Satisfying smoke! Steamy smells! Succulent sauces! Salivating suspense over all of the above — who doesn't love a barbecue competition? Despite several distinct governing bodies and many distinct circles of barbecue judges, smoked pork has a front-row seat to every any BBQ competition you'll ever hear about. That's why our first Master Grillabilities series is all about preparing, smoking, and staging pork fit for any judge. But let's say you want to wow your friends and family with, and you don't want to read a small novella to get there. Ready to bring competition pork to your next patio party — courtesy of Diva Q, holder of 400+ BBQ awards and 20+ world championships?
Ingredients for Pork Butts
- 3 bone-in pork butts or shoulders (9-11 lbs each)
Ingredients for Pork Slather
- 2 cups brown sugar
- ¾ cup ghee
- 2 Tbsp Traeger Pork and Poultry Blend
- 2 Tbsp MSG
- ½ cup hot sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- ¾ cup apple juice
Ingredients for Competition BBQ Sauce
- 2 Tbsp guava paste
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups apple juice
- 4 cups ketchup
- ½ cup yellow mustard
- ½ cup honey
- 1 Tbsp sweet smoked paprika
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp black pepper (butcher grind)
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 2 Tbsp granulated onion
- 2 Tbsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp chipotle powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
Items You'll Need
Instructions for Trimming
- For starters, we’ll have you trim these pork butts competition-style — expect this to lighten each of your pork butts by about 3–4 pounds. (This is why we wanted you to find some meaty ones!) If you don’t know how to do this, our article “How to Prepare Pork Butts” will get you up to speed. All the focus here will be on the “money muscle,” so you’ll be trimming specifically to make that muscle stick out for as much bark formation as possible during the cookout.
- Trim roughly 1½ inches from the thick fat cap on the bottom of the pork butt.
- Turn each pork butt over, placing the fat cap facing downward. Search for the bloodline that should be visible directly above the money muscle. If we leave this where it is, chances are that it’ll grayscale during the cooking process; the result is a little off-putting. Let’s trim that out as well.
- Trim out the cluster section and remove the triangular portion above the money muscle, leaving it fully exposed. Trim around and expose any tube muscles you find here as well.
- Clean up any sections with excessive fat. Remove any membrane fat. Congratulations! You’re finished with the trimming portion of the recipe and are free to continue onward to the injections. Oh, didn’t we mention you’d be injecting these pork butts, too?
- While injecting, insert the needle deep into the meat and slowly withdraw it, pressing down on the plunger. Why? That’s simple: we don’t want juicy pockets of flavor scattered across the pork butt, we want flavor throughout the meat! Aim randomly, but be certain to cover the whole meat. For instance, each money muscle will receive maybe 4–5 injections.
- Be certain to turn each pork butt on its side and inject the individual muscles between the fat lines. Give it all that delicious goodness.
- With the power of plastic wrap, tightly bind the pork butts and refrigerate them overnight.
- After they’re suitably chilled, rescue your butts from the refrigerator and place them in a cold smoker. (Not a piping-hot or warm one — think back to every time you’ve ever jumped into a pool on a warm summer day, and you’ll get the picture.) Always face the money muscles toward the center of your smoker; this protects your fragile meats from the higher heats that might spike across the cookout session.
- And now, the most complicated step: close the lid and set that heat to 180° F. Your target is 155° F in the center of the largest money muscle. (Spoiler alert: it will take a while. Most barbecue experts, including our own Chef Tony, estimate 1–1½ hours per pound. You may recall that you’ve lost roughly 3–4 pounds of weight per pork butt. We balanced this out back to roughly that 1 hour per pound mark, but your milage may vary.)
- At 45-minute intervals, pop the hood and spritz your butts with apple cider vinegar or just plain apple juice. These ensures your meat regularly takes on a juicy, full-bodied moisturizer (especially if you go the “cider vinegar” route) without losing heat so often that you accidentally tack hours onto the cookout. You’ve already waited so long. No reason to make your growling stomach work harder than it already is!
- Between spritzing intervals, prepare the slather you’ll be using for the second portion of this exciting adventure in barbecue mastery.
- Continue cooking the pork butts until you reach your target internal temperature. (155°F, remember?) Once you’re at the mark, carefully remove the butts from the cooking chamber and up the internal temperature to 275°F.
- Carefully, slice each money muscle from its respective pork butt. Trim a small but even portion off the bottom of each money muscle; this will build up bark on all sides, and help them sit up straight when it comes time for the presentation. Go ahead and do that with the bottom of each pork butt for the exact same reason.
- It’s slathering time! Generously slather each of the pork shoulders and money muscles. Spritz them once more with your moisturizing juices of choice, then position them in the centers of high-walled pans for their return journey to the smoker.
