How to Smoke a Boston Butt in an Electric Smoker [Complete Guide]

November 25, 2022

I first learned how to smoke a Boston butt in an electric smoker from a fellow chef. My whole life I had used either a pellet or a charcoal smoker so this involved an interesting learning curve.

Intrigued, I kept testing my recipe and methods until I found one that was worth sharing with others!

How to Smoke a Boston Butt in an Electric Smoker

A Note About Wood Chips

Before I move onto the recipe, I do want to talk about using wood chips in your electric smoker. It is important to remember that not all models accommodate wood. Thus, this is something that you need to be certain of ahead of time.

Also, unlike with a pellet grill, an electric smoker uses wood chips instead of wood pellets. Therefore, you should be careful about what you buy to use in your smoker.

Should You Inject or Brine Your Pork Butt?

A lot of people consider injecting or brining their Boston butt prior to smoking in order to keep the meat moist. Is this is something that you should think about doing as well? And, if so, is one method better than the other?

I wouldn’t necessarily state that injecting is better than brining or vice versa. Each of these methods have their own pros and cons.

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The great thing about injecting pork butt is that you can do so only just before you smoke the meat. As such, you don’t have to prepare the cut ahead of time or have to wait for the Boston butt to be ready for the smoking process.

At the same time, there is a little bit more effort involved here. You have to make up the marinade and then use a meat injector to inject the liquid at various intervals.

As you are adding more liquid into the meat, you may also cause the overall cook time to be longer.

If you do want to inject the meat, make sure to keep your marinade simple. Pork already has a rather delicate flavor and you don’t want to overpower it by adding too many seasonings or herbs into the marinade.

Furthermore, since you will be using a rub later on, consider these ingredients too. Make sure that the marinade and the dry ingredients complement each other for the best results.

Now, with brining, there is minimal hassle involved. All you have to do is to sprinkle kosher salt all over the Boston butt. Once you have done this, simply place the pork butt in the refrigerator for several hours, sometimes overnight, or until the surface of the meat has dried out.

As you can see, the issue here is that this process can require prior planning and there is more downtime involved.

You should figure out which method is better suited to you.

Smoked Pork Butt Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5 – 8lb Boston butt
  • 4 tbs. of yellow mustard
Slicing a Smoked Pork Butt

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 2 tbs. of black pepper, freshly cracked
  • 1 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 1 tbs. of garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. of onion powder
  • 1 tsp. of cayenne pepper

Method

Step 1

Preheat the smoker to 225 F. Fill the water pan and make sure that the vents are open.

Step 2

Trim the fat cap of the pork butt. There should only be about 1/4th of an inch of the fat cap.

Step 3

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients of the dry rub and set aside.

Evenly apply the mustard all over the Boston butt. Then, sprinkle the dry rub and press into the meat.

Step 4

If your electric smoker has a wood chips tray, then wait until the desired temperature for the cooking chamber is reached. Then, add the wood to the tray.

Place the pork butt in the electric smoker and smoke the meat.

Step 5

When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 F, take your Boston butt out of the smoker. This may happen at around the 5 hour mark.

Wrap in aluminum foil or butcher paper.

Return to the electric smoker and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 195 F to 203 F. In total, this may take around 8 hours.

Take the Boston butt out of the electric smoker and place on a cutting board. Let it rest for up to an hour and a half before cutting and serving.

Choosing Your Boston Butt

One of the first things that you need to do is to choose the right cut of meat for your smoked Boston butt.

As you are aware, pork butt and Boston butt refer to the same cut of meat. However, where you may get tripped up is with a cut called pork shoulder. Now, contrary to its name, Boston butt is actually a part of the pork shoulder.

However, the Boston butt is from the thicker portion of the pork shoulder. As such, it has a lot more fat and marbling to it. Thus, when smoke a pork butt, you get a juicier and tastier end result.

The issue is that some people imagine that pork shoulder and Boston butt are interchangeable. As you can see, though, they are not. Thus, make sure to be absolutely certain that you are buying pork butt from your butcher.

Another thing to incentivize you is that Boston butt is the best option for pulled pork.

As for the size, personally I do prefer a smaller cut as it smokes faster. If you want to feed a larger crowd, I would suggest buying two smaller cuts as you are less likely to have to contend with those 12 hour cooks.

When buying your pork butt, I would also pay close attention to the fat cap. On the one hand, you do want a decent layer but remember that you will be trimming it down to just 1/4th of an inch later on.

