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 10 pro tips for the best smoked pork.
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Traeger Smoked Pork Shoulder
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 the best pulled pork? Read on!
DZL says –
“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!”
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, you probably already have these items.
In order to smoke a pork shoulder, you need a few things:
- Probe Thermometer – to monitor the temperature while it cooks. We used this probe thermometer for a long time, but recently upgraded to a MEATER thermometer.
- Pellet Smoker or Pellet Grill, such as a Traeger – to cook the smoked pulled pork recipe.
- Wood Pellets
Ingredients to Make Delicious Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Pork – you can choose a bone in or a boneless pork shoulder with the shoulder blade removed or a pork butt (also called Boston Butt).
- Dry Rub – your favorite spice rub for pork, or try my dry rub recipe: Homemade Southwestern Pork Rub
- Pork Brine – this will keep your meat moist and infuse it with extra flavor. This Cider Pork Shoulder Brine is what we like to use.
For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card.
How to Make Traeger Pork Shoulder
The basic steps to preparing smoked pulled pork are: trim, brine, score, rub, and smoke. I’ll break down the smoking process we use.
- Heat the Traeger according to manufacturer instructions on the “Smoke” setting. If you don’t have a Traeger, aim for around 160 degrees F.
- Insert the thermometer probe into the meat, avoiding bones and large fat deposits.
- Place the pork on the Traeger once “Smoke” temp is achieved and close the lid.
- Cook on smoke for 3 to 4 hours – after 4 hours the meat doesn’t really absorb any more smoke.
- 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.
- 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.
10 Pro Tips for The Best Smoked Pork Shoulder
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. Here’s a quick overview of the tips I’m sharing in the post.
- Trim excess fat.
- Use a pork brine.
- Score the pork before smoking.
- Use a rub.
- Clean out your Traeger.
- Cook by temperature, not time.
- Lift the lid as little as possible.
- Don’t panic and make extreme adjustments.
- Let the smoked pork rest before pulling the meat.
- Remove excess fat while pulling the meat.
Read on for more details and explanations on all of the tips!
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #1:
Trim excess fat from the pork.
Removing large chunks of fat before the meat cooks 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.
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #2:
Use a pork brine for pork shoulder.
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.
Brining is one of the best ways enhance the flavor of the meat. Here is my recipe for pork shoulder brine.
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #3:
Score your pork butt before smoking.
Score the top and bottom of your pork butt 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.
Smoked Pork Shoulder 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.
My pork rub features a mix of brown sugar, garlic powder, oregano, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper for a flavorful spice dry 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.
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #5:
Clean out your Traeger before starting.
A dirty pellet grill won’t function properly. It can shut down unexpectedly, struggle to maintain proper temperature, have trouble producing smoke, or even catch fire.
When smoking a large piece of meat that takes all day it is a good idea to start with a freshly cleaned grill that is not clogged with sawdust.
- Discard dirty liners and replace with a clean liner or heavy-duty foil.
- Scrub grill grates.
- Vacuum the inside of the grill with a shop vac to remove leftover sawdust.
- Start with a fresh grease bucket liner if the existing liner is full.
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #6:
Cook 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 – a larger cut of meat will naturally take longer to cook.
- internal temperature of the meat when you begin – I like to set it at room temperature before starting so the meat isn’t refrigerator cold.
- 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.
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #7:
Don’t lift the lid of your Traeger while smoking pork butt.
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.
Safety Tip: you MUST vacuum out excess soot, clean excess grease from the smoker, and use a fresh grease trap if running the Traeger unsupervised. Do so at your own risk and use your best judgement.
If you absolutely MUST look at your meat, don’t peak more than ever few hours. And make it quick!
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #8:
Don’t make panic and make extreme adjustments when smoking pork shoulder on a Traeger.
Perfect, tender meat takes time. Don’t be impatient when cooking your smoked pulled pork.
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 cranking the heat way up.
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 smoker 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 within an hour period (i.e. lowering from 275 to 250 or increasing from 275 to 300).
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #9:
Let smoked pork 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 with your favorite bbq sauce and digging in.
For the best pulled pork you really need to make sure the meat rests for 30-60 minutes before pulling it for the best results. The smoked pork will be easier to pull and the meat will stay juicer.
There are different ways to let the smoked pork rest:
- Some people like to wrap the finished pulled pork in aluminum foil or butcher paper during the meat rest time.
- I usually just stick it on a baking sheet in the oven (oven is off), but any of these will work.
Smoked Pork Shoulder Tip #10:
Remove large fat deposits when pulling smoked pork butt.
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.
Smoked Pork Shoulder FAQ
Got questions about smoking a pork shoulder on a Traeger? Here are the answers to a few commonly asked questions. Feel free to leave any other questions in the comments on this post and I’ll respond with answers.
