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Smoke my first pork butt, what a disaster!!!!, Please help

post #1 of 41
Thread Starter 

So this weekend I smoked a pork shoulder in my vertical brink-man smoker.  I purchased the pork butt (picnic cut) from Win-co in Southern California, It came in a two pack (6 pounds each with bone in in each of them).  I rubbed them down with mustard, I didn't trim and thing off and marinated them over night.  The next morning I washed off the mustard and rubbed them down with a rub.  I let them sit to come to room temp for 2 hours before putting them on the smoker at 250 degrees.  I smoked it from 9 am to 6 pm almost 9 hours.  I also mopped it every 45 minutes with apple juice and apple cider vin.  I made sure all day my smoker was at 250, I had a dig therm to check the temp.  When I pulled off the pork but my internal temp by the bone was 232 deg according to my digital therm, but when I took it off the smoker, my reading off my standard therm only came to 150 when I stuck in in the side of the meat. I stuck it in the oven at 250 for 1 hour and let it rest for 1 hour.  I went to pull it and it was tough, fatty and almost still uncooked in the middle.  The meat was white, not nice and brown like you see on Diners Drive ins and Dives when they go to BBQ restaurants.  What did I do wrong.  Did I buy a wrong piece of meat.  I was really disappointed in my results after spending all day with the smoker.  Is there are better place in southern California to buy pork shoulders/pork butts then at Win-co.  I cant imagine there meats being of superior quality.  I think alot of Mexican ethnicity's in the area purchase them to make carnitas.  Can you please help and advise to my dismal results.  Thanks

post #2 of 41

My first guess might be that the when you checked the internal temp, you got the probe touching the bone and got a false high reading.  I've always heard to make sure you have the probe tip well into the meat and not touching bone.  The fact that when you took it off, the internal temp was only 150 supports that idea. 


I also don't open my smoker and spritz or baste.  There are those who say that lowers the temp and increases the time needed.

post #3 of 41

Welcome to the forum.


We all do things a bit differently but looks like you have the basics down pretty well.  Your cooking chamber temp was ok.  My first question is did you use wood, sawdust, chunks?  Something to impart a smoke flavor to the meat.  The way you described your results you got what I get when I cook a butt/ fresh ham in the oven.  If you didn't use a smoke source you got what you should expect.  The amount of fat in the meat is directly related to the quality of the product you started with. If the meat was raw in the middle you had your thermometer in the wrong place.  Placing the therm by the bone will give you an incorrect reading for the meat (bone transmits heat a lot better).  Seems like the only thing you need to do is put it back in the oven.  I would use a higher temp and let the fat on the outside of the butt crisp up a bit.   Maybe too late but next time do an injection of apple juice, garlic juice, onion juice, soy sauce to add flavor.

post #4 of 41

calibrate your therms... 32 degree ice bath and then 212 degree boil. I would Check internal temp before the meat went in the smoker so the temp is even all the way through and use pork butt, boston butt, pork shoulder. They are all the same. Opening the smoker several times will also cause the temp to drop out and require longer cooking time

post #5 of 41
Thread Starter 

I used standard charcol coals with soaked wood chips.  I guess I must of got a false reading.  Should a butt be trimmed of fat.  I just seamed once I cut into it was pretty fatty.  Not like on the shows were they are dark colored and they just pull apart.  How long should a 6 lbs butt take (9 hours? at 250).  Any chance someone knows of a better place to buy pork butts in southern california.  Thanks

post #6 of 41

I agree 100% with keeping the smoke chamber closed...too much heat loss and added cooking time. Oh, I don't inject my meats either...that way I can take my sweet time getting I/T's up over 140*.


I've personally used dry rubs which produce a flavor and bark that I'm happy with, so I leave the meat alone until it's time to foil it up.


The internal temp readings you get from a probe should be considered a baseline temperature. When you get to where you think the temp is right for pulling, stick a semi-blunt ended object into the meat in a few areas to be sure of the tenderness. Foiled resting just takes it a step further to ensure that it will be fall apart ternder.


I have had a butt or 2 not pull as I would have liked them to. The main issues I ran accross were due to fresh pork shoulders (not brining it myself), or not getting temps up for a long enough period.


