How to Slow Cook Boston Butt (bone-in)

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CMaso99

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Sep 1, 2021
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I'm throwing an outdoor pork BBQ later this month, to feed about 30 people. This will be first time I've tried cooking anything on the grill beyond dogs and burgers, so I'm looking for help on what temp + how long to slow cook what I have to get it to the point that the meat comes right off the bone.

I'll have two bone-in cuts of butt, about 9-10 lbs each, using my buddy's large home-made barrel smoker, most likely burning mesquite wood chips. The idea is to cut and serve portions to the guests straight from the grill, with a minimum of hassle trying to cut the meat away from the bone. Also wondering if I should thaw before starting to cook, or if it's okay to start cooking it frozen (realizing of course it'll take more time that way).

Thanks much.
 

HalfSmoked

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Wow a lot of questions but I will try to help.
First yes I would thaw in the fridge before cooking. I like to cook at 225 degrees. Depending on the size they can take from 10 to 14 hours to cook you want an IT temperature of 200-205 degrees.
I would suggest trying to cook something on this cooker before doing the butts to get the hang of it.

Warren
 

ofelles

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Pork butt is a very forgiving piece of meat so a good choice for 1st time. I have never used a barrel type smoker but I run my smoker t about 225F but many people cook higher. I suggest thawing it and then add your rub. Hopefully you have a leave in thermometer to keep tract of the meat temp. It's good to eat at 160F and sliceable, but if you take it to 195F-203F it will be probe tender and you can then pull it.
I like to use hickory or pecan wood for pork.
Some one with experience on a barrel will chime in I'm sure
 

smokerjim

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Ya got some good info above. It's hard to say how long at 225 but my guess would be 12-18 hours , if your looking to slice instead of pulling I would say pull it from heat around 190-195 internal temp. I would be careful with mesquite also it has a strong flavor and can be over powering, of course that's my opinion.
 

gmc2003

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First off, Welcome to SMF. Glad to have ya join up.

Now onto your questions.

First thing I would recommend is to forget about using wood chips. Especially in a barrel smoker. Get yourself some wood chunks or small splits. Chips burn up quickly and you'll be consistently adding them to the coals. This will also affect your pit temps and smoke time.

Second Mesquite is one of the stronger wood flavors that some folks don't really like, but others really do like. It's too strong for my taste buds especially with pork, but that's me. I would suggest hickory or oak. Both will give you a good smoke flavor.

Third are you looking to slice or pull the butts? This will make a big difference in both time and temp.
Pulling will be done at around 205* slicing will be done at around 195*. It doesn't seem like much of a difference, but at the end of a cook it really is.

Forth, definitely thaw before cooking

Fifth, If your looking for pulled pork then the bone will pull out clean when the meat is done.

Sixth, Please don't serve it right off the grill. Whether doing sliced or pulled. I would move it to a serving table. Better to be safe then sorry.

One side note: If doing pulled then you can smoke it a day or two in advance and reheat the day of the party. It will turn out as good if not better then doing it the same day. Plus you'll be able to enjoy the party without worrying about the butts and smoker.

Chris
 

SmokyMose

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Aug 13, 2015
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All excellent points by all above and I can't disagree with any of it.
I'm assuming with 30 people you're planning to pull it. If that's the case, like mentioned I would cook and pull it the day before and re-heat.
I would cook at higher temps (say 250 to 280) and foil it after it hits around 170. That's me. Others differ.
Not sure why you want to serve from the grill, but it's not a good idea except for burgers and hot dogs.
I also think Hickory would be better than Mesquite for pork.
To be honest I'm not familiar with barrel smokers (or what you are calling a barrel smoker), but I also think you may want to try it out with something
to see how it runs.
After all that ramble, welcome to SMF from Indiana!
 
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CMaso99

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Sep 1, 2021
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Thank you all for your tips and advice, much appreciated! I figure some things you can only learn from experience, but for this I'm hoping to reduce the "don't know any better" mistakes, and your comments are a huge help.

So a very basic question - I read that cooking at 250, it takes butt about 90-95 minutes per pound to cook...so, a 10 lb piece will be done in around 15-16 hours. I'll have 2 such pieces, but since they'll be cooking simultaneously (in the same smoker), it'll still be around the same timeframe to cook, is that right?

Also a basic question - how hard is it to keep the smoker at a steady temp if you're cooking with wood, and if the temp goes higher than you want, what's the best way to bring it back down?

