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The Best Smoked Pork Shoulder Recipe

Smoked Pork Shoulder is a classic summertime BBQ recipe. Come check out my tried and true method for making Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork along with my 9 pro tips for the best smoked pork – I’m including my favorite pork shoulder brine and pulled pork rub to use when making this pulled pork recipe.

overhead shot of baking sheet with shredded smoked pulled pork

Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork

We’ve had a really weird start to summer here in Colorado and it hasn’t quite felt like summer BBQ season yet.

We get a few warm days and then it is back to cold and rain. I’m currently wearing long pants and long sleeves and kind of wish the heater was turned on but it just feels wrong to do that in JUNE.

Earlier this week we had a few nice days, so I made our first Smoked Pulled Pork of the season (not our first time making it, but I haven’t ever posted a recipe here before).

I am so glad we bought our Traeger 3 years ago because it has been so fun to be able to cook all my favorite Texas BBQ food at home!

Want to learn how to make your own pulled pork? Read on!

Smoked Pork Shoulder Required Equipment

Before you begin preparing your smoked pork shoulder on a Traeger, you’ll need to make sure you have some of the required equipment. If you aren’t new to smoking, none of this should be new to you.

In order to smoke a pork shoulder, you need a few things:

My pork shoulder rub features a mix of brown sugar, garlic powder, oregano, chili powder, cumin, pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper for a flavorful spice rub.

For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card.

pellet grill pellets on wood background

WHAT IS THE BEST WOOD TO MAKE SMOKED PORK SHOULDER:

It really depends on your personal preferences, so it is important to experiment to find out what you like best. We have tried all different types of wood pellets for this pulled work recipe.

Favorite wood pellet flavors for Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork.

Our absolute favorite woods for making smoked pulled pork are apple, oak, and hickory. Apple is mild and a natural pairing for pork (especially with an Apple Cider Brine). Oak is classic Texas BBQ and goes with anything. And Hickory just has a yummy taste, in our opinion.

  • Apple – mild and sweet flavor
  • Oak – medium flavor, not overpowering, quintessential smoking wood
  • Hickory – mellow smoky flavor, not over powering, savory, hearty, one of the most versatile

Don’t be afraid to mix different wood pellet flavors together. Using blends of different type of wood pellets can give the pork extra flavor depth. We often use a combination of apple and hickory blended together when making Smoked Pulled Pork on our Traeger.

How to Make Smoked Pork Shoulder on the Traeger

The basic steps to preparing smoked pulled pork are: trim, brine, score, rub, and smoke. I’ll break down the smoking method we use.

  1.  Heat the Traeger according to manufacturer instructions on the “Smoke” setting. If you don’t have a Traeger, aim for around 160 degrees F.
  2. Insert the thermometer probe into the meat, avoiding bones and large fat deposits.
  3. Place the pork on the Traeger once “Smoke” temp is achieved and close the lid.
  4. Cook on smoke for 3 to 4 hours – after 4 hours the meat doesn’t really absorb any more smoke.
  5. After 3-4 hours, turn the temp up to 275 degrees and keep cooking until the internal temp of the pork should reads around 210-215 degrees F.
  6. Rest the meat.

The above is simply a quick summary of this recipe. Check out the free printable card at the bottom of this post for all the detailed instructions.

baking sheet with shredded smoked pulled pork

9 PRO TIPS FOR The Best Smoked Pork Shoulder Recipe

In our house we have a running joke where we frequently say things like “hey, pro tip here…” when we’re giving one of the kids advice or something. I thought I’d give you some of MY “pro tips” to make the best smoked pulled pork.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #1: Trim Excess Fat from the Pork Shoulder

Removing large chunks of fat prior to cooking will allow more surface area for the smoke to penetrate the meat. Smoke does not pass through fat very effectively.

If you want a lot of smoke flavor, make sure you’ve trimmed away anything thicker than 1/2-3/4 of an inch from the exterior. Pork shoulder has plenty of fat marbling throughout so removing some from the exterior will not dry out your meat.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #2: Use a Pork Shoulder Brine

When thinking about making a really great pulled pork, one of the easiest things you can do to get great meat is to brine your meat before cooking it.

Should You Brine Pork Shoulder Before Smoking?