So, if there is a ton of fat on your Boston butt, it will just up end up costing you extra money for something that you will be getting rid of.

Pork Loin Meat Fillet

Scoring the Meat – Yay or Nay?

I know of some pitmasters and chefs that like to score the fat before they season the pork butt. This is so that the spices can permeate deeper into the meat.

While you are free to do this, it is unnecessary with this low and slow version of cooking. What’s more, I do find that the fat acts as a protective layer. It works to keep the meat moist and prevents it from overcooking.

Maintaining Your Bark

As you may have heard, maintaining a nice and crusty bark isn’t as easy with an electric smoker as with a charcoal smoker. This is typically because electric smokers don’t get as hot.

Still, it is possible to get a delicious bark with one, easy trick. This is applying yellow mustard to the surface of the Boston butt and then sprinkling the BBQ rub over it.

The mustard acts as a binding agent and makes sure that the spices don’t fall off as it is being smoked. And, don’t worry about the flavor of the mustard messing with your meat. When you smoke pork butt, the heat causes this condiment to evaporate, not leaving any trace behind.

If using mustard still doesn’t appeal to you then I would suggest olive oil instead. I do find that it doesn’t have the same staying power, though.

Should You Let the Boston Butt Marinate?

There are some people who like to add the seasoning onto the meat, wrap it in plastic wrap, and then place it in the refrigerator for about an hour or so or even overnight. Others prefer to season and then smoke the Boston butt in an electric smoker immediately.

Personally, I am a fan of the latter method. However, if you have the time and don’t mind letting your meat marinate, then this is certainly a method that you should try. Avoid keeping the meat meat in the fridge for any longer than overnight, though.

When to Add BBQ Sauce

I know that there is some confusion about when to add BBQ sauce to this recipe. This is especially true for when making pulled pork.

Contrary to popular belief, though, you don’t add the BBQ sauce at any point during the smoking process. Instead, it is only added to your smoked Boston butt after it has been sliced and served or made into pulled pork.

In case you are concerned about the flavor factor, don’t be. The rub, combined with the natural marbling of the Boston butt as well as the smoky fumes of the wood create a gorgeous flavor profile.

So, go ahead and serve BBQ sauce alongside your smoked Boston butt or pulled pork.

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Choosing Your Wood Chips

The final flavor of your Boston butt does depend on the kind of wood chips that you use. As such, it is a good idea to consider what kind of flavor you would like to infuse your meat with.

I find sweeter fruit woods such as applewood, peach wood, or even cherry to be a great option. If you would like a slightly more robust taste, then you can use a bit of hickory. Add this sparingly, though, particularly if you are working with a smaller Boston butt.

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Keeping the Electric Smoker Well Stocked

Before you get started, you should anticipate the quantity of wood chips that you are going to require for this smoke. On average, the entire cook is going to take about 8 hours, maybe a little longer.

Of course, you will probably need to top this up during the cooking. However, by making the appropriate calculations, there will be less confusion involved and you can continue to infuse the meat with that smoke flavor without interruption.

Another thing that I do want to mention is about soaking the wood. There are some people who advise to do this as they imagine this improves the flavor and adds moisture.

However, this technique isn’t helpful at all and can actually reduce the quality of your smoked Boston butt. As such, I would say that you should skip this step and save yourself the trouble.

Using the Water Tray

With an electric smoker, it is always a good idea to add some water to the water tray. This helps to manipulate the temperature of the cooking chamber to ensure that it is doesn’t go too high. This ensures that your butt is cooked low and slow throughout.

This feature is also great for adding moisture to both the air as well as the meat. As such, you will not need to spritz the pork while it is smoked.

Selecting the Temperature on the Electric Smoker

For the best results, I would suggest maintaining a smoking temperature of between 225 F and 250 F. At this range, the pork butt will more or less cook at the same rate so it is up to you to choose your preferred option.

I would advise against going any higher, though, like 275 F. Yes, your Boston butt will cook faster but you do run the risk of drying out the meat. Considering how long it takes to cook this cut, this is not a mistake that you want to make.

Smokin good

Monitoring the Internal Temperature

It is incredibly important to keep track of the internal temp of the Boston butt using a meat thermometer. For one thing, it shows you precisely when your meat begins to stall.

For another, it ensures that you take out your meat when it is smoked to perfection.

Make sure that the meat thermometer is placed in the thickest part of the cut for the most accurate reading. If you want, you can leave in thermometer for the duration of the cook. You should be aware that since most thermometers have a metal rod that they can cause the temperature in the surrounding area to spike a little.

