While I don’t spritz my pork butt, many pitmasters do! People in the pro-spritz camp argue that spritzing adds flavor, browns the bark, makes your pork smokier, and gets you a handsome smoke ring. Those who don’t spritz say that it slows the crust from browning, removes flavor from the bark, softens the bark, and lengthens the cooking time.
I’m a professional chef and a long-time BBQ enthusiast. I don’t personally spritz, but I used to. I know all the tips and tricks of spritzing.
In this post, I’ll dive into the pros and cons of spritzing, how to spritz, what liquids to use, and more. Let’s get to it!
Spritzing is one of those BBQ topics that pitmasters love to debate. Again, I don’t spritz anymore, but there are many people who spritz and crank out delicious ‘que. Let me cover the pros and cons of spritzing your pork butt, so you have a better handle on what to expect when you spritz.
Pick a flavorful liquid to spritz with. (I’ll go over some popular options in a bit.) The flavor of the spritz will enhance the meat.
Pick a liquid with a high level of sugar, and it will caramelize the surface of the bark. This browning is known as the Maillard reaction. A browned surface is packed with flavor – it’s why we sear steak, for example.
Did you know smoke helps attract smoke and that smoke sticks better to wet surfaces? Now you do! If you spritz it, the smoke will come. Spritzed meat will taste smokier than meat that wasn’t spritzed.
Wet surfaces promote better smoke ring formation because they attract more smoke.
If you spritz, you’ll end up with a softer bark. Many BBQ folks prefer a toothier bark.
Spritzing adds moisture to the surface of the meat, which will result in a longer cooking time. It causes evaporative cooling, which is the same reason large cuts, like pork butt, hit the “stall” when cooked at low temperatures (225°F or 250°F for pork butt or shoulder).
Spritzing can remove whatever rub you’ve applied to the surface of the pork. Be careful not to spritz too often (only do it when the meat looks dry).
The bark can’t turn brown until any surface moisture has steamed off. Spritzing with a liquid that has sugar can combat this.
Now that I’ve dropped the pros and cons of spritzing with you, you can make a more informed choice. Grab a pork butt and cut it in half. Spritz one half and smoke the other as normal. See which technique you like better.
When spritzing, you’re looking to add two things to the pork: flavor and moisture. So you want a liquid that’s packed with flavor. Here are some stand-bys:
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most popular spritzes around. It’s cheap. It’s acidic, so it can help tenderize the pork.
Apples and pork are a natural pairing (Wednesday night was pork chops and apple sauce growing up), so apple cider vinegar is a great choice.
Apple juice is also popular. Again, apples and pork go so well together. The sweetness of apple juice is tasty with the rich pulled pork.
Consider mixing an equal amount of apple juice with apple cider vinegar as a spritz. The sweetness of the juice and the acidity of the vinegar are a nice one-two punch.
Yes, soda can make a good spritzing liquid, thanks to its high sugar content. The sugary spritz causes the bark of the pork to carmelize.
This gives it a nice crust. Be careful, though, as a little bit of soda goes a long way when smoking a pork butt. Spritz too much, and you could end up with a burnt crust.
Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper are popular picks. Stay away from flavors like Grape and Orange – they won’t pair well with the pork.
Another beloved favorite in the BBQ community is beer. It’s not uncommon to sip one while you’re spritzing. The explosive growth of the craft beer community over the past couple of decades has led to a staggering number of beer choices. For pork, I’d go with a pilsner, amber ale, or porter. But if you’re feeling frisky, you’re free to grab that high-gravity IPA or barrel-aged stout as a spritz.
Last but certainly not least, you have bourbon! It’s popular with some pitmasters.
But bourbon is for sipping, not smoking, in my opinion. It has basically no sugar, so it won’t brown your bark. Good bourbon is wasted if spritzed. If you use bourbon, use a cheap one.
Once it has been pulled, you won’t be spritzing the pork.
Instead, you should only spritz liquid as the meat is cooking. Once it is done and has time to rest, then you shred it.
Here are the guidelines to ensure that you spritz the meat while maintaining flavor and texture:
Never spray the pork too early in the cook. The bark on the surface of the meat hasn’t set. The spice rub can easily be washed off the pork shoulder if you spritz it too soon.
Wait until you are closer to the end of the cook.
Personally, I would wait until the internal temperature of the pork registers at around 170°F. Use a meat thermometer to keep track of the temperature to confirm that you aren’t spraying the meat too early.
You can also use visual cues to check if it’s the right time. The bark should be nice and dark before spritzing.
Use a light touch when spraying the meat. A single spritz in each section should be enough to do the trick. The bottle should be about 1 foot away from the meat when spritzing.
Make sure that you aren’t spraying too closely – it’ll dislodge the rub or bark.
Ideally, you should only spray smoked meats once toward the end of the cook. If you feel like this isn’t enough, though, you can consider spraying once more, about 15 minutes before taking the meat off the heat.
I really don’t recommend spritzing more than this. Even if the bark has set in, you run the risk of softening it up. You will then not get that delicious crunch to the meat.
Pork shoulder and butt often “stall” when cooking – the internal temperature stops rising for hours. This usually happens around 160°F, and to overcome it, many pitmasters (including me) wrap their pork in butcher paper or aluminum foil. It prevents moisture from evaporating, which is what causes the stall.
If you’re wrapping, it’s the perfect time to add some liquid with the spritz. Place the pork in the butcher paper, spritz, wrap it tightly, and then place it in the smoker again. The liquid will help keep the meat moist, and the moisture won’t escape if you’ve wrapped it tightly.
Some smokers already have hood thermometers or other features to track the temp of the cooking chamber. For those that don’t have this function, I always advise them to invest in a dome thermometer.
A good thermometer is man’s best friend (move over, dogs)! Tracking your cooker temperature and meat temperature with a quality thermometer is the quickest way to become a better chef. Good thermometers make your cook a more accurate one and produce far better end results.
There it is – everything you wanted to know about spritzing your pork butt. While I don’t spritz anymore, many in the BBQ community do, and they’re making some excellent food with it. Balance the pros and cons and see what works for your setup. Get creative with the liquid you use to spritz, but remember – only do it once after the bark has set. Preferably right before you wrap the pork.
Now that you know all the info, you will be able to nail your next cook. Fire up your smoker and try these tips out for yourself!