Most folks will say to bring the internal temp up to at least 200*, and then foil/wrap in towels and rest for 3 or 4 hours before pulling the meat. I have used this method many times myself and the results are easily duplicated. I have also recently found that if I reach an internal temp anywhere in the range of 150-180*, foil and hold the chamber temp in the 190-210* range for 6-8 hours (gas smoker or oven), and then rest briefly (10-60 minutes), I get the same results. IMO, the peak temperature of the meat isn't as important as the time it is exposed to this heat...low and slow is the melting pot for connective tissues, and also renders out much of the interior fat.


I would be sure to brine, if the pork is fresh. If it is cryovac packed, the brining is already done for you, and I preffer these over fresh for the sake of less time/effort to prepare the meat the day before the smoke.



Water boiling temps for thermometer checks will vary depending on elevation...I'm @ 4,900 feet, and 204* is a tough temp to reach for me (that's a rapid boil).


Here's a link to a reference chart...there have been many of these posted in the past, but another won't hurt anything:






I may not have answered all your questions, but my past experiences may give you a bit more insight as to which direction you may want to go with the next butt smoke.


Keep trying, fellow smoker, as with each smoke you gain wisdom, build your skill level, and most importantly create more personal confidence in your abilities.


Every first smoke will bring with it a learning curve, so just sit back and soak up the knowledge as it happens. And, by all means, if you get stumped, drop a note...we do our best to take care of each other here.


Hope to see and hear you smoking again soon!




Edit: BTW, leave the fat cap on and just score it so it renders down and keeps the meat covered better...sometimes I forget to score the fat, and wish I would have a few hours into the smoke.

post #7 of 41

From what you described it sounds like you just didn't cook it long enough.  Every butt will be different, depending on its size and composition, but for me it generally takes around 15-18 hours to cook a pork butt (7-8 pounds).  If you were opening the smoker every 45 minutes to mop it then it would take even longer since the smoker takes time to heat back up every time you open it.  I generally don't mop or baste mine as they're cooking and they still come out great.  If you are going to mop or baste I'd just do it once at the halfway point and possibly again near the end when you're opening the smoker anyway to check for doneness.


When checking the temp, you want the thermometer in the center of the thickest part of the meat, but not touching any bones.  I like to check in several different spots to make sure that I didn't just hit a hot spot.


When it's done correctly you should be able to pull it into pieces easily using just your hands.  There will be some pieces of fat in the meat, but much more meat than fat, assuming you got a decent piece of meat.  


Sorry to hear that your first try didn't turn out well.  Keep at it because once you get it figured out the results are well worth it!  Good luck!

post #8 of 41

This is strictly a time duration problem.


You did not cook it anywhere long enough for the pork to render properly.  You can hurry a butt up in ten hours if you foil and let steam do its thing, but to long low and slow I would never even look before 12 hours and personally like 15 hours due to my temperature set.


Also remember... if you're lookin' it ain't cookin'!  Low and slow is a no look process... that is why they make the beer to go with the cooking!

Edited by bbally - 9/27/10 at 1:46pm
post #9 of 41
Don't always go by time though. My last pork but was done in 7 hours for a 6.6 pounder. Scared me at first but it was certainly done!
post #10 of 41

As far as meats go, Winco is def. NOT the place to be buying good cuts of meat. Notice the EXP date on all the meat they sell, it goes bad within a day or two. I've noticed they repackage meats from the stores that couldn't sell it. Try Sam's Club or even Stater Bro's or Ralphs, anywhere but Winco! Also letting the pork get up to 190 or 200 then wrapping in foil and a towel then set it in a ice chest(with no ice) to rest is a must for pulled pork!!  btw where in so cal are you?

post #11 of 41
Thread Starter 

I am in chino hills, near corona.  Thanks guys for all the imput, I will try at different meat market than winco.  It just seemed like the quality wasnt there.  I guess I will just have to not check it every hour.  Do most guys use digital them or standard them?

post #12 of 41

Never bought meat from Winco so I can't comment on that, the produce there is terrible I can say that! As far as your pork goes two things stand out for me. One is the fact that your probe may have been touching or too close to the bone skewing the reading. The other is you mentioned your pork was a picnic shoulder and without pics to look at I began to wonder if your picninc shoulder was like the one picnic shoulder I had, with skin still on. Did it look like this?



