Smoked Boston butt is one of the king cuts of the barbecue world. If you know how to smoke a Boston butt on a pellet grill, you already know how easy it is to get a quality end product from the classic barbeque saying. “Slow and low.”
It is probably one of the easiest things to cook in a smoker of any kind. There are a few tricks to help the process along or help add flavor and moisture to the roast, but it’s straightforward for the most part. Kind of a set it and forget it type of situation. And using a pellet smoker to cook the Boston butt even furthers that saying.
Note: most links in this article are Amazon.com Affiliate links, see Affiliate Disclosure, thank you.
What is a Pellet Smoker?
A pellet smoker or a pellet grill is essentially a grill that can grill, roast, smoke, or bake many different food items. It is best when used to smoke meat, though. The smoker works by circulating heat and air in the food chamber from a separate hot box or side oven, just like a regular smoker works.
But this type of smoker uses tiny compressed wood pellets as the fuel source for the fire. A timer can be set that add more additional pellets to the firebox as the temperature lowers, which keeps a constant temperature during the smoking process. The pellet smoker does all the work for you.
How to Use a Pellet Smoker
Pellet grills are easy to use and simple to set up. The process is very quick, and once everything has been started, the machine will do all the work for you. Some high-end pellet smokers have an alarm that will sound if you need to maintain your hopper.
Maintaining your hopper could require refilling it or moving pellets into position over the auger intake. A remote app can even control some pellet grills on your phone and track the meat’s progress during the smoke.
All you need to do is fill the hopper with pellets. Then set the temperature and turn on the heat source. Once the pellet grill is up to temperature, place the meat or food on the enclosed grill and set a timer for how long you want the smoker to maintain that temperature.
Close the lid, and you’re rockin’ and rollin’. The smoker will do all the rest of the work for you from this point on. Pellet grills are pretty user friendly when it comes to smoking meats.
We recommend keeping your pellet hopper full for your first few cooks until you get a feel for how many pellets you will use. After you know how many pellets you need to load in your pellet grill for a complete cook, only load that amount.
You should check your pellet hopper every hour. Pellet will absorb moisture when stored, and pellets can be difficult to remove from the pellet grill auger. We like to store pellet grills with empty hoppers, so you should plan to use all the pellets in your grill.
Type of Pellet Grill for Boston Butt
There are many different types of pellet grills to choose from. All pellet grills have the same concept but just a different design. For the most part, they are all constructed of either sheet metal, stainless steel, or cast iron.
Any are excellent choices of materials and will get the job done. Some of the hoppers that hold the pellets are larger, and some of the grills have a larger cooking surface area. We recommend using a Traeger pellet grill to smoke your meats.
More specifically, a Traeger 22 pellet grill or the Traeger 20 is a smaller tailgate series. We will be using the Traeger 20 – tailgater, but a Traeger 22 is the perfect size for most people
For a rundown of great pellet smokers, check out our article What Is the Best Pellet Smoker.
What is a Boston Butt?
The Boston butt is known by many different names. You might know the Boston butt called pork shoulder because it is a roast cut from just above the pig’s front leg joint area.
Similar pork roast cuts are called pork butt, pork hock, or pork picnic cut. These cuts are almost identical in taste and text but vary in size and grain (the direction the meat fibers run). They all are from the same area of the pig, like the lower shoulder or upper leg.
Boston butt has a lot of connective tissue and sinew that runs through the cut of meat with plenty of fat marbling throughout the cut. This makes it perfect for the barbeque world of slow and low. It needs to be smoked at low temperatures for long periods of time to break everything down.
The end process is glorious, though! You end up with pulled pork that falls apart, right off the bone and melts in your mouth. The preparation process is straightforward too! All you need to do is give it a nice good sweet rub all over the shoulder and place it in the smoker, simple.
What type of wood pellets to use with a Boston Butt?
We recommend starting with hickory wood pellets for the first four hours then continuing with apple until you reach the desired doneness. We usually would smoke medium fatty pork with only hickory.
Because of the density of Boston butt, it will take eight hours or more depending on how done you would like your roast. If you smoke your pork for more than six hours, the smoke can leave a bitter taste when using hickory.
Applewood pellets are a much milder smoke, and while they will generate the same amount of heat is will not get bitter. Being able to smoke your meat as long as you need for your desired doneness will let you have a great finished product.
