The Boston Butt cut of the hog is misleading in name. This portion is actually cut from the upper shoulder of the animal not the rear end. When shopping for a Boston butt you may see it labeled as a pork shoulder roast. Smoking Boston Butt can be an amazing experience as long as you know what you’re doing.
So, how did the Boston butt come to be named as such? Some of the earliest settlers of New England set up shop in Boston because it was quickly becoming a thriving port city with easy access to imported goods. Pigs were brought in via ships to the harbor. Lacking refrigeration, the pigs were butchered and the shoulder portions were stored and transported in wood barrels that were called butts. That is how the term Boston butt came to be.
The butt roast is an incredibly delicious cut of the hog. It is a rather large roast. My preference is to cook it low and slow in a smoker. The smoke imparts a great deal of added flavor. Once smoked, you can serve the meat as is or pull the tender pork apart to serve in barbecued pulled pork sandwiches.
When choosing the right roast for your smoker, look for one that is approximately 8 to 10 pounds to feed up to 16 people. You can purchase a butt that is either boneless or has the shoulder blade bone still in. While the bone will definitely add a little more flavor and moisture, it will take a bit longer to smoke than a boneless roast. The recipe described in this tutorial is for a bone-in butt. Adjust the timing for a boneless shoulder.
There is a generous layer of fat on a pork shoulder. We recommend trimming all but 1/4 inch of the fat off. Leave a thin layer of fat to keep the meat juicy while smoking.
Pro tip #1: You can have your butcher trim the fat cap for you. He or she will have the perfect knife and skills to do this evenly.
Our recipe calls for a dry rub that is adhered to the meat with a base of mustard. You will need to apply the rub the night before. Then, set aside the entire day to smoke the butt. This bone-in cut will need a good 8 to 10 hours in the smoker that will result in fork tender meat. While this sounds like a long prep and cook time, you really aren’t doing a lot. Just stand by to tend to the smoker occasionally.
Smoking Boston Butt Recipe: A Step-by-Step Guide
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 9 hours
Servings: 12 to 16
- Smoker (pellet or electric)
- Cutting board
- Paper towels
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Disposable foil roasting pan large enough to hold the meat
- Plastic wrap
- Digital meat thermometer
- Apple or pecan pellets or wood chips
- Spray bottle
- Aluminum foil
- 2 large forks
- Serving platter
- 8 to 10 pound bone-in Boston butt roast
- 5 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Apple cider vinegar for spraying the roast
Pro tip #2: If you would like a sweeter roast, substitute apple juice for the apple cider vinegar.
Step 1. Place the pork butt roast on a clean cutting board. If your roast still has skin or a thick layer of fat, trim that down to 1/4 inch layer of fat cap remaining. Rinse the roast under cold running water and pat completely dry with paper towels. Place the roast inside a disposable foil roasting pan.
Pro tip #3: When working with raw pork, make sure you clean all the surfaces it comes in contact with hot soapy water, including the board, the sink, and your hands to avoid any cross-contamination.
Step 2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, paprika, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne. Rub the entire pork shoulder with mustard to coat it. Pat the pork butt rub mixture into the mustard to coat the entire roast. Cover the pan well with plastic wrap. Place the seasoned pork in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours or overnight.
Step 3. Remove the roast from the refrigerator 40 minutes before turning your smoker on. After the meat has come to room temperature, remove the plastic wrap and pour off any accumulated liquid in the bottom of the pan.
Step 4: Set up and preheat your smoker to 225°F. If using a pellet grill, fill the hopper with pellets and ignite the grill with the top open. Close the top and preheat for 5 minutes. In an electric smoker, fill the water bowl half way and place wood chips in the tray. Open the top vent, close the door, and preheat for 5 minutes.
Step 5: Place the pork shoulder directly on the smoker rack. Insert the probe thermometer into a thick portion the roast (if a thermometer is attached). In an electric smoker, place a clean disposable pan on the rack below the roast to catch fat drippings.
Step 6: Smoke the butt for approximately 8 hours. Replenish the pellets or wood chips and water as needed. Spray the pork with some vinegar every 2 hours. At 8 hours, check the internal temperature of the meat. You are looking for at least 190°F. The sugar in the rub should have caramelized into a dark crust. If the meat isn’t quite up to temperature, wrap it really well in aluminum foil and place it back in the smoker for approximately 1 additional hour.
Step 7. Place the roast on a clean cutting board and allow it to rest for rest for at least 25 minutes until the meat is cool enough to handle so that it can be removed from the bone.
Pro tip #4: Resting the meat before shredding it is an extremely important step. Not doing this can result in all the juices running out and the pork becoming dry and chewy.
Step 8: Once the pork has cooled enough to touch, shred or pull the meat using 2 forks. Place the pulled pork and any juices on a large serving platter with some tongs for everyone to help themselves. Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce, rolls, and coleslaw.
Smoking Boston Butt Recipe
Boston butt or pork shoulder roast is definitely worth smoking. It is the perfect juicy, tender, and delicious BBQ dish to feed a crowd. While this tutorial may read like a lot of work, it really isn’t. Once the rub is applied, the refrigerator does 12 hours of the work while the smoker does the rest. You are basically just tending to the smoker when needed.
We urge you to try smoking a Boston butt and serving it as pulled pork sandwiches. This is the ultimate backyard party food. Remember to ask your butcher to trim the roast to save a preparation step. And, relax while the pork is cooking. Enjoy the leftovers for a few days.