Brining a pork shoulder before you put it in your Traeger helps the meat to retain moisture that is often lost when meat is exposed to long cook times. Rather than dry pulled pork that needs to be doused in BBQ sauce to be edible, you’ll end up with juicy, flavorful pork.

I like to use these Rubbermaid Storage Containers for brining anything that is around 10 lbs or less. It works perfectly for bringing pork shoulder!

How Long Should You Brine a Pork Shoulder Before Smoking

Brining your pork shoulder for too long, could result in unintended negative consequences, namely over salted meat. Be sure to brine your meat for an appropriate length of time considering the weight of the pork shoulder.

  • 8-10 pounds: brine up to 32 hours, I prefer 24 hours
  • 6-8 pounds: 12-16 hours
  • 4-6 pounds: 6-8 hours

You can also rinse your meat after brining to remove any residual salt from the surface since you’ll then be adding rub, which also contains salt.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #3: Score Your Pork Shoulder before Smoking

Score the top and bottom of your pork shoulder with a tic-tac-toe pattern (3-4 lines by 3-4 lines) before adding the rub.

You’re exposing even more surface area which allows more meat to be covered with the rub, and more space for the smoke to pass through.

spoon of spice rub for smoked pulled pork on a dark background

TRAEGER PRO TIP #4: Use a Pulled Pork Rub on Your Pork Shoulder

Adding a rub to the exterior of your meat will give great flavor and help you develop that awesome classic BBQ bark. Bark on the exterior of the meat will give attractive color, texture, and great taste when you’ve pulled the pork.

Try my recipe for Homemade Southwestern Pork Rub

Ideally, I like to let the rub sit on the meat in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but we’ve even done it overnight before. It allows the flavor to soak into the meat rather than just sitting on top.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #5: Cook Your Pork Shoulder By Temperature Not Time

There are a few things to know about smoking your pork, and an important keys to success is cooking by temperature. Pork smoking times vary depending on a variety of things, such as:

  • the size of the meat
  • internal temperature the meat when you begin
  • outdoor weather conditions (cold or windy days may cause your Traeger to run cooler)

So, it is better to have general time guidelines and specific temperature milestones to meet rather than cooking for x number of hours. You avoid overcooked dry meat and undercooked unsafe meat when you use a digital probe meat thermometer.

Place the probe in the thickest part of the pork shoulder before you begin cooking. Be sure to avoid large fat deposits or the bone. Both fat and bone will carry higher temperatures than the meat and give you false readings.

sheet pan of shredded smoked pulled pork cooked on a traeger

We cook until the internal temp is around 210-215 degrees F. Reaching this temp will allow for an easy pull because the meat fibers will have broken down enough to become very tender.

I usually put the pork on first thing in the morning (around 6 am) in order for it to be done by dinner. If it finishes early, you can always remove it from the smoker, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it on a large baking sheet inside an oven that is turned off

If your pork shoulder is unusually large or unusually small, that will result in a cook time that is different from my general guidelines. If you aren’t able to start your shoulder early enough to get it done in time for your meal, you may consider cutting it into 2 smaller pieces or cooking it the day before and reheating it when you plan to serve it.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #6: Don’t Lift the Lid of Your Traeger While Your Pork Shoulder is Smoking

Heat and smoke escape every time you lift the lid. Just don’t do it. Your thermometer will tell you everything that you need to know.

The best pieces of meat we’ve ever smoked were the ones we’ve literally walked away from until a temperature adjustment was required. We have even put a big pork shoulder on the smoker and gone to bed, set an alarm to get up and crank the heat, and then gone back to bed. Perfect when you want to eat earlier in the day.

If you absolutely MUST look at your meat, don’t peak more than ever few hours. And make it quick!

TRAEGER PRO TIP #7: Don’t Make Panic Adjustments When Smoking a Pork Shoulder on a Traeger

Perfect, tender, smoked pulled pork takes time. Don’t be impatient.

When smoking, meat can often experience a “stall.” It might seems like the thermometer is stuck at the same temperatures for hours at a time. Don’t make the mistake of impatiently increasing the heat.

Seriously, one of the worst things you can do is panic and make a bunch of rapid fire adjustments on your Traeger. You think the pork shoulder isn’t cooking fast enough, so you crank the temperature up. Then, you crank it down because it is cooking too fast.

Sound familiar? If the answer is yes, it is absolutely time to stop doing that.

