pulled Pork?
When you’re planning to make pulled pork, you should know that a fair amount of recipes call for you to soak the meat in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, and other seasonings called a brine for a few days before cooking.
It is not necessary to brine the pork before making it into pulled pork. This type of meat doesn’t need it. Simply cook it slowly at a low temperature until tender. The real secret is slow cooking, tenderizing with long, low-and-slow smoking over indirect heat.
Another alternative to brining is to use an injection. The goal of injecting it is also to help keep the meat moist during the cooking process. I’ve attempted it, wasn’t good at it and found it too difficult and time-consuming to be worth it.
Feel free to use a brine or injection in conjunction with this recipe. It may help keep the meat from drying out, but I haven’t found that to be a problem. It can also alter the final flavor of the meat depending on any seasonings you use.
So, in the end, I skipped most of the prep work and got right into mixing together seasonings.
Prepping with the Perfect Rub
Pulled pork is one of the most delicious foods that you can eat. But if you want to fully enjoy it, you have to add a bit of flavor that can permeate as it sits in the smoke on the Traeger.
Similar to my smoked chicken drumsticks, I use a rub on the meat to add seasoning while it sits on the smoker and cooks. For this recipe, I created a simple rub focused mostly on brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and chipotle powder.
You can use the recipe’s rub, or you can try out another rub you are in the mood for. Use my ultimate jerk seasoning for an earthier taste or my blackened seasoning to have a bit more spice. But don’t be afraid to venture out and get experimental with the rub you use.
Note – you can save some of the rub or make extra to sprinkle back onto the pork after shredding it. This will add a further punch of flavor and really make the seasoning more pronounced than the pork flavors.
What Temperature to Cook Pulled Pork?
There are a few important temperatures for smoking pulled pork. What temperature to cook at, what temperature to cook the meat to, and at what temperature to wrap the meat.
Set the grill/smoker to 250°F (120°C) to smoke pulled pork. Smoke the pork butt until it reaches 200°F (93°C) to 205°F (96°C) before it is tender and ready to shred. And, partially through the cooking process, I recommend pulling the pork and wrapping it in butcher paper at around 165°F (73°C).
If you want to get the most flavor from your barbecue, then keep the smoker at relatively low heat. This low and slow method gives the meat time to tenderize. Many use 225°F, but in order for things not to take an eternity, I think a slightly higher temp is better. So 250°F it is.
When looking to smoke pulled pork, telling when it is tender is key. This will determine the texture and moisture of the final dish. You can pull it off starting at 195°F, but I recommend 200°F to 205°F for that extra tenderness. Don’t rely on temperature alone. As it gets to the end of cook time and you are using the instant-read meat thermometer to check temps, feel how easy it is to put the thermometer in. It should feel like it is sliding in with little resistance when it is ready to shred.
Look to the Traeger cooking method for more information on wrapping the pork.
How Long to Cook Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is one of the most delicious dishes that you can make at home. And, if you want to get the best results, you need to know how long to cook the meat.
The average time range for cooking pulled pork is between 9 and 13 hours at 250°F. This will be affected by a whole ton of factors specific to your own smoker, pork butt, weather, and much more. Cooking pork shoulder is a big process. This means there are many variables that will affect the time it takes to cook. The general rule of thumb is 75 to 90 minutes per pound of meat at our smoking temp of at 250°F.
But in the end, don’t go by time alone. That is mostly just used as a general estimate so you know how to plan your cook. Use time, a meat thermometer, and the general feel and give of the pork to tell you when it is done. The meat thermometer will pierce the meat like it was warm butter.
Also, make sure to leave time to rest the meat after pulling it from the heat. At least 20 minutes. But 45 minutes to an hour is better.
Traeger Cooking Method
A Traeger grill is a newer type of barbecue smoker and grill that allows you to cook food using wood pellets instead of charcoal briquettes or propane. The main advantage of this kind of smoker is its ability to hold the cooking area at specific temperatures for long periods. It can do this without much effort on the part of the grill master. So, easier for you.
The first step to smoke pulled pork is to rub the pork butt with our seasoning mix. Do this for at least one hour before cooking, and up to 24 hours ahead of time. If you are letting the rub sit on the pork for longer than an hour, then put the pork butt back into the fridge until about 30 minutes to an hour before you begin the smoke.
Using a Traeger, turn it on and set it to Smoke or the lowest setting for 15 minutes with the lid open. Then set it to 250°F and close the lid for it to preheat.
With any other smoker, follow their directions to preheat to 250°F.
The Actual Smoke
With the pork fully spice-rubbed, place it onto the smoker fat side up. Then close the lid and let it cook. Try not to open it up and peek, for about 3 to 5 hours. At that point start checking with a meat thermometer to see if the pork has reached 165°F internal temperature.
