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.

overhead shot of baking sheet with shredded 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.

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 favorites 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.

How to Make Smoked Pork Shoulder on the Traeger

The basic steps 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 4 hours – after 4 hours the meat doesn’t really absorb any more smoke.
  5. After 4 hours, turn the temp up to 250 degrees and keep cooking until the internal temp of the pork should reads around 210-215 degrees F.
  6. Rest the meat.

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

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.

Why Brine Pork Shoulder?

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!

Pork Shoulder Brine Times

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 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. 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.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #4: Use a Pulled Pork Rub

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.

spoon of spice rub on a dark background

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 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.

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.

TRAEGER PRO TIP #6: DON’T LIFT THE LID OF YOUR TRAEGER

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 INDUCED ADJUSTMENTS

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.

sheet pan of shredded smoked pulled pork

TRAEGER PRO TIP #8: REST TIME

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 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.

What to serve with this Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe

Substitute Pulled Pork for the chicken in this recipe for Honey Pecan BBQ Sauce Chicken Sliders.

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 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!

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.

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!

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 days
Smoke Time: 10 hours
Rest Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 days 11 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 water and cold apple sider. 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 2 hours or up to overnight.

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 250 degrees F and continue to cook until the the meat thermometer registers 210-215 degrees F. Approximately 4 - 6 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

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.

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 ServingCalories 704 Total Fat 52g Saturated Fat 19g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 28g Cholesterol 217mg Sodium 164mg Carbohydrates 0g Fiber 0g Sugar 0g Protein 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.