What is Boston Butt?
Boston butt may sound ridiculous if you haven’t ever heard of it, but the flavor of this cut makes up for its unfortunate name. “Butt” in butchering refers to the upper shoulder of the pig and sometimes you’ll see it referred to as “pork shoulder.”
Historically, this cut of meat was less preferred. Its position at the shoulder means that it is a little tougher, but very flavorful. Boston butt tends to still be a pretty affordable cut and can be bought in large quantities.
Often, boston butt includes the bone of the shoulder blade. This bone, along with the slightly tougher meat makes it ideal for low and slow cooking methods like smoking. Smoking boston butt helps impart rich flavor and creates a tender texture. Smoked and slow roasted Boston butt is an affordable and delicious way to make pulled pork or carnitas for your next barbecue.
Enhancing the Flavor
On its own, boston butt has an excellent flavor that comes from having a bone in the cut, along with being a fairly well used muscle. If you’re looking to really up the flavor profile though, there are a ton of different ways that grillmasters give their boston butt a little boost. If you’re not sure how to smoke a boston butt on a charcoal grill, these methods are great for incorporating as much flavor as possible.
If you have ever cooked whole poultry, you may already be familiar with brining meat before roasting or smoking. Brining is the process of soaking a piece of meat in a flavorful liquid overnight (or longer.) Most store bought turkeys at during the holidays are pre-brined in salt water. Just like with a turkey, you can soak a boston butt overnight. Fans of brining suggest soaking pork in apple cider or apple cider vinegar to impart extra juiciness and sweetness to the meat.
Is there anything more fun that using one of those giant meat syringes to dose your barbecue with shots of flavor? Not only can you bust out your best mad scientist impression, you’re also mainlining your meat with ingredients to keep it extra juicy. Once again, apple cider or apple cider vinegar make great options. Mix in a little Worcestershire sauce to a little extra tang. (Grillmaster University has a ton of bbq pork injection recipe ideas in case you were curious!)
Applying a dry rub might be the simplest way to season when you’re smoking boston butt. Don’t make that a reason to skip the step though! In this tried and true method, you pat dry the cut of meat and then liberally apply seasoning all around the outside. Dry rub imparts rich flavors from anything you decide to toss into the mix. Salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, and cayenne are a great starting point. Feel free to mix in any other dry seasonings you like though, and have fun experimenting with new flavors.
Pro tip- Working with raw pork can be dangerous business. Make sure to always disinfect surfaces and tools before and after contact with uncooked pork.
Flavorful Wood Chips
While you’re doing all the prep work to make your own perfectly smoked boston butt, don’t forget about the most important factor: the smoke. Smoking meat, as you already well know, gives food a rich flavor that just can’t be matched. Not all woods are created equal though. A few great options are cherry, hickory, mesquite, oak, maple, pecan, and apple wood chips.
Pro tip- Hickory is a classic barbecue flavor, while mesquite can give pork a subtly Western twist. Fruit woods like cherry and apple provide a subtle sweetness.
How to Cook the Perfect Boston Butt
What You Need
- 8-10 lb boston butt
- wood chips of your choice
- dry rub*
*The dry rub should be made to suit your own tastes. If you like a spicier or sweeter rub, adjust it as you like. To get the ball rolling though, we use the following mix:
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 3 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne powder
- The morning before the day you plan on smoking your boston butt, begin by trimming the meat. Excess fat should be trimmed away. Leave a 1/4 inch layer of fat along the bottom. This layer is called the “fat cap.” Score the fat cap using perpendicular diagonal lines, creating a checkerboard along the bottom. Pat away any excess moisture with paper towels.
- Create a brine using equal parts apple cider and apple cider vinegar. Pour brine into a container large enough to completely submerge your cut of meat and leave covered and refrigerated all day.
- In the evening, remove the meat from the brine mixture. Reserve the brine to use for injection in the next step. Pat dry the meat with paper towels, and apply the dry rub all over the sides. Liberally coat the meat in dry rub by patting the mixture with handfuls of the seasoning.
- Using a meat syringe, inject the meat with the brine every few inches. Cover the brined and rubbed butt, and stash it in the fridge overnight.
- On the next day, start 9 to 10 hours before you plan to eat. Take the butt out of the fridge an hour before putting it on the grill. Let it come almost to room temperature, and drain off any liquid that has collected in the pan.
- Preheat the smoker and set to 225 degrees F. Place meat in the smoker fat side up. Smoke the butt for about 8 hours. While your meat is smoking, make sides (or just drink a beer.)Pro tip- placing your meat fat side up ensures that all those juices move down over the meat instead of into the grill. This effectively bastes the meat for you.
Pro tip- placing your meat fat side up ensures that all those juices move down over the meat instead of into the grill. This effectively bastes the meat for you.
- Around the 8 hour mark, carefully remove the boston butt from the smoker and check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. The ideal temp is between 200 and 210 degrees F. If it’s low, keep smoking until it’s up to the correct heat.Pro tip- About halfway through the smoking process, spray the boston butt with some of the brine mixture, and dust on some more rub. This adds a little extra crunch to the outside.
Pro tip- About halfway through the smoking process, spray the boston butt with some of the brine mixture, and dust on some more rub. This adds a little extra crunch to the outside.
- After cooking, rest your butt for an hour before slicing or shredding. This helps keep the meat tender and keeps a little extra moisture in.
Chances are, you won’t have a single scrap of leftovers from this smoked pork butt. If you do though, there are a ton of boston butt meal ideas out there. Serve leftovers on a pulled pork sandwich, make your own pork carnitas tacos and burritos, or just put it on top of a pile of mashed potatoes.
Once you’ve smoked a boston butt in your charcoal grill, you’ll never want to go back to cooking pork the way you did before. The smoke and time give this cut of pork tenderness, juiciness, and amazing flavor. Not to mention, this cut comes at a price tag that can feed a crowd on a budget. (Not that they’ll notice. They’ll be too busy chowing down.) So turn on your grill and invite over your friends because your butt is about to be the talk of the neighborhood!