Can I Use a Different Cut of Pork with this Recipe?
Yes! You can a pork butt in place of the pork shoulder if you like. You probably won’t even be able to tell a difference in the taste.
Pork shoulder is sold with the bone in and with the bone removed. Either will work.
A pork butt isn’t actually from the butt of the pork at all, but is actually a cut of meat from the upper portion of the shoulder blades.
What is the Best Time of Day to Start Smoking a Pork Shoulder
I usually put the pork on first thing in the morning (around 5 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 butt is unusually large or unusually small, that will result in a cook time that is different from my general guidelines.
How to Make a Pork Shoulder Smoke Faster
If you aren’t able to start your smoker early enough to get the Traeger pulled pork done in time for your meal, you may consider cutting it into 2 smaller pieces.
Alternatively, you can cook it the day before and reheating it when you plan to serve 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 brining pork butt!
How Long Should You Brine a Pork Shoulder Before Smoking
Brining your pork butt 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
The best way to remove residual salt from the meat is to rinse your meat after brining.
This removes excess salt from the outside of the meat since you’ll then be adding a dry rub, which also contains salt, to the exterior.
What is the best wood for smoking 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 wood 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 Wood – 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 blend of apple and hickory.
How Long Does Smoked Pork Shoulder Take?
It depends on the size of your pork shoulder. A larger cut of meat will take longer to get to the temperature than a smaller one.
Typically for us, this recipe takes anywhere from 12-14 hours.
TJ says –
“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!”
What Temperature is Pulled Pork Done?
We cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches around 205-215 degrees F when measured at the thickest portion.
Reaching this temp will allow for an easy pull because the meat fibers will have broken down enough to become very tender.
How to Take Pork Shoulder Temperature?
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 love being able to use multiple probes in a large piece of meat for more accurate temperature readings.
What if it Finished Smoking Too Early?
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
The Best Pork Shoulder Recipe: 5 Star Review
John says –
“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.”
What to Serve with this Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe
Here are some of our favorite sides to serve with pulled pork, as well as some great recipes to use your pulled pork!
Side Dishes for Smoked Pork Shoulder
Favorite Summer Drinks for For Pulled Pork
Don’t see what you’re looking for here? Check out the full recipe index for more ideas!
Brandon says –
“I used this recipe along with your Homemade Southwestern Pork Rub. It was the BEST pulled pork I’ve ever made! Best and most delicious bark, nice deep smoke ring, very tender and absolutely amazing taste! Will be making this for a bunch of the family when they visit next month. Hopefully I have the same success the second time.”
Try this Smoked Pork Shoulder Recipe!
Next time you’re looking for a fool-proof way to for making smoked pulled pork , give this Traeger Smoked Pork Shoulder a try!
Did you think it was the best smoked pulled pork recipe? Leave a comment below and give it a review for others to see what you thought of this great recipe.
On Instagram? Share your photo and tag me @goodlifeeats #goodlifeeatsrecipes. I’d love to see a photo of your Traeger pulled pork!
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.
Smoked Traeger Prime Rib is perfectly juicy and tender every time. It’s presentation and wonderful flavor make it perfect for any special occasion meal!
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Have you ever made smoked pulled pork?
For the Smoked Pork Shoulder
To Prep the Pork Shoulder for Smoking
- Brine the pork shoulder for 12 - 24 hours.
- After brining, remove the pork from the brine.
- Discard the brine and rinse the pork all over with cool water. Pat dry.
- Place the pork butt on a large baking sheet and pat dry with paper towel.
- 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.
- 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 Shoulder
- Prepare your smoker to a low heat setting.
- 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.
- Transfer the pork to the smoker.
- 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.
- Smoke on 150-160 degrees F for 3 - 4 hours.
- After 3 - 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 - 9 hours.
- When the pork has reached 210 - 215, remove from the smoker and transfer to a clean baking sheet.
- Power down the smoker according to manufacturer instructions.
- Allow the pork to cool for 30 - 60 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
- Shred with two large forks or a pair of shredder claws.
I recommend putting the pork shoulder on around 5:00 am if you plan to cook it and eat it the same day.
To decrease cook time, you can bring the pork out of the fridge and allow it to sit at room temp for approximately an hour.
The final cooking time also depends on the size of your pork shoulder; 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 these guidelines.
If you aren't able to start your butt 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.
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 butt helps the meat to retain moisture that is often lost when meat is exposed to long cook times.
Score Your Meat : Score the top and bottom of your pork butt 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: Avoid overcooked dry meat and undercooked unsafe meat by using a probe thermometer. 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.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
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.