Weekend butt was not a success, ideas?

Discussion in 'Pork' started by mummel, Jul 27, 2015.

  1. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    Darn guys.  We had some friends over this weekend and I was so excited to serve up some butt.  They enjoyed it but it was not my best.  It was drier than normal and tough around the edges.  The one end was pretty burned (money muscle?).  It was as hard as a brick. 

    A couple of things come to mind.  My Mav probe was trailing 10F behind my MES BT probe.  This was weird.  They were neck in neck at the beginning of the stall, but near the end I checked and their was a 10F diffs.  Thats a lot.  I decided that the BT probe was probably in a fat pocket, or in a thinner part of the meat?  But maybe I overcooked it by trusting the Mav probe?  Is my Mav probe failing?  What could cause this?  Could overcooking a butt by 10F do this?

    I was also running behind.  I had to bump up the temps from 225F to 250F in the last 3 hours.  I dont think that made a diffs but I wanted to mention it.  Total smoke for a 5.5lb butt took 13 hours, which seems WAAAAAAAAAYY too long lol.

    It also tasted like a salt lick.  Live and learn, but I dry brined it for 36 hours.  I was overly generous with the kosher salt.  I now know what the limit is.  It was too much.  I also used McCormicks pork rub and I forgot to check what their salt content is.  I could have doubled up.  Would salt make the meat drier?

    Anyway, another butt incoming this weekend.  My ego took a hit and I need to fix it!
  2. gpb11

    gpb11 Meat Mopper

    Sounds like a combination of factors.  Salt will pull moisture out, so too much could help dry it out.  Go with one salt source; if you brine dont' salt your rub or use salt in an injection.  I think the bump in temperature may have had the greater effect though; if you need to hurry it along at the end, put it in a pan and foil it over.  Keeps more moisture in as you kick the temps up.

    Also how did you rest it (method & time) before serving?  Skipping this step would also contribute to the results you saw.

    As for the thermometer, that's easy enough to check.  Put it in an icewater and in boiling water to see if you get the appropriate readings.  Google for proper techniques as well as altitude adjustments for water boiling point.  
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2015
  3. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    I foiled it, no towels or cooler, just countertop, and let it sit for an hour. 
  4. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    Also I thought salt via a dry brine was supposed to make the meat more moist?
  5. gpb11

    gpb11 Meat Mopper

    It's one of those "a little is good, too much is bad" things as I understand it.
  6. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    But whats the science behind it?  I've read Meatheads text about dry brining.  My understanding is that your butt weighs the most post smoke if it's been dry brined, suggesting the least amount of water loss.  Why why then does too much salt make the meat dry?
  7. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit


    So what do these tests imply?
    • Salt brining does not draw significant amounts of moisture into the meat by osmotic pressure or any other process.
    • Salt brining does not form a thin, sealed surface trapping moisture inside the meat during cooking.
    • High levels of salt WILL locally bind pre-existing meat juices, and this is the main reason salt brining works. But only in areas which are salted, or become salty during cooking.
    • Since water from the brine does not add moisture to the meat, wet or dry brining can be equally effective. For example, rubbing salt under chicken skin and letting it dry-marinate for a few hours, can be equivalent to wet brining overnight. It may even be superior- wet brining can draw out flavors from inside the bird. The main challenge with dry brining is uniformly distributing small quantities of salt.
    • Assuming reasonable salt levels and brining times, the diffused salt layer will be under a half inch thick, so...
    • Brining is of modest value for large cuts of meat- e.g. Thanksgiving turkeys or big briskets, which are best cooked low and slow to prevent overcooking the exterior before the interior catches up. However, as people prefer to cook their turkeys at high temperatures for crisper skin and to save time, the meat closest to the skin ends up hotter and dryer than the interior. Thus brining, particularly when cooking thick pieces of meat at high temperatures or when searing, retains moisture just where its needed most.
    • The tiny sodium and chlorine salt brine ions will diffuse through skin and bone, but larger molecules and flavors are blocked from entry.
    • For thin-sliced meat or kabobs, brines are an easy way to quickly add flavor without the messiness of a sauce. Plus, if the brine/marinade includes a tenderizer, like baking soda, salt, some fruit enzymes, etc. the meat will be less tough. And, if the brine is salty, the meat will be moister. Its a good thing.
    • Injecting salty liquids deep into a thick cut of meat will tenderize while retain existing moisture and juices. External brining, is less effective than injection for large cuts of meat. But injection is harder to master.
  8. Did you rinse the brine off very well after the brine? if not cooking the meat with that much salt on it would constitute with a very dry salty hunk of meat. I am still trying to figure out why you brined a pork butt in the first place? they have so much internal fat & collagen. i really dont think a brine was necessary. 
  9. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    I've brined all my other butts with great success.  The is the first one I screwed up.  I did wash off the butt after the brine but remember, all the kosher salt gets dissolved and absorbed so not sure it makes a huge diffs. 
  10. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    Maybe it's also time for me to try a foiled butt.


    Foil, Friend of the Pitmaster


    For this test, I was looking to wrap one butt in foil and leave the other naked once they hit the stall. This happened around the 165° mark, about five hours into the cook. At this point, even though the bark was forming nicely, it was still much lighter than I was used to. I worried what would happen if I wrapped it up before I was totally happy with the crust, but knowing that I first and foremost needed to improve the quality of the meat, I ventured forth.

