Smoking your meat is a great way to infuse your food with some serious flavor, and get a taste of that traditional barbecue cuisine that we all love!
The only issue with smoking and grilling meats is that you’re better off cooking with a ‘low and slow method’ for the best results.
Even seasoned pitmasters get a little confused as to how long to smoke a pork shoulder, and which temperature to cook it at from time to time.
Let’s face it, after you’ve spent all day seasoning your pork, prepping the meat, and heating up the grill, the last thing you want is to mess up and overcook it after hours of smoking!
So, how do you smoke a pork shoulder and how long should you smoke it? Find out in our simple and easy to follow guide, right here! But first, let’s take a look at the pork shoulder and how to prepare it.
About The Pork Shoulder
The pork shoulder, as you can imagine, is taken from the shoulder of the pig, just above the foreleg. It’s a tough and relatively inexpensive cut of meat as it is layered with a lot of fat from the shoulder region.
As it has a high fat to meat ratio, it is very tasty as the fat infuses the meat with flavor and keeps the pork soft and tender when cooked.
That being said, this result is only possible if you cook it over a low temperature and heat for many hours at a time.
This is so the fat has time to melt into the connective tissue around it, so that the meat becomes very soft, delicious and juicy.
Most of the time, you can find pork shoulder at the grocery store, or from a butcher’s, but it could be named something else.
Sometimes, pork shoulders are referred to as ‘Picnic Shoulders’ or ‘Picnic Hams’, so if you can only find these at your local store, then it’s the same thing.
However, you should keep in mind that a pork shoulder is not the same as a pork butt, as the two are often confused for one another.
Whilst a pork butt is taken from the pork shoulder, it is not actually a pork shoulder, it comes from a little bit higher up the foreleg than a pork shoulder.
That being said, you can buy a whole pork shoulder, which is a much larger cut of meat that includes the ‘pork shoulder’ and the pork butt. Both cuts can be used for barbecue pork recipes, so you can substitute one for the other!
How Do You Cook Pork Shoulder?
The most common way a pork shoulder is cooked when it comes to smoking and barbecuing is for pulled pork dishes.
Both pork shoulders and pork butts are cooked best with low, long and slow cooking methods, and make the perfect meats for barbecued, stewed and braised or pulled dishes.
As pork shoulders tend to have their own strong flavor, they also go great with sauces, spices and rubs as the flavors complement each other. Most of the time, pork shoulder is best cooked as a pulled pork dish.
It’s All About The Temperature
Temperature plays a huge role when cooking your pork. Of course, if you’re cooking your pork for hours at a time to seal the juices in, then you’ll need to cook at a much lower temperature than normal.
Just keep in mind that any pork needs to cook to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be safe to eat.
This internal temperature is perfect for pork chops, but pork butt and pork shoulder may need to be cooked longer in a smoker in order to reach the optimal temperature.
For the best results, you’ll need to cook the pork shoulder to an internal temperature of about 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
This temperature will be perfect if you’re planning on slicing the meat, however, if you want to shred the meat for the purpose of pulled pork, then it is better to cook to a temperature of about 200 to 205 degrees fahrenheit.
How Long To Smoke A Pork Shoulder At 250?
For the most part, if you’re going to cook a pork shoulder on the grill or in the smoker at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit, then you will probably need to cook it for about 90 to 95 minutes per pound.
However, this is only for a boneless pork shoulder, as bone-in can take slightly longer to cook per pound.
By cooking for 90-95 minutes per pound is plenty of time for the connective tissues in the meat to break down, and for the fat to melt and soak into the exterior to give it a great flavor and soft, tender texture.
For example, if you have a pork shoulder that is about 10 lbs, then you will need to cook it for about 15 – 16 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whilst this sounds like it’s been cooking for a long time, traditional pitmasters and authentic barbecuers will know that this is not that long at all!
In addition, the result will truly be worth the wait as your meat will be soft, tender and mouth wateringly good.
Although you may be planning on cooking and smoking the pork at 250 degrees, we do recommend cooking pork shoulder at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yes, it may take a little longer, and it could take up to two hours per pound of meat before it’s ready to go, however, it can make all of the difference when it comes to texture and taste.