If you have to make an adjustment because your meat is cooking too fast or too slow, I don’t recommend increasing or decreasing the temperature in anything larger than a 25 degree increment. (i.e. lowering from 275 to 250 or increasing from 275 to 300)

smoked pulled pork on a cutting board

TRAEGER PRO TIP #8: Let Your Smoked Pork Shoulder Rest Before Pulling

I know, the last thing you want to do after spending ALL DAY smoking a pork shoulder is to wait even longer before piling it onto a bun and digging in to it.

Let the pork rest for 30-60  minutes before pulling it for the best results. The pork will be easier to pull and the meat will stay juicer.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #9: Remove Large Fat Deposits from Pork Shoulder When Pulling

When you’re pulling the meat, be sure to discard any large fat deposits from the interior as you discover them. You can use your hands (I like to wear gloves), 2 large forks, or Pulled Pork Shredder Claws for the pulling process.

This might be a personal preference, but there is nothing I like about biting into a tasty pulled pork sandwich and discovering that I’ve just bit into a huge glob of fat.

So, as our son Kayden would say: “Get rid of it!” No one wants to eat that stuff, and no one likes figuring out how to discretely get rid of it after they’ve discovered it in their mouth.

Reader Reviews for Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe

“I did this exact recipe and it took 13.5 hours smoking time. But oh boy this was so dang good! I will be making this again. Thank you!”

“I love this recipe! We’ve tried a couple others and the pork seems a little dry. This recipe is fool proof and comes out with a nice bark and OMG the moistness!”

This is now my go-to primer for pulled pork. I’ve had my Traeger for about 6 years now and I love smoked meats, but I have never used the smoke setting except when starting up the grill. Finally decided to give it a go and this was my guide. It was SO delicious! Had a taste when we were shredding the pork and immediately put another shoulder on the shopping list

collage of various photos of recipes that serve well with pulled pork

What to serve with this Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe

Here are some of our favorite recipes to serve with or using pulled pork! Don’t see what you’re looking for here? Check out the full recipe index for more ideas!

Substitute this Traeger Pulled Pork for the chicken in this recipe for Honey Pecan BBQ Sauce Chicken Sliders to make tasty pulled pork sliders with your Smoked Pork Shoulder

Easy Smoked Chicken is a great summer meal. The chicken turns out incredibly flavorful, tender and juicy. Perfect for BBQs or any time you want to cook a whole chicken but want to do something a little different than traditional roasting.

Summer Potlucks and BBQs don’t seem complete without a big bowl of this Classic Potato Salad. Creamy mayo, celery, onion, hard-boiled eggs, and of course plenty of potatoes make up this recipe. In our family’s opinion, it is simply the best potato salad! This is a great side to Smoked Pulled Pork!

This Cilantro Lime Broccoli Slaw is a tasty alternative to the traditional summer coleslaw recipe. Pre-packaged shredded broccoli, carrots, red cabbage are tossed with jalapeño, lime, red onion, and red bell pepper for a refreshing side salad.

Creamy Jalapeño BBQ Coleslaw – Your typical BBQ Coleslaw gets a makeover with the addition of jalapeño for just a touch of heat for your tastebuds! We always love to serve coleslaw when we make Smoked Pulled Pork!

Macaroni Salad is always a hit at a summer BBQ. This recipe has sugar snaps peas and radishes to round it out, and add a pop of color.

What is a summer barbecue without baked beans? This recipe for Slow Cooker Baked Bean Trio with Bacon and Peppers is loaded with flavor thanks to three types of beans, bell peppers, poblano peppers, and bacon.

This Zucchini Tomato Basil Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette is a light and refreshing summertime salad and perfect when your garden is exploding with tomatoes, basil, and zucchini in the later summer months. This is a great lighter side item to serve with Smoked Pulled Pork!

These Smokey Grilled Sweet Potato Fries are full of flavor. They’re super simple to whip up and contain only 4 ingredients!

Homemade Watermelon Mint Lemonade is a fun take on the traditional homemade lemonade recipe — and it couldn’t be more summery with its gorgeous bright pink color! The perfect fruity and refreshing drink for the whole family on a hot day!

shredded smoked pulled pork on a cutting board being held by a man

More Traeger Recipes

Here are a few of my favorite Traeger Grill Recipes besides this Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe. For more yummy recipes, be sure to check out the full archives in the Recipe Index.

