Should you spritz pork shoulder or pork butt during the smoke? And if you do, what liquid should you use, and how often should you do it?
The answers can affect the outcome of your barbecue. That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate guide on spritzing pork shoulder.
Spritz Pork Shoulder / Pork Butt: To Spritz or Not to Spritz?
Spritzing pork shoulder isn’t strictly necessary, but it shouldn’t do any harm either. The key is to wait until the meat has been on the smoker for a few hours before taking this step. That will give the bark a chance to form and allow the smoker to maintain the proper smoking temperature.
Should You Spritz Pork Shoulder?
There are definite benefits to spritzing pork shoulder and pork butt on the smoker. That said, you don’t have to take this step if you’d prefer to keep the smoking process as hands-off as possible.
Spritzing the meat will help it form a more pronounced smoke ring. That’s the pink tinge that’s located beneath the surface of smoked meats. The smoke ring doesn’t necessarily denote better flavor, but it does make for an impressive presentation.
Since moisture attracts smoke, spritzing the pork will also go a long way toward setting the bark and browning the meat. Of course, this only works if you do the job right, as we’ll discuss later.
It’s best to smoke pork shoulder and pork butt for a long time over low heat. When you baste the surface of the meat with liquid, you’ll cool it down, which will prolong the cooking process. This will ensure that you wind up with moist, tender meat.
How Spritz Can Help Set The Bark
It’s imperative not to disturb the pork shoulder during the initial stage of the smoke. This is true even if you skip this step altogether, but it’s especially important if you plan to use a spritzing liquid.
The bark, which is a combination of smoke, spice rub, fat, charcoal, and dehydrated meat, will need a chance to develop. Too much moisture early on will keep the bark from clinging to the meat.
Later on, however, a small amount of liquid added to the bark will attract more smoke as it evaporates. In addition to promoting smoke flavor, this seals in the spice rub, helping the spices fuse to the pork.
Why Slowing Down Can Be A Good Thing
The muscles in the pork shoulder contain a great deal of collagen. This is the main reason why the cut requires the low-and-slow treatment.
When you cook a pork shoulder too fast over high heat, the meat might cook to a safe temperature, but the texture will be off. That’s because the collagen needs time as well as heat in order to break down.
As the collagen melts, it transforms into a gelatinous substance that bastes the pork from the inside out. It improves the taste as well as the texture. That’s why it may be in your best interests to slow down the cooking process, especially for smaller cuts.
Drawbacks To Spritzing Pork Shoulder
As we mentioned, spritzing can prolong the cooking time by cooling the meat and lowering the smoker temperature. That can be both a blessing and a curse. It takes a long time to smoke these cuts anyway, so you can speed things along by skipping this step.
Similarly, the spritz will put the brakes on the fat rendering process. When it’s time to take the pork off the smoker, you want the fat to have rendered enough to give the meat a juicy texture. Otherwise, you’ll have to discard it when you’re shredding the pork.
Perhaps most alarming of all: If you spritz the meat too early in the smoking process, it may rinse the spice rub off the meat. This will inhibit bark formation, instead of helping it along.
We should also mention that pork shoulder and pork butt are fatty cuts of meat, meaning they have plenty of moisture already. Spritzing may benefit leaner cuts that need the liquid in order to remain juicy, but that’s not the case here.
What Do You Spray On Pork Shoulder When Smoking It?
Your options for pork shoulder spritz are virtually limitless. While apple juice and apple cider vinegar are the most common ingredients, you can use almost anything you’d like. Here are some other ideas to get you started:
- Chicken stock or broth
- Red or white wine
- Soft drinks (such as cola or Dr. Pepper)
We’ll explore a few of these ingredients further in the sections below.
Does The Spritz Add Flavor?
Not really. Mopping and spritzing liquids have a minimal effect on the flavor of the meat, if they have any at all.
When you spritz meat, you’re only adding a minuscule amount of liquid each time. Most of it will evaporate or drip off, rendering the difference unnoticeable. The cooked pork shoulder will have so many layers of flavor that you won’t be able to taste the spritz.
While you’re free to experiment with whatever liquids you prefer, don’t expect the flavor to improve or diminish your results. The ingredients have other qualities that might have an impact on the smoked meat, but flavor isn’t one of them.
Will Spritzing The Meat Affect The Shrinkage Factor?
All meat shrinks down when it cooks, and pork shoulder is no exception. On the contrary, because the meat needs to cook for such a long time, you can expect to yield just 50 to 60 percent of the starting weight once the pork comes off the smoker.
