Brined Smoked Pork Shoulder

Brined Smoked Pork Shoulder

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We are excited to share this brined smoked pork shoulder recipe with you because it feeds a crowd and we think it will be a big hit at your next party or family gathering.

The pork shoulder is soaked in a flavorful brine that penetrates the meat with a nice balance of sugar, savoriness, aromatics, and spices then smoked low and slow until it nearly falls apart.

If you have tried some of our other recipes, the brine for this recipe may seem familiar to you. It’s the same brine we used for our smoked duck recipe and for the applewood smoked chicken wings. It has become our go-to brine recipe for pork and poultry making it hard to develop new brine recipes. 

David holding board with brined smoked pork shoulder

The meat from this tender and juicy brined smoked pork shoulder is so versatile. It’s so good it doesn’t need a sauce, but you can serve it many ways from plain slices on a plate to shredded in sauce on a bun.

This is the perfect smoked meat guaranteed to please a large crowd. Not to mention the bone can be used to season soups and beans.

Let me share our experience with you…

How To Make Brined Smoked Pork Shoulder

Helpful Equipment to have:

Ingredients:

  • 10 to 12-pound pork shoulder
  • brine solution (recipe to follow)

Brine Solution:

  • 7 cups water
  • 2 cup apple juice
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons each crushed red pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder

#1 PREP THE PORK FOR BRINE

Pork picnic shoulder is a hunk of meat that is laced with flavorful fat and connective tissue. For this recipe, look for a picnic shoulder that is between a 10 and 12 pounds range. 

Rinse the meat under cold running water and blot dry it with paper towels. Place the prepared pork shoulder into a 2-gallon size zip-top bag and set aside.

TIP: It is best to inject the brine into the meat while is inside the zip-top bag. Injecting brine can have unexpected messes. Sometimes a quick plunge can cause the injector to squirt brine solution everywhere. The bag will keep you from having to wash your cabinets or even worse, rinse your eye out! I lear this kind of tip from watching David make his messes.

brine solution in bowl for pork shoulder

#2 PREPARE THE BRINE SOLUTION

The brine used for this brined smoked pork shoulder has a nice balance of sugar, savoriness, aromatics, and spices that pair nicely with pork. The flavorful brine gets deep inside the pork because not only does the pork soak in the brine solution for almost two days, but David also uses a meat injector to inject the brine solution deep into the meat.

Combine the brine solution in a large bowl. Whisk the solution until the salt dissolves completely. Allow the brine to sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes. This will allow the red crushed pepper flakes to rise to the top, which will keep the meat injector from clogging up.

injecting pork with brine inside zip-top bag

Submerge the meat injector into the bowl and fill with the brine solution. If the meat injector clogs, simply push the plunger to release some brine solution and then pull the plunger back again to continue filling the injector with brine.

Plunge the needle deep inside the meat, while pushing the plunger with a slow and steady force. Withdraw the needle gradually with each plunge. 

It’s important to minimize the number of holes you put into the meat. You can do this by angling the needle in 2 or 3 different directions using the same entry point. Continue to inject the meat until the meat cannot hold any more liquid and the brine solution begins to leak from the holes.

David placing pork in fridge

Pour the rest of the brine solution over the pork shoulder inside the zip-top bag covering the pork completely. Seal the bag squeezing as much air out of the bag as possible. Place the bag inside a bowl (to ensure there are no messy leaks inside the refrigerator). Refrigerate for 44 to 48 hours. Keep the pork shoulder cold inside the refrigerator until you’re ready to smoke it.

Note: A 2-gallon zip-top bag should hold the pork shoulder with the brine. However, if the pork shoulder does not fit inside the 2 gallon zip-top bag, you may need to use a larger bag or place the pork shoulder inside the smallest container possible. Make sure the pork is completely covered with brine. You may need to mix up another batch of brine.

#3 Prep the Pork Shoulder for Smoking

On the day of the smoke, remove the pork shoulder from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the brine solution to use in the water pan underneath the meat on the smoker or grill. 

Score the Pork Shoulder:

Scoring meat is a culinary term that means cutting slits on the surface of the food. 

