Higher Temp or Foil Better for Pork Butts?

Discussion in 'Pork' started by jdmahlstedt, Apr 2, 2014.

  1. I'm relatively new to smoking. I tried smoking my first pork butt today on my new WSM 22.5 and the "stall" kicked my butt. Started it at 6 AM and maintained between 230-250. Got up to 165 IT in about 5 hours but then stopped. At 6 PM the IT was still only at 172. It literally took 7 hours to increase by 7 degrees. I pulled it and am currently finishing it in the oven, wrapped in foil as we speak.

    I read a few of the threads on this topic and have heard two basic schools of thought: higher temps and foil. My question is: which one is better? I know foiling has the drawback of a less than crunchy bark, but it seems to be a popular choice. Higher temps seem to make sense, and if it produces an equally juicy and delicious piece of meat, why foil at all? Also, if I had just let it keep going until it was finished, would it turn out good, or would it be dry as a bone?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I'm going to jump back on the horse this weekend and give it another go. Thanks!
  2. If I had to choose between higher temp & foiling I would choose higher temp - I don't foil my butts because I like the bark too much...

    How were you monitoring your smoker temp?
  3. waterinholebrew

    waterinholebrew Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    :yeahthat: Agree with SB on that !!
  4. so ms smoker

    so ms smoker Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

      I usually pan and foil at about 165 degrees. If I need to put in the oven to finish, I set the temp at 325.  You can also just put in a pan at 165 to save the juices, leave uncovered to keep the bark, and turn up the temp.

  5. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Amazing Ribs has a great page on meat temperatures.  Explains all the science of what happens to meat in the smoker.

    Basically as the temperature of the meat climbs the water reaches a point where it is evaporated, or "sweats" out of the meat.  That's the stall.  The "wetter" the meat, the longer the stall at any given chamber temp.  Water is what gives meat juiciness at low internal temps, like steaks, beef roasts, pork loins, etc where you heat to a max of 145F.  Meats you take to higher temps get their juicy succulence from another place.

    Butts, shoulders, briskets, chuckies, are tough cuts of meat with lots of fat and connective tissues.  Fats render out at lower temps but can take a while to render completely.  As the internal temperature of the meat climbs past 170F, that's when the tough connective tissues in the muscle start breaking down and melting.  By the time the meat reaches internal target temps of 200-205, the connective tissue has melted and made the meat juicy again. 

    Now, I wrap soon after the first stall starts.  Here's why:

       First, I wrap to capture that liquid evaporating out of the meat.  Water conducts heat 25 times faster than air so the moisture trapped in the sealed wrap will cook the meat faster.  Scuba divers have that fact drilled into them. If you doubt it try this little experiment.  Walk outside barely clothed when it is 50F.  You notice the cold and will chill over fifteen minutes or so.  Go warm up while filling the bathtub with 50F cold water, then jump in.  It takes your breath away it feels so cold!  Your body temp can drop to dangerous levels in a matter of minutes in a large body of cold water as the heat flows rapidly out of your unprotected body into water compared to how fast the heat flows out of your body into the air.      

    Second, I want to capture the connective tissue juices that drip out of the meat.  I use it for au jus and for cooking other things.  Those "drippings" are pure flavor.  Have you ever wrapped a meat you cooked to a high internal temperature, stuck the leftovers with the juices in the refrigerator, then noticed gelatin the next day below a layer of fat?  That gelatin is the melted connective tissue from the muscle of the meat.  Flavorful, FLAVORFUL stuff.

    With wrapping you give up the crispy bark, but I get so much more use out of the juices and gelatin.  Plus I'm saving time.  Once I wrap I let the smoker temp climb because it is no different than putting it in the oven since no smoke can be absorbed by the wrapped meat.  Basically the meat is braising in its own juices.  

