Best Wood For Smoking Pork Shoulder
Pork shoulder is one of the all time greatest things to barbecue. It takes to both the smoke and seasoning well, enhancing its already plentiful flavor. And everyone loves a good pulled pork sandwich, right?
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. When smoking a pork shoulder, the question of what kind of smoke makes for the best meat inevitably comes up. While there's no clear answer and many different opinions on the topic, we'll walk you through a recipe that incorporates one solution to the problem that we're sure you'll enjoy.
Without further ado, here's our answer to what is the best wood for smoking pork shoulder.
What You'll Need For This Recipe
In order to follow this recipe, you'll just need a few things. The full list of ingredients and supplies includes:
- Pork shoulder roast (8 lbs).
- 1 cup dark brown sugar.
- 1/2 cup kosher salt.
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper.
- 2 tablespoons hot paprika.
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder.
- 1 tablespoon onion powder.
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano.
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard.
- 1 quart plus 1 pint apple juice or apple cider (unfiltered).
- Charcoal smoker.
- Chunk charcoal.
- Wood chunks or chips (details below).
- Cave Tools Pulled Pork Shredder Rakes.
- Aluminum foil.
- Paper towels.
- Large gallon bucket or similar container.
- Plastic spray bottle.
- Aluminum baking pan.
To answer the question of which wood is best for smoking pork shoulder, it all comes down to personal taste. In general, pork goes well with wood from sweet fruit trees like apple, pear, and peach, but can also stand up to heartier woods like hickory and mesquite. Many enjoy mixing woods from both camps for a more complex flavor. In the end, though, it's up to the chef to decide what kind of flavor they like on their meat.
With your supplies gathered, you can begin work on the recipe.
Step 1: Brine the Pork
Start your pork at least a day before you intend to cook it, with three days being the maximum amount of time you'd want to brine a piece of meat. Combine a quart of apple juice or apple cider with half a cup of brown sugar and kosher salt, stirring well to combine it all in your container. Lower your pork in gently, adding more liquid to cover if needed. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and store in a cool location for at least 12 hours.
Step 2: Season the Pork
After brining, remove your pork from the liquid and pat it dry with paper towels, discarding the brine. Once dried, apply a thin coating of yellow mustard to the outside of the meat. This will help to add some extra flavor as it caramelizes on the meat and provides a better surface for the spices to stick to.
Combine the remaining spices together and spread liberally across the pork, rubbing into as many places as possible until the mix is used up. Let the meat sit at room temperature to absorb the spices and warm up slightly from coming out of the cold brine. Additionally, if you're using wood chips, begin soaking them in hot water at this point.
Step 3: Heat the Smoker
As your pork warms up, now is a good opportunity to let your smoker do the same thing. Pile in charcoal until about halfway filled, then light the smoker and close the lid, opening the air vents fully to let it burn up hot. Once the coals have burnt down, pile on some more, add your wood and the smoker grate, and fill the water tank. Close the lid again and adjust the air vents, letting steam and smoke build up inside the smoker. Shoot for a temperature around 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 4: Smoke the Pork
Once you've given the smoker a chance to warm up and hit the right temperature, it's time to smoke. Place the pork into an aluminum baking pan, then transfer them both to the smoker and close the lid. Let the pork smoke like this so that no juices are lost while it cooks.
As your pork smokes, make sure to monitor the levels of charcoal, wood, and water left in the smoker, adding more as needed. Additionally, adjust the smoker vents as needed to control the air flow and keep a consistent temperature.
Every half hour, spray the pork down with some apple juice or cider from a spray bottle. This helps to keep the meat from drying out and adds some extra flavor once it's done. If the outside does appear to be burning or overcooking, wrap it loosely in aluminum foil.
You'll want to continue cooking the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of about 190 degrees Fahrenheit. It will take an 80-90 minutes per pound of meat to fully cook in most circumstances. However, the easiest way to check for doneness is to use a fork; if you can pull off the outside of the meat easily with it, it's ready to come off.
Step 5: Rest the Pork
When your pork has finished cooking, remove it from the heat and wrap the top of the pan with aluminum foil. Allow the meat to rest like this for half an hour and up to a full hour. As it cools down, it will finish cooking completely and raise several more degrees while becoming cooled enough to handle.
Step 6: Pull the Pork
After resting, the pork will be ready to pull. Using two forks, or Cave Tools Pulled Pork Shredder Rakes, shred the meat between them until it's finely separated, removing the shoulder bone once exposed. Add in a few teaspoons of juice or cider if you like for added flavor, then mix the meat thoroughly to incorporate any resting juices that collected in the pan as it cooled down.
Step 7: Serve the Pork
With your pork pulled, you're ready to eat. Serve up piles of pork on their on, next to some sides, or on a bun for a delicious sandwich. Mix with barbecue sauce if you like or keep it plain and let everyone choose for themselves. Either way, you'll have meat so tender and flavorful your guests won't be able to help but enjoy every last bite.
And there you have it, a delicious pile of pulled pork smoked right at home. Hopefully you've learned some great tips and tricks about smoking meat, plus gained some insight into how to select your wood. Try experimenting with different types of wood and wood combinations for a great depth of flavors and plenty of leftover barbecue with each trial.
If you enjoyed this recipe guide, leave a comment down below to let us know. Anything you'd like to share about smoking pork shoulder? Tell us, and remember to share this page with a friend who's been asking the same questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Different Kinds of Wood for Smoking Meat?
There are many different kinds of wood that you can use to smoke meat. You’ll want to stick to the hardwoods, because the softwoods (also known as evergreen or coniferous) have too much sap and burn with off-smells. For milder flavors, look for alder or maple wood. Medium-flavored woods include most of the fruit trees, like apple, pear, cherry, and peach. You’ll get stronger flavors from oak, pecan, walnut, and hickory, and the strongest flavors from using mesquite wood.
Can You Blend Different Kinds of Wood for Smoking?
Yes, you can absolutely blend a few different kinds of wood together to create complex flavors! This could give you the best of both worlds. For example, you could use maple for its sweetness, apple for its fruity flavor, and mesquite for it’s hot-burning, strong-flavored smoke.
How Do You Shred Pork?
The best way to make pulled pork is to use shredding rakes or claws. These keep your hands away from the hot meat and create perfect, bite-sized shreds. If you don’t want to purchase an extra tool just for shredding pork, you can use a pair of regular kitchen forks, but it will be much less efficient and the whole process will take longer. You could also use your hands if you want to wait for the pork to cool down enough to handle.
What’s the Best BBQ Sauce for Pulled Pork?
This is a hard question to answer - it really depends on your personal preference! Tangy, vinegar and mustard-forward Carolina barbecue sauce is my personal favorite for serving with pulled pork, but other people prefer the sweet flavors of Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. You could also go with Texas sauces, which are filled with spices like cumin, chili powder, and sometimes even coffee. Or, choose Alabama white barbecue sauce that’s full of horseradish and black pepper. Your choice!
What if I Can’t Find a Pork Shoulder Roast?
Our recipe calls for a pork shoulder roast, but you may find it in the grocery store under a few different names. Usually, a pork shoulder roast is sold as the whole shoulder and probably contains a bone. You can find the two major muscles of the shoulder sold as Boston Butt and Picnic Roast. These cuts are usually smaller (around 3 to 5 pounds) and often do not contain the bone. Our recipe works no matter what kind of roast you choose, so use what you can find.