Pitmaster Matt Abdoo’s juicy pulled pork recipe will wow at your next barbecue
Smoking pork shoulder teaches you about maintaining your fire, how to wrap meats, how to gauge tenderness by temperature and other barbecue basics.
Pork shoulder is easy to cook, economical and forgiving of culinary missteps. That makes it the best cut for at-home grillers to learn the fundamentals of barbecue, says pitmaster Matt Abdoo.
“Training on cooking pork shoulder, aka pulled pork, is one of the greatest barbecue items because it’s one of the most recognizable iconic dishes within the barbecue world,” he says, adding it’s also a crowd pleaser.
Smoking pork shoulder teaches you about maintaining your fire, how to wrap meats, how to gauge tenderness by temperature and other barbecue basics. While it has similarities to other large cuts of meat such as brisket, it’s much less expensive.
“At the end of the day, if you undercooked or overcooked pork shoulder, it’s a lot more forgiving than a brisket would be,” says Abdoo, who runs Pig Beach BBQ in New York City with Shane McBride.
The two recently released “The Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook: Smoked, Grilled, Roasted, and Sauced,” with more than 50 recipes including ribs, brisket and pulled pork (or, as McBride calls them, “barbecue’s greatest hits”) as well as boundary-pushing dishes like beef rib gnocchi and pastramen (a pork broth ramen with pastrami).
Here’s a glimpse inside the book with the pork shoulder recipe, and all the spices and instructions you need to make juicy pulled pork.
Pork Shoulder, aka Pulled Pork
(From: “Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook” by Matt Abdoo and Shane McBride)
Serves 8 to 10
- 1 (8- to 10-pound) bone-in pork shoulder
- ½ cup Pre-Seasoning Rub (see below)
- 2 cups All-Purpose Barbecue Seasoning (see below), plus more for sprinkling
- 3 cups All-Purpose Barbecue Spritz (see below)
- 4 cups Tangy Hatch Vinegar Barbecue Sauce (see below)
1. Pat the pork shoulder dry using a clean kitchen towel. Do not use paper towel, as it will disintegrate and stick to the meat.
2. Season the entire shoulder with the rub and set aside to rest for 30 minutes. The meat will begin to sweat as the salt in the rub draws out moisture. This will help the seasoning stick to the meat.
3. Using 1 cup of the barbecue seasoning, generously coat the entire shoulder. Set aside to marinate for an additional 30 minutes.
4. While the shoulder is marinating, using hickory wood, preheat your smoker to 250° F.
5. Place a thermometer probe in the center of the shoulder and place the shoulder in the smoker, away from the heat source.
6. Smoke for 1 hour, then begin spritzing with barbecue spritz every 30 minutes for the next 4 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 155° F. This is the point at which the rate of evaporation of the moisture in the meat will cool off the shoulder, preventing the temperature from rising.
NOTES: Now is the time to apply the “Texas crutch” where the shoulder gets wrapped. At Pig Beach, we love wrapping it in plastic wrap and foil (see BBQ Bits & Pieces below) as it acts as a “poor folks’ sous vide,” locking in all the juices and heat as the wrap helps the meat push through the stall.
When wrapped, return the shoulder to the smoker and cook for another 4 to 6 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 198° to 203° F. Don’t be afraid to poke the thermometer through the wrapping, just do it on the top side so the juices don’t run out.
Once the shoulder reaches the desired internal temperature, the meat should have reached the perfect degree of texture and doneness. A visual sign of the shoulder being appropriately cooked is that the bone can be easily removed just by pulling on it. Remove the shoulder from the smoker and set aside in a warm spot to rest for 1 hour.
Unwrap the pork shoulder and “punch” (a pitmaster’s term for “shred”) the meat to the desired size and texture. Garnish with a sprinkle of barbecue seasoning and serve with the barbecue sauce on the side.
BBQ Bits & Pieces: Wrapping with plastic wrap and foil is a terrific way to create a super-juicy pork shoulder. However, the downfall is that all the beautiful bark gets washed away. But unless we are in a competition, the exchange of bark for juiciness is our choice, particularly when you are pulling the pork.
If, on the other hand, you do prefer a nice bark, instead of wrapping the shoulder, leave it as is and increase the temperature of the smoker from 250° to 275° F to push through the stall. The trade-off is that you will create a spectacular bark, but the meat will not be as juicy. However, it will still be amazingly satisfying.
Makes 1 cup
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Ac’cent flavor enhancer
1. Combine the salt, pepper, and Ac’cent in a small food-safe container. Cover and shake to combine.
2. Store at room temperature for up to 3 months.
Pig Beach All-Purpose Barbecue Seasoning
Makes about 1 cup
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup sweet paprika
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2½ tablespoons coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon granulated onion
- 2 teaspoons Hatch red chile powder (see BBQ Bits & Pieces)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ⅛ teaspoon ground fennel seed
1. Combine the granulated sugar, paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, chile powder, oregano, cumin, thyme, and fennel in a medium bowl and stir to combine completely.
2. Transfer to a spice grinder or food processor and process to a coarse blend.
3. Transfer to a glass container, cover and store in a cool, dark spot for up to 6 weeks.
BBQ Bits & Pieces: Hatch chile powder is an earthy, slightly spicy, and deeply flavored seasoning made from chiles grown in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico. It comes in both red and green varieties and is available at specialty food stores or online. At Pig Beach, we use only the red variety.
Makes 1 cup
- ⅓ cup ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup granulated garlic
- ⅓ cup sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground dried rosemary
1. Combine the pepper, garlic, paprika, and rosemary in a small bowl and stir to blend well.
2. Transfer to a food-safe container, cover, and store at room temperature for up to 1 month.
All-Purpose Barbecue Spritz
Makes 3 cups
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
1. Combine the apple juice and vinegar in a medium bowl. Add the water and whisk to combine.
2. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Tangy Hatch Vinegar Barbecue Sauce
Makes 2 cups
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- ½ cup apple juice
- ½ cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon chile flakes
- ¼ teaspoon Hatch red chile powder
- ¼ teaspoon Ac’cent flavor enhancer
1. Combine the vinegar, apple juice, and ketchup in a large nonreactive, food-safe container.
2. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, chile flakes, chile powder, and Ac’cent.
3. Using an immersion blender, blend until very smooth.
4. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.