Some pitmasters claim that spritzing the meat will provide you with a higher yield, perhaps because of the added moisture. However, we’ve found little evidence to support this theory. If there is a difference, it’s very slight, and nothing you should rely on.
How Often Do You Spritz Pork Shoulder?
If you decide to take this step, leave the pork shoulder alone for at least 3 hours. Don’t be tempted to start spritzing before the smoker temperature has had a chance to stabilize. You also want the pork to form a solid bark during this time.
Once you begin to spritz, repeat the process every 30 to 40 minutes. Keep at it until it’s time to wrap the meat. If you opt to smoke the meat without using a wrapper, you can continue to spritz until the last hour or so.
Try not to spritz the fat cap. Your goal is to help the meat attract more smoke, not cool the fat down. If you do, the fat won’t render as well. Fortunately, if you smoke the meat with the fat cap facing down, it should be easy enough to avoid.
Spritz the meat one last time before sealing it in butcher paper or foil. You can also add a bit of the spritzing liquid to the inner side of the wrapper, just for good measure.
Mopping vs. Spritzing
When you apply a mop to barbecued meats, you’re essentially performing the same function as spritzing. Both methods are intended to draw smoke toward the surface of the meat, promote bark formation, and slow the cook so that the meat remains moist.
When you use the mopping method, you’ll first need to prepare a solution using whatever ingredients you prefer. Often, these consist of apple juice or cider vinegar, water, beer, onions, and spices.
While the meat cooks, you’ll periodically baste the surface with the mop solution. As the name suggests, this is done using either a mop or a brush with heatproof bristles.
Given the choice, we prefer spritzing to mopping. It only takes a few seconds to apply each round of spritzing liquid, which means the smoker is able to retain more heat.
What’s more, mopping can be messy—the excess liquid may drip onto the heat source. That can cause flare-ups, negatively impacting the flavor and texture of your bark.
Remember that mopping won’t have much more effect on the flavor of the pork than spritzing will. That means the extra time and effort that you put into creating the mop solution will be wasted in the end.
Can You Spritz Pork With Water?
It’s fine to use water as your spritzing liquid. Since your main goal is to impart moisture, water should provide you with the effect you want.
This method is the most carefree, since no advance preparation is required. Just add water to a spray bottle and use it to spritz the pork once the meat has been on the smoker for a few hours.
Spritz Pork Shoulder With Apple Cider Vinegar
Vinegar has tenderizing properties that make it a popular ingredient for marinades. Those same qualities apply here, though to a lesser degree. Vinegar is also a good choice for a spritzing liquid because it’s both easy to find and inexpensive.
Don’t worry about the sour flavor—as we pointed out, the taste of the spritzing liquid won’t have much effect on the pork. You can either use straight apple cider vinegar, or use a 50-50 blend of vinegar and apple juice.
Spritz Pork Shoulder With Beer
Like vinegar, beer contains enzymes that break down proteins in the meat, making for a more tender product. If you’ve used beer in your marinade, feel free to add some to the spritz bottle as well.
You can use whatever type of beer you prefer, but we would recommend using a cheap brand for this. You won’t be able to taste the difference, and there’s no point in wasting premium beer when you could be drinking it instead.
Spritz Pork Shoulder With Dr Pepper
Sugary spritz liquids will caramelize on the surface of the pork shoulder, thereby browning up the bark. This can be impressive up to a point, but be careful not to let the meat get so dark that it turns black. If the sugars burn, they’ll create an acrid flavor.
Dr. Pepper is a nice choice for a spritzing liquid because it contains a great deal of sugar when compared to other soft drinks. If you don’t have any on hand, try substituting regular cola instead.
One final note: When you opt for a sugary spritz, take care when applying the barbecue sauce toward the end of the smoke. In fact, you might want to wait and add the sauce at the table after resting and shredding the pork.
Bourbon Spritz For Pork Shoulder
Bourbon can liven up an ordinary spritz, and the sugars in the alcohol will produce a nice caramelizing effect.
Since bourbon can be pricey, we would suggest opting for a low-end brand and mixing it with other ingredients. Try a blend of 2 parts apple juice to 1 part bourbon and 1 part pure maple syrup.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to spritz pork shoulder or pork butt, but it can give your barbecue a nice hands-on aspect. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and you might wind up with more impressive bark and a praiseworthy smoke ring to boot.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!