How to Smoke a Pork Shoulder

  • By: Jack Mancuso

How to Smoke a Pork Shoulder

Ever wonder how to smoke pork shoulder? I mean, this is “hunky” meat, sometimes weighing in at 18 pounds. That’s a lot of pork, and it certainly will feed you for more than one meal, let alone as an ingredient for several recipes.

Uses for Smoked Pulled Pork

One of the most common applications for smoked pork shoulder is in pulled pork. You can gussy up the sandwiches any way you want, be it by adding spicy slaw or dab of apple sauce. 

Go the Asian route and use it in pot stickers, as part of fried rice, or Tepong pork. How about in chili, pork tamales, or Carnitas? There are also pork empanadas, grilled mac n’ cheese, Cuban sandwiches, Irish stew, or perhaps burnt ends

Is it Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt?

It is easy to confuse pork shoulder and pork butt because they come from the same region of the pig. The pork shoulder is at the thinner end and has less fat. By comparison, pork butt is from the thicker part where more fat resides. Two other names for pork shoulder are “picnic shoulder” and “picnic roast.”

Shopping for Pork Shoulder

What should you look for in pork shoulder when you go to the market? If you’re not getting it from a butcher, look at the package. If there is any sign of an insecure seal, don’t buy it. 

Watch for good marbling (for flavor and tenderness). The meat’s color is reddish pink, and the cap should be ivory white (not grey). 

When you return from the store, make sure you get the pork into the refrigerator right away. 

Flavoring the Pork Before Smoking

Coconut Rum: Add a fruity glaze like mango.

Gravel: Especially if you’re using it for Mexican dishes.

Hot Honey: Hey, some like it hot. Sweet and heat make pork shoulder delectable.

Maple Bourbon: A match made in heaven. You can’t go wrong with pork and maple pairings.

These are just four of our delicious line of natural seasonings, created by yours truly. Make sure to apply the dry rub the day before smoking. Leave it in the refrigerator and take it out about 30 minutes ahead of cooking. 

How to Smoke Pork Shoulder: The Process

  1. Set your smoker to 225F
  2. Place a small pan of water beneath where the pork will sit
  3. Place the pork on the grates
  4. Spritz it with apple cider vinegar mixed with apple juice
  5. Let the pork shoulder smoke 
  6. Every hour, spritz it with an apple cider and apple juice mix (50/50)
  7. After four hours (for an 8lb pork shoulder), give it another spritz
  8. Cover it with aluminum foil
  9. Return to the smoker for 4 more hours. Don’t open that cover! It makes for uneven cooking, and you lose smoke. 
  10. Check the internal temperature of the meat. If it’s 200, remove it from the smoker.
  11. Let it sit covered (or tented) for at least 30 minutes.
  12. Put the finished product to work as you intended.

PitMaster’s Memo: Why Pork Shoulder?

The texture and flavor of slow-cooking pork shoulder are simply succulent. When cooked properly, it’s juicy on the outside, but on the outside, it produces a crispy skin. Smoking is a perfect vehicle for pork shoulder because the fat cap dissolves, creating all that flavor and tenderness. 

Don’t rush the process. If you smoke at a high temperature, the meat won’t have as much time for the fat to dissolve and do its job. You’ll have chewy pork shoulder.

For smoking wood, I recommend apple, orange, and maple. These are gentle woods, so you can still taste the pork. 


Acorn squash

Apple sauce (warm)

Braised cabbage

Fingerling potatoes

Honey carrots


Bacon chocolate chip cookies

Braised goat cheese pears

Maple fudge

Mexican flatbread

Soft pretzels with caramel dip

From the Bar 

Cabernet Franc

Hoppy IPA

John Collins


Sparkling cider

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published