I don’t normally use my smoker before spring, but when I saw Sunday would be fairly warm, I had the sudden itch to barbecue. It had been at least a couple years since I last made pulled pork, and I decided to end that drought.
That meant picking up some kind of pork shoulder roast. An entire shoulder was out of the question, as I’d be responsible for eating most of it and also didn’t want anything that would take more than eight hours to finish. My preference was a small pork butt, which is the most popular part of the pig for making pulled pork (the butt is a portion of the shoulder; not what it sounds like). But they can sometimes be hard to find at the grocery stores and butcher near me, and I was out of luck on this occasion.
The next best option is a picnic shoulder roast, and I was able to find one that weighed just under five pounds with the bone still in. This would be only my second time working with this cut of meat, and the first took forever to finish. But that one was closer to nine pounds, so I figured I’d be okay.
When I took out the roast to prep it Saturday night I found that it had a thick, hard fat cap, into which I cut a series of lines – creating rows of squares. This was done to allow the smoke to penetrate through the fat to the meat during the cooking process. After completing that task, I liberally applied Plowboys Yardbird Rub – my go-to rub for smoking pork – over the entire roast, making sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies.
As is typically the case, the rub liquified on the roast overnight while in the refrigerator. So I hit it with another layer of Yardbird the following morning before heading outside to set up the smoker and get the charcoal going.
Once the cooking surface temperature was up to 225-230 degrees (f), I put the roast onto the grate and added a chunk of hickory to the charcoal pile. I love how the flavor of hickory works on pork and wound up using several chunks of it – as well as one of cherry-wood – during the first 3-4 hours of cooking time.
I kept the smoker’s temperature between 235-245 for a little over two hours before opening the lid to spray the meat with a mixture of apple juice and cider vinegar, something I did every 45 minutes for the next few hours in an effort to ward off any drying out.
As is often the case when I smoke pork shoulder roasts – or brisket – the meat temperature flew along at a nice pace initially. But after a few hours, it slowed down considerably, then stopped advancing altogether.
This is called a stall in barbecue lingo. It’s not uncommon. I’ve waited them out before. But I really wanted this roast to be ready in time to eat it for dinner. I also didn’t want it to still be on the smoker after dark, when my poor night vision would become an issue.
So at about 3 p.m. I decided to do something about it. My first move was to put the roast onto a small rack in a foil pan with a little of the apple juice-vinegar solution beneath it – for steaming – and cover it with a foil tent. I then stuck it back onto the smoker.
When the meat temperature still didn’t budge for another 45 minutes, I went a step further and moved the roast – still in the pan and covered with foil – inside and into our oven at a slightly higher temperature than I had been using outside.
There is no way I’d have done something like that up until the last few years. I had a purest attitude that mandated that I stick it out with the smoker no matter how long it took. But I guess part of my aging process has been to ease up a bit on things like that. What matters most now is getting a pleasing final result – even if I have to “cheat” to do so.
And putting the roast in the oven did manage to get the temperature moving. It reached the desired 200 degrees in about an hour-and-a-half. I then let it rest for an hour before beginning to pull the meat off and break it down into smaller pieces.
I initially only managed to get to what was closest to the surface, and that turned out to be just enough for my dinner serving with a little left over for my wife to take her usual taste. I put that on a plate and left the rest to cool off. I’d finish pulling it apart after eating my meal. As you’ll see from the pronounced smoke ring in the photos below, the surface meat gets the heaviest dose of smoke.
When I picked up a corn muffin to go with the barbecue while we were grocery shopping Saturday, my wife offered to make cornbread instead. How could I pass up that offer? I also heated some baked beans that I had in the refrigerator to go with the pork.
The meat was left un-sauced, but I had some Bone Suckin’ sauce – to which I added hot sauce – on the side for dipping.
The pork was moist and had a fairly strong hickory accent. Again, the fact that I was eating only surface meat had a lot to do with that.
I would have to say I made the right call in moving the pork roast inside to the oven. I’m convinced it would have taken a lot longer to finish on the smoker and I doubt the result would have been any better.
Nonetheless, I think I’m going to stick to smoking cuts of meat that I am confident will be finished in a reasonable amount of time without having to be moved to the oven going forward. I’ve had no problem at all in that regard with ribs – be they pork or beef. I also have had good luck with legs of lamb on the smoker and may return to one of those the next time I want to smoke a roast. I’m not ruling out giving another shot to a pork butt, but if I do, it will likely be small and boneless.
In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of pulled pork to eat this week and don’t expect to have any complaints about that.
I haven’t figured out what I’m going to eat for my next post, but you’ll find out what I settle on Wednesday when I report on it.
There will definitely be a cheesesteak, roast pork sandwich, or both on tap for Friday, when I’ll be joined by one of my periodic dining partners who shares my fondness for each of those sandwiches. That post will be up later in the day than usual, as I’ll be writing about Friday’s lunch.
One thought on “Breaking Out the Smoker Early This Year”
Looks excellent! And it’ll be even better after some time in the fridge!
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