There’s no right or wrong way to season your pork shoulder for the smoker. Some folks opt for a spicy rub, while others favor a sweeter flavor profile. And sometimes, a salt and pepper rub for pork shoulder is all you really need.
Salt and Pepper Rub For Pork Shoulder
To make a simple rub for your smoked meats (including pork shoulder), use a blend of 1 part kosher salt to 1 part coarsely ground black pepper. You can add other ingredients if you’d like, but this basic recipe will provide just the right amount of seasoning without overwhelming the pork flavor.
Why The Rub Is Important
The seasoning mixture, or rub, plays a critical role in the smoking process. In addition to imbuing the pork with flavor, the spices help to develop the bark, which is the crispy layer that forms on the outside of the meat.
The hard, crunchy bark contrasts nicely with the tender pork. This interplay of textures is one of the hallmarks of good barbecue. That’s true whether you’re smoking pork shoulder, beef brisket, or a rack of ribs.
The texture of the bark depends largely on the ingredients used in the spice rub. For example, if the mixture contains a lot of sugar, the bark will be thick and slightly chewy.
On the other hand, too much sugar can also cause the bark to burn. That will create an acrid flavor that can interfere with the savory notes in the meat. That’s one of the reasons why some pitmasters opt to keep things simple when it comes to spice rub.
Can You Use Just Salt And Pepper Rub For Pork Shoulder?
A blend of salt and pepper—sometimes called a “dalmatian rub” owing to its black and white color combination—is a great way to season various cuts of meat, including pork shoulder.
In addition to being easy on the chef, this blend creates a neutral backdrop for the savory pork. Once the meat comes off the smoker, you’ll be able to use it in a wide variety of dishes, from sandwiches to tacos to fried rice.
When the pulled pork is the star of the show, we like to experiment with more intense seasoning blends. But a simple salt-and-pepper blend gives you more flexibility when it comes to the leftovers.
If you’re looking for ideas for ingredients that might spice things up a little, see Popular Additions To Salt and Pepper Rub, below.
The Ideal Salt-To-Pepper Ratio
Try to use a 50-50 ratio when making a dalmatian rub. It’s easy to remember, and you can adjust the quantities based on the weight of the pork shoulder.
Remember to use coarse salt, such as kosher or sea salt. The flakes are larger than the ones in regular table salt, so they’ll cover more surface area without making the pork taste too salty.
The cracked black pepper should have a coarse grind as well. You can crush whole peppercorns using a mortar and pestle, or use the coarsest setting on your pepper grinder. If you must rely on store-bought ground pepper, Fiesta is a decent brand to try.
How Much Salt And Pepper Should You Use?
As a guideline, we try to anticipate using one tablespoon of rub for every pound of meat. The actual amount may vary depending on the shape of the cut, but it’s a solid rule of thumb.
A whole pork shoulder, which consists of the butt and the picnic roast, can weigh 18 to 20 pounds. For this, you’ll need 1 to 1-1/4 cups of seasoning rub.
Even seasoned pitmasters may balk at smoking a cut that large, so the whole shoulder is usually divided into two subprimals. The upper section, the butt, usually weighs 5 to 10 pounds, while the lower picnic shoulder weighs in at 4 to 8 pounds.
Depending on the size of the cut you buy, you should plan on having 1/3 to 2/3 cup of seasoning rub on hand. It’s better to make a bit more than you think you’ll need, as you can save any unused rub (assuming it hasn’t come into contact with raw meat).
To season a raw pork roast, coat the surface with a thin slather of mustard. This won’t have much of an effect on the flavor, but it will give the spices something to stick to.
Use the salt and pepper blend to season the entire surface of the pork shoulder. You should have an even layer of seasoning with no bare patches.
If the rub falls off when you try to apply it, don’t force it. The rub will just fall off again when you put the meat on the smoker. In addition to being wasteful, this will make a mess that you’ll have to clean up later.
Discard any spice rub that’s come into contact with the raw pork. There’s a chance that it might be contaminated with hazardous bacteria, which would multiply rapidly if you tried to store the rub for another use.
If the salt and pepper blend hasn’t touched the raw meat, you can store it in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Be sure to keep it in a cool, dry place.
When To Apply Seasoning Rub
If you want to save time on the day of the barbecue, you can apply the spice rub up to 24 hours in advance. This can help to promote stronger bark formation and allow the flavors to deepen.
However, it’s not really necessary to take this step more than 15 minutes in advance. A basic salt and pepper rub is easy to make, and it will only take a few minutes to apply it to the pork, even if you use a mustard slather as well.
In the end, the choice is yours. Just remember to store the pork in the refrigerator until you’re ready to fire up the smoker. If it sits at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, it will attract hazardous bacteria.
Popular Additions To Salt and Pepper Rub
Sometimes, salt and pepper is all you need. But if you want to jazz things up a bit, here are some other ingredients that will make welcome additions to your spice rub.
Whether you opt for the sweet or the smoked variety, paprika will contribute another layer of flavor to your pulled pork. Its crimson hue also gives the raw pork an impressive appearance, though it isn’t as visible once the meat is fully cooked.
The warm, toasty notes of cumin pair well with pulled pork’s natural savory qualities. It’s an especially nice addition if you plan to make chili or nachos with your leftovers.
Add this ingredient if you want your pork to have a spicy kick to it. A dash or two of cayenne pepper will help to round out the dry heat of the chili powder.
This is a must if you’re the type of cook who doubles the recommended quantities of garlic in most recipes. If you don’t have any on hand, onion powder offers similar benefits.
As we mentioned, this ingredient contributes to a thick and slightly sticky bark. Just be sure not to overdo it—there’s a fine line between crisp bark and a charred exterior.
When you’re pressed for time, you can throw together a salt and pepper rub for pork shoulder in just a minute or two. This combination might be a basic one, but it will open up a broad vista of possibilities.