    I last did an 8.5 lb pork shoulder for pulled pork over the holidays.  I used 275F chamber temp or so, then let it climb to 290 or so after I wrapped.  It was just over 8 hours from meat load to dinner including the unwrapped smoke, wrapped cook, and rest period.  Succulent, juicy, and oh so flavorful.        

    That sir, is why I wrap.
    marauder likes this.
  6. I have absolutely no problem getting juicy, flavorful pork without wrapping.

    This is what I cooked for my dad's birthday - no foil, dry chamber, no oven & no loss of quality.

    If I want the little bit of juice that comes out while cooking I just stick a pan in under the butt & collect it - this lets me keep the bark that I (along with everyone else that I sometimes cook for) love.

    It's up to each individual to decide whether they want to foil or not & both ways can turn out some great Q but you will not catch me putting foil on a butt...
  7. foamheart

    foamheart Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I am just lazy, I know a 9 or 10 lb. butt is going to take 20 to 22 hours at 220 degrees, period. It doesn't need my help in any way. No spritzing, mopping, injecting. Put it in, come back tomorrow for deliciously moist and tender pulled pork with the best bark you ever tasted.

    Let it stall. Who cares?

    Why can I say this? I don't smoke on the clock, takes all the fun out if you embarrass yourself and have to call for pizza because the meat can't tell time or just doesn't care to. Cook it a day ahead, pull it, give it a little finish sauce, Ziploc and in the refer till you need it. Nice thing is, its like a good soup or gumbo or pot of beans or chicken and dumplins..... its always better the next day. You are all happy happy, your bride is happy cause you are done, you are not tired and cross from tending all night before the party. Its just a win/win/win..... win/win/win/....  win/win.

    Lifes to short to stress out over pulled pork.
    marauder and imurhuckleberry like this.
  8. cliffcarter

    cliffcarter Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    High heat is all you need, even Noboundaries cooks his butts at the lower threshold of "hot and fast".

    The original rationale for foiling butts was to get thru the stall more quickly and make butt cooks more predictable, cooking at higher temps does the same thing with no loss of quality IMHO, unlike foiling where you will lose that crunchy, spicy bark that I like so much.

    Bottom line- if you cook at high heat you can skip the extra step of foiling, have juicy and flavorful meat, keep the bark, make your cooks more predictable and no longer lose sleep tending the pit on overnight cooks.
  9. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
  10. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    You will also notice that many of us have different opinions and a lot of the times you will see the difference in opinions directly correlate to the cooking unit, for example, I say reduce time by foiling and running higher heat (using a stickburner) and Foamheart says low and slow, let it ride (Electric Smoker) (I believe foam is using electric)

    So the equipment being used will also dictate (somewhat) your optimal way to cook.

    Also bark formation will vary with different cooking equipment, cooking temperatures as well as the type of rub being used.

    Just wanted to throw that out there.
  11. worktogthr

    worktogthr Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Perhaps the simplest time saver of all, that will still produce great results is to cut the butts in half.  I know pulling a 9 pound shoulder in front of your friends and families is impressive but if you don't want to struggle with that nine pounder taking 20 hours to cook, cut that bad boy into two or even three pieces.  Another bonus...more tasty bark.  Lately, I have been a fan of the hotter and faster cooks that Cliff suggests.  Combine that method with a smaller starting product and you can produce good pulled pork without having to plan a whole day for it.  Another thing I like about cutting a butt in half  or thirds is that you can try a different rub on each one.  My last butt smoke was a 7#er that I cut in half (roughly haha)  and one had Memphis Dust, while the other had a Cuban spice paste.  Made two completely different meals with one cook and it didn't take all day.
  12. Thanks so much everybody for the great advice! I'm looking forward to putting it to good use soon and make another run at a pork butt. That said, even with the extended cook time, the one from Wednesday still turned out great. I'll be sure to posts pics next time!
  13. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    On my propane set up, I use low and slow until I hit 170 IT, then I foil and raise smoker temps from 225 to 300 to finish up the smoke. Still get the bark, finish the meal much sooner.

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