The alternative is to check the internal meat temperature periodically. I would be careful to time this around the time that the cut should reach the stall and then later when it should be taken out for the final time.

This way, you cut down on unnecessarily opening the lid of the electric smoker, causing the temperature to fluctuate.

Speaking of which, it is a good idea to take your pork butt out of the electric smoker when the meat thermometer registers around 190 F or even a little sooner.

This is due to carryover cooking – even when you take the pork out of the electric smoker, it will continue to cook. The internal temp can often rise as much as 10 degrees. Thus, taking the pork butt out earlier prevents the meat from overcooking and drying out.

Should You Mop or Baste the Boston Butt?

You will find a lot of people advising you to mop or baste the pork with either apple cider vinegar or apple juice in a spray bottle. They do this because they believe it helps the Boston butt to retain moisture.

Neither apple cider vinegar or apple juice – or any liquid really help much in this department. For one thing, at this temperature, the liquid is going to evaporate pretty quickly.

For the other, every time that you mop the Boston butt you end up wiping off some of the bark and ruining the exterior.

If you do wish to do this any way, I would suggest waiting until the bark has really set in to do so. This way, it can’t be washed away.

Wrapping the Boston Butt

As you are probably aware, when you smoke any kind of meat, you encounter the stall. This happens at around 150 F to 165 F. After this point, the meat stops cooking for several hours.

This happens due to a phenomenon known as evaporative cooling. After the pork butt gets to a certain temperature, it begins sweating. This causes the heat around the cut to cool down, preventing the cooking process.

When you wrap the meat, though, you trap the heat closer to the surface, forcing the temperature to go up and for the Boston butt to start cooking again. This is known as the Texas Crutch.

When wrapping your pork, you have two options – aluminum foil or butcher paper. Now, with aluminum foil, smoking is a bit faster. This material creates a impenetrable layer around the pork causing the meat to cook at a higher temperature.

Personally, though, I would pick the butcher paper, though. While it can take longer to smoke, I do prefer the crunchier bark that this method creates.

How to Wrap Boston Butt

For this, you will need two sheets of either foil or paper. The sheets will need to be four times as long as the cut is wide.

Place one sheet on your work table and then place the other sheet on top but make sure that it overlaps the first sheet by about half the width.

Then, place the smoked Boston butt on the sheet, about a foot away from the bottom. Draw up the bottom of the sheet over the cut tightly. Next, fold each side of the sheet at an angle over the meat.

Roll the entire pork butt over, ensuring that the wrapping remains tight across the cut. Fold in each of the sides once more. With the material left over at the top, fold over and tuck over the butt.

Once you are done, you should be able to see the outline of the meat completely. Place back in the electric smoker until cooked through.

Resting the Boston Butt

Now with some other cuts of meat, you can get away with resting the cuts for about half an hour, perhaps an hour. When it comes to pork butt, though, I would suggest 90 minutes.

Keep in mind that pork can dry out rather readily. As such, it needs ample time to reabsorb all the juices that it may have lost while it was smoked. You should also consider the fact that you are dealing with a large piece of meat. Due to this, it requires more time.

To avoid feeling rushed, take the resting time into consideration when preparing for your cook. This way, you can factor this period in, ensuring that the meat will be cooked and rested to perfection by the time that people are ready to eat.

If you are preparing pulled pork, make sure to wait until the meat has finished resting before shredding it.

Gammon pork meat meal

Preparing Pulled Pork

The first thing that I would advise you to do is to only shred as much pork as you are going to need for the current meal.

It is far better to refrigerate or freeze Boston butt when it is whole. It maintains its flavor and texture a lot better.

I would also suggest that it is a good idea to invest in bear claws for this procedure. Yes, you can use two forks or even a hand mixer. At the end of the day, though, nothing will quite as efficient or as effective as the claws. If you are a fan of this dish and will make it quite often, you should get a pair.

Simply dig the tools into the center of the cut and then pull or tear in two opposite directions. If the cut is quite thick, then I would suggest flipping the pork over and tackling it from the other side as well.

Once you are done, you can then serve alongside with sauce. It is best not to mix the sauce ahead of time if you are serving a larger crowd. Some people may prefer the dish without sauce or only a little bit.

Wrapping It Up

If you have an electric smoker, you don’t have to miss out on the joys of creating the perfect smoked pork butt. Instead, pay attention to the tips and tricks provided here and you will do just fine. Go ahead and give it a try!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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