Since the meat was injected with the brine with the meat injector, we didn’t want to expose the meat to too much salt at once. We chose to score the meat after brining it. Scoring the meat will help the smoke to penetrate into the meat better and will allow the fat to render when it is smoked.

scored pork shoulder

To score the meat, use a sharp knife to make diagonal cuts approximately 1 to 2-inches apart across the skin of the shoulder. Allow the knife to penetrate the skin and fat without slicing into the meat below. Next, turn the meat 90 degrees and make a crosshatch score across the skin in the opposite direction. (see the photo above)

#4 Prep the Smoker or Grill 

This recipe was tested on an 18″ Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, but you can use any type of smoker or grill you may own.

Set up your smoker or grill for what is called the burn-down method. To do this, fill the charcoal bed with unlit coals and add only a few lit coals to the very top. The coals on top slowly light the ones underneath and burn down slowly over time. 

If you are using a charcoal grill, set it up for an indirect heat technique with a drip pan filled half of the leftover brine and half water directly underneath the meat to stabilize the temperature.

prepping smoker

Preheat the smoker or grill from 225 to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)

#5 Smoking the pork

When the smoker or grill is within the ideal temperature range, you are ready to smoke! Place the pork shoulder onto the hot grate over the drip pan, skin side up. Toss a few wood chunks onto the coals and cover the smoker or grill. Bring the temperature back up to 225 degrees F and do your best to maintain this temperature, using the vents to regulate the temperature. 

brined smoked pork shoulder with temperature probe

Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial. Having a temperature gauge directly on the grate of the smoker or grill is extremely important. You can purchase a digital BBQ thermometer, such as Thermoworks’ Smoke™ that has 2 channels, one for the meat and one for the smoker or grill, with a remote control.

The remote control lets you monitor the temperature without a lot of worry and wonder. There are built-in alarms that sound each time the temperature of the smoker or grill rises above or falls below the ideal smoking temperature. We highly recommend the Thermoworks’ Smoke™. It’s a great tool!

Add fresh coals and more wood chunks to the smoker or grill every hour for at least the first 5 hours.

brined smoked pork shoulder

#6 Low and slow

Check the temperature of the grill every hour, staying as close to 225 degrees F as possible. Resist the temptation to open the lid. Only open the charcoal door or the lid if you need to add more charcoal or wood chunks to maintain temperature and smoke.

#7 Test for doneness

After at least 5 hours, check the temperature of the meat to see where it is and get an idea of how much more time it will need to smoke. Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. If you don’t have a probe thermometer use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. 

Thermapen with meat

David uses a Thermapen Mk4 digital instant-read meat thermometer, by Thermoworks, to test for doneness. 

#8 Waiting out the stall

When the pork’s internal temperature reaches about 165 degrees F, the surface evaporation causes the meat’s internal temperature to plateau. Pit Masters call this “the stall.” Don’t panic. It will pass. Just wait out the stall.

Smoke the pork shoulder until a dark “bark” (outside crust) forms on the skin and the internal temperature of the meat is about 190 degrees F.

It can take 1 to 1 ½ hours per pound to cook a pork shoulder. Sometimes even longer depending on the size and fat content of the shoulder. It took David about 10 hours to smoke this 10-pound pork shoulder.

Smoked pork shoulder on water smoker

It is important to know that the internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the smoker or grill, so keep that in mind.

When the internal temperature is 190 degrees F check for tenderness and then remove it from the smoker or grill. The internal temperature may rise to an optimal 200 degrees F, perfect! Any hotter than that and could overcook your pork, which results in dry, chewy meat, no thank you!

resting meat with mountain view

#9 Let the Meat Rest

When the pork is literally about to fall apart remove the brined smoked pork shoulder from the smoker or grill. Allow the meat to rest as you would with grilled or roasted meats. Allowing the pork to rest before slicing or chopping lets the meat fibers relax. The moisture that was driven out is redistributed and reabsorbed by some of the dissolved proteins.

Rested meat holds on to more of its natural juices. This also keeps your cutting board from flooding with meat juices when you slice into the pork. A good 15 to 20-minute rest should do under loosely tented foil.

