Pork butt–also known as Boston butt–is a popular choice for the smoker. Because it’s a fatty cut of meat, it becomes tender and succulent throughout the long cooking process. Although it’s difficult to mess up this process, many chefs are guilty of skimping on one important step: wrapping the pork butt.
This step is derided by some pitmasters, who refer to the practice as the “Texas crutch.” However, when it’s done at the proper time, wrapping the pork butt in foil can make a positive difference. Here, we’ll teach you when to wrap pork butt to get superior results every time.
When to Wrap Pork Butt
If you’re planning to wrap your pork butt in foil, the best time to do it is when the pork butt has achieved an internal temperature of 150 to 170 degrees, or about two-thirds of the way through the cooking time. This will give it the best possible combination of flavor and texture.
About Pork Butt
Despite the name, which makes it sound as though this cut is located toward the animal’s posterior, pork butt is actually cut from an area around the pig’s shoulder. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as pork shoulder as well.
According to most sources, the term “Boston butt” dates back to colonial times. During this period, New England butchers would pack these less desirable cuts of meat into barrels, which were called “butts.” The meat was then shipped to other locations, but since it came from New England, it was dubbed the “Boston butt.”
Some experts dispute this explanation, claiming that no other food item has been named for its shipping container. In addition, Southern states had the monopoly on the pork trade during the 18th century, so the story doesn’t make sense in historical context. To top it off, there doesn’t seem to be any printed record of the term prior to the late 1800s.
No matter what you choose to call it, pork butt is a fatty and flavorful cut that’s tailor-made for authentic barbecue. When it’s cooked at low temperatures, the connective tissues break down and the fat melts into the surrounding meat. The result is pulled pork that’s mouthwateringly tender–not to mention indescribably delicious.
Why Wrap Pork Butt in the First Place?
Though experts are divided on whether this step is truly necessary, it does have its benefits.
First of all, wrapping the pork butt will help to seal in the juices during the final stages of a long cooking process. The foil will keep the rendered fat right where you want it instead of spilling out over the hot coals. If you leave it unwrapped, the pork might dry out, which is the last thing you want after you’ve spent all day on the cook.
Wrapping the meat in foil can also give it a stronger flavor. Because the pork butt will be exposed to the smoke for hours before it’s wrapped, the foil will trap in those flavors along with the moisture.
Because the foil acts as an oven in its own right, the wrapping process can also reduce the cooking time by a few hours. This is the main reason why some pitmasters refer to it as the “Texas crutch.”
How To Prepare Pork Butt for the Smoker
For best results, we would recommend seasoning the pork butt at least 12 hours before you plan to start cooking it. It can sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or even longer if necessary. Our favorite method is to season it the day before, then leave it in the fridge overnight.
If you don’t have that kind of time, at least let the seasoned pork sit out for an hour at room temperature. You’ll have to wait for the grill to heat up anyway, so this step shouldn’t present too much of a roadblock. Trust me–you’ll be more satisfied with the results if you follow this advice.
Plan on using at least 1/2 cup of dry rub for a pork butt that weighs 8-10 pounds. You want the coating to be generous, but not so thick that it resembles sand. To help the rub adhere to the surface, try coating the meat with a layer of your favorite prepared mustard.
After you’ve preheated the grill to the 180-225 degree range, add the pork shoulder and close the lid. At these temperatures, boneless pork shoulder will take about 90 minutes per pound to finish cooking. If you’ve selected a bone-in cut, the meat should cook for about two hours per pound.
Even if you’ve chosen to wrap the meat, it’s important not to do so until the last few hours of the cook. If you wrap the pork too early, it won’t have a chance to gain that delectable bark that’s instantly recognizable to barbecue fans.
Note that when the internal temperature of the pork reaches about 150 degrees, it will stop rising for as long as several hours. This period is known as “the stall,” and it’s perfectly normal, so don’t panic if the meat appears to stop cooking midway through the process.
Wrapping it Up
First of all, do the calculations to determine how long your overall cooking process should take. A boneless 8-pound pork butt should take about 12 hours to cook if it’s left unwrapped. For best results, you should wrap it about two-thirds of the way through this projected cooking time, which means taking it out of the smoker at around the 8-hour mark.
Why wait that long? Because if you remove it any sooner, the bark won’t have a chance to develop. You also want to wait until the aforementioned “stall” occurs, which means the pork’s internal temperature should be at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit before you wrap it.
To begin, set out two wide sheets of high-quality aluminum foil. It’s important not to skimp on quality here. If you use cheap foil, it may tear easily, which will ruin the effect you’re striving for.
Make sure the sheets of foil are at least four times as long as the widest segment of your pork butt. You don’t need to go overboard with a ruler or tape measure, but use your best judgement. It’s better to have too much foil than too little.
Place the first sheet of foil on a clean countertop or table with the shiny side facing you. The longer side should run perpendicular to the work surface. Set the second sheet atop the first, overlapping it by about half the total width.
Carefully remove the pork butt from the grill or smoker using tongs and a pair of silicone gloves. Set it in a disposable roasting pan. This is one of those times when the built-in shelf on your smoker will come in handy.
Transfer the pork butt to the foil with the fat side facing up. It should sit about eight inches from the lower edge of the foil, with the longer side running parallel to the bottom.
Now would be a good time to give the meat a healthy spritz of apple cider vinegar. If you’ve been using a barbecue mop throughout the cooking process, go ahead and substitute that for the vinegar. In either case, spray a thin layer across the surface of the foil as well.
Wrap the bottom of the foil over the pork butt, making sure to fold it tightly. Repeat the process with both sides of the foil. When you’re folding the sides, make sure to leave enough space so that you can create a final fold once the meat is turned over.
Roll the pork butt onto its other side. Fold the sides inward again, creating a tight seal. Turn the wrapped pork over again and tuck in any loose ends. Run your hands gently around the wrapping, pressing out any air pockets and ensuring that the foil fits tightly around the meat.
Alternatively, you can wrap the pork butt in butcher paper. It won’t reach the desired temperature as quickly, but moisture will be allowed to escape, thereby preserving the bark.
Pork butt can be taken off the grill when the thickest portion of the meat registers 195 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Remember that meat continues to cook for awhile after it’s removed from the heat. This means you can expect the internal temperature to rise by another 5 to 10 degrees before you’re ready to serve it.
Resting the pork butt is one of the most important stages in the game. During this time, the meat’s natural juices will be reabsorbed into the fibers, giving you pork that’s tender and moist. The resting period will also give the pork a chance to reabsorb all the juices that ran out into the foil.
Assuming that you plan to take this step in the first place, it’s important to know when to wrap pork butt. If you wrap the meat too early, it won’t be flavorful enough, and the exterior might be too soft. On the other hand, if you wait too long, you’ll run the risk of overcooking your pork.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!