Saturday, May 28, 2011

Smoking Is Good for You: Smoked Pork Shoulder, Part 1

Ah, Memorial Day weekend. A time for honoring America’s war heroes, and for cooking large quantities of meat. Alyce got a jump on the official start of grill season with a fab rooftop cookout Thursday, and today, I am marinating a pork shoulder to be smoked for a backyard gathering tomorrow evening. And by “marinating,” I mean I am sitting outside with my laptop drinking a beer while the pork sits in the fridge inside.

A pork shoulder is a great cookout option: The meat is cheap (about $1.50 a pound), it requires very little hands-on time, and a whole one will feed a crowd. (The one I bought was about 7 pounds.) The reason it’s cheap, however, is that it is a very tough cut that takes a long time to cook. You want to cook it at an extremely slow temperature so that the meat breaks down and all the fat gets nicely rendered into it; when it’s finished cooking, you should be able to pull strands of meat apart with your fingers. Again, you don’t really have to tend to it at all while it’s cooking, you just have to plan to get it cooking several hours before serving. One good way to cook a pork shoulder is by braising it in the oven at, like, 250° to 300°. And another is to put it in a smoker.

In preparation for tomorrow, I purchased the meat (which resembles the photo above but is not the same pig) and, in a 2-gallon plastic freezer bag, tossed a spice rub consisting of about 2 TBSP each of garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and kosher salt. To be honest, gentle reader, I really didn’t measure the amounts at all, but I suggest blending them with a few shakes of the (sealed) bag, adding the meat to the bag, rubbing in the seasoning thoroughly, and then shaking out any excess rub into the sink.

Next, I dumped maybe 1/4 cup olive oil (again, I really didn’t measure, I just dumped) into the bag, sealed it, and flipped it around a few times to get the meat fully coated. Fatty as pork is, the surface can get dried out when the meat spends so many hours in the smoker.

I then put the bag into a large bowl, to catch any leaks, and stuck it in the fridge. And now ... we wait.

Last July 4 (another one of the high holy days of grilling season), I tried my hand at smoking a pork shoulder for the first time. It came out pretty good, but I think ideally I would have cooked it a little longer, and also added water to the smoker every hour or two to minimize drying out the meat. (The olive oil is also a new feature in PS 2.0.) I can't remember how long it cooked last year, but this year I actually bothered to look up pork shoulder cooking times, and gathered it should spend about 1.5 hours per pound at 225°.

So, if all goes according to plan tomorrow, the pork shoulder will spend almost 10 1/2 hours in the smoker in my friends' yard (the logistics of which is frankly making me a little nervous). It will then be served on corn tortillas with a red cabbage and sour cream slaw. A head of red cabbage, like the pork shoulder, is cheap and will feed a crowd once shredded.

And now, I'm off to transport said shoulder to the site of the smoker. If anyone tries to snatch my purse on the subway, they'll be in for a surprise! Tune in for part 2 to find out how things turned out—or if you return tomorrow and this post has been deleted, you’ll know they went horribly awry.


  1. Would that work in a crock pot as well?

  2. And another question from this confirmed bachelor, Kitty. Since I usually just cook for myself at the moment, I always have far too many leftovers that I get tired of before they're finished. Let's say I bought a smaller shoulder, but still didn't finish it. Can I freeze the leftovers, or should I just cut the shoulder into how much I think I'll eat before cooking and freeze the rest?

  3. Pork shoulder would definitely be good in a slow cooker, though I would google the cook time/temperature for that cooking method. As far as portions, honestly, a pork shoulder wouldn't be my choice for cooking for one, it's more a dish to make for a gathering. But if you insist, you could buy a half pork shoulder, which is still a lot of meat (again, google for adjusted cook time). I would shred the meat, then freeze leftovers in individual servings (they don't have to be exactly equal) so you can just defrost one meal's worth at a time.