Turkey Smoked on a Traeger is one of my favorite ways to cook turkey. Come check out my tried and true method along with my 8 pro tips for the best smoked turkey!

Easy Smoked Chicken is a great summer meal. The chicken turns out incredibly flavorful, tender and juicy. Perfect for BBQs or any time you want to cook a whole chicken but want to do something a little different than traditional roasting.

Buffalo Chicken Cobb Salad is a fun twist on the classic Cobb salad. This recipe features buffalo grilled chicken, celery, blue cheese and blue cheese dressing paired with classic ingredients like lettuce, egg, and avocado.

Have you ever made smoked pulled pork?

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The Best Smoked Pork Shoulder

The Best Smoked Pork Shoulder

Yield: serves 8 - 10
Brine Time: 1 day
Smoke Time: 12 hours
Rest Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 day 13 hours

Smoked Pork Shoulder is a classic summertime BBQ recipe. Come check out my tried and true method for making Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork along with my 9 pro tips for the best smoked pork – I’m including my favorite pork shoulder brine and pulled pork rub.

Ingredients

Apple Cider Pork Shoulder Brine

  • 1 quart Hot Water
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Peppercorn
  • 2 quarts Apple Cider
  • 3 quarts Cold Water
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

For the Pork

  • 8 1/2 pound Pork roast
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup Pork Rub

Instructions

To Prepare the Apple Cider Pork Brine and brine the pork

  1. In container large enough to fit the pork shoulder covered with the brine, combine the hot water, salt, brown sugar, and peppercorn.
  2. Stir the ingredients until completely dissolved.
  3. Add the cold apple cider, cold water, Worcestershire sauce, and apple cider vinegar. Stir until combined.
  4. Let sit at room temperature and trim any excessive fat from the outside of the pork shoulder. Discard the excess fat.
  5. Score the pork by cutting a 4 line by 4 line tic tac toe pattern on both sides of the pork.
  6. Place the pork in the brine, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

NOTE: if decreasing the brine, you need to decrease all of the ingredients in the same proportion, not just the liquids otherwise it will be incredibly salty.

To Prep the Pork Shoulder for Smoking

  1. Remove the pork from the brine.
  2. Discard the brine and rinse the pork all over with cool water. Pat dry.
  3. Place the pork shoulder on a large baking sheet and pat dry with paper towel.
  4. Rub the pork rub all over the meat on all sides, using more if needed to evenly cover the meat, or if you prefer more.
  5. Place the pork on the baking sheet in the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours (I prefer 24 hours).

To Smoke the Pork

  1. Prepare your smoker to a low heat setting.
  2. On our Traeger, we use the "smoke" setting (around 150-160 degrees F) and we either use Oak, Hickory, Apple, or a blend of pellets for our wood.
  3. Transfer the pork to the smoker.
  4. Insert the probe of a digital meat thermometer that is safe for BBQing into the thickest part of the meat - make sure to avoid large fat deposits and the bone as they will cook hotter than surrounding meat and give false high readings on the thermometer.
  5. Smoke on 150-160 degrees F for 4 hours.
  6. After 4 hours, Increase the temperature to 275 degrees F and continue to cook until the the meat thermometer registers 210-215 degrees F. Approximately 6-8 hours.
  7. When the pork has reached 210-215, remove from the smoker and transfer to a clean baking sheet.
  8. Power down the smoker according to manufacturer instructions.
  9. Allow the pork to cool for 30 - 60 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
  10. Shred with two large forks or a pair of shredder claws.

Notes

To decrease cook time, you can bring the pork out of the fridge and allow it to sit on a baking sheet at room temperature for approximately an hour. The starting point for the meat won't be as cold as the refrigerator temperature and it will decrease the cooking time a tad.

The final cooking time also depends on the size of your pork shoulder, but you can expect it to take anywhere from 10-14 hours. If your pork shoulder is unusually large or unusually small, that will result in a cook time that is different from my general guidelines.

If you aren't able to start your shoulder early enough to get it done in time for your meal, you may consider cutting it into 2 smaller pieces or cooking it the day before and reheating it when you plan to serve it.

PRO TIPS FOR THE BEST PULLED PORK

Trim Excess Fat: Removing large chunks of fat prior to cooking will allow more surface area for the smoke to penetrate the meat.

