If you own a Traeger and you’ve never tried smoked pork shoulder (aka pork butt), you have to try it! Maybe even next weekend. Seriously, it’s not worth putting off any longer. Smoked pork shoulder is one of our go-to’s on the Traeger. We make a big batch, shred it, eat it for a few days, and freeze the rest (vacuum sealed into single or double portion sizes). The frozen pork is a super quick and easy week night meal when you have nothing else planned. And it is always yummy! We like to thaw it out, then cook it in a skillet until the edges get crispy. It is great topping a salad, but you can also use it for nachos, tacos, burritos, (even lettuce wrapped) and probably more I haven’t thought of!
If you’re new to the concept of smokers, or have never heard of a Treager at all, I’ve written a summary post to cover all the basics and help you on your way! You can check that out here.
We stumbled on an even better cooking method last time we made smoked pork shoulder, so this time around we decided to dial it in, making notes so we could be sure to repeat again. And now I’m here to share with YOU what we learned so you can repeat it as well!
Quick note – The pork shoulder is typically split into two cuts – the “pork butt” or “boston butt” and the “picnic shoulder.” The butt is higher up, rectangular in shape, and usually more marbled. The picnic shoulder is triangular in shape, less marbled, and often includes the skin-on (good for a roast!). For pulled pork, use pork shoulder butt if at all possible. The marbling plays an important role in how moist and tender your meat turns out. Anyways, since the naming conventions can be varied, it is good to know what you are looking for!
Many recipes you find for smoked pork shoulder will have you cook it the whole time at 225/250°F, until it reaches at least an internal temperature of 190°F. This can take anywhere from 6-12+ hours depending on the size of the cut of meat you are working with, if it is bone-in, etc.
However, we were up against a deadline last time we made pulled pork, where we needed it to be done in time for a dinner we were having with some friends. Actually, with the couple hours of resting, we needed it to be finished mid-afternoon. From our previous experience cooking an ~10 pound pork shoulder, we knew that even if we started it early in the morning, we would be lucky to have it finish in time. It wouldn’t be uncommon for it to take at least 12 hours at 225°F.
So, we decided to be bold and try something new. We set the Traeger to 180°F, put the pork on about midnight, and let it smoke all night – turning it up to 225°F mid-morning to finish. And it worked beautifully! It was probably the most moist pork shoulder we had made yet. We decided this definitely needed to become our go-to method. So that is what we are sharing with you here!
As a side note on size and where to buy, we often get our pork shoulder at Costco, where you get two boneless cuts totaling 15-20 pounds, so 8-10 pounds each. Bone-in is most ideal, but not always as practical. And these boneless shoulders turned out spectacular, if I do say so!
Temperature and Timing
Plan for at least 16 hours for cooking. Start the pork at 180°F the night before and let it go for about 12 hours, or until the internal temp reaches at least 160°F, but anywhere up to 180°F (it just depends on how much patience you have :)). Once you get to ~160°F the temp will get stuck for a while… don’t worry! This is normal! The connective tissues are breaking down. It will start to climb again soon, and you will be back on track.
For our ~8 pound shoulders we smoked recently, it took about 11.5 hours to get to 160°F internal. At that point we had to turn the temp up to 225°F and start our ribs on the same grill, so the shoulder went up to 225°F at this point too. It took another 4 hours at 225°F to hit that internal temp of 205°F we were going for.
Once the shoulders reached 205°F internal, we pulled them off, wrapped them in towels, and let them sit for 2.5 hours. Normally, we would put them in a cooler to insulate them and keep the juices in while they cool. However, we are in Phoenix and it is July and 110°F+ outside. So we actually just wrapped them well and left them sitting out in the shade. And believe me, they stayed warm until we pulled them 2.5 hours later! Let the meat rest anywhere from 1-3 hours. Again, this depends on how much patience you have, or if you are feeding a hungry and impatient crowd.
What about the wood we used? Well, Hubby got creative and made his own blend – equal parts of apple, maple, and pecan. I can tell you it was yummy! And it smelled sooooo good while it was smoking! 🙂
In summary, for an 8 pound boneless pork shoulder, smoke at 180°F for 12 hours (or until internal temp reads 160-180°F), turn up heat to 225°F, and smoke an additional 4 hours (until internal temp reads 200-210°F). Let rest 1-3 hours. Pull. Eat!