    As the unwrapped butt sat at a toasty 165°F for many hours before its internal temperature began to rise again, the foiled butt burst through that stall and hit the final 198°F mark I was shooting for in just three hours. This meant the total cooking time clocked in at nine hours, about five hours before the unwrapped butt.

    So how does foil make the butt escape the "stall?" Once wrapped, all that moisture is trapped inside the foil. With no place to escape, the humidity jumps up to nearly 100%, effectively ending the cooling effect of surface evaporation.


    With this method, I felt pretty confident that my pork would be juicy throughout, but was left a little dismayed when I saw the soft and light bark of the foiled butt sitting next to the glistening, dark black bark of the unwrapped butt. All feelings of remorse faded as I pulled the meat from each butt and saw the difference a little foil made.

    The meat of the wrapped butt was considerably juicier at the surface and pulled in thicker strands that retained their moisture for longer—a must when a judge may well be eating your pork between ten and twenty minutes after it was pulled. In comparison, the unwrapped butt's meat was noticeably drier and had a stringy consistency.


    After pulling both shoulders, I pumped up the moisture even more by incorporating a barbecue sauce considerably thinned out with an apple juice- and vinegar-based mixture. The wrapped butt's meat held up well to this treatment and was enhanced, while mixing in more liquid made the unwrapped butt turn kind of mushy.

  11. gpb11

    gpb11 Meat Mopper

    I think you're focusing way too heavily on the dry brining.   As I stated I think the time / temp and the hurry-along had the greater effect in drying it out.  Also if your internal temp readings were off you also potentially overcooked it (pushing moisture out).  Random other thought; were you monitoring your grate temperature separately from the smoker's read out?  

    Do you have an instant read thermometer for your final checks at different spots?  If not, I'd get one.  Thermowork$ Thermapen i$ the be$t, but the Themoworks Themapop and Lavatools Thermawand are good alternatives for substantially less money.  

    As for brining: yes it is a good thing.  It can help the meat retain moisture during cooking due to the denaturing of the proteins at the surface during the dry brining as the moisture is drawn out and reabsorbed.  My suspicion is that too much salt in a dry brine moves into territory where more moisture is drawn out than is reabsorbed.  I really don't care enough about it to do your research for you though.  Again, I mentioned it as a potential contributing factor but not as the main / primary factor.  
  12. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    I did monitor the grate temp.  Was all within range, +-10 to 15F.  Maybe a combo of being overcooked due to probe failure & too much salt.  I should have checked the IT when I pulled it.  I have that Palermo gizmo.  I forgot about it (granted we did a Jaegermeister shot shortly before pulling it........).  Cant wait to do my next one to redeem myself.
  13. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Smoking is kinda like golf in one pretty annoying way. There is so much information out there and so many "tips and tricks" that folks keep jumping from thing to thing without ever discovering the root cause of the original problem.
    If you have a chronic slice in your golf game, special clubs, balls, gloves, grips etc will only mask the problem. 99% of golfers can fix their slice if they just learn to swing the damn club properly. Then they can move on to tweak various parts of their game as they choose.
    Cooking is the same way. You dried out a butt. Ok, why? Well my opinion is that you overcooked it by not paying close enough attention to the internal temperature. But I wasn't there, so that's just a guess. Same thing with the salt. You just used too much.
    Before you go changing your whole technique to what somebody on the internet says to do, figure out what YOU did wrong, fix that and then move on. (Says a guy on an Internet forum😀)
    You can make delicious pulled pork with an absolute minimum of equipment and ingredients. Don't overthink it. Get the basics right and be consistent and your problems will go away.
  14. so if messing with the temp just a little caused that much of a difference why can i smoke a butt at 300 and get the same of not better result? because the internal temp is is the key factor when it comes to butts.... not the ambient temp.
  15. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    I did not include raising the cooking temp 25F for 3 hours in my list of things that could have gone wrong.  I agree.  This should have hardly any impact.  But what about overcooking the butt and taking it to 213F IT.  Has anyone else done this?  If they have and the results were ok, then the only variable left is the salt. 
  16. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Why make one of the easiest Smokes (a Butt) so difficult.

    I never had a Butt that needed brining, and other than the salt content in a Rub, see no reason to add a bunch of salt to the most forgiving smoke there is.

    Changing you temp by 25° doesn't hurt anything on a Butt. Your problem was SALT.

    Try doing one in the easiest way there is, and get back to us. No Brining, No injecting----Just Rub & Smoke.


    Pulled Boston Pork Butt  

    Last edited: Jul 27, 2015
  17. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    Aaron cooks at 275F and foils:

  18. gpb11

    gpb11 Meat Mopper

    I listed multiple potential contributing factors for the OP to consider, including internal temp which hadn't (at the time of my post) been listed.  I did not claim external temp is/was the sole defining factor.  

  19. ducaticraig

    ducaticraig Newbie

    I would wait a little longer prior to foiling. Get the bark where you want it to be then foil. That may help with overall bark you're looking for while foiling as well.


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