Pulled pork is most commonly prepared by smoking a pork shoulder, also referred to as a Boston butt or a picnic roast. This cut is the upper shoulder portion of the pig or hog. This is available either bone-in or boneless. The bone imparts a tremendous amount of flavor into the meat. We will use a bone-in roast for this tutorial.
Pro tip: Make sure that what you are buying is actually the shoulder and not the lower portion of the front leg. Feel free to ask your butcher.
Shop for around an 8 to 10 pound roast. This roast generally has a good amount of fat on it and marbled throughout the flesh. You will want to remove some of the exterior fat so that the smoke can penetrate into the meat. Have your butcher trim the fat cap down to approximately 1/4 inch of fat still left on the roast for additional flavor and moisture.
You are going to start the recipe the day before you smoke the meat by marinating it in mustard, molasses, sugar, salt, and spices. The sugar and salt will be acting as a dry brine and will draw some of the excess moisture out of the roast. We are not doing a wet brine, as we really don’t want the meat to steam inside the smoker.
The smoking process will take 8 to 10 hours. During that time you don’t have to do much, other than making sure the pellets don’t run out in your Traeger grill and occasionally spritzing the meat with some apple cider vinegar.
Pulled Pork Traeger Grill Style
There are many Traeger grills to choose from. There are affordable models for the home chef and tricked out models for barbecue competition enthusiasts and pros. These grills are fueled by wood pellets that are dispensed over time to ensure a constant source of heat and smoke. The newer Traeger grills are “smart” and run using Wi-Fi technology.
A Traeger grill takes the guesswork out of smoking pork on a grill perfectly. You simply fill the pellet hopper, plug in the grill, turn the grill on to the recipe temperature, close the top to preheat, and place the roast on the rack to smoke. It couldn’t be easier.
Pro tip: It is highly recommended that you use only Traeger brand pellets. Traeger pellets have a moisture content of 10%, eliminating the need for a water pan that you would use in other types of smokers.
There are many recipes for preparing pork on a Traeger grill. A pork shoulder can benefit from maranating or dry brining with plenty of salt and sugar, and some spices, for several hours before smoking. Pork shoulder can be tough if not marinated in some form and cooked very low and slow. Smoking a properly prepared shoulder roast is an ideal way to cook this cut, resulting in the best pulled pork.
Smoked Shoulder for Pulled Pork: A Step-by-Step Guide
This recipe will serve approximately 10 to 16 people, depending on how hungry everyone is. I guarantee your friends and family will eat a lot of this delicious pulled pork. Preparation time is approximately 20 minutes for a bone-in roast. Marinating the pork will take 8 to 12 hours, or overnight. Plan on smoking the roast for an entire day. The cook time is approximately 8 to 10 hours. This recipe results in a sweet and tangy smoked pork with the help of the occasional misting of apple cider vinegar.
Pro tip: Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator 45 to 60 minutes prior to cooking. Ideally, the roast should be at room temperature before it goes into the smoker.
Serve the pulled pork with barbecue sauce, cabbage slaw, and Kaiser rolls for delicious sandwiches.
Tools and Equipment Needed:
- A sharp chef’s knife
- Paper towels
- Large, disposable foil roasting pan or a large baking dish
- 2 small bowls
- Plastic wrap
- Traeger pellet grill
- Fruit or hickory wood pellets (apple is really nice for pork)
- Probe meat thermometer (if not included with the grill)
- A spray bottle
- Clean cutting board
- Aluminum foil
- 2 large forks for shredding or meat claws
- 8 pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
- 5 TBS wet yellow mustard
- 2 TBS blackstrap molasses
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 TBS coarse sea salt
- 2 TBS smoked paprika
- 1 TBS onion powder
- 1 TBS garlic powder
- 1 TBS freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- Unfiltered apple cider vinegar (ACV) in a spray bottle
- Place the roast on a clean cutting board. If your butcher has not trimmed the fat cap, use your sharp knife to trim most of the fat off, leaving a 1/4 inch thick layer. Rinse the trimmed roast under cold running water and pat completely dry with plenty of paper towels. Place the roast inside a disposable roasting pan or large baking dish.
Pro tip: When working with raw pork, it is important that you clean any surface the pork comes in contact with, including your hands, the sink, and the cutting board with hot soapy water and rinse well.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and molasses. In another bowl, combine all of the dried spices. Using your hands, rub the entire roast well with the mustard and molasses to coat. Generously apply the dry rub, pressing it into the mustard and molasses, to completely cover the shoulder.
- Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours, or overnight.
Pro tip: Don’t marinate for more than 24 hours. Marinating the roast any longer than 24 hours will draw too much moisture out of the meat.
- 45 to 60 minutes before you preheat the grill, remove the roast from the refrigerator so that it can come to room temperature. After it has rested for an hour, remove the wrap and discard all of the accumulated liquid in the bottom of the pan. Thoroughly wash or discard the pan after the roast goes on the grill.
- Prepare the Traeger grill: Fill the hopper with wood pellets. Line the drip tray with aluminum foil for easier cleanup. Turn the smoker on with the top open until a flame is established, approximately 5 minutes. Close the grill top and set the temperature to 225˚F. Allow the grill to heat up for 10 to 15 minutes. Be mindful that you may have to put more pellets in the hopper throughout the day, so check for smoke approximately every 2 hours.
- Place the roast on the largest rack of the smoker. It is possible that you will have to remove the upper rack so it will fit. Insert the attached probe thermometer in the thickest portion of the shoulder. Close the top and smoke for approximately 8 hours. Every 2 hours, spray some ACV on the roast to moisten it. It is okay to rotate the roast to get at all sides. At 8 hours, check the internal temperature of the meat with the thermometer. You are looking for 190°F or even a little higher. You also want a caramelized exterior shell, fondly referred to as the bark. This is crisp and very tasty.
- While the pork is smoking, make a barbecue sauce and cole slaw. Or, use your favorite jarred barbecue sauce.
- Remove the cooked roast to a clean cutting board and cover with foil until it is cool enough to handle. This may take up to an hour. You want to be able to remove the bone without burning yourself.
- Once the pork has cooled enough to touch, remove the bone and shred the meat into thin strands using meat shredding claws or forks to pull the meat apart.
- Place the pulled pork on a large serving platter with some tongs for everyone to help themselves.
Serve with sliced Kaiser rolls, slaw, pickles, and sauce for sandwiches.
It doesn’t matter if you are new to smoking meat or a grill master, this recipe for a the best pulled pork will be worth the time and effort you put into it. Kids and adults alike will love this recipe. While this pulled pork takes 2 days to prepare, keep in mind that the Refrigerator and the Traeger grill are doing most of the work. Don’t be afraid to give this tasty recipe a try.