Or this:



post #13 of 41

I just cooked one yesterday.  I never mop or spritz my butts.  Don't open the smoker so often!  I cooked a 6 pounder yesterday, and it took 9 hours at 240 to reach an internal of 195.  Took it off and rested it for an hour before pulling.  I only opened my UDS once to  look at it!  If you are lookin, you aint cookin!

post #14 of 41

Regarding thermometers:  I can't stand the manual ones with a dial.  They take too long to get a reading.  I have a digital remote thermometer with two leads.  One measures the air temp inside the smoker and the other stays in the meat while I'm cooking so I know when it's nearly done without opening the smoker.  When it's nearly done I periodically check the meat in several places to make sure it's all up to the proper temp.


post #15 of 41
Thread Starter 

It looked like the second one in the picture....thanks guys for all the great response.  I guess I try sams club or stater brothers for another pork shoulder

post #16 of 41

Hey Kevin, just thought I would throw my 2 cents in...  I noticed that you said you rubbed with mustard and then marinated overnight, then washed off & put dry rub on.  The main point of the Mustard is to help the rub stick to the meat.  I normally put a coat of mustard on the meat, then a generous rub and then wrap it snug with a plastic wrap the night before.  I also read that you sat the meat out for 2 hours to get to room temp.  I would be very concerned if you left it out to get to room temp, cooked it and it didn't get done.  Need to get it from 40 degrees to 140 in about 4 hours or you run the risk of contamination.  As far as the fat goes, leave it on.  If you get it cooked to proper temp and there is still more fat than you would like then you could pull it off by hand and disregard at that time.  Lastly each piece of meat is different,  1.5 hours per pound is a good reference but in reality it could take 6-12 hours depending on its attitude that day.  It will get done when it is ready to get done.  Butts are my favorite piece to smoke, just takes some patience and TLC.  Good luck with your next one!!

post #17 of 41

Kevin, you say you are sure your smoker was at 250 because you were using a digital thermometer.


Was it the sort of remote digital thermometer with 2 probes, one for the smoker chamber and one for your meat?   Many of us use the Maverick ET-73.


You want to be able to monitor the temperatures without lifting the lid of the smoker.  Every time you do that you lose a LOT of heat.  If you were opening the lid for spritzing once an hour, maybe a quarter of your cooking time was substantially less than 250 degrees. 


Built in thermometers that come with smokers can be WAY off.  It is crucial to have a reliable read on what your smoker temperature actually is.


There are lots and lots of old threads about cooking butts.  If you read them you'll notice many talk about how butts can take a rediculously long time to reach 200-205 degrees.  Some go much faster, but more often than not they take their own sweet time.  It just comes with the territory.


Watching Q on television is sort of like watching Poker on TV.   The pros make it look so easy anyone can do it.  And it's true the basics are easy, but getting really good at it takes some time and practice.  Stick with it, keep reading threads here at SMF and soon you'll be doing butts that look like those on TV.


One last thing: I might be wrong, and it's probably a matter of personal taste, but it isn't necessary to wash off the mustard before you apply the rub.  In fact, the purpose of the mustard is to hold even more rub on the butt and make a nice bark.  You don't end up with mustardy tasting pork if you leave it on, the cooking process mutes the mustard taste and makes all the flavors blend.

post #18 of 41
Thread Starter 

okay great, thanks for all the advice guys.  Really awesome how everyone replies I greatly appreciate it. 

post #19 of 41

WOW...if you don't have a headache from reading all of that I'll share mine with you! LMAO  


Not to regurgitate the many many things mentioned already, but make sure you have accurate probes for your smokin' chamber and your meat.  Calibrate them, have a spare on hand.  All of the injecting, not injecting, brining, rubbing blah blah are all things you'll have to figure out later.  Get a good baseline method for completing a successful smoke and then you can worry about all of the other stuff later.  I've found just a rub is more than enough and haven't found a need to inject or brine shoulders.


Follow the information here in this Wiki article for the Basic Pulled Pork   Get a baseline without worrying with all the extra stuff right off the bat.  Just my humble opinion.  

post #20 of 41

I agree with ^^^. Calibrate your therms and go from fridge to smoker. Before you put it on the smoker find the thickest part of the meat and say its 4 inches take your thumb and place 2 inches up the probe and insert till you hit your thumb. Oh and dont forget the qview.

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