#10 Carving & Serving

To carve the pork shoulder, hold the meat firmly with a carving fork. Wedge a knife underneath the pork skin and gently push through, slicing through the connective tissue, so that the skin comes off in one piece. Next, while holding the meat firmly with the carving fork, make a diagonal cut downward (using wide, sweeping strokes) to create thick slices.

Tip: Reserve the bone to season soups and beans.

David carving meat

Pork shoulder is very versatile. Perfectly cooked meat should be moist and juicy. If you wish, drizzle it with some barbecue sauce and serve slices of flat fanned out like a deck of cards. You can serve it simply sliced on a plate or you could pull it to serve on a pulled pork sandwich. The possibilities are endless!

We hope you enjoy this delicious recipe. Perhaps this recipe will make it to your Super Bowl Paty next weekend…

If it does, give us a comment and star rating. We’d love to hear from you!

brined smoked pork shoulder
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Brined Smoked Pork Shoulder

This brined smoked pork shoulder is soaked in a flavorful brine that penetrates the meat with a nice balance of sugar, savoriness, aromatics, and spices.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Barbecue, BBQ
Keyword Brine, pork, shoulder, smoked
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 hours
Brining Time 2 days
Total Time 2 days 10 hours 20 minutes
Servings 18
Calories 307kcal

Useful Equipment:

Ingredients

  • 11 pound pork shoulder For this recipe look for a picnic shoulder that is between 10 and 12 pounds range.
  • brine solution recipe to follow

Brine Solution:

  • 7 cups water
  • 2 cup apple juice
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder

Instructions

#1 PREP THE PORK FOR BRINE

  • Rinse the meat under cold running water and blot dry it with paper towels.
    Place the prepared pork shoulder into a 2-gallon size zip-top bag and set aside.

#2 PREPARE THE BRINE SOLUTION

  • Combine the brine solution in a large bowl. Whisk the solution until the salt dissolves completely. Allow the brine to sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes. This will allow the red crushed pepper flakes to rise to the top, which will keep the meat injector from clogging up.
  • Submerge the meat injector into the bowl and fill with the brine solution. If the meat injector clogs, simply push the plunger to release some brine solution and then pull the plunger back again to continue filling the injector with brine.
    Plunge the needle deep inside the meat, while pushing the plunger with a slow and steady force. Withdraw the needle gradually with each plunge.
    It’s important to minimize the number of holes you put into the meat. You can do this by angling the needle in 2 or 3 different directions using the same entry point. Continue to inject the meat until the meat cannot hold any more liquid and the brine solution begins to leak from the holes.
  • Pour the rest of the brine solution over the pork shoulder inside the zip-top bag covering the pork completely. Seal the bag squeezing as much air out of the bag as possible. Place the bag inside a bowl (to ensure there are no messy leaks inside the refrigerator). Refrigerate for 44 to 48 hours. Keep the pork shoulder cold inside the refrigerator until you’re ready to smoke it.

#3 Prep the Pork Shoulder for Smoking

  • On the day of the smoke, remove the pork shoulder from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the brine solution to use in the water pan underneath the meat on the smoker. 

Score the Pork Shoulder:

  • To score the meat, use a sharp knife to make diagonal cuts approximately 1 to 2-inches apart across the skin of the shoulder. Allow the knife to penetrate the skin and fat without slicing into the meat below. Next, turn the meat 90 degrees and make a crosshatch score across the skin in the opposite direction. (see the photo above)

#4 Prep the Smoker or Grill

  • Set up your smoker for what is called the burn-down method. To do this, fill the charcoal bed with unlit coals and add only a few lit coals to the very top. The coals on top slowly light the ones underneath and burn down slowly over time. 
  • If you are using a charcoal grill, set it up for an indirect heat technique with a drip pan filled half of the leftover brine and half water directly underneath the meat to stabilize the temperature.
  • Preheat the smoker or grill from 225 to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)

#5 Smoking the pork

  • When the smoker or grill is within the ideal temperature range, you are ready to smoke! Place the pork shoulder onto the hot grate over the drip pan, skin side up. Toss a few wood chunks onto the coals and cover the smoker or grill. Bring the temperature back up to 225 degrees F and do your best to maintain this temperature, using the vents to regulate the temperature.
  • Add fresh coals and more wood chunks to the smoker or grill every hour for at least the first 5 hours.

