BBQ Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt)

For our New Year’s party we had people over to watch MU in the Independence Bowl against Arkansas. The game was pitiful, but the food and company was good. The menu consisted of:

  • BBQ Pork Sandwiches
  • Horseradish Cole Slaw
  • Baked Beans
  • Snacks and dessert provided by our guests

    For midnight we had a sparkling wine from Jepson in the Mendocino Valley that came very highly recommended, and I couldn’t argue with the $12 price tag.


    The smoking took about 13 hours in the Weber kettle. I didn’t get it started early enough so it was a late night on Tuesday. It’s worth it for the BBQ. Read on for recipes and techniques.

    This recipe includes four stages: the brine, the rub, the smoke, the sandwich.

    The only ingredient not listed below is the pork shoulder. I used an eight pound piece of meat. It should be noted that this entire process takes about 18 hours of prep time and 12-15 hours of cooking time depending on the size of your shoulder. I didn’t start quite early enough and it was 3 am before it was all done.

    The Brine
    I’m a big fan of brining meats before cooking, especially with pork given that it can be very dry. Dryness is not much of a problem with a shoulder (it has some fat in it), but a brine also provides a lot of flavor.

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 1/4 cup molassas
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Water (enough to cover the shoulder, about 2 qts)
  • Ice (for chilling)

    Combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil, either on the stove or in a microwave safe container. Either chill the brine in the fridge or add ice for a rapid chill as seen below.


    When the brine is chilled place the shoulder into a container that can be covered, will fit in your fridge, and will hold the brine. We used a stock pot as it was the only thing large enough in our kitchen.


    Pour the brine over the pork and refrigerate for 12 hours.

    The Rub
    There are two keys to good barbecue. One is the rub, the other is this smoke. My rub is a mix of herbs/spices that is equally good on ribs as it is on the shoulder. Without sauce you end up with a Memphis style dry bbq.

    I’m not including amounts for the rub ingredients, partially because you’ll want to adjust it to your own tastes, but also because it’s the secret of the bbq.

  • brown sugar
  • white sugar
  • paprika
  • ancho chile
  • chipotle chile
  • cumin seed
  • fennel seed
  • black peppercorns
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • chili powder
  • ground cayenne


    Toast the cumin and fennel seed in a dry pan and then grind with the chiles and black peppercorn in a spice grinder. Mix well with the remaining ingredients and put into a container for storage. I made enough for several uses.

    The Smoke
    I like to smoke with hickory. I think it provides good flavor and isn’t as overpowering as mesquite can be at times. The wood will smoke better if it is soaked in water prior to the smoking. I don’t have a smoker so I have to make due with the Weber kettle grill. It worked out pretty well both with the pork chops last week and the shoulder last night. I place all of the coals in a tray to one side of the grill and the meat on the other side above a 9×13 pan full of water. The lid vents go above the meat and have a probe thermometer dangled through the opening to measure the temperature near the meat.

    Get 16 pieces of charcoal blazing hot (I use a blow dryer once it’s lit — do so at your own risk). Add 6 pieces of unlit charcoal and 2-3 pieces of soaked hickory. Cover the grill and let it come to temperature. I try to keep it steady at about 220 before I open it and put in the meat. Once the meat is in place you shouldn’t fully open the grill for 10 hours. You can add additional charcoal and hickory by sliding the lid to expose the coal tray (my grill grate has easy access flaps) leaving the meat covered to retain heat. This method allows me to add fuel and not dramatically alter the temperature around the meat (about 10° change). You’ll need to monitor the temperature and adjust accordingly, but I was able to keep a steady temperature with 3 pieces of unlit charcoal and 1 piece of hickory every 30-45 minutes. A second probe thermometer would make knowing when the meat was done fairly easy, I had to open the grill and use an instant read thermometer to check it. It will also fall apart fairly easily.


    When the meat is fully cooked (at least 160° — although the FDA says 180°) remove it from the grill, cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Pull with a fork or chop depending on your preference. The meat can now be refrigerated or served. Ours will warm in a crock pot prior to the party.

    The Sandwich
    Serve the pork as a sandwich with cole slaw and beans. Sauce is your own choice. We really like Blues Hog. If you like a Carolina style vinegar sauce the rub can be used quite well.

    Carolina Style Vinegar Sauce
    Combine the following, bring to a boil, cool, and serve.

  • 2 tbsp rub
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar