Best Odds Pulled Pork

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Larry Hoffman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Of all the traditions of barbecue, pulled pork has held on to its roots far more than any other. Large cuts of tough, cheap pork smoked for hours at low temperatures, then pulled apart by hand and served on a bun or in a pile. While pulled pork has held on to its tradition there is still a lot of variation from region to region. We've tried to bring together the best traditions with my own experience to produce a method for the best odds pulled pork. While you probably won't win any competitions with this method, it's easy and sure to please a crowd.

how to make pulled pork illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Choose the Cut

The first step when making smoked pulled pork barbecue is deciding which cut of pork you want to use. Unlike brisket, pulled pork can be made from any fatty pork roast or from a whole hog. The best roast is the shoulder. High in fat and connective tissue, the shoulder is also the most flavorful part of the hog. The pork shoulder is typically cut into two parts, the Boston Butt, and the Picnic Roast. You can use either or both, it won't matter a lot but the Boston Butt is easier to work with, uniform in shape, and contains the right ratio of fat to lean. Look for a Boston Butt that is rectangular in shape with a layer of fat on one side. The color should be a rich pink to purple and the meat firm to the touch.


Once you have your meat, trim off any loose fat and skin. These won't help the pork much and will tend to just get in the way. With the meat ready, apply a rub to flavor the meat while it smokes and helps it to produce a crusty surface called bark. Typically pulled pork rub will have sugar (usually brown), salt, paprika, pepper (any combination of black, white, or red), and herbs. Work the rub deep into the meat and let it sit on the meat for about an hour to sink into the meat and form a moist paste on the surface. Now you're ready to smoke.


The smoke of pulled pork is provided by hickory and/or oak. While you can use any mild wood these are the traditional woods. You will want an even temperature of around 225 F/100 C. You need to keep the smoker temperature below 265 F/130 C no matter what. Too high of a temperature will make the meat tough. You want to smoke your pork roasts for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours per pound. This means you will be smoking for a long time. Get it, low and slow. You can remove the pork once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F/75 C, but it won't be tender. Continue until you can easily shred the meat with a fork, at a temperature around 195 F/90 C. Now it's done. Of course, if you have trouble smoking for this long you can use alternative cooking methods after a few hours. Wrap the pork tightly in foil and place it in your oven at 225 F/100 C. until it is finished.

Pulling the Pork

Once the pork is done, remove it from the smoker and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Now you are ready to pull. Ideally, the meat will be so tender that you can simply pull it apart with your hands. This allows you to separate out the meat from everything else. Place the meat in a pot over low heat to keep it warm. Now you can add a simple vinegar sauce to the mixture to give it that authentic flavor. This pulled pork sauce can be as simple as cayenne, paprika, and apple cider vinegar. Mix it all together so that the meat is lightly coated and you are ready to eat.

Tradition also dictates that you provide your diners with a table or finishing sauce. This can be almost any kind of barbecue sauce, but again it would be typically served with a thin vinegar sauce. While this might sound like you'll have a sour dish, the meat will be sweet from the slow cooking and the sour of the vinegar (always apply cider vinegar) will be neutralized by that sweet. You can serve pulled pork on a plate or on a bun, it's up to you.