Once you’ve gotten the hang of smoking pork shoulder or Boston butt, you might want to experiment with some different flavor techniques. Brining is one option, but pork injection recipes tend to offer more versatility. Let’s find out if pork shoulder injection is worthy of the hype.
Pork Shoulder Injection
Injecting pork shoulder is a fast and effective way to impart flavor and moisture. Typical injection liquids include apple juice, cider, and vinegar, but pitmasters who use this technique can experiment with a vast assortment of ingredients. You can inject the pork any time before it hits the smoker, but 5-10 minutes beforehand is preferable.
Pork Shoulder Injection: What Is It, and How Does It Work?
The injection method consists of preparing a measure of liquid—roughly 1 cup for each 8-10 pound pork shoulder—and inserting it directly into the meat. This helps to liven up leaner and less flavorful cuts, particularly during slow-cooking procedures like smoking.
When you inject a large cut of meat, you’re delivering a hit of moisture and flavor. Since the process works by holding the liquid inside the meat, it will retain that moisture longer than it would if you’d used a mop or spritz instead. It also improves the texture in ways that a dry rub alone can’t accomplish.
Injection has one major advantage over marinade: It can be added shortly before cooking. Since marinating typically takes several hours (and sometimes a day or more), this is a time-saving method that yields similar results.
Is It Worth Injecting Pork Shoulder?
Before we begin, let’s tackle the most critical question: Should you inject a pork shoulder in the first place?
It’s not a necessary step, especially if you’re using pork butt for your recipe. The meat has a ton of marbling, not to mention a sizable fat cap. These should give the meat plenty of moisture without an injection.
However, when you substitute pork shoulder for a pulled pork recipe, it might be worth the extra time and effort. This cut doesn’t contain quite as much intramuscular fat, and it’s better to remove the skin before cooking the meat if you’re going to be shredding it afterward.
What Should You Inject Boston Butt With?
What is the best injection for a Boston butt? As we pointed out, you don’t really need one for this particular cut. However, if you decide to go for it, you can use any of the pork shoulder injection recipes we’ve included below.
Some pitmasters prefer to keep things simple by mixing up a simple blend of apple juice or cider, water, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and salt. You may notice that these ingredients mimic those of other barbecue-related recipes. That’s not a coincidence—those flavors do bring out the best in a hearty cut of pork.
That said, there’s no reason to stop there. Let’s explore some of the more creative options.
Pork Shoulder Injection Recipe Ideas
In essence, the sky is the limit when it comes to injection recipes. Pork shoulder beer injection, pork shoulder Coke injection, pork shoulder injection with apple cider vinegar—all of these are qualified candidates.
Before you decide, think about what you’ll be serving with the pork. If you want the smoky taste to take center stage, use a simple injection recipe. If your barbecue plans include a beer tasting, use one of your chosen brews as the base for a flavorful injection.
Pork Shoulder Injection Apple Cider Vinegar
This is one of our most basic injection recipes. Use it for potluck gatherings, when you can’t be certain what other dishes might be on the menu. The guests won’t be disappointed.
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Let it cool slightly while you gather the other ingredients.
2. Mix together the cider, vinegar, water, Worcestershire, and spices in a small bowl. Gently whisk in the melted butter until the ingredients are well combined.
3. Shortly before cooking, inject the mixture into the pork shoulder in several places.
4. Smoke the pork according to your chosen recipe.
Can You Inject Pork Shoulder With Beer?
For sure. In fact, it’s encouraged. The beer will make the pork nice and juicy, and it imparts a slightly different flavor profile than the traditional apple-based fluids.
We would steer clear of hearty stouts or hop-laden IPAs when making injections. These brews are loaded with intense flavors that might overpower the sweetness of the pork. A cheap domestic brand should work just as well as a fancier label, but you can experiment with whatever light ales or lagers you prefer.
Pork Shoulder Beer Injection
To make a beer injection, add 3/4 cup of your chosen beer to a blender, along with 2 whole cloves of peeled garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Blend until the garlic is smooth, otherwise it might get stuck in the injector. Use to inject the meat all over.
Bourbon Injected Pork Shoulder
The smoky-sweet taste of bourbon brings out all the classic flavors of traditional barbecue.
