Pulled pork is one of my favorite types of meat to barbecue. If done properly it is extremely tender and has a wonderful smoky flavor. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a large smoker to turn out great pulled pork. It can be done on a basic charcoal grill with amazing results. There are six basic steps to smoke pulled pork on a charcoal grill.
1. Choose the correct cut of pork. It is important to choose the right cut of meat for pulled pork. My favorite cut is a pork shoulder blade roast, more commonly known as a Boston Butt. This cut is similar to a bone in chuck roast from a steer. It is an extremely tough piece of meat with a lot of connective tissue. The long and slow cooking process will break down the connective tissue, creating a tender roast.
2. Use a good rub. There will always be a debate about whether or not to use a dry rub or marinade. For pulled pork I always use a dry rub because I love the dark crust, commonly called bark, that develops on the outside. There are many dry rubs commercially available, and it is reasonably simple to make your own. When choosing a dry rub it is important to make sure that there is a good amount of brown sugar and salt. The sugar will help to form a great bark and add a bit of sweetness to the roast. The salt will enhance the natural flavor of the pork. Other key ingredients in most dry rubs include: paprika, chili powder, mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper.
3. Prepare a fire for indirect cooking. There are two basic methods to prepare an indirect fire. The first is to push the coals to one half of the grill and leave the other side without any coals. The second method is to place half of the coals along one side of the grill and the other half along the parallel side, leaving the middle without any coals. I prefer the second method because it cooks more evenly. If you use the first method, be sure to turn your roast about half way through to ensure even cooking.
4. Add some smoke. Adding smoke will enhance the flavor of the meat with a rich smoky flavor. Wood chips are available at most outdoor and department stores that work well for smoking pork. Big Green Egg brand wood chips come in a myriad of flavors to choose from, including: hickory, oak, mesquite, apple, cherry, sugar maple, pecan, and alder. If you prefer a strong smoky flavor, then choose the hickory or mesquite chips. Oak gives off a very mild smoke and fruit tree chips give off a sweeter smoke that goes really well with pork.
You can either add the wood chips dry, or soak them on water first. I feel that the dry smoke gives off a better flavor, but wet chips smoke for a longer time while adding steam to the air, which keeps the roast moist. It is important to do a little experimenting to decide which suits you the best.
It is possible to get too much smoke flavor, which will render the pulled pork nearly inedible. For this reason, only use wood chips for the first 3 hours. That will infuse enough smoke flavor, but protect the pork from an excessive amount of smoke.
5. Use the air vents. Most charcoal grills have air vents on both the top and bottom. I have seen many people try to control the temperature in their grill by the amount of briquettes that they use. You want to maintain a grill temperature of around 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Using the briquette method will require you to continue adding coals frequently. Every time the lid is removed from the grill the temperature declines and cooking halts. It is important to keep the lid on as much as possible. I prefer to add a lot of charcoal and control the temperature by opening and closing the vents. There are some grills, like the Big Green Egg, that are insulated and can hold constant temperatures for long periods of time. These work extremely well for pulled pork.
6. Reach the correct internal temperature. Something magic happens to tough cuts of meat when they reach 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature. The connective tissue begins to break down and the meat becomes extremely tender. When the roast reaches 200 to 205 degrees it is time to remove it and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.
If you haven’t yet tried smoking pulled pork on your charcoal grill, it is time to give it a try. It will completely blow your mother’s crock pot recipe away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Derrick Sharp is a Barbecue enthusiast with over a decade of grilling experience who owns and writes for the Backyard Grilling & Outdoor Living Blog. He has spent the past two years designing and building his own built in Brazilian Churrasco style brick barbecue grill. Derrick has published extensively online and is a platinum level author at EzineArticles.