- Actually, let’s talk about those pans. When choosing the right ones, go off the size of your pork butts. The pans should be large enough so that those huge, beautiful chunks of meat rest nice and cozy without touching any of the pan walls. (You’ll want heat and smoke circulating completely around the meat.) All three money muscles cohabitate well in the same pan, but the individual pork butts want separate pans. They’re greedy like that.
- Chances are, you’ll have slather left over. Why let it go to waste? Spread it evenly among the pans before they go back in the smoker.
- Using heavy-duty aluminum foil, tent each of these pans. For bonus points, keep your hand within the fledgling tent before you close the last edge. This will guarantee a nice dome (or tent) that doesn’t touch the pork itself. For those of you keeping score at home, this allows heat and smoke to circulate freely in the cookout. That’s good. We want that.
- Resist your separation anxiety (again) and return those pork butts to the cookout. If you need to take a moment, you’re free to mourn having this meat at your fingertips. Don’t fret! It’ll be back (and ready for your tastebuds) before you know it. This time, we’re leaving the pork alone. Let it cook undisturbed until it reaches an internal temperature of approximately 202–208°F.
- While letting the pork butts finish up, this is a good time to prepare our competition-level BBQ sauce. In a saucepan over medium-heat, combine all BBQ sauce ingredients. Once thoroughly mixed, raise the meat to medium-high and continue intermittently stirring for 15–20 minutes; if it needs a little longer to fully caramelize those sugars, we’ll set the ceiling at 35 minutes.
- For each shoulder and each money muscle, lay out a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and on top of the foil, a sheet of heavy duty plastic wrap.
- Once the pork butts reach an internal temperature between 202–208°F, turn off your smoker and immediately get those pans out of there.
Instructions for Smoking
- Working with one pan at a time, carefully unwrap the foil from the pans, use the pork to mop up those wayward juices that tried to make a break for it into the pan, then place the pork in its respective cozy bed of plastic wrap. Each one should rest facing trimmed side up.
- Remember that one time you made competition-level BBQ sauce? Now’s that sauce’s time to shine. Thickly paint each hunk of pork with that sauce and bundle up tightly with the plastic wrap, then separately with the aluminum foil. If you think of wrapping tight sausages, you’ve got the right idea here.
- Finally, wrap your pork packages with thick towels and set in a large cooler for hot-holding — the goal here is keep them resting at 140°F or more. For best results, we recommend placing the heavier pork butts first, then positioning the money muscles over them. As a reminder, each portion should be wrapped in plastic, then in foil, then in the towel, and finally held securely in a cooler. If you’re starting to think of a thermal bank vault, congrats: you’re completely right.
- Allow the meat to sit in time-out for approximately an hour. We know this recipe keeps stringing you along and breaking your heart, but we promise that perfect, competition-level pork succulence will be yours shortly. In the meantime, we suggest doing anything you can to keep your mind off that meat. Why not put on one of our themed Spotify playlists, assembled by our very walking musical encyclopedia and former disk jockey? Cruise some tunes, pop a crisp bottle, and clean that warm smoker — oh no! We’ve got you thinking about the meat again! It’s so easy when it’s right there. Soon, friend!
- Once the longest hour of your career in backyard barbecue has finally passed, unwrap those incredible pork portions and behold your creation. Pour one out for the towels you’ve sacrificed to the meat gods. (Alternately, prepare to have them cleaned and stored in an air-tight container for future guests you wish to subject to passive aggressive, pork-flavored mind games.) Meanwhile, you’ve got two options for where to go from here…
- For competitive use, we steer you now toward the final act of our “How to Stage Pork Butts” Master Grillability with our pal Diva Q, recipient of over 400 awards in BBQ and 20+ world championship winner. To try paraphrasing the tutelage of a serious grill master is to do her, you, and ourselves a disservice. (Sure, it’s a long article. But you’re skipping most of it now!)
- For personal use, set aside the money muscles for the moment — you’ll always want to cut those last — and get to work on that pork. We suggest having fun with it, and nothing screams “fun” quite like tapping into your inner Hugh Jackman with a pair of meat claws. Nobody has to watch you go full Wolverine on a platter of pork and shred it like nobody’s business. Afterward, coat your pile of shredded pork with the rest of that incredible barbecue sauce. (Another option: carefully peel the pork apart into finger-licking sections and keep the rest of the barbecue sauce nearby for a great dip.)
- For personal use, once you’re done with the lion’s share of the pork, turn to the money muscles. That’s right — we’ve saved the best for last! Slice the money muscles nicely and evenly into roughly 1½-inch cutlets. (By the way, that’s a baseline. Go thinner! Go thicker! As Diva Q says, “It’s your house! Do what you want!” Just make it consistent, preferably.) Dab on extra BBQ sauce as needed, then present to the table. Congratulations! Take your rightful place among the greats, patio pit master; you’ve ascended to the Pantheon of Pork Perfection!
Instructions for Resting and Plating
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