You should wrap your pork butt when the internal temperature stops rising – typically when the temp is between 150°F and 170°F.
Wrapping pork butts is a popular method of avoiding what’s known as “the stall.” The stall is when a large cut of meat holds its internal temperature steady for hours, which can drive both novice chefs and seasoned pitmasters nuts.
I wrap my pork shoulder when I want to avoid the stall entirely. It’s a nifty hack that cuts several hours off my cooking time.
I’ve smoked countless pork butts over the years. Once I teach you how to wrap, you’ll be making pulled pork that rivals your favorite BBQ joint! I’ll cover cooking time, temperature, wrapping techniques, and more. Let’s start cooking!
Wrap your pork butt if you’re short on time and want to push through the stall, or if you want pulled pork that is incredibly juicy and tender. Wrapping this huge cut of meat when it hits 150°F-170°F can shave four or more hours off your cook time, and it produces meat that is juicier than when it’s not wrapped. If you like super crispy bark, wrapping may not be for you. (I’ll get more into that in a bit.)
Now, you will often find a lot of people telling you to wrap pork butts at a particular time. They will say that if your pork butt takes around 12 hours to cook that you should start the wrapping process two-thirds of the way. Therefore, you should wrap it when the meat has had a chance to cook for about 8 hours.
Don’t listen to these people.
In barbecue, we don’t cook to time. We cook to temperature. The exact time you’ll want to wrap will vary depending on the size of the pork butt, cooking temperature, the type of smoker, and more.
This is why I always use a meat thermometer to determine when the stall has begun.
The stall usually takes place at around 150°F to 170°F. Use your temperature probe to check the internal temperature and know when to wrap your pork butt.
Aaron Franklin, owner and pitmaster of the highly respected restaurant Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas has a handy guide on how to wrap pork shoulder. I’ve added a few of my favorite tricks. To me, the key is in wrapping tightly. I also like to throw in a little bit of liquid to help braise and soften the meat.
Make sure to use heavy-duty foil for this task. This will reduce the chances of it tearing.
Use two sheets, each one as four times as long as the widest side of your pork butt.
Place a single sheet in front of you – the shiny side should be facing up. The longer edge should be perpendicular to you.
Next, place the other sheet so that it overlaps the first sheet by half its width.
Place the pork butt on the foil, about eight inches from the edge of the bottom. The fat side should be facing up, and the longer side should run parallel to the bottom.
If you want to keep the meat from drying out, now is a good time to add some apple cider vinegar, apple juice, or other liquid. This helps to lock in the moisture and gently braises the pork shoulder.
Fold the bottom of the foil over the pork butt. Make sure that the foil is taut against the edge of the meat. Then, fold the sides inward. Once again, do so tightly.
Roll the pork butt over so that the entire hunk of meat is wrapped in foil. Then, fold the sides inwards once more. Fold the entire pork butt once more and tuck in any leftover foil to form a tight seal.
Make sure that the wrap is tight and that there are no air pockets – you should see the outline of the meat clearly.
If you’re using a “leave-in” meat thermometer, stick it in the pork (and leave it) at the beginning of your cook. If you’ve got an instant-read thermometer, check the pork every hour or so.
Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the pork butt. If there is a bone, make sure that the tip of the device is at least an inch away from the bone. The bone can often heat up faster than the surrounding meat, causing a misreading.
Keep in mind the important temperatures. 150°F-170°F is when you’re looking for the stall. Wrap your pork at this time. Pork butt is done cooking at around 203°F.
There are different types of kitchen thermometers. While I prefer the simplicity of an instant-read thermometer, like the Thermoworks Dot, you can make do with an old-fashioned meat thermometer. There are also modern digital designs that have multiple probes. These can monitor your grill temperature and the meat temperature. I have the Thermoworks Smoke, and it’s worth every penny. Some models may beep or signal when the meat registers the desired temperature.
Unwrap your pork butt just before you pull it. Cook it to around 203°F, remove it from your grill, and place the wrapped pork in a cooler to rest.
As I said, pork butt will finish cooking at around 203°F. Every piece of meat can be different. I’ve had some pork shoulders finish at 195°F. I’ve taken others to 205°F. What you’re really looking for is a sensation. You want the probe of your thermometer to slide into the meat with no resistance. Pork butt that’s cooked to correct doneness should shred with very little effort.
