This is real deal Carolina style BBQ! No shortcuts, just the best smoked pork shoulder and pulled pork sandwiches you've ever doused in a tangy vinegar-based BBQ sauce!
A few months back I made the mistake of watching a PBS documentary on Carolina pit masters. A weathered country gentleman lounged in a shaded chair, fanning away the sweltering heat of the deep south while tending to a whole pig slowly smoking over hardwood. Intermittently enjoying sips of a questionably legal spirit in between tales of his journey perfecting his craft, it was a quintessential culinarily romantic scene.
I was immediately inspired to rush out and purchase a whole hog, a trailer-sized smoker, as well as enough friends to help me consume the scores of pulled pork sandwiches this pig would produce! It will be grand!
Then reality hit me.
I don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a giant smoker I'll never use. I have nowhere to store a whole hog. And I don't really know where you go to purchase more friends. Maybe I should just downsize my dream. Instead, I settled for a far more reasonable smoked pork shoulder that I shredded into the best dang pulled pork sandwiches I've ever had the opportunity to enjoy.
Best Cut for Pulled Pork
When making pulled pork sandwiches, pork shoulder, also known as Boston Butt, is the ideal cut of meat. Its fattiness is actually an asset, as it will render down during smoking to create exceptionally moist and tender meat. When the cooking is done, it can easily be shredded with forks into tender morsels. Using a leaner cut won't work well, as the final product will be exceptionally dry.
How to Smoke Pork Shoulder
It is possible to smoke pork shoulder in a charcoal grill, but the temperature control will likely suffer. I own a Weber Smoky Mountain Smoker (affiliate link), and I recommend it to anyone looking to smoke meats at home. The temperature control is fantastic, and the build quality is exceptional. There is a reason it maintains a five-star rating on Amazon.
Smoke pork shoulder at 225 degrees for 1-2 hours per pound. I like using hickory wood for smoking pork shoulder, though cherry and apple are also good options. It really comes down to personal preference.
Pork Shoulder Stall
As your pork shoulder smokes, beware of the "stall". Smoked pork shoulder will stall at 160 degrees and then the temperature doesn't seem to move anymore. Don't worry, this is normal. It can sit in the 160-degree range for a few hours, however, in time the temperature will begin rising again.
This is a great reason why you always want to plan for your smoked pork shoulder to be finished cooking well before it is time to eat, since smoking times can vary considerably. Additionally, this is also why it is important to use a meat thermometer (affiliate link) rather than relying on cooking time alone.
When is Smoked Pork Shoulder Done
Pork shoulder is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 195, though you can let it creep up to 203 degrees for added tenderness. 195 is the temperature at which the meat is typically able to be easily shredded into pulled pork sandwiches. If your pork shoulder gets done earlier than anticipated, you can keep it warm in a towel packed cooler for hours.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
There are lots of easy recipes online to make pulled pork sandwiches. I even previously published my own recipe for making easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork and Instant Pot Pulled Pork. Although these are still a great recipes, particularly if you are looking for something hassle-free, they are not true blue BBQ. This Smoked Pork Shoulder Pulled Pork is authentic BBQ, every bit as good as you could hope to enjoy at your favorite BBQ restaurant.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches are made simply by shredding tender smoked pork shoulders. This is served on hamburger buns with a drizzle of barbeque sauce. Keeping to Carolina tradition, this pulled pork recipe includes a vinegar based BBQ sauce perfect for pouring over your pork.
Carolina Style BBQ Sauce
The Carolinas are famous for their smoked pork, and their tangy vinegar-based barbeque sauce. Even within North Carolina, the bbq will vary. Ketchup is not used in eastern North Carolina BBQ Sauce, however, I side with the westerners in the state, because I find ketchup to be a welcomed addition to the recipe.
Barbeque Side Dishes
Whether you are serving a full barbeque picnic complete with my real-deal 3-2-1 ribs, or simply smoking pork shoulder, there isn't a more classic accompaniment to your barbeque than creamy homemade coleslaw to enjoy on the side. Heck, I even love piling it high on top of the meat in my sandwich! Be sure each plate also gets a hearty pile of Homemade Baked Beans and grilled corn on the cob to complete the meal!
Smoked Pork Shoulder Pulled Pork with Carolina Style BBQ Sauce
- 1 any sized Pork Shoulder
- Yellow Mustard (as needed to cover)
- 1 recipe BBQ Dry Rub
- 3 chunks Hickory Wood (for smoking)
- 12 Hamburger Buns (or as needed)
Carolina Style BBQ Sauce
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon vinegar based hot sauce (such as Texas Pete's)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Score the fat cap on the pork shoulder with a grid pattern to allow for expansion during cooking.
- Apply a layer of mustard to the exterior of the pork shoulder and liberally dust with BBQ dry rub.
- Optional: Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator overnight.
- Heat smoker to 225 degrees and add 3 hickory chunks for smoke.
- Place pork shoulder in smoker, fat cap up, and cook until the meat reaches 195-205 degrees and threatens to fall apart when jostling the bone. Approximately 1-2 hours per pound. You will know the meat is sufficiently tender when it is pierced with a fork or knife and there is little resistance.
- Pork is easily shredded when done. If it is still tough, cook longer.
Carolina Style BBQ Sauce
- Place all ingredients into a sauce pan and heat until sugar has dissolved.
- Cool and pour the thin sauce into bottles, or a mason jar for serving.
- Store in the refrigerator until serving.
- Place shredded pork shoulder on hamburger bun and drizzle BBQ sauce over the meat and enjoy.
This recipe was originally published on FoxValleyFoodie.com July 29, 2016.
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