Pulled pork barbecue in an electric smoker

One of the first things I, a New Yorker, learned when I moved to North Carolina is that “barbecue” does not refer to throwing some burgers and dogs on the charcoal or gas grill—that’s grilling. No, barbecue means to slowly cook meat over low heat with smoke. And, some glorious things indeed are done this way! One of my favorites is pulled pork BBQ. The “pulled” comes from the fact that the pork is cooked until very tender and it is pulled apart with 2 forks (it can also be sliced if you prefer). It is traditionally served on hamburger buns with coleslaw or on a plate with sides such as coleslaw, hush puppies, baked beans, fried okra, or turnip greens. The good news is that you can make pulled pork at home, and the results are every bit as good as, or even better, than you can get at a BBQ joint.

This recipe is sort of a hybrid between eastern North Carolina style BBQ, which uses the whole hog and a vinegar based sauce, and the western style. which uses only the shoulder and a tomato-based sauce.

The meat

One bone-in pork shoulder 5-6 lbs (weight not critical), skin removed. You can use a boneless shoulder too, in which case you should use cotton kitchen string to tie it together.

Note: the smoker I use can do 2 shoulders at once. If you want to smoke 2, double the rub and sauce ingredients.

The rub

Mix together:

8 TB light brown sugar
3 TB coarse salt
1 TB chili powder
1 tsp each ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp each thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon

The rub can vary greatly, and I encourage you to experiment.

The wood

Tradition calls for hickory, and that’s my favorite, but you can also try mesquite, fruit woods, and so on.

4 or 5 chunks wood-of-your-choice soaked in water overnight.


Several handfuls of wood chips (not soaked), each handful wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil with a few holes poked in it.

The marinade

Combine rub ingredients and pat/rub all over the pork roast. Wrap in foil or place in a bowl (covered with plastic wrap) and refrigerate overnight.

The smoking

I use a Brinkman electric water smoker. This is a barrel-shaped device with a big electric heating element and lava rocks at the bottom and a water pan and 2 cooking racks suspended above.

Fill the pan 2/3 with water and place the rack on the lower position, just above the water pan. Plug in (outdoors of course), cover, and let heat for 30 minutes. Meanwhile take the pork out of the fridge, unwrap, and let warm to room temp while the smoker heats. The pork will probably have given off half a cup or so of liquid. Set this aside in the fridge. If you wrapped the pork in foil during the marination, save the foil.

Place pork on the smoker rack and cover the smoker. If doing a 2nd shoulder, put on the upper rack and put the other piece of meat on it.  Use the side door to place a wood chunk or foil packet on the bottom. You want it near (an inch or so) but not actually touching the electric element. In half an hour or so you will see wisps of white smoke escaping around the edges of the smoker lid. The idea is to have the wood smoulder but never flame. When the wood is gone replace with another piece/packet. For strongest smoky flavor keep the smoke coming for the full cooking period. For a lighter smoke flavor you can stop the smoke halfway thru.

These electric smokers are pretty good at maintaining the correct temp, around 210-230. Do not open to peek too often! If cooking 2 shoulders, swap their positions in the smoker after about 6 hours. Make sure some water remains in the pan. Cook for 10 hours then check the pork. You want it falling-apart tender but not dried out. Use your judgement and cook for another 1-2 hours if you think it’s needed.

Remove pork and wrap in foil. Let sit, wrapped, for 1 hour before pulling. This is best accomplished by placing the meat on a large cutting board and using 2 forks, 1 in each hand, to pull the pork apart. I also like to use a large knife or cleaver to chop the pork into the desired size pieces.

Take the liquid you saved from the pork marinade and use the microwave or a small saucepan to simmer it for at least a minute (remember, it was last in contact with raw meat!). Mix with the pulled pork.

Alternate Smoking

I recently bought a Bradley smoker (www.bradleysmoker.com) and I highly recommend it. I’ll let you visit the web site for the details (www.bradleysmoker.com), but in a nutshell it provides automated feeding of wood (actually, compressed sawdust “pucks”) and precise temperature control to greatly simplify the smoking process. When using the Bradley, I smoke over hickory at 220 degrees for 10 to 11 hours. I also put a pan of water on a 2nd shelf under the meat to make sure things stay moist.

The sauce

Make this while the pork is cooking.

1 quart apple cider vinegar
1 c ketchup
1 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 TB salt
1 TB crushed hot red pepper
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat. Simmer slowly, stirring, for at least 5 minutes, until sugar and salt are dissolved. Mix some sauce with the meat after pulling and also pass sauce at the table.

Explore posts in the same categories: Pork

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