Wrap It Up
If you haven’t already heard of the Texas Crutch, then you’re not barbecuing your meat right! Pitmasters all around the world swear by the meat wrapping technique, called the Texas Crutch.
This is where you wrap the meat after it hits what’s known as ‘the stall’.
When cooking pork butt and pork shoulder, you may come across the ‘stall’. This is when the meat seemingly stops cooking for a little while.
It can happen most often to pork butts and pork shoulders, but it can also occur with beef brisket and turkeys.
Typically speaking, at around the five hour mark, an 8 to 10 lb meat cut of pork shoulder will stop cooking for a little while and the temperature will not climb any higher.
This most often happens when the temperature hits the mark between 150 degrees and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. When your meat reaches this point, it starts to lose its moisture and will begin to dry out.
This is why you need to wrap your pork at this point. The stall can continue for hours, which is a lot of time for your meat to lose its juiciness and moisture.
Instead, if you wrap the meat in aluminum foil and leave it to cook for the remainder of its cooking time, you can seal in the juices, making the pork soft, tender, and allowing the fat to drip into the meat rather than onto the hot coals underneath.
In addition to this, foil is insulating, so it will also help your meat remain hot so that the temperature can climb again.
To find out when to wrap the pork, you should check the meat with a thermometer, as this will allow you to get an accurate reading of the internal temperature.
Typically, the stall happens after about 5 hours, or once the meat hits 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If your temperature has stalled between 150-170 degrees, then guess what… it’s time to wrap it!
Simply remove the pork from the grill, or the smoker and wrap it tightly in tin foil or aluminum foil. This will allow the pork shoulder to absorb all of the smoky flavor and spices.
Then, return the pork shoulder to the smoker and let it keep cooking for the remainder of the time until it reaches about 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t Overcook It!
Whilst you will be cooking your pork shoulder in the smoker for many many hours, it is possible to overcook it. Don’t be lulled into thinking that you can’t overcook the pork as it is easily done!
For the best results, you’ll want to remove the pork shoulder from the grill or smoker when it reaches an internal temperature of about 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
After this point, the meat will start to dry out inside. If you cook the pork up until this point, it should be soft and juicy on the inside, but have a good amount of crispy bark on the outside!
Tips For Making Smoked Pork Shoulder
When it comes to smoking the best pork shoulder you’ve ever tasted, there are a few hints and tips that you’ll want to keep in mind.
For instance, you have to place the pork shoulder with the fat facing up, otherwise, when it warms up, the fat will drip down onto the coals underneath and it won’t penetrate or seep into the pork to give it that flavor.
With the fat on the top, it can slowly baste the pork as it cooks.
In addition to this, make sure that you closely monitor the temperature of the pork shoulder throughout the cooking process.
You also want to be using a high quality, reliable thermometer so that your temperature readings are precise, and you can keep an eye on your pork’s progress.
In a similar way, make sure you also check the smoker’s temperature in case it drops or fails in any way throughout the smoking process.
Also ensure that you season your pork well before cooking. The best pulled pork can be made with just a simple rub of black pepper, dry mustard, kosher salt, sugar, garlic powder and onion powder!
Make sure you cover the whole thing, but don’t go overboard and ruin the pork’s authentic smoky flavor once cooked.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Wrap A Pork Shoulder In Foil When Smoking?
Yes, once your pork shoulder hits the stall, it is essential that you wrap the pork in foil to seal in the juices for the remainder of the cooking time.
How Long Does A 10 lb Pork Shoulder Take To Smoke?
As a general rule of thumb, it should take 1 ½ hours per pound of meat to cook a pork shoulder. Therefore, it could take 15-16 hours for a 10 lb pork shoulder to cook.
To summarize, you can cook a pork shoulder at 250 degrees on your grill or smoker, as this can considerably shorten the cooking time, however, we do recommend that you cook the pork shoulder at 225 degrees for the best results.
As long as you season, monitor and wrap your meat at the right temperature, then you should have the perfect pulled pork by the end of it!