Pork shoulder should be smoked at low temperatures in order to tenderize the meat. The question is, how low is too low? In our guide to smoking pork shoulder at 200 degrees, we’ll give you pointers on the best way to handle this unique cut of meat.
Smoking Pork Shoulder at 200 Degrees
Pork shoulder should smoke at a rate of 2 hours per pound at 200 degrees. Since all large cuts of meat cook at different rates, it’s important to keep an eye on the thermometer as the pork climbs above the 160-degree mark. You can shorten the cooking time by wrapping the pork in foil or butcher paper after the first several hours.
Why Low and Slow is the Way to Go
When it comes to tough, sinewy cuts like pork shoulder, a long slow cook is essential. The extra time will give the collagen in the meat the time it needs to transform into gelatin. Also, the fat will render slowly and mix in with the meat, making it juicy and rich.
Pork shoulder is often sold with the skin on. When making pulled pork, it’s better to remove the skin, as it may interfere with the texture you want.
However, if you choose to leave the skin in place, it will crisp up nicely during the long smoking process. This can create a nice counterpoint to the tender meat when it’s served sliced or chopped.
Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Butt
Since pork butt and pork shoulder come from the same section of the hog, it’s easy to confuse the two. Although you could easily substitute one for the other in most recipes, there are a few subtle differences worth noting.
Pork shoulder is sometimes called picnic shoulder or picnic ham, and it’s cut from the section of the foreleg just above the hock. Pork butt, despite the misleading name, is located above the shoulder, behind the head.
It’s usually easy to tell the two apart at a glance. Pork butt has a barrel shape and is often uniformly thick, with a fat cap along one of the longer sides. The meat should have plenty of marbling—that is, streaks of fat running throughout the meat. This is the preferred choice for most pulled pork recipes.
Pork shoulder looks like a jagged triangle and is capped with a thick layer of skin. It also contains less marbling than pork butt. It makes decent pulled pork, but it’s a better fit for recipes like Cuban roast pork and Asian barbecue dishes that call for crackling-crisp skin.
Can You Smoke Pork at Too Low a Temperature?
It is possible to set the temp too low when smoking pork shoulder or any other large cut of meat. That’s because the meat should remain at temperatures below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit whenever possible.
The “danger zone” between 40 and 140 is where hazardous bacteria thrive. Within this window, salmonella and E. coli can double in number within 20 minutes. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to refrigerate leftovers within 1 to 2 hours after cooking.
At 200 degrees, the pork shoulder should stay out of the danger zone for long enough to avoid trouble. That said, it’s important to keep an eye on the smoker temperature. If it tends to run low, you would be better off using a higher setting, just to be on the safe side.
How Long To Smoke Pork Shoulder at 200 Degrees
Our recommendation would be to smoke pork shoulder at a slightly higher temperature. 225 degrees Fahrenheit is a good rule of thumb—it’s low enough to yield tender and juicy meat, but not so low that you need to worry about the meat entering the danger zone.
Should you decide to use the 200-degree method, or if you’ve set the smoker to 225 and it runs low for the duration of the smoke, the pork should still be safe to eat. It will just take longer to cook than if you’d used a higher temp.
At 225 degrees, a pork butt or shoulder should smoke at a rate of around 90 minutes per pound. When the temp hovers around the 200-degree mark, you can expect it to take slightly longer—perhaps as much as 2 hours per pound. That means a 10-pound pork butt will require a 20-hour time commitment.
Of course, when it comes to slow-cooked meat, time is only a guideline. Various factors can affect the length of the smoke, from humidity to grill consistency to ambient temperatures. An instant-read thermometer will give you your best chance of knowing for sure when the pork is done.
At What Temperature Is Smoked Pork Shoulder Done?
It’s safe to eat pork when it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Because pork shoulder contains so much connective tissue, though, it’s better to cook it a bit longer.
You can take smoked pork shoulder off the heat when it hits 165 degrees. During the resting period, the temperature should go up 5 to 10 degrees, making the meat tender but not so soft that it falls apart. This is the best way to do it if you’re planning to carve the pork into slices.
Pulled pork requires a different set of rules. The meat won’t be tender enough to shred until it achieves an internal temp of 195. To ensure that the meat comes apart under gentle pressure, we would suggest waiting until the thermometer reads 202-205 before removing the pork from the smoker.
It’s best to let pork rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. The temperature will rise during this time, so don’t let the meat sit on the grill for too long. When pork is allowed to cook too far past 210 degrees, it will start to dry out and toughen up.
Can You Smoke a Boston Butt at 200 Degrees?
Since Boston butt can be used in place of pork shoulder for most recipes, you can follow the same set of rules for this cut. Just bear in mind that the cooking time might take longer if the smoker really does stay at 200 degrees the whole time.
The marbling in the pork butt should render out as the meat cooks, but some of the fat cap may still be intact. If you encounter any large chunks while shredding the pork, remove and discard them. Smaller bits of fat can be allowed to mix with the pork, especially if you’ll be reheating the meat in a sauce before you serve it.
Should You Wrap Pork Shoulder In Foil As It Cooks?
It’s never a good idea to wrap pork in foil for the entire length of the cook. You want the meat to have a marvelously smoky taste, and the foil will trap the smoke outside. In addition, you’ll be steaming the meat instead of smoking it.
However, it’s fine to wrap the pork in foil or butcher paper partway through the smoke in order to speed the process along. Wait until the pork’s internal temperature reaches 150-160 degrees, and return it to the grill to finish cooking. To preserve the integrity of the bark and ramp up the flavor, remove the wrapper for the last hour or so.
The Bottom Line
200 degrees isn’t our preferred temp when smoking pork shoulder, but it can be done. Be sure to allow plenty of time for the pork to cook, and watch the smoker to ensure that the temperature isn’t dipping too low, particularly in the early stages of the smoke.