Last year I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I got a Charcoal BBQ. I got it mainly because a buddy of mine got one the year before and he would roast the most marvelous whole chickens on that thing. I was jealous, obviously, so I went to the big box store and brought home a kettle that my grandfather would be proud to call his own. I sold my old propane grill for $20 at a yard sale and used the proceeds to buy charcoal. I was in business.
I’ve cooked many things on that beast, but one of my favorites was slow roasting a pork butt, using plenty of wood chips to imbue a strong smoky flavour. There is only one negative with this – I smelled a bit like a campfire after the pork was done. Nothing a quick T-shirt change couldn’t fix. My hair could wait until the next day. But the shoulder itself was glorious. Sweet, caramel-hued, and so so succulent.
Smoking the shoulder this way lends itself to so many types of menus: mix up the finished pulled pork with a simple BBQ sauce and make sandwiches; slice the pork and serve it with potato salad and pilsner; or pull the pork and toss it with basil pesto for an easy pasta sauce. I chose to use the pork in a Bo Ssam preparation, basically serving it with Momofuku sauces, steamed rice, and Boston lettuce used as wraps. Check out their recipe here. I chose not to use oysters, as my wife ain’t a fan, and obviously, my smoked pork is a little different than theirs, but whatever. It was delicious and there were no leftovers.
Pork Butt, Slow Cooked with Smoke
Pork butt comes from the shoulder cut of the pig. It’s basically the muscle that runs from the top of the pork rack to the base of the head. You can make this recipe with bone-in or boneless pork – the results won’t differ too much. A lot of people, myself included, love eating the meat around the bone because it tends to be a little fattier and juicier than the rest of the muscle, but realistically a butt isn’t going to have a huge flavour difference with or without the bone.
½ cup sugar
½ cup salt
1 whole pork butt, bone in or boneless (8-10 lbs)
3 cups wood chips
The night before you want to cook, rub the pork all over with the salt and sugar. Place in a bowl or casserole and leave in your fridge, uncovered.
The next morning, soak the wood chips in water, then set up your BBQ. Light the coals and, when they are hot, arrange them on one side of the 'cue; preheat to 300°F. To determine cook-start time, factor the whole cooking time will take about 6 hours, so decide when you want to eat and count backwards.
Take the pork out of the fridge and drain off any liquid. Open the BBQ and place the pork butt on the opposite side of the BBQ, away from the fire. Place a pan under the grill where the pork butt is - you'll want to keep your kettle base free from the drippings. Take a handful of your soaked woodchips and throw directly on the hot charcoal. Put the lid back on the BBQ and start to cook. Adjust the air vents to control the temperature, keeping it around 300°F. Make sure you check the temperature and the smoke periodically during the six hours. If it gets too hot the pork will get too dark and bitter. Every couple of hours add some more wood chips to keep that smoke going. After six hours, the shoulder should be fork tender. Take off the BBQ and rest under foil for about 20 minutes before cutting it up and serving.
Using the charcoal grill means that you have to keep up with the amount of heat as well, so make sure you are adding enough charcoal to get you through the six hours (you can do this by adding cold charcoal to the existing hot ones, or even better heat more charcoal up in your starter chimney before adding to the kettle).
You can make this recipe on a propane grill as well. You will need a smokebox to heat up the woodchips. Make the same way keeping the BBQ at 300°F but only heating one side of the grill, and keeping the shoulder on the opposite side. Place a drip tray under the grill where the pork is placed as well to catch any fat. Place the soaked wood chips on the smokebox and place on the hot side of the grill.