Real Barbecue — Pulled Pork

Pork butt with rub applied
Pork butt with rub applied

In case you didn’t know, I love barbecue. I could eat it at every meal. I am not overly concerned whether it is beef, chicken or pork, as long as it is real barbecue. In saying real barbecue, I mean meat that is smoked for a long time, over low heat, not just meat that has been cooked and mixed with sauce.

I have owned a Big Green Egg for about eight years and during that time I have worked to determine what spices combine the best for rubs and what techniques result in the best flavor. Most frequently, I smoke a cut of pork called a pork butt or Boston butt. This is actually a cut from the front shoulder of a pig and is perfect for making a smoked pulled pork. It has a good amount of fat and connective tissue that will melt and keep the meat very juicy at the end of its time on the smoker.

The big thing to remember when thinking about barbeque is that it takes time. There are no shortcuts. You have to plan ahead and be patient while waiting for the meat to smoke.

Interior view of the Big Green Egg
Interior view of the Big Green Egg

When making my pulled pork, the first thing I always do is rinse the pork butt with cold water and pat it dry. Once it is dry, I massage it with my homemade rub, put it in an airtight container and set the container in the refrigerator. My rub is a recipe that I have developed over time–I started with the basic rub recipe that Steven Raichlen included in his book How to Grill:  The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques–and have introduced some different spices to create a unique flavor profile for my own barbecue. I apply the rub between 10-24 hours before I put the pork butt onto the smoker. The longer the rub is on the meat, the more the flavor penetrates.
Exterior view of the Big Green Egg
Exterior view of the Big Green Egg

Since I have a Big Green Egg, I only use charcoal that is made from chunks of hard wood. I have tried different brands, but I usually use Cowboy brand because it is readily available and I have had good results using it. I do not use briquettes or lighter fluid, because they include chemicals that can impart less than pleasant flavors to the smoked meat. When you are committing the amount of time required to make good barbecue, the last thing you want to do is introduce something that tastes bad to the mix. To smoke a pork butt, I use a full chimney starter of charcoal, lit by igniting a small wad of newspaper under it.

While the charcoal is getting ready, I remove the pork butt from the refrigerator and soak the wood chips that I will use to create the smoke in the smoker. For pulled pork, I always use hickory chips because their smoke complements the flavors of the rub and pork the best in my opinion. The 30 minutes or so it takes to get the charcoal ready is the perfect pocket of time to start increasing the pork butt’s temperature gradually and getting the smoking chips good and saturated so they will give you a lot of good smoke as soon as they get added to the fire.

Once the charcoal is ready, I pour it from the chimney starter into the firebox of the smoker. I put a handful of smoking chips on top of the charcoal, put my plate setter (a ceramic insert that goes on top of the firebox and under the grate to insure indirect heat from the fire while allowing plenty of smoke to get to the meat on the grate) on and replace the grate on top of the plate setter. I apply a light coating of canola oil to the grate to help keep the pork butt from sticking too much. Then I put the pork butt on the grate, insert a thermometer with an external gauge and close the lid.

The Big Green Egg (BGE) has a daisy-wheel damper on the top and a sliding door on the side, below the firebox. The internal temperature of the BGE is controlled by adjusting these two devices to keep the air flowing steadily through the firebox. My goal is to keep the temperature at 225 degrees as much as possible. Then the wait begins. I check the temperature of the BGE about every 30 minutes and make sure that there is a good stream of smoke coming out through the damper. For more heat, I open the daisy-wheel on the top and, if necessary, open the slider that is below the firebox to draw more air through. If I need more smoke, I open the lid of the BGE, remove the grate and plate setter so I can add more hickory chips.

A pyramid of pork butts on a multi-tiered grate.

I also monitor the internal temperature of the pork butt with a probe thermometer. It is very satisfying to see that temperature increase steadily as the hours go by, knowing that the ultimate reward will be a succulent morsel of smoky pork. The goal is for the internal temperature to reach 190 degrees. By that time the connective tissue that is made of collagen transforms to glycerine and essentially bastes the meat from the inside.

While it is tempting to take the meat out of the smoker as soon as the temperature hits 190, it is even better if you can be patient a bit longer and let the meat sit in the smoker for a bit longer if you can. The longer that the meat sits in the smoker with a temperature of 190 or more, the more of the connective tissue will be rendered into glycerine and the easier it will be to pull the meat apart into the pieces that you have been waiting to eat throughout this entire process.

Pulling the pork
Pulling the pork, the pink around the outside of the meat is the smoke ring that shows how deeply the smoke penetrated into the meat.

Then the pulling begins. I make a point of removing all the fatty bits that did not dissolve when I pull the pork. I do this primarily because my wife doesn’t like to eat those and now that I have begun to be paid to make pulled pork, the last thing that I want to do is sell someone fatty bits that they don’t want to eat.

Once the pork is pulled the best part begins.


  1. That looks incredible. I’ve always wanted to try to make true barbeque, but I never know what kind of equipment to buy. Do you get what you pay for? Can you make reasonable BBQ with a <$200 smoker?

    • Robert,

      It is definitely possible to make true barbecue without spending a lot of money on a smoker. I did a lot (probably more than any normal person would have) of research and decided on the BGE because it would fit on our tiny patio when we lived in Maryland. I love the control that I have over the temperature and the versatility that the BGE offers, so I would recommend it to anyone who can afford one. I actually saved money for about eight months so I could buy mine.

      All of that being said, there are certain things about the BGE that are a pain in the neck (and the wallet). The initial purchase price is definitely high, but the fact that every individual tool that you need to use the BGE come a la carte. Furthermore, some of the add ons (like the plate setter and the multi-tiered grate) cost ~$75 each. I have a large table that my BGE fits into and that cost an additional couple hundred dollars.

      To actually answer your question though, I have seen someone make very excellent, true barbecue in a galvanized metal garbage can that had a couple of modifications, a couple of bricks, an aluminum roaster pan, a grate and an electric stove element. The total investment for the parts was about $30.

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