Brining a pork shoulder helps the meat to retain moisture that is often lost when meat is exposed to long cook times.

Pork Shoulder Brine Times

  • 8-10 pounds: brine up to 32 hours, I prefer 24 hours
  • 6-8 pounds: 12-16 hours
  • 4-6 pounds: 6-8 hours

Score Your Meat : Score the top and bottom of your pork shoulder with a tic-tac-toe pattern (3-4 lines by 3-4 lines) before adding the rub. This exposes more surface area to the rub seasoning and greater smoke penetration.

Use a Pulled Pork Rub: Adding a rub to the exterior of your meat will give flavor and help develop that BBQ bark.

Cook by temp not time: You avoid overcooked dry meat and undercooked unsafe meat when you use a digital probe meat thermometer. I usually put the pork on first thing in the morning in order for it to be done by dinner.

If it finishes early, you can always remove it from the smoker, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it on a large baking sheet inside an oven that is turned off.

Don't lift the lid: Heat and smoke escape every time you lift the lid.

Don't make panic induced adjustments: Meat can often experience a temperature “stall.” Don’t make the mistake of impatiently increasing the heat.

Rest the meat: Let the pork rest for 30-60  minutes before pulling it will be easier to pull and the meat will stay juicer.

Discard excess fat when pulling: Be sure to discard any large fat deposits from the interior as you discover them. No one wants to eat that stuff, and no one likes figuring out how to discretely get rid of it after they've discovered it in their mouth.

Nutrition Information
Yield 12 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 704Total Fat 52gSaturated Fat 19gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 28gCholesterol 217mgSodium 164mgCarbohydrates 0gFiber 0gSugar 0gProtein 56g

GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.

Did you make this recipe?

I’d love it if you let me know what you think! Snap a photo and tag me on Instagram at @goodlifeeats with the hashtag #goodlifeeatsrecipes so I can see what you’re cooking up in YOUR kitchen!

SpicySpud

Tuesday 7th of September 2021

I think you need to revamp your times. It took 15 hours 4 at 165 and 11 at 250 for me. It’s delicious but I overshot my dinner time and we had to go to an alternate. I took the pork off the grill at 1:30 am. It’s tasty and delicious though. I’ll time things differently next time. Lol.

Katie

Tuesday 14th of September 2021

Hi, sorry that it took so long for you. Perhaps your pork shoulder was a lot larger than mine? Anyhow, I will clarify in the instructions that the timing is for guideline purposes and that it will depend on how large your particular cut of meat is to reach the internal temperature.

Another thing you can do to slightly shorten the cook time is to allow the pork to sit at room temperature for approximately an hour after removing it from the fridge before you place it on the Traeger. That way the mean doesn't start refrigerator cold. You could try this when you add the rub on to the meat.

Glad to know you at least enjoyed the meat! Thanks for the feedback!

Dustin

Sunday 22nd of August 2021

Turned out very good! I used a little less than a 8lb piece of meat, purchased some brine on Amazon (Mesquite Apple), went around 14 hrs and then used the ingredients to make the rub provided in the article, great bark and tasty piece of meat. Put on smoke for 4 hrs and needed another 9 hrs on 250

Katie

Friday 27th of August 2021

Happy to hear you liked it!

Bill

Monday 2nd of August 2021

You may disregard my rookie question...I found my answer. I'm totally new to Traegering. Showtime tomorrow. We'll see how we do. Thank you.

Katie

Monday 2nd of August 2021

good luck!

Jo

Monday 17th of May 2021

Looks good. Would this work with a pork loin?

Katie

Tuesday 18th of May 2021

I haven't tried it before and pork loin is usually much less fatty than pork shoulder, but its worth testing it out. I would probably brine it for less time because it will be a smaller cut than the shoulder.

John S

Saturday 8th of May 2021

This is now my go-to primer for pulled pork. I've had my Traeger for about 6 years now and I love smoked meats, but I have never used the smoke setting except when starting up the grill. Finally decided to give it a go and this was my guide. It was SO delicious! Had a taste when we were shredding the pork and immediately put another shoulder on the shopping list

Katie

Saturday 8th of May 2021

Hi John! I am so glad that this has worked well for you! It is one of our favorites for sure! Be sure to check out my tips for How to Smoke a Turkey on a Traeger and Rosemary Beer Brine Smoked Turkey if you want to try more smoking on your Traeger!

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