Why doesn't my pulled pork taste like the Pros/Restaurants?

  • Some of the links on this forum allow SMF, at no cost to you, to earn a small commission when you click through and make a purchase. Let me know if you have any questions about this.
SMF is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

oldlinesmoker

Newbie
Original poster
Aug 1, 2017
4
11
Hey all,

Brand new to this forum, and just had to ask a question I've always had ever since I started smoking pork shoulders/butts....:

Why doesn't the pork I make taste like it does at the professional BBQ joints? I've got the look, color, texture and consistency all down pretty well...however the taste the commercial joints have still eludes me every time. I've tried vinegar based finishing sauces and all that and nothing is quite nailing it down. 

Now don't get me wrong, the taste is quite good, however it just can't match even the lower-end professional joints. The only way I can describe theirs (and this is pretty consistent across multiple places) is more salty, more flavorful, and more 'smoky' (not burnt smoky, but that classic almost sweet smokiness that you smell when you take a whiff of artificial smoke).

Are there any tricks the professional places use that I am missing? MSG? Brining? Keeping warm in a crockpot with a salty broth that contributes lots of flavor?

Thanks!
 
  • Like
Reactions: bigsyd
I'm not in the restaurant business, but there could be two reasons. 

1. They are adding more rub after the meat is pulled.  For roasts that are NOT "enhanced" (pre-brined with up to a 12% salt solution), the meat can taste bland after smoked.  I add more rub to the pull after the smoke, and that stepped the flavor up quite a bit. 

2. They could also be using pre-brined, "enhanced" pork butts and picnics.  There's no need to add rub to the pull at the end of the smoke.  The enhanced meat is definitely saltier.  I've tried injecting and brining to enhance my own, but haven't been able to duplicate the ones by Hormel and Smithfield. 

Here is an enhanced pork butt label:

 
 
I'm not in the restaurant business, but there could be two reasons. 

1. They are adding more rub after the meat is pulled.  For roasts that are NOT "enhanced" (pre-brined with up to a 12% salt solution), the meat can taste bland after smoked.  I add more rub to the pull after the smoke, and that stepped the flavor up quite a bit. 

2. They could also be using pre-brined, "enhanced" pork butts and picnics.  There's no need to add rub to the pull at the end of the smoke.  The enhanced meat is definitely saltier.  I've tried injecting and brining to enhance my own, but haven't been able to duplicate the ones by Hormel and Smithfield. 
Agreeing with Ray (Above).

You also said "More Smoky"---They're probably adding "Liquid Smoke".

Bear
 
Hmm... no mention of what process you go through or equipment & setup used.  Regardless, Ray's comments above are most likely correct. If we can get a little more information, someone here might be able to point you in a direction to make it better.  

Have you considered using an additional smoke source like the A-Maze-N tube smoker? I use it with my pellet smoker with good success. Usually with hickory in the smoker and I put mesquite in the tube. I also brine my butts overnight (12-15hrs) in a large 2 1/2 gal zip bag with a cup of pickling salt, 8 oz of dark molasses and 2 quarts of water.  Note: if the butt is already 'enhanced' by the mfg then cut the salt to 3/4 cup.

Rubs vary but my standard go-to is:

2 tsp whole cumin seed
2 tsp whole fennel seed
2 tsp whole coriander
2 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoon paprika, not smoked

Then it's 225-250° until done. Of course there is another conversation about crutch wrapping or not but I won't go into it here. 

Matt
 
For anyone who might be able to provide additional insight, my general method is as follows:

1. I use a non-brined, unprocessed pork shoulder/butt (around 4-5 lbs), and pull it out of the fridge about an hour before I smoke. I then cover with a light layer of mustard, and then my own rub, or a store-bought rub (killer hogs).

2. My smoker is a cheap offset smoker, however I have been able to keep the temperature fairly consistent, hovering right around the 225 - 250F range. I use natural hardwood charcoal and add 1 or 2 small chunks of hickory (not soaked) every ~30 minutes. 

3. I keep the meat on the smoker until it reaches ~200F internal temperature, and then rest it uncovered for an hour or two before pulling and serving.

One thing I have noticed is, that I sometimes run into an issue with the bark becoming too hard, and almost inedible. I suspect I may have the meat too close to the fire, and this is causing the exterior to 'char' a bit. It also adds a bit of a burnt taste to the meat/bark. 
 
