Pulled Pork Cooking Science: Time, Temp, Brine, Injection

Have you ever wanted to shine with your grill master skills using pulled pork recipe? Do you want to know the tips and tricks the pros use? I want to share with you what I have learned by trial and error. How to make a meat treat that is enjoyed by those I cook for.

Today I want to share with you the tips I learned about:

  • Timing
  • Temperatures
  • Brine
  • Injection

There is nothing so good, than the taste of pulled pork that has been slowly roasted over the fire. This type of cooking has reached a new art form and you can become a cooking artist. Details matter if you want to achieve a certain taste. The prep of the meat as well as how it is cooked will set the stage for your masterpiece.

Timing Is Everything

Your goal is to make a tight set of muscles tender enough to fall apart with a fork. This requires a slow cooking method that tenderizes the roasts while remaining juicy. The cuts of pork that are used are either the Butt or the Shoulder Roast. Both are located in the upper front shoulder area of the pig.

The true timing begins with the prep of the grill and creating a good bed of coals. Have on hand about 15 pounds of charcoal and whatever hardwood you wish to use to flavor the smoke. I personally like to use apple hardwood. Lay in a fine set of smoldering coals.

The formula for the amount of time to cook a bone-in roast is about two hours per pound. An eight-pound roast can take up to sixteen hours to cook at a consistent temperature. This is an average time that is not cast in stone.

How Hot?

Timing will help get you there, but the temperature of the meat gets the final vote. The grill should be at a steady 250F while the meat is cooking. The internal meat temperature should reach 195F for the meat to be tender. Keep a read on the meat with a meat thermometer.

You may go through a period of time where the meat seems to not be gaining in heat around 145-165F. This is normal and called a "stall". At this time, concern yourself with making sure the grill is around the 250F temperature.

When the roast reaches the internal 195F, if you like a firmer cut, remove from the grill. However, if you want a more tender melt in your mouth result, let the meat climb to an internal 201F. Remove from the grill, and allow for the meat to rest for at least an hour after it is cooked before pulling. You can cover it to preserve the heat.

Should I Brine?

My answer to this question is an emphatic "yes"! The downside to slow cooking is the meat can dehydrate during the slow cooking process. Marinating the roast ahead of smoking it can help to assure the meat is tender and juicy when it reaches the table.

To brine, the roast requires some prep the day before cooking. The meat needs to marinate overnight in the refrigerator for 12-18 hours depending on the weight of the shoulder. Brine is basically a salt water solution. The fun part is what you add to the salt water that allows the meat to be flavored.

Here are some brine recipes that will help you find inspiration when spicing up the pork.

A Basic Brine Starter 

  • 8 cups water
  • 3/4 cup table salt
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • A large enough pot to hold roast plus the liquid along with a lid.
  • Shelf room in the fridge.

Dissolve salt and sugar in water in the pot. Add roast. The roast should be covered by the brine solution. Add water if needed. Place in the refrigerator for 12-18 hours. Remove when ready to cook.

The basic brine solution is open to adding all kinds of flavor enhancers. Herbs, spices, chilis, liquors, wines, beer, is just a teaser as to seasoning the brine basic starter. Here are some examples.

A Caribbean Jerk Brine

  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 cup of dark rum
  • 1/4th cup soy sauce
  • 1/4th cup table salt
  • 1/4th cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoon unsulfured molasses
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1/4th minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

A Brewsky Brine

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup of your favorite brew
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite steak sauce

Eastern Mediterranean Brine

  • 8 cups water
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1/4th cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup pomegranate or cherry syrup
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1/3 cup finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

White Wine Thyme 

  • 8 cups water
  • 3/4 cups salt
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of your favorite white wine
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 3 tablespoons of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bunch parsley stems
  • 3 bay leaves

Bourbon Brine

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup of your favorite bourbon
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup sorghum molasses
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper

Remember to make sure the roast is fully covered. Add water if necessary.

To Needle Or Not To Needle?

To inject a roast with a marinade has been a long time debate. Some say yes, others no, so you may want to try it both ways. You will want to purchase a meat injector. The purpose of injecting is to flavor the meat as well as keeping it juicy during the smoking process.

Often, after the injection, a rub is added to the meat's surface. It is a 1-2 combination marinade that will make your pulled pork so moist and tasty. Here is a standard starter injection recipe:

Apple Spice Injection

  • 1/2 cup warm apple juice
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Combine in a bowl and stir until all of the ingredients are mixed until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Fill the injector with the marinade and deeply pierce one end of the top of the roast, having removed any outer layer of fat. It is a good idea to have the roast sitting in a pot or on a baking sheet. Slowly inject the fluid. Fluid may run out of the roast as it is slow to absorb. The container that the roast is sitting in will capture the runoff.

Make several injections across the top of the roast. Turn the roast over and repeat. Also, inject on the sides. I recommend at least 15 injections. You can use the captured marinade spillover if you run short. Massage the roast along every surface to help the fluid work its way deep into the tissue. Let the meat sit at room temperature while you make and apply the rub. Time to open the grill and cook that bad boy.

Are You Ready?

I would love to hear about your smoked pulled pork cooking experiences. The aim is that this tutorial has inspired you to take the leap into making your own pulled pork. It is an economical way to please and feed a crowd of hungry people. This is a super main course meat that is appropriate all year around.

I have shared my tips and recipes in order for you to experience the same successful crowd-pleasing adventures in smoking both butt and shoulder roasts that I have enjoyed over the years. Let's get a conversation going by commenting and sharing your trials and tribulations in creating your signature pulled pork recipe.

Frequently Asked Questions

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