Also, I've been researching online, and I was wondering about brining. It sounds like you don't really need to brine butt to keep it moist, but since this is my first time, I'm wondering if this would be some extra insurance against the meat getting too dry?

Pulled vs. sliced - rather than having the meat ready to serve way ahead of time, my idea's to have the smoker going for atmosphere, and time it so the meat's ready during (or right before) the party. Then move it to a serving table when it's time to eat. I want this to be as little effort as possible for whoever's serving (ideally someone I'll pay a few bucks to, so that I can play host and don't have to be doing all the work), so I'm thinking the meat should be easy to take off the bone. Whether pulled or sliced, server takes some meat off the butt, serves the guest, then the guest can step away to get sides and add BBQ sauce to their taste.
 

ofelles

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Each piece of meat has a mind of it's own, but 12-16 hours is a good guideline.
Any smoker is going to vary some (5-25 degrees is very common. Even your oven does this). Pork is very forgiving and doesn't care about temp swings within reason. You can open and close vents but don't chase keeping rock steady at 250 +/- 0 degrees
Brining is great. Butts have quite a bit of intermuscular fat so they stand up well. I have not had a dry butt yet. (pun intended)
Resting meat for a while in a faux cambro is best rather than straight off the cooker. You can leave the smoker running during the party for effect if you want.
 
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WaterRat

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Thank you all for your tips and advice, much appreciated! I figure some things you can only learn from experience, but for this I'm hoping to reduce the "don't know any better" mistakes, and your comments are a huge help.

So a very basic question - I read that cooking at 250, it takes butt about 90-95 minutes per pound to cook...so, a 10 lb piece will be done in around 15-16 hours. I'll have 2 such pieces, but since they'll be cooking simultaneously (in the same smoker), it'll still be around the same timeframe to cook, is that right?

Also a basic question - how hard is it to keep the smoker at a steady temp if you're cooking with wood, and if the temp goes higher than you want, what's the best way to bring it back down?

Also, I've been researching online, and I was wondering about brining. It sounds like you don't really need to brine butt to keep it moist, but since this is my first time, I'm wondering if this would be some extra insurance against the meat getting too dry?

Pulled vs. sliced - rather than having the meat ready to serve way ahead of time, my idea's to have the smoker going for atmosphere, and time it so the meat's ready during (or right before) the party. Then move it to a serving table when it's time to eat. I want this to be as little effort as possible for whoever's serving (ideally someone I'll pay a few bucks to, so that I can play host and don't have to be doing all the work), so I'm thinking the meat should be easy to take off the bone. Whether pulled or sliced, server takes some meat off the butt, serves the guest, then the guest can step away to get sides and add BBQ sauce to their taste.
The trouble with trying to do a pork butt right before you need it is they have a mind of their own. They are done when they're done. It might take 2hrs longer than you pkanned or possibly 3, your time per pound is just a rough guide, especially if you're unfamiliar with the smoker. If you want something on the smoker I'd do some apps such as ABTs, moinks, or pork shots where your planned time is more of a certainty. Cook the butts ahead of time. And yes, a full size barrel ccoker, 55gal drum, should handle 2 butts.
 
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SmokyMose

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Aug 13, 2015
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Thank you all for your tips and advice, much appreciated! I figure some things you can only learn from experience, but for this I'm hoping to reduce the "don't know any better" mistakes, and your comments are a huge help.

So a very basic question - I read that cooking at 250, it takes butt about 90-95 minutes per pound to cook...so, a 10 lb piece will be done in around 15-16 hours. I'll have 2 such pieces, but since they'll be cooking simultaneously (in the same smoker), it'll still be around the same timeframe to cook, is that right?

Also a basic question - how hard is it to keep the smoker at a steady temp if you're cooking with wood, and if the temp goes higher than you want, what's the best way to bring it back down?

Also, I've been researching online, and I was wondering about brining. It sounds like you don't really need to brine butt to keep it moist, but since this is my first time, I'm wondering if this would be some extra insurance against the meat getting too dry?