I inject with apple juice and some kosher salt.. a pork Butt is s a big hunk of meat.. it needs a lot of seasoning.. I use salt pepper equal amount and garlic and salt grandulated
 
There are any number of things the Q Joints are doing before and after the meat is pulled. Brines and Injections before smoking and/or Adding a good dusting of Rub, a thin Vinegar based finishing sauce, a thin Sweet Apple Juice based finishing sauce, a thinned version of their BBQ Sauce, even just Salt and Pepper and a flavorful liquid with the addition of Liquid Smoke is not out of the question. Could be a combination of ALL the above, which is what I do. I add rub and finishing sauce to my Pork and in the depths of winter, it's Oven roasted PP finished with same plus Liquid Smoke. Your procedure is solid, start playing with additions to the meat at the end...JJ
 
Thank you all for the suggestions!

I am going to play around with some new finishing sauces/seasonings, and definitely some brining beforehand to see how that affect the flavor. I've also noticed that some of the pulled pork from these places has a certain 'crispness' to it, where it seems like it has been reheated in an oven or even a pan on the stove; I am going to try that as well to see if I can achieve something similar.
 
Charcoal with wood chunks has a different flavor profile than a wood fired offset smoker running on wood alone.  You might try using charcoal to get the sticks going and pure sticks for the rest of the smoke.   As to the hard bark, if you foil at around 180* that should help keep the bark soft (you can vary the temp at which you foil so you may want to play around with this).   Unless your offset has plates, it will be running hotter on one side, so are you turning the butt during the smoke?   Also are you using any sort of a mop or spray on the bark towards the end?  A lot of restaurants do.  And yes a lot of them work in a little extra rub at the end when the meat is pulled (along with a finishing sauce).  Most customers have no idea either of these are being used, but it makes a difference.  A fruit juice based mop/spray will also help with bark formation (from the sugar in the fruit juice - apple is common).
 
Last edited:
If the pros take a big heap of bbq pulled pork from a warming tray and toss it onto a flat top restaurant griddle to caramalize and heat up under a dome to trap in steam, it gives it another depth of flavor. ..Add in a squirt of secret sauce, onion juice.. secret concoction..before the pulled pork mound is covered with a steel mixing bowl dome to trap in flavor and steam.... You may have no way to replicate those steps at home. Lol
 
Last edited:
Or... maybe they just have millions of adjustments they made over 20 years and you have to try and get it done in just a few attempts.. [emoji]128512[/emoji]
 
Last edited:
I am new to smoking just this year and have smoked a few pork picnics already(prefer them to the butt). I will be trying a tip I just read recently to try and get more flavour. The tip that I will be trying out Is to smoke the butt in a tin pan and when it hits 160-170 wrap it in tinfoil and save the juices from the pan and put them in the fridge. Let the pork butt come up to 200-205 and pull. The juices in the fridge should have settled and you can scrape the fat off, discard the fat. Warm and add the au jus back to the pulled pork and enjoy! The idea sounds like it can't really go wrong! Can't wait to try it
 
I am new to smoking just this year and have smoked a few pork picnics already(prefer them to the butt). I will be trying a tip I just read recently to try and get more flavour. The tip that I will be trying out Is to smoke the butt in a tin pan and when it hits 160-170 wrap it in tinfoil and save the juices from the pan and put them in the fridge. Let the pork butt come up to 200-205 and pull. The juices in the fridge should have settled and you can scrape the fat off, discard the fat. Warm and add the au jus back to the pulled pork and enjoy! The idea sounds like it can't really go wrong! Can't wait to try it
That will Work!!

Here it is with pictures:

Pulled Boston Pork Butt  

Bear
 
 
For anyone who might be able to provide additional insight, my general method is as follows:

1. I use a non-brined, unprocessed pork shoulder/butt (around 4-5 lbs), and pull it out of the fridge about an hour before I smoke. I then cover with a light layer of mustard, and then my own rub, or a store-bought rub (killer hogs).

2. My smoker is a cheap offset smoker, however I have been able to keep the temperature fairly consistent, hovering right around the 225 - 250F range. I use natural hardwood charcoal and add 1 or 2 small chunks of hickory (not soaked) every ~30 minutes. 

3. I keep the meat on the smoker until it reaches ~200F internal temperature, and then rest it uncovered for an hour or two before pulling and serving.

One thing I have noticed is, that I sometimes run into an issue with the bark becoming too hard, and almost inedible. I suspect I may have the meat too close to the fire, and this is causing the exterior to 'char' a bit. It also adds a bit of a burnt taste to the meat/bark. 
Try injecting the butt.... make up an injection brine using 10% the weight of the butt in liquid...  Try a store bought vegetable stock or pork stock...  No salt would be my choice....   Add 0.5% STPP (listed below),  2% - 2.5% kosher salt, and 1% white or brown sugar...   inject all of the injection brine and rest in the refer overnight, in a catch pan or zip bag..

