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Smoked pork shoulder at high altitude

MikeD79

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Hey guys,
I recently attempted a 6.75 lb pork shoulder at my house which is around 8,000’ in elevation. Most of the meat I smoke in my char griller offset wood smoker does not exceed 8-10 hours because of the time and effort it takes to maintain a steady temperature. I started my shoulder at 5:30 am with a mustard base and a sweet and spicy rub I developed for other pork. I found the 90 minutes per pound was not enough. I have seen friends pull this off at lower altitude in that time, and I’m curious if anyone else has run into a significant time issue at altitude or if my temp on my smoker is off. The adjusted time to reach 185 f internal temp before letting it rest, turned out to be about 2 1/2 or 150 minutes per pound. I managed to maintain a temp between 220-240 degrees the entire time. It finally hit 185 after about 16 hours and 50 minutes. I don’t mop or inject so the smoker was closed the entire time. If anyone has any tricks for smoking at high altitude they would be greatly appreciated. The shoulder turned out amazing by the way, my family finished it off in less time than it rested.
 

smokerjim

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Dont know about effects of altitude but it probably plays a part , but do you have a independent thermometer to check smoker temp,
 

xbubblehead

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I'm only at 6,000 ft and have not had a problem. The only difference elevation should make is in the boiling point and you would be pulling the meat at or below that temperature for your elevation. I'd check the calibration of the chamber thermometer first, maybe monitor right at the grid next time, then I'd check the internal temperature of the roast when I put it in the smoker.
 

sandyut

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there is a long thread on here. Im at just of 5000 ft and I dont think there is much difference. Scientifically yes there is, but in actual cook times...my jury is out. You may want to try cooking at higher temps. I do most if not all larger cooks at 275.
 

SmokinEdge

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The adjusted time to reach 185 f internal temp before letting it rest, turned out to be about 2 1/2 or 150 minutes per pound.
This tells me that your cooker was running in the 200-205* range on the grate surface where the meat was. Meat generally will only come within ~20* of the cooker temp. This is why for tender or fall off the bone, and pulled meats, the minimum cooker temp is 225* on the grate surface Bringing the IT of the meat into the 205* range, but at that temp it simply takes a long time to accomplish.

Im at 6400’ here in Colorado. I prefer to Bbq at 250-275* and I generally wrap my meat at about 5 hours (160-ish) This gives time enough for decent smoke and is a good wrapping point to push over the stall without drying the meat to much. The air here is generally in the teens for humidity and this tends to dry out the surface of the meat making it very chewy if left unwrapped for the long haul. Altitude doesn’t bother as much as low pit temperature. Run your pit in the 25-275* range at the grate level. You will be rewarded.
 

noboundaries

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Think of it this way: 250F is 250F whether at sea level or 8000'. At 8000', there is less weight of the atmosphere (air pressure). The air is also less dense, so fewer hot air molecules contact the meat while it is smoking. Both factors can extend the cooking time, but not by much. I doubt you'd notice.

Learn to cook to tenderness on pork butts, not internal temp or time. There's another magical about ANY temp when it comes to smoking meat, but folks will argue about that point all day long because they've had success smoking at X chamber temp. I've cooked/smoked pork butts at temps between 225F and 350F+. More heat means greater heat transfer from the air to the meat and less time regardless of the altitude.

I don't cook/smoke to an internal temp or a clock. I use both as guides, not rules. I've cooked a lot of meals camping at high elevations up to 11000'+ and didn't pay any attention to the time it took to cook things. I cooked it until it was done, and nothing seemed out of place.

Water does boil at a lower temp at altitude because there is less atmospheric pressure on the water. But you're cooking meat, not boiling water. Now, if you were braising the meat by submerging it in water or broth, yes, it will take a little longer because it is simmering at a slightly lower temperature. BUT, water transfers available heat 25 times faster than air, so you may not notice much difference.

I've read some idiotic advice online from what appears to be credible sources involving cooking times, temperatures, and elevation. One site talks about "simmering a roast at 325F will take 25% more time than simmering it at sea level." It is IMPOSSIBLE to simmer ANYTHING at 325F except in a pressure cooker. The physical properties of water make that impossible. That same website states "altitude has no effect on ovens." :emoji_laughing::emoji_rolling_eyes: Wow. Whether cooking in an oven or a smoker, the air at 8000' has identical pressure and density.

Okay. Off my soapbox. Smoke at a higher temp and don't worry about the elevation.
 

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