Most bourbon injections contain just 2 simple ingredients: bourbon and brown sugar. We would suggest a ratio of 2 parts bourbon to 1 part sugar, but some recipes call for a 1-to-1 ratio. Feel free to experiment.
You can add some of the seasoning rub if you’d like, but it’s not necessary in this case. Also worth noting: Jim Beam makes apple- and peach-flavored bourbons that would work well as injection ingredients.
Pork Shoulder Coke Injection
It might seem strange to use a sweetened carbonated beverage in an injection, but soda is no stranger to barbecue. The beer-can chicken craze gave way to a host of copycats, from root beer-can chicken to Dr. Pepper chicken. These injection recipes can be classified as riffs on this idea.
Combine in a glass measuring cup:
- 1 cup Coca-Cola
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix well and inject into the meat as directed in How To Inject Pork Shoulder, below. For an interesting twist, use cherry Coke instead of the original recipe.
Root Beer Injected Pork Shoulder
If possible, use a root beer that uses cane sugar in its recipe, rather than high fructose corn syrup. The sweetness isn’t as cloying, giving the herbaceous flavors room to blossom.
Because the root beer has a complex flavor profile on its own, there’s no need to doctor it up too much when using it as an injection ingredient. For each cup of soda, blend in about 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
Pork Shoulder Injection Orange Juice
Orange juice makes a nice side ingredient for injections and marinades. This recipe includes a dose of lemon juice as well. Since the acidic nature of the juice will “cook” the meat slightly before it can hit the grill, be sure not to inject the pork too soon, or it might get mushy.
In a large bowl, whisk together:
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
When To Inject Pork Shoulder
The best time to inject pork shoulder is shortly before you put it on the smoker. While experts are divided on this issue, we don’t think injecting it sooner will make a great deal of difference. As long as the fluid is allowed to spread for 5 to 10 minutes, it should provide all the benefit you’re looking for.
One other tip: Apply your seasoning rub after you’ve injected the meat. That way, the rub won’t rinse off if any of the injection liquid squirts back out.
Should You Inject Pork Shoulder the Night Before?
Despite our recommendation, some chefs like to inject the pork as soon as they’ve unwrapped it, then leave it in the fridge overnight. Is it all right to do this, and if not, why?
Unless the recipe contains a lot of acidic ingredients (such as the orange juice injection recipe above), it shouldn’t do any harm to leave the injection in overnight. Just make sure to keep the meat refrigerated at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time.
How To Inject Pork Shoulder
1. If desired, trim the pork to remove the skin and/or any excess fat.
2. Set the meat in an aluminum pan.
3. For injector guns (see Best Injection Tools, below), set to dispense 5 cubic centimeters per pull.
4. Insert the injector tip into the mixture, taking care to ensure that all the holes are covered by fluid. Pull back on the plunger until the syringe is full.
5. Inject the pork every 1-2 inches, using a grid pattern. Move in the same direction for the entire procedure to ensure even coverage.
6. Continue the procedure until the meat begins to reject the fluid when you try to apply more. At this point, you can season and cook the meat according to your recipe.
Injecting Pork Shoulder While Smoking
If you’ve injected the pork properly, there’s no need to repeat the process once the meat hits the smoker.
On the contrary, if you keep pulling the pork off the cooking grate to add more injection, it will take much longer to cook. Not only will it lower the temperature of the smoker, you’ll be wasting precious cooking time by fiddling with the injector tool. To add moisture to the pork shoulder as it cooks, use a barbecue mop or spritz instead.
Best Injection Tools
While you can buy a cheap plastic injector just about anywhere, these aren’t the best option. They don’t last very long, and even if they do, they absorb too much residual flavor.
Stainless steel injectors resemble the plastic ones, but they’re sturdier and easier to clean. They also cost a bit more than their flimsier counterparts.
The best tool to use is an injector gun, especially if you use this technique more than a few times a year. They may be expensive, but they can last a lifetime with the proper care. They also make the injection process go much more quickly.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to inject pork shoulder or Boston butt in order to have a great barbecue. The step is strictly take-it-or-leave it. However, if you decide to use this technique, you should have fun experimenting with all the different flavor combinations.
Best of luck with your latest creation, and happy grilling!