Grilling Guide

All About Smoking a Pork Shoulder

Never tried to smoke pork shoulder before? No reason to be intimidated – this flavorful, inexpensive, and versatile cut of meat is nearly failproof. This succulent meat combined with the peppery bark-like crust is always a great crowd-pleaser –did we mention it feeds a big crowd? Once you shred that mouthwatering pork, there will be plenty of meat for sandwiches, baked potato, or mac and cheese toppers. Still have some leftover? just throw it into the freezer!

If you’re ready to try smoked pork shoulder, here is everything you need to know. Get ready to impress your family and friends at the next tailgate or backyard BBQ gathering.

Pork Shoulder Basics 

Let’s take a quick look at the basics as you prepare to smoke your pork shoulder. We’ve even included a couple of recipes to help you get started!


Purchase from your local meat market or butcher shop. Look for pork shoulder that is pinkish red in color and well-marbled. Pork shoulder will range in average of 4 – 6 pounds for boneless and 6 – 9 pounds for bone-in.  Avoid meat that’s pale in color or has dark spots on the fat.

Refrigerate as soon as you get home in the coldest part of the fridge until you’re ready to use it, for up to three days. You can freeze pork shoulder for up to six months in an airtight container. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator. It will take approximately one day for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat.


If the pork shoulder comes with skin, trim it off before cooking. As far as prepping the meat, here are three options to choose from.

1. If you have time, brine the pork by combining 1 cup of kosher salt and 1/2 cup of brown sugar with 1 gallon of water. You can add apple juice or cider, molasses, or even pickle juice to the brine. Soak the meat in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. This process relaxes the coiled proteins in the meat and makes it more tender.

2. If you choose not to brine, place meat on a rimmed baking sheet and season generously with your favorite rub. Season the meat for a few hours before grilling. This will create a better crust.

3. Another option is to inject the meat with a simple injection sauce, such as apple juice and melted butter.


1. Heat smoker to 225°. For charcoal smoking, soak wood chunks or wood chips for 30 minutes then drain, and place on the coals.

2. Place the pork shoulder on the grill grate. Grill until the internal temperature of the meat reads 190° to 195°. Depending on the size of the shoulder this should take between 4 – 6 hours. The cooking time is just a guideline. Use an instant-read meat thermometer for temperature accuracy.

3. Baste with barbecue sauce during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Remove from the grill or smoker and let it rest for 20 – 30 minutes, loosely covered with aluminum foil.

4. Separate the shoulder into fist-size chunks. Pull into shreds, discarding the bone, any lumps of fat, or other unappetizing bits. Season with additional rub or barbecue sauce if needed.

Smoked Apple Slaw and Pork Shoulder Sliders

Image: Deposit Photos, resnick_joshua1
Makes: 6 sliders


Ingredients for Pork Shoulder: 

3/4 pound jar rosemary and garlic brine (I used a brining mix from Williams-Sonoma)

2 pounds pork shoulder


Ingredients for Coleslaw:

2 cups red and green cabbage, shredded and chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons honey mustard salad dressing

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 medium apples (try honeycrisps or galas), cored and chopped

1 medium apple, cored and sliced into rounds

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup shredded carrots

For the Pork Shoulder:

Brine for 24 hours in a rosemary and garlic brining mix. Put the shoulder in the smoker at 220°F, with Hickory Bisquettes during the first 2 hours. Let it smoke overnight for about 8 1/2 hours. Early in the morning the next day, double foil-wrap it and let it go for 2 1/2 hours more. Remove pork shoulder and let it rest. After it has cooled, slice and refrigerate.

For the Coleslaw:

Combine cabbage, carrots, and chopped apples in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients with a whisk or in a blender. This should be a lightly sauced and barely coated slaw mix. The cabbage, carrots, and apple will give off liquid as they smoke, and the fat in the mayonnaise will render, so avoid ending up with a warmly boiled slaw that does not absorb smoke.

Spread out a thin layer of slaw in a shallow aluminum-roasting pan so the maximum surface area is exposed to the smoke. Smoke at 215°F–220°F for about 2 hours. Use apple wood to complement with the apples in the slaw mix. The cabbage should be a bit less crisp but not limp, with brown toasting on the edges. Toss the mixture to redistribute.

To Serve: 

Cut several slices of refrigerated smoked shoulder to fit slider-sized buns. Set naked in a hot pan until they sizzle and brown. Turn each piece and push to one side of the pan. Lay in round apple slices to brown in the rendering fat. When all have color, remove the pan from heat.

Slice a slider roll in half. Spoon on smoked slaw and layer on the pork. Top off this juicy little sandwich with a browned apple slice. There should be ample slaw leftover on the side.

Tip: In slider form, these make great starters or sides for bigger barbecue and smoked meat meals, and they’re super fare for football tailgating parties or picnics.

Perfect Smoked Pork Shoulder

Image: Deposit Photos, fotek
Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 5-6 hours


Lump charcoal & applewood chunks for the smoker

Spray bottle with half water & half apple cider vinegar

8 pound pork shoulder


Ingredients for Brine:

2 T unsalted butter

1 1/2 quarts water

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 T whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves

5 cloves of garlic


Ingredients for Rub:

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup dry mustard

1 T cayenne pepper

1 T smoked paprika

1 T garlic powder

1 T onion powder

1 T salt

2 tsp fresh black pepper


Ingredients for Rub Glue:

2 Tbsp yellow mustard

1 Tbsp honey

Cooking Instructions:

  1. To make the brine, combine the butter, water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. I like to use a stock pot over very light heat and whisk to help the ingredients dissolve (about 3 minutes.)
  2. Once dissolved, remove from heat and move the brine to a bowl and cool in the refrigerator.
  3. Place the pork in a large zip tight bag.
  4. Add the peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic to the bag as well.
  5. Pour the brine over the pork. Make sure the pork is fully submerged while squeezing as much air out of the bag as possible.
  6. Seal it up and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
  7. Combine all the rub ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  8. Combine rub glue ingredients in a separate mixing bowl.
  9. Remove pork from the brine and pat dry. Make sure to keep the brine as we will use this as the liquid in the moisture pan underneath the pork.
  10. Cover the pork with a light coating of the “glue” mixture to help the rub stick.
  11. Apply the rub generously, making sure to work it into the meat.
  12. Fire up your smoker to about 225℉ and add the soaked applewood chunks to the lit charcoal. (soak the wood chunks in water for at least 30 minutes)
  13. Place the pork on the smoker. Be careful not to over-smoke.
  14. After 2 hours, spray the entire shoulder with water and apple cider vinegar mixture. Continue smoking the pork for another hour.
  15. Spray with water and apple cider vinegar mixture again and continue to smoke for another hour.
  16. Repeat one more time with spraying and smoking for 1 more hour.
  17. Remove pork from the smoker, wrap in aluminum foil and return to the smoker until the pork has an internal temperature of 200°.
  18. When the pork has reached 200°, remove from the heat and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes while still wrapped in foil.
  19. Pull the pork and mix with your favorite BBQ sauce.