#6 Low and slow

  • Check the temperature of the grill every hour, staying as close to 225 degrees F as possible. Resist the temptation to open the lid. Only open the charcoal door or the lid if you need to add more charcoal or wood chunks to maintain temperature and smoke.

#7 Test for doneness

  • After at least 5 hours, check the temperature of the meat to see where it is and get an idea of how much more time it will need to smoke. Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. If you don’t have a probe thermometer use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature.

#8 Waiting out the stall

  • When the pork’s internal temperature reaches about 165 degrees F, the surface evaporation causes the meat’s internal temperature to plateau. Pit Masters call this “the stall.” Don’t panic. It will pass. Just wait out the stall.
    Smoke the pork shoulder until a dark “bark” (outside crust) forms on the skin and the internal temperature of the meat is about 190 degrees F.
    It can take 1 to 1 ½ hours per pound to cook a pork shoulder. Sometimes even longer depending on the size and fat content of the shoulder. It took David about 10 hours to smoke this 10-pound pork shoulder.
    It is important to know that the internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the smoker or grill, so keep that in mind.
    When the internal temperature is 190 degrees F check for tenderness and remove it from the smoker or grill. The internal temperature may rise to an optimal 200 degrees F, perfect! Any hotter than that and could overcook your pork, which results in dry, chewy meat, no thank you!

#9 Let the Meat Rest

  • When the pork is literally about to fall apart remove the smoked pork shoulder from the smoker or grill. Allow the meat to rest as you would with grilled or roasted meats. Allowing the pork to rest before slicing or chopping lets the meat fibers relax. The moisture that was driven out is redistributed and reabsorbed by some of the dissolved proteins.
    Rested meat holds on to more of its natural juices. This also keeps your cutting board from flooding with meat juices when you slice into the pork. A good 15 to 20-minute rest should do under loosely tented foil.

#10 Carving & Serving

  • To carve the pork shoulder, hold the meat firmly with a carving fork. Wedge a knife underneath the pork skin and gently push through, slicing through the connective tissue, so that the skin comes off in one piece. Next, while holding the meat firmly with the carving fork, make a diagonal cut downward (using wide, sweeping strokes) to create thick slices.
    Pork shoulder is very versatile. Perfectly cooked meat should be moist and juicy. If you wish, drizzle it with some barbecue sauce and serve slices of flat fanned out like a deck of cards. You can serve it simply sliced on a plate or you could pull it to serve on a pulled pork sandwich. The possibilities are endless!

Notes

A 2-gallon zip-top bag should hold the pork shoulder with the brine. However, if the pork shoulder does not fit inside a 2-gallon zip-top bag, you may need to use a larger bag or place the pork shoulder inside the smallest container possible. Make sure the pork is completely covered with brine. You may need to mix up another batch of brine.
It is best to inject the brine into the meat while is inside the zip-top bag. Injecting brine can have unexpected messes. Sometimes a quick plunge can cause the injector to squirt brine solution everywhere.
Since the meat was injected with the brine with the injector, we didn’t want to expose the meat to too much salt at once. We chose to score the meat after brining to help the smoke penetrate the meat better.
Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial. Having a temperature gauge directly on the grate of the smoker or grill is extremely important. You can purchase a digital BBQ thermometer, such as Thermoworks’ Smoke™ that has 2 channels, one for the meat and one for the smoker, with a remote control.
The remote control lets you monitor the temperature without a lot of worry and wonder. There are built-in alarms that sound each time the temperature of the smoker or grill rises above or falls below the ideal smoking temperature. We highly recommend the Thermoworks’ Smoke™. It’s a great tool!
David uses a Thermapen Mk4 digital instant-read meat thermometer, by Thermoworks, to test for doneness. 
It is important to know that the internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the smoker or grill, so keep that in mind.

Nutrition

Calories: 307kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 113mg | Sodium: 3296mg | Potassium: 664mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 274IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 2mg
Did you try this recipe? Tell us what you think!Give this recipe a star rating, leave a comment below and share pictures of your food with us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter! We can’t wait to see them! Don’t forget to mention @TheMountainKitchen or tag #TheMountainKitchen!
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