I noticed it’s been some time (almost six years, yikes!) since I last posted about what is possibly my favorite smoked meat, certainly my most successful – Boston butt. The thing I noticed was how much my style has changed in that time, so I wanted to share with you, fellow smoker, how I do it.
I got most of my ideas by watching Aaron Franklin on YouTube, specifically his take on smoking Boston butts. Turns out he does them like brisket, and I have taken to doing that as well. Here is how I do it:
- Fire in the hole
Fire in the Hole
My first step is to get the smoker going. I start with a simple charcoal fire, the only purpose of which is to get the firebox hot enough to get the wood going. Please know, I am not cooking with charcoal, it’s just to kick things off. I think of it like the plutonium fission part of an H bomb.
Gone is the brining step; instead I go with a rub only. Once I light the firebox, I rub the butt.
Aaron uses just salt and pepper, and I have tried that, but my favorite mix is kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, and a little paprika.
This is rubbed generously all over the butt, and then it’s left to rest while the smoker comes up to temperature.
Once the charcoal is white hot, I add wood. I start with oak, since I have the most of that, and close the fire box and smoke box, and let the smoke box come up to temperature, usually 275 F to 300 F. Once it is up to temperature, I add the flavor wood, which can be hickory or maple or mesquite or apple, depending on what I’m cooking. For pork, I use hickory and maple. Today, it’s hickory.
Once the smoke box is up to temperature, I place the meat. Where it goes is not a random choice: the main, large meats like pork or brisket go in the center, while the secondary meats, chicken and brats in this case, go further out.
I have also changed a bit on where the fat goes. For a long time I placed it fat down, because I was only going to about 180 internal temp. But now I go with fat up, and since I am going to 200, that fat tends to melt down into the meat a lot better/
Now, I’ll be honest, with the new rig, I don’t have as good a feel for where the meat should go, so I place them where I have found them best in the past – sausages and high smoke meats up front, and lower smoke food like chicken and vegetables toward the back.
I then keep adding wood to keep the temp between 250 and 300. Again, I am getting a feel for the new rig, and this part is taking some getting used to.
Once the secondary meats are done – and I know this from experience – I can take them off. I generally do sausage for an hour at higher smoke, and chicken for 90 minutes in the back at lower smoke. Since I do a much better job brining the chicken now, I have found that I really don’t overcook chicken any more.
My basic Boston butt schedule is to cook it uncovered for 4 hours or so, up to 160 internal temp, and then spritz it with apple juice and wrap in foil. At that point, I can switch back to the oak, or any plentiful heating wood, and save the flavor woods for later.
Now, I will be honest, since the hurricane, and the subsequent cutting of the hickory tree and maple tree, I really don’t need to worry too much about flavor woods. But I really don’t want to get complacent or cocky about my wood supply, either. Good habits will help in the long run.
I then cook the butt to 200 internal temperature, making sure to check the fire box frequently and keep the smoke box at the 250 to 300 range. I have a nice wireless temperature transmitter, and I set the alarm for 200.
Once it’s done, I let it rest, wrapped, for 30 minutes to an hour, maybe longer, depending on what I have to do. This is a good time to get the sides made, like potato salad and coleslaw, today’s choices.
The best thing about cooking to 200 is that the pork will just about fall apart at this point. I pull it with tongs or gloved hands, depending on how hot it is.
At this point we eat. And no, I don’t use sauce. I don’t need to.
The next day, I make sure to clean out the rig – I empty the fire box, and change out the foil water pan, which keeps the humidity high. That way, the rig is ready to go the next time, and I don’t have to do anything but start at step 1.
So that’s the latest on how I do Boston butt. I welcome your comments and suggestions!