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  • David Skarin

Basic Pork Shoulder

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

If you are new to smoking meats, a pork shoulder is a great place to start! These are really hard to mess up and produce a good amount of meat. For our first post, figured this was a good place to start.

Welcome to our first post! I'm really excited to get started and share the lessons I learned throughout this cook and explain my process step by step. First, I list some details regarding the cook:


Fast Facts

Category: Pork

Cut: Bone-In Shoulder (Boston Butt)

Weight: 8.5 Pounds

Grill: Traeger

Heat Source: Wood Pellets

Type of Wood: Cherry

Spray: Apple Cider Vinegar

Estimated Cook Time: 8 Hours

Actual Cook Time: 10 Hours

Time of Cook: 7:30AM - 5:30PM

Estimated Cooking Temperature: 270 for 8 hours, then 295 for 1 hour

Actual Cooking Temperature: 270 for 8 hours, 295 for 1 hour, 320 for 1 hour

Location of Purchase: Costco

Cook Date: June 15, 2020


Ingredient List

  • Coarse Salt

  • Coarse Pepper

  • Paprika

  • Yellow Mustard

  • Apple Cider Vinegar

Seasoning Mixture: Half and half salt and pepper with a yellow mustard rub. Paprika for coloring.

Supply List

  • Aluminum Foil (I prefer the 18" wide)

  • Meat Claws (forks can be used as well)

  • Spray Bottle

  • Thermometer - These are critical tools to have there are two main types. First, instant read thermometer like this one or this one. The Thermapen is worth it's weight in gold and one I use almost every day. I know the price tag seems excessive but it's the best in the business for a reason. If you're looking for a dual temperature thermometer for both grill temperature and meat, this is the way to go. I use my Smoke for longer more specific cooks such as this.



Step 1: Trim the excess fat off the shoulder. You can leave a little of fat on the top of the shoulder as this will render down a bit during the cook.

Step 2: Rub the yellow mustard all over the shoulder. Start on the top of the shoulder, flip the shoulder over and rub the mustard on the bottom of the shoulder. We do the top first as that will be our "presentation" side. We don't really care about how the mustard looks as it is really just a glue for the seasoning. In the event an allergy is at play, you can spray with apple cider vinegar.

Step 3: Seasoning the shoulder starting on the bottom. Flip over and season the top nice and evenly. We start on the bottom as that is not our presentation side so we don't care if the seasoning gets a little messed up. It's hard to over season this cut of meat so feel free to apply seasoning liberally to preference. Since this is going to get all mixed up at the end and there is no seasoning inside the cut, you can error on more is better.

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3

Step 4: Bring your smoker to 270 degrees. If you don't have a water pan, I suggest getting a metal baking pan or something that can hold some warm water in the smoker. This just helps keep everything nice and moist. Gently place your shoulder in the center of your smoker with the fat cap facing up.

Step 5: Cook undisturbed for three (3) hours.

Step 6: After 3 hours, you start spritzing the pork with whatever your heart desires: apple cider vinegar, juice, beer, water, your call. Feel free to experiment. For this cook, I'm keeping to the basics and spritzed with apple cider vinegar. Spritz every hour for the next 5 hours.

Step 7: Roughly 8 hours into the cook, the shoulder is ready to wrap. I used aluminum foil. I prefer the wider foil as it provides more surface area for bigger cuts of meat. Place two pieces of foil on your working station with a little overlap. I like to wrap about three times over so you'll want about 4 times the width of the shoulder in foil. Make sure you have the shiny side up as we want to absorb heat and not reflect it. Place the shoulder on the foil, fat cap up, and proceed to wrap. A good indicator to wrap is when the fat cap starts to split.

Step 8: Turn your smoker up to 295 degrees for the final hour and bring her home! Internal temperature needs to be over 200 and ideally in the 200-205 range.

Step 9: Let pork sit wrapped for about an hour but a minimum of 30 minutes.

Step 10: Carefully unwrap the pork ensuring the juices in the foil don't flow out of the foil. Pour the juices over the shoulder and proceed to shred using meat claws, tongs, forks, or your fingers if it's not too hot. Discard the bone.


Sauce Suggestions: Carolina Vinegar Sauce

Stream of Consciousness

So lots to learn on this one. Seems that the Traeger at 270 may be too high temp to create good smoke (see final notes). Guessing I may need to drop temp early on in order to get a good smoke and probably cook longer. Was thinking that 8 hours at 270 would be enough, it’s now 10 hours and doesn’t seem ready to come off yet but I need to pull to let it rest in order to eat on time. Even bumped the temp to 295 for the last hour and change. Pretty bummed for the first go so far, but hopefully the taste is still great. Took the temps and they are a little low, had to turn on the oven to finish it off. Put in oven at 320 degrees to bring to internal temp in the range of 200-205. Even with all the lessons learned, this cut is hard to screw up and tastes fantastic.

Final Notes

I didn't realize on this cook that my Traeger's internal thermometer was not accurately reflecting the heat inside the grill. In a separate cook I realized that it fluctuates anywhere between 10-20 degrees low which explains the cook duration running long. If you are used to smoking with wood logs or chunks, you will notice a difference in the coloring. The Traeger does not generating as much smoke as a offset wood log smoker so your meats won't get as charred. This is also due to a cleaner burn. However, you really can't substitute a log of wood but the Traeger does a damn good job all things considered. You may not see a regular plume of smoke from the grill, but as you can see in the pictures, we still got a nice smoker ring on the shoulder.

Lessons Learned (Note: I will update this section to include your lessons learned from the comment section)

- Don't trust only one source for temperature. A second thermometer to confirm is a good idea.

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