The Best Way To Smoke Pork Butt

In the South, it’s all about the butt—pork butt, that is.

Matt Moore, Nashville-based chef and author of The South's Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection came by to show us how to smoke what he calls the "cornerstone of Southern barbecue." He's right—there aren't many barbecue restaurants in the South that don't have pulled pork on the menu. Whether you're a fan of pulled-pork sandwiches, platters, or even pulled-pork nachos, there's no denying that pork butt, despite its off-putting name, is absolutely delicious. But Matt cued us in on something you might not know unless you're a pitmaster yourself. The name "pig butt" is a misnomer, Matt says, because the cut of meat is actually derived from the pig's shoulder. Wherever it comes from, we love it because it's affordable, versatile, and surprisingly easy to smoke. Beginners, don't shy away from the smoker—Matt says that the pork butt is a go-to cut if you're not experienced with smoking meat.

Championship Pork Butt

Photo by Beth Dreiling Hontzas / Styling by Lisa Powell Bailey / Food Styling by Pam Lolley

To start, Matt uses a premade, Creole-style dry rub on the meat. You can create your own homemade dry rub or use a store-bought one, but the most important thing is that you work the rub into every crevice of the meat. Taking the time to do this will ensure you get the most flavor. The pork butt's weight determines how long it needs to smoke. Pork butts come anywhere between 8-10 pounds, which translates to about hour or so in the smoker per pound. Although other pitmasters may deal with the fat cap differently, Matt prefers smoking pork butt with the fat cap up, so that the fat will gently baste the butt as it slowly smokes.

Regardless what you do with the fat cap, Matt recommends setting your smoker to 225 degrees. About eight hours later when he checks on the meat, though, the smoker's temperature has dropped to about 170 degrees. If your smoker's temperature drops but you need that pork butt to be ready soon, Matt has a solution. Remove the meat from the smoker, wrap it with foil, and place it back in the smoker until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees. Just like with a casserole or cake, the foil will prevent the butt from burning but allow it to continue cooking. Let the pork butt sit another few hours and take the internal temperature to see if it's ready. Just like steak, this pork butt is going to be best if it gets a little time to rest. Matt rests this butt, still wrapped in foil, for about an hour. Aside from an internal temperature of 200 degrees, another way to check if your butt is done is if you're able to pull the bone completely clean without any meat attached. It's finally time to pull the pork and enjoy, however you decide to serve it up. Turns out – you don't even need sauce with meat this tender.

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