Once it is off the grill, keep it wrapped, and let the meat rest for up to an hour. I wrap mine in some towels and stick it in a cooler so it stays nice and hot. This ensures that all the juices circulate throughout the meat, making it sublimely tender.
If you don’t have time to rest your pork before you pull it (don’t worry, it’ll still be delicious), unwrap the butt, and pull the pork in an aluminum grill pan. The juices will stay in the pan and get reabsorbed by the meat.
Don’t add any sauce until the pork has been shredded or chopped.
Massive cuts of meat, like pork butt, are prone to a phenomenon known as “the stall”. This is when the internal temperature of the meat stays the same for an extended period of time.
Fortunately, pitmasters have developed a solution to the stall: the Texas Crutch. They wrap the meat so that moisture is trapped in the foil and can’t evaporate. This overcomes the stall and allows the pork butt to cook faster. You should be able to shave a few hours off the overall cook time.
Large cuts of meat are prone to the stall, and stop climbing in temperature between 150°F and 170°F. The stall happens when the meat’s natural juices begin to evaporate, creating a cool layer on the surface of the meat. This is known as “evaporative cooling.” It’s why humans sweat when competing in a triathlon – it keeps us from overheating.
The pork will stay at the stall temp for hours (I’m talking hours – sometimes four or more) It can sometimes (maddeningly) even drop in temperature and can cause your projected cooking time to skew longer.
In addition to shortening the stall, wrapping locks in moisture. Since you’re trapping the moisture, you’re lightly braising the pork shoulder. This leads to tender and juicy meat. Some pitmasters add a little juice, beer, or other liquid to the foil to encourage the braising process.
The downside of the Texas crutch is that it can cut down on the crispiness of the bark. This is because a fair amount of moisture is locked inside the foil. If you want to ensure that the bark remains perfect, here is what you need to do:
First things first, you need the perfect rub – this will flavor the pork shoulder and crisp it up in the smoker. Your pork butt will transform into a dark mahogany color by the end of the cook.
My favorite rub consists of:
Of course, you can use your favorite rub. Apply about half a cup of rub for every eight pounds of meat.
A trick that I use to help the rub stick is to first apply yellow mustard onto the meat. Don’t worry, the taste disappears after smoking the pork butt.
Most people start wrapping the meat the moment that it reaches the stall temperature. This is so that they can speed up the cooking process.
However, if you care about the bark, I would suggest smoking the pork butt for a little longer. Wait for as long as you possibly can to get that perfect layer of crispiness. You can also skip the wrap – but your cook time will be several hours longer.
The other benefit of this is a more pronounced smoke flavor. Remember, after you wrap pork butt, it will stop absorbing smoke.
My final tip is to use butcher paper rather than aluminum foil. This is because the paper is porous – aluminum foil is not. This allows some of the moisture to escape so you don’t end up with softer bark.
The wrapping process is the same with the paper as it is with foil.
To firm up the bark, you can unwrap the pork shoulder when the internal temperature is around 200°F. Continue smoking the meat on your grill for half an hour or so, until the pork shreds easily and a probe slides in with little resistance. The internal temperature will vary but should be around 203°F.
When it’s done cooking, wrap the meat back up and allow it to rest.
The difference between the shoulder and pork butt is minor. Both cuts come from the pig’s shoulder. Boston butt is higher up on the foreleg. Both pork shoulder and pork butt will make delicious pulled pork, and this article uses the terms interchangeably.
If you are using the Boston butt or pork shoulder for pulled pork, I have a few tips for you.
First, let the meat rest. If your meal is an hour or so away, leave it on your cooker with the heat off. If you’re not eating for a couple of hours, wrap the meat in foil and stick it in a cooler.
When it’s time to shred the meat, you can use shredding claws, which make the process go faster. Two forks will also get the job done.
You should wait until after shredding the meat to add BBQ sauce. I like to simply serve the sauce alongside the meat and let others choose whether or not to top it with sauce. Perfectly smoked pulled pork is a beautiful thing, and the nuanced flavors shine without BBQ sauce.
From temperature to time, this is all that you need to know about when to wrap a Boston butt. Pork butt is one of my favorite things to stick on my smoker. It’s inexpensive. It feeds a crowd. Best of all, it’s absolutely delicious.
Remember, there’s no shame in the wrap game. If you’re pressed for time or want ultra-tender pulled pork, wrap your butt when the temp stops climbing, and power through the stall. A delicious meal awaits you on the other side. Now, time to try it for yourself. Get cooking!