If you want a second option, we always say, “when in doubt, get the pecan out.” Pecan is a good wood pellet choice for any meat type, but it is a great wood choice for pork. With the mild profile of pecan, you will be able to use one pellet type and get great results.
Smoked Boston Butt
There are plenty of rubs you can purchase in the store to rub all over the pork before smoking it, or you could also go with a wet rub or marinade beforehand too. We like to use a dry rub only on our pork shoulder, and it’s easy to make with everyday ingredients you probably already have in the spice kitchen cabinets.
- 1 (8-pound) Boston butt or Pork Shoulder, bone-in
- ½ cup Light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. Sugar
- 1 tbsp. Black pepper
- 1 tbsp. Kosher salt
- ½ tbsp. Garlic powder
- ½ tbsp. Onion powder
- 1 tsp. Yellow mustard
- 1 tsp. Ground cumin
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)
- Preheat the pellet smoker to 225 degrees and fill the hopper with pellets.
- In a small bowl, mix all the dry ingredients well. Coat the pork shoulder entirely with the dry rub making sure to get in all the nooks and crannies. You want to make sure you rub the dry seasoning into the meat and get a good thick coating of the dry rub on the shoulder. This will help to create a dark bark on the exterior of the meat.
- Once the pellet grill is up to temperature, place the pork shoulder on the pellet grill and close the lid. Set a timer for at least 8 hours to start. Some pork shoulder takes more time deepening on the size and amount of fat and connective tissue in the pork shoulder. Some of the shoulder bones are also smaller or larger, which makes a difference as well.
- Boston butt is fully cooked at 145 degrees, but if you want pulled pork, you have a long way to go. Increase your temperature to 250 and cook for another 4 hours or until it is falling off the bone and a little jiggly, then it is ready to come off the grill. Transfer to a cutting board or sheet tray and allow to rest for about 20 minutes before pulling the meat apart or shredding it.
- Shred, tear, and pull the pork. Serve and enjoy!
Tips for Smoking Boston butt
- An excellent way to determine if the pork shoulder has finished is by checking the bone. Try tugging on the pork shoulder’s bone. If it comes out of the meat nice and easy and is clean, that means the meat is done. If not, keep the Boston butt on the smoker until you can remove the bone with ease. This method of testing for doneness works with most pork cut and any cooking method.
- If you want to speed the cooking process up, you can wrap the Boston butt in aluminum foil halfway through the smoking process. This heats the meat without burning the exterior or adding any additional smoke. It works well for large pork shoulders.
- You can cut the pork shoulder in half and smoke with or without the bone. The bone-in will take much longer, though.
- Skip the last 4 hours of smoking and transfer your Boston butt to a preheated slow cooker for 4 hours. Add a cup of beef broth for moist pulled pork and even cooking. After cooking is complete, drain the oil, pull with two forks, and add one cup of your favorite barbeque sauce.
For the most part, learning how to smoke a Boston butt on a pellet grill is easy to do. The outcome of the end product will blow your mind every time.
With so little effort and work put into the smoking process, you will be thanking your pellet grill forever!
Can you smoke Boston butt at a higher temperature?
Yes, you can smoke Boston butt at temperatures as high as 350 degrees with good results. If you increase the cooking temperature, your cooking time will be reduced. However, you will have a less smoky flavor and could dry out your Boston butt. Compromise and cook your Boston butt at 300 degrees for five hours.
Do I smoke a Boston butt fat side up or down?
Always start by smoking a Boston butt fat side up. After smoking for four hours, score the fat layer, and flip your Boston butt fat side down. Allow the Boston butt to cook for two hours to allow the fat to render out. Finally, flip your Boston butt one more time to complete your cooking process.
Can I smoke a Boston butt overnight in a pellet grill?
Yes, you can start your pellet grill and put your Boston butt in before you go to bed. The main limitation is the size of your pellet hopper. If your hopper is not larger enough for an 8-hour cook, cut the bottom out of a large metal coffee can, place it on top for your pellet, and fill it with more pellets. You might need to support the can for even feeding the pellets with something like metal skewers.
[…] consistent, meaning fewer chunks of fat. As for barbeque enthusiasts and professionals, most use Boston butt for pulled […]