When you’re making pulled pork, it’s essential to ensure that the meat has reached the correct temperature. Otherwise, it won’t shred properly. You may also find yourself dealing with excess fat and gristle, which is exactly what you don’t want. Our guide will help you hit the right pork butt internal temperature at your next cookout.
Pork Butt Internal Temperature
Pork butt is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Some pitmasters say you should pull it from the grill at 195 degrees, while others claim that it’s better to wait until the thermometer reads 203 degrees. In any case, 200 degrees is a good rule of thumb to follow.
About Pork Butt
Despite the misleading name, pork butt is a fatty cut that’s taken from the shoulder of the pig. For that reason, it’s often labeled as pork shoulder as well.
As for the “Boston” moniker, experts are divided about where it came from. The official explanation is that this cut of meat was often packed and distributed in barrels during colonial times. These barrels were called “butts.” Since the practice was common in New England, pork shoulder was dubbed “Boston butt.”
Some historians claim that this story doesn’t hold water, chronologically speaking. However, it doesn’t matter much to the chef. As long as you remember that Boston butt, pork butt, and pork shoulder are all the same cut, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
How to Prepare Pork Butt
Pork butt is a rich, fatty cut that contains a lot of connective tissue. That’s why it’s such a great fit for slow cooking. If it’s cooked too quickly, the fat and gristle won’t have a chance to break down, so the meat will turn out tough and stringy.
For best results, set the grill or smoker to 200-225 degrees Fahrenheit when making pulled pork. The process will take a long time—as long as 24 hours, depending on the size of the cut. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead when you’re cooking pork butt.
While the grill is getting hot, remove the pork butt from the refrigerator. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking it. If the meat is too cold when it hits the grill, it will take even longer to cook.
You can also take this time to season the pork butt with a BBQ rub if you haven’t already done so. We would recommend applying the rub the day before if possible, to give the spices a chance to permeate the meat.
For best results, position the pork butt with the fat side facing up. You want the fat to baste and flavor the pork as it cooks, not drip away into the coals or the grease pan.
There are ways to speed the process along, which we’ll get into later. Even if you can shave a few hours off the cooking time, however, you can still expect the process to take up most of the day.
One other tip: Resist the urge to trim too much fat from the pork butt. The high fat-to-meat ratio is what gives pulled pork its juicy texture and rich flavor.
Pork Butt Internal Temperature: What To Look For
To be safe to eat, pork butt needs to reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This is true of all pork chops, roasts, and steaks as well. Although ham is smoked and cured beforehand, should also be allowed to reach 145 degrees before it’s consumed.
In the past, the FDA recommended cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees in order to kill off dangerous food-borne bacteria. While they’ve relaxed their rule somewhat for whole cuts, they still advise chefs to cook ground pork and organ meats to 160.
While the meat will technically be safe to consume once it hits the 145 degree mark, you’ll actually want to cook pork butt for much longer than that. If you remove it from the heat too soon, the meat won’t have the proper consistency.
So, what numbers should you look for on the thermometer?
Brace yourself: Pulled pork isn’t done until it has an internal temperature of at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the connective tissues will be breaking down, so it will be tender enough to fall apart at the slightest touch.
Because meat continues to cook for a while after it’s taken off the heat, you can remove it as soon as you get a readout of 195 degrees. If you want the meat to be even softer, it’s fine to leave it on the grill until the temperature reaches 201 to 203 degrees. Try not to let it cook past this point, though, or the meat might start to dry out.
In any event, let the pork butt rest for at least an hour after you’ve removed it from the smoker. This waiting period will allow the juices to redistribute, so your pulled pork will be tasty and succulent. The meat will also be cooler to the touch, making your task that much easier.
About the Stall
The pork butt stall occurs after several hours of cooking, usually when the meat reaches an internal temperature of around 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s called “the stall” because the meat seems to stop cooking during this time—and the temperature may not rise again for hours.
Why does this happen? Essentially, it’s because the natural moisture inside the meat has begun to evaporate. This has a cooling effect on the pork butt, the same way that perspiration has a cooling effect on the human body.
While the science behind the stall might be interesting, it’s small consolation when you’re waiting for the pork to cook. Our best advice is to plan ahead. Know that the cooking process will take about two hours per pound. This means that a 10-pound pork butt will need about 20 hours in the smoker.
Alternatively, you can use the “Texas crutch” to give the pork butt a temperature boost. This method involves wrapping the meat in a layer of aluminum foil so that the moisture can’t escape.
If you opt to use the Texas crutch, the pork will cook more quickly, but it might not have the same crusty bark around the exterior. As an alternative, you can wrap the meat in butcher paper. It won’t work quite as effectively as foil, but it will be faster than if you hadn’t wrapped the pork at all.
Taking the Temperature
A reliable instant-read thermometer is one of the most valuable tools a pitmaster can have at their disposal. Don’t rely on one of those old-fashioned dial-style thermometers. A digital display will give you a more precise readout.
If you’re shopping for a pellet smoker, look for one that includes dual meat probes. This feature allows you to check the ambient temperature inside the smoker, as well as the interior temperature of the meat itself.
Wi-Fi capability is another feature you might want to look for in a pellet grill. With this accessory, you can use your smartphone or tablet to make sure the grill’s temperature is staying within your chosen range.
As we’ve pointed out, you should plan on cooking the pork butt for about two hours per pound. We would recommend that you start checking the temperature around two hours before your projected end time, just to be on the safe side.
Remember that if you’ve chosen to wrap the pork butt in foil or butcher paper, you’ll be shortening the process by several hours. In this case, check the temperature after the wrapped pork has been in the smoker for about one hour.
Whenever you’re dealing with meat products, it’s important to adhere to food safety practices. Besides cooking the pork to the right temperature, here are a few other steps that you should follow.
Whether pork is raw or cooked, it can be stored for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Make sure the fridge’s temperature is set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in either case. If the leftovers aren’t thoroughly cooled, they won’t be safe to eat.
Before cooking the pork butt, keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Otherwise, the juices from the raw pork might drip onto the surfaces below, thereby spreading bacteria to other foods that are stored inside.
Additionally, all meat should be tightly wrapped before it’s stored in the fridge. This will protect the meat from being exposed to the air, which could cause it to dry out.
When it’s time to prepare the pork butt, use clean utensils and keep the raw meat away from any other ingredients. It’s also best if you use glass cutting boards for the task. Wooden and silicone cutting boards might continue to harbor bacteria even after they’ve been washed. As always, wash your hands before and after handling raw meat products.
Store any leftovers promptly. Cooked pork should be refrigerated within two hours in order to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria.
No matter how big or small your piece of pork butt might be, it’s imperative for the internal temperature to reach 195 degrees Fahrenheit. 200 is an even better number to shoot for, and it’s easier to remember. Keep this in mind, and you shouldn’t have any problems moving forward.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!