Pork Prep – Before/During/After
The prep required for a pork shoulder is pretty simple. The flavor and moisture really all comes from the low and slow cooking. BUT there are a few things you can do to make it just that much better…
Before the Pork Shoulder Goes on the Smoker
Before you put the pork on the smoker, rub it down with yellow mustard, and then sprinkle your favorite dry rub generously all over. Our favorite that we use all the time is Magic Dust Seasoning, created by BBQ legend Mike Mills.
Also note – if your pork shoulder is boneless, you may want to tie it up to keep it all together in a nice tight bundle while cooking.
Optional – inject the pork with an injection liquid to infuse more flavor and moisture deep inside. We used this Pork Injection Marinade that we found on The Spruce Eats, and it was certainly yummy! But we have been just as happy with smoked pork shoulder that we didn’t inject. So if you don’t have the extra time or equipment for this, don’t stress. It will turn out yummy anyways 🙂
While the Pork Shoulder is on the Smoker
While the pork is smoking at 180°F, spritz every 30 minutes with apple juice. If you are setting the smoke to go overnight, no worries – just start the spritzing as soon as you get up in the morning.
Once you turn the heat up to 225°F, wrap the pork in foil and put a little apple juice in the bottom of the foil for some added moisture. As it cooks more juices will collect – reserve these for use at the end.
After the Pork Shoulder Comes off the Smoker
Once the pork shoulder reaches an internal temperature of 205°F, take it off the grill. Wrap it in foil and a couple towels. You can even put it wrapped in an empty cooler to keep it warm if you plan to let it rest for a while. After resting for at least one hour, it is time to shred! We like to use these bear paws to do the job – they are incredibly efficient to use! As you shred, incorporate some of the reserved juices for an extra moisture boost. You can also sprinkle some of the dry rub into the meat to make sure the seasoning gets evenly dispersed. Basically, taste it and add a little of this and that until you are satisfied with the finished product. This is YOUR pulled pork, so make it to your liking!
To Serve the Pulled Pork
Hubby made an amazing Carolina BBQ Sauce to serve with the pork (see: Big Daddy’s Carolina Style BBQ Sauce). We also put out all the fixings for a really tasty pulled pork sandwich: small soft rolls, coleslaw, pickled red onions, Carolina BBQ Sauce. YUM! What a feast we had!
I HOPE that after reading this post and seeing these pictures you are convinced that you, too, have to give this smoked pork shoulder a try!
Start the Traeger
- Start the Traeger according to manufacturer's instructions.
- Once it starts smoking, set the temperature to 180°F and let come to temperature (about 10 minutes).
Prep the pork shoulder before placing on the Traeger
- Let the pork shoulder sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before you prep it to start smoking.
- Rub the pork shoulder down with yellow mustard until well coated.
- Sprinkle the dry rub all over all sides of the pork shoulder, patting into the mustard to help it stick on.
- If needed, tie the shoulder together with cooking twine. This is especially helpful when using a boneless pork shoulder.
- If using an injection marinade, do your injection now, following a patchwork pattern across the pork shoulder.
- Set the pork shoulder on the Traeger and start cooking.
- Put some apple juice into a spray bottle, and while smoking the pork shoulder at 180°F, spritz every 30 minutes or so with the juice.
Smoke the pork shoulder
- Smoke at 180°F for ~12 hours, until the meat reaches an internal temperature of at least 160°F, up to 180°F.
- Raise the temperature on the Trager to 225°F.
- Wrap the pork shoulder in foil, and pour a little apple juice into the bottom of the foil wrap.
- Let the pork shoulder continue smoke until the internal temperature reaches 205°F, about 4 hours.
Let the pork shoulder rest
- Pull the pork shoulder off the Trager, and reserve the juices.
- Re-seal the foil around the pork shoulder, wrap in towels, and place somewhere that the temperature will be relatively insulated for several hours (inside a cooler, inside the oven with it off, etc).
- Let sit for 1-3 hours.
Shred, season, serve
- Put the shoulder into a large pan, and shred.
- Add reserved juices, and additional dry rub to taste.