Pulled vs. sliced - rather than having the meat ready to serve way ahead of time, my idea's to have the smoker going for atmosphere, and time it so the meat's ready during (or right before) the party. Then move it to a serving table when it's time to eat. I want this to be as little effort as possible for whoever's serving (ideally someone I'll pay a few bucks to, so that I can play host and don't have to be doing all the work), so I'm thinking the meat should be easy to take off the bone. Whether pulled or sliced, server takes some meat off the butt, serves the guest, then the guest can step away to get sides and add BBQ sauce to their taste.
Ok here's where it's HIGHLY suggested you do a butt on that cooker before you cook for the party to see how it works.
Two butts the same size may be totally different in cooktimes (hours sometimes) cooked at the same temp.
You'll also get an idea of what cutting some off to serve actually amounts to.
Have the pork ready to go and have something on the smoker like baked beans and poppers or whatever that you can have the smoker going for and you could serve them from the cooker if you want the atmosphere.
 
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smokngun

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Hi and welcome to the forum. I'm having trouble visualizing the type of barrel smoker you'll be using. Is it a vertical drum smoker like a UDS or Gateway, or a homemade offset with the firebox on the side, or is it simply a drum or barrel cut in half length wise and the coals are under the cooking grate like a grill. I've cooked on all 3 types and each one has different tips and tricks. I NEVER cook a shoulder with the idea of eating it the same day, I can't even count how many times i told my wife we are have PP for diner and ended up ordering pizza at 8 o'clock at night because it wasn't ready. Also I personally i would steer clear of mesquite. Oak, hickory or fruitwoods would be a better choice.
 

Meat Man Matt

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Apr 30, 2018
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Lots of great advice already.
I definitely wouldn't recommend trying to slice and serve right off the pit. This robs you of the rest period, which I find to be paramount to the quality of the finished product. I, too, love the running smokers contribution to the atmosphere of a gathering, and smoking your beans, ABTs, or even just using it to heat up whatever guests may bring in a potluck type setting is a perfect way to make that work.

I would highly recommend the brine (and its personal preference, but include a healthy dose of rosemary in the brine).

It's a good idea to cook something in there before your big event, since you haven't gotten familiar with the equipment yet.

You should probably make a decision on whether you want sliced or pulled here pretty quick,, because that will determine when you pull the meat.. I just did a 10.5lb bone in (pulled) this past weekend and it took 13 hours at about 230 degrees. If you are going for pulled, you need to get around 200 degrees and then start probing it. I use an old school meat thermometer for this, because it's a nice 5/16" or so diameter, sharp point instrument, which gives me a pretty good feel for the tenderness of the meat. Once you can jab the sucker a few times in several places/angles and get virtually no resistance, you're finished. This is where the rest comes in....
Just realized I started rambling (sorry). Type 'pork butt' into the search bar and you will find a TON of great posts. There are lots of recipes, opinions, and even step-by-steps on this site.

From Denver, CO - welcome to SMF!!
 
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CMaso99

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Sep 1, 2021
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Hi and welcome to the forum. I'm having trouble visualizing the type of barrel smoker you'll be using. Is it a vertical drum smoker like a UDS or Gateway, or a homemade offset with the firebox on the side, or is it simply a drum or barrel cut in half length wise and the coals are under the cooking grate like a grill. I've cooked on all 3 types and each one has different tips and tricks. I NEVER cook a shoulder with the idea of eating it the same day...
Thanks, good to be here. It's a drum/barrel cut in half with coals under the grate. My buddy engineered it to double as a smoker with a second stack for that purpose; he explained it all to me a couple months ago and I need to go over that part with him again, tbh. But he's used it for big pieces of meat before. Our original plan was to cook a 30 lb pig on it, but the meat packing house has back orders going into November.

I'm getting that the cooking time can vary widely, and trying to time it right could be risky. So say I get it all cooked well ahead of the party, but want to serve portions off the butts rather than pull/slice ahead of time. What's the best way to store and reheat them? ofelles ofelles mentioned a faux cambro, which is something I'm not familiar with but have started gathering info on.
 

smokerjim

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how much a head of the party are you planning on having it done, if your thinking a few hours you could just wrap it up and put in a cooler, that will keep it hot.
 

schlotz

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Hmm... going from just doing dogs & burgers straight to smoking 2 butts for 30 people. I admire your sense of adventure! Given a small crow is involved, you might want to enlist the help of your buddy to ensure things a bit. Never a good idea to disappoint those you are cooking for.
 

bauchjw

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I want to know how this went! It’s like a series ending without closure!
6551710D-8839-4973-8D1F-FCA804597068.gif
 
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