Add a pan of water to the smoker...  you don't want a lot of water, just something to bring the humidity up to about 60-80%...  Just guess at it...  I add a pie tin with water to my MES 30... With about 1 cups of water in it..


After the smoke application has been done, you can wrap the butt in non-coated USA made butcher paper... and finish the cook...  the paper will help get you through the stall..   Personally, I don't wrap a butt, I just let it ride...  the STPP really holds the liquid to the meat..
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: noboundaries
 

After the smoke application has been done, you can wrap the butt in non-coated USA made butcher paper... and finish the cook...  the paper will help get you through the stall..   Personally, I don't wrap a butt, I just let it ride...  the STPP really holds the liquid to the meat..
Thanks for posting the link to the STPP, Dave.  Points!
 
 
Thank you all for the suggestions!

I am going to play around with some new finishing sauces/seasonings, and definitely some brining beforehand to see how that affect the flavor. I've also noticed that some of the pulled pork from these places has a certain 'crispness' to it, where it seems like it has been reheated in an oven or even a pan on the stove; I am going to try that as well to see if I can achieve something similar.
I think it would be smart to start simple and then build up.  Like trying just a new rub and like mentioned above when you pull it taste the meat and if it needs more flavor shake in more of the rub seasoning, toss the meat around and try again until you get a good flavor.

That would be a way to individually improve the seasoning.

Also if you could double up the smoke at some point then you can see how that affects the smoky flavor.

Once you have those two down and know what you can get from them then I would think you can get fancier with brines, injections, crisping, wrapping/foiling, etetc. etc.

Iterations are the way to go and you get to keep eating great meat!  I cook quite a bit in all kinds of formats and I find that I can usually get it just about perfect within about 3 tries :)

Here's a simple pork butt and rib seasoning.  I think Franklin's BBQ uses the same thing or something similar.

2 parts course/kosher Salt

2 parts course Black Pepper

1 part granulated Garlic

1 part granulated/dehydrated Onion

1 part Paprika 

I have a big shaker and my 1 part is measured at 1/4 cup so the 2 part seasonings would actually be 1/2 a cup.  Mix all that up in a big seasoning shaker or a container with a lid and you are good to go for a seasoning to coat your pork but and to shake in after it is pulled to get more flavor.

Best of luck :) 
I am new to smoking just this year and have smoked a few pork picnics already(prefer them to the butt). I will be trying a tip I just read recently to try and get more flavour. The tip that I will be trying out Is to smoke the butt in a tin pan and when it hits 160-170 wrap it in tinfoil and save the juices from the pan and put them in the fridge. Let the pork butt come up to 200-205 and pull. The juices in the fridge should have settled and you can scrape the fat off, discard the fat. Warm and add the au jus back to the pulled pork and enjoy! The idea sounds like it can't really go wrong! Can't wait to try it
lifted smoke, I do basically what you mention BUT I put my double foil loosely covering my pan so that the foil catches the drippings and I use a rack in the pan with the pork butt on the rack.

This way when I go to foil I just remove the rack from the pan and place the pork but in the pan, which has the foil with the drippings ready to easily wrap the pork but.  

This is a really streamlined approach, saves ALL of your drippings, and is easy to execute EVEN with the meat probes still stuck in the pork butt :)

The only issue you may have is space if you have a small smoking area like that of an MES30.  I have an MES40 and can manuever everything pretty well with little to no issue.  One of the keys is to wear rubber/silicon grill gloves where you can just grab the rack and meat with your hands and not worry about it slipping or burning.  That makes things a piece of cake.

Here's an image I found online of what I use:


Best of luck! 
 
Last edited:
I agree with cheff JJ and noboundries...I had the same issue as you...
I started injecting my butts with a meat phosphates dissolved in apple juice...(following the mfg recommended amount of liquid and phosphates)
I then add a finishing sauce of sweet apple juice, ACV, cherry Dr Pepper (equal parts of all three)...I take 3/4 cup of that mixture add a full teaspoon of liquid smoke and a tablespoon of my rub per 10lb butt (approximately 10 lb)...mix it up good and add it to my foil wrapped resting pork butt...
I rest it in a towel lined cooler for a minimum of an hour.
I'm always EXTRA CAREFUL not to lose ANY of the juices in the foil wrap and mix them ALL (yes the small amount of fat left too) back into the pulled pork.

I've experimented with many different rubs and found the injection and finishing sauce make/made the biggest difference in final flavor...
By adding the sauce to a tightly foil wrapped butt while resting, you should find that your bark will soften a bit also.
This REALLY stepped up my game.
The cool thing about butts is if you've got the procedure down (and it sounds like you do) and you like your basic results...they're pretty hard to mess up.

Walt
 
SmokingMeatForums.com is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

Hot Threads

Clicky