If it has, then pull the pork butt from the smoker and wrap it tightly in pink butcher paper. At this point you can either continue to cook it at 250°F on the smoker, or use your preheated oven at 250°F to cook the meat the rest of the way. Since it will be wrapped, it has taken on most of the smoke that it will get. Putting it in the oven would save your pellets if you’d rather do that.
Then it is waiting for the internal temperature to be between 200°F and 205°F to pull it from the smoker and let it rest. Rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours. Then you can move on to pulling the meat apart with large forks or kitchen bear claws.
Make sure to check the hopper and keep the pellets topped up so that it doesn’t run out of fuel. And that’s the basic steps for how to smoke pulled pork.
What Wood Pellets to Use for Pulled Pork?
The variety of wood pellets used in the smoker will have a big impact on the meat’s final flavor. So when trying to smoke pulled pork it is important to choose one (or a mix) that complements the food best.
For smoking pork butt the best wood pellets to use are hickory, maple, apple, and cherry. Of these varieties, hickory will give you the most pronounced smoke flavor but still not be overpowering. Maple, apple, and cherry are all a bit milder and sweeter which tend to pair very well with pork. So try any one of these or make a blend of multiple varieties.
Hickory Pellets – One of the most widely-used woods for smoking, this one has a distinct flavor and will lend the smokiest notes of all these varieties. This one tends to give a very rich, deep color to the meat when smoking.
Maple Pellets – Imparting a delicate, mild smokiness, this one is commonly combined with other varieties to make a mix. But it can be used solo when cooking pulled pork.
Apple Pellets – A milder, sweet flavor that mimics that of the fruit you’d expect to get from the tree. It shouldn’t overpower anything if the fire is managed properly.
Cherry Pellets – Adding a light cherry flavor and the color of rich mahogany, this wood is one of the most popular. With its light flavor it can be used on most any protein, but pairs very well with pork.
Saucing and Using Your Pulled Pork
With the pork cooked and pulled into a delicious pile of meat, you now have a ton of options for how to eat it.
Don’t lie to me, you definitely picked some chunks out while you were pulling it apart for some early samples. We all do it. So, you know that the pulled pork comes off the smoker delicious and ready to eat plain. But you can also pair it with a good bbq sauce. Try my homemade black cherry barbecue sauce for an even sweeter flavor.
Try using the smoked pulled pork – either fresh or as leftovers – in any of the following dishes:
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- Spicy Stewed Pozole
- BBQ Pizza
- Pulled Pork Tacos
- Filling Quesadillas or Enchiladas
- Topping Nachos
- In Chili
How did yours turn out?
I’d love to hear when you try out smoking pulled pork! Take a pic of your food and share your success with me by adding it to your Instagram stories or feed, and tagging me @doyouroux, or by using #doyouroux.
Plus, leave a rating to let me know how you liked the recipe. It helps me out a lot to know how things worked out… or didn’t.
How to Smoke Pulled Pork on a TraegerCourse: Entrees, MainDifficulty: Easy
Pulled pork is the best way to turn pork butt into a heavenly meal. With patience, you can smoke pulled pork to savory, smoky perfection.
6-9 pound bone-in pork butt
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Wood pellets based on your smoker and preferences
- In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, onion powder, ground mustard, ground cumin, and black pepper to make the rub
- Rub the entire surface of the pork butt with the rub and let it sit for at least one hour before cooking, and up to 24 hours ahead of time (if letting the rub sit for longer than 1 hour, then put it back into the fridge until about 30 minutes before you are ready to cook)
- Turn the Traeger on and set it to Smoke or the lowest setting available for 15 minutes with the lid open, then set it to 250°F (120°C) and close the lid for it to preheat (if using a diffferent smoker, then preheat to 250°F (120°C) based on smoker instructions)
- Place the pork butt onto the smoker fat side up, then close the lid and let it cook for 3 to 5 hours with the lid closed
- After about 3 hours, start opening the smoker every 30 minutes or so and taking the temperature with a meat thermometer to check if it has reached 165°F (73°C)
- When the internal pork butt temperature has reached 165°F (73°C), remove it from the smoker and wrap it tightly with pink butcher paper
- Place the pork butt back onto the smoker fat side up or into an oven set at 250°F (120°C) and cook for 5 to 8 hours with the lid closed
- After about 4 hours, start opening the smoker every 30 minutes or so and taking the temperature with a meat thermometer to check if it has reached 200°F (93°C) to 205°F (96°C)
- Once the internal temperature is between 200°F (93°C) to 205°F (96°C), pull the pork from the smoker and let it rest at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours
- Shred the pork by pulling at it with large forks or kitchen bear claws and then serve as desired
- Make sure to check the hopper during the cook and keep the pellets topped up so that it doesn’t run out of fuel.
- To save on pellet usage, you can cook the pork in the oven after it has been wrapped without losing much smoke flavor
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