02/27/2015 08:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Cook Pork Shoulder Right


The pork shoulder may be the world's simplest cut of meat to cook. Simpler than steak. Simpler than brisket. Simpler than ribs. But simple doesn't mean simple-minded. You'll need to know about some essential gear and techniques to get it right.

In a nutshell, you season the hell out of it and cook it at a low to moderate heat for 3 to 6 hours (2-1/2 to 3 hours at 350 degrees; 5 to 6 hours at 250 degrees.) What emerges from your smoker or grill gives you a bodacious blend of crisp crust, luscious fat, and meltingly tender meat.

Thanks to its generous marbling, pork shoulder lends itself to a variety of live fire cooking methods, including indirect grilling, smoking, and spit-roasting. The advantage of these methods is that you get both a crisp crust and moist, tender meat.

Roast it right:

  • Smoking, aka, barbecuing: This is the preferred method of the American South, using a low heat and a long cooking time (in other words, "low and slow"), and always done with wood smoke. You can achieve this in several ways: firing your pit with logs, or tossing soaked hardwood chunks or chips on a charcoal fire. Keep the cooking temperature in the 225 to 275 degree range. Look for a dark "bark" (crusty exterior) and reddish smoke ring just under the surface.
  • Indirect grilling: As the name suggests, the food is cooked next to, not directly over, the fire in a covered grill working at a moderate (325 to 350 degree) heat. This speeds up the cooking time and gives you a super crusty exterior and unlike smoking, you can do it on a gas grill. Yes, you can toss soaked wood chips on the coals (or in a gas grill's smoker box) to produce a smoke flavor.
  • Spit-roasting: Few sights on Planet Barbecue are more inviting--or hunger-inducing--than a pork shoulder rotating slowly on a turnspit next to the fire. The meat browns, crisps, and best of all, bastes itself. But don't take my word for it: spit-roasting is the preferred method for cooking pork shoulder in Puerto Rico, Tuscany, Bali, and just about everywhere in between. Spit-roasting is usually done at higher heat than indirect grilling or smoking--350 to 400 degrees. Time is shorter, too. Recommended for Spiessbraten, Balinese Roast Pork Shoulder, and other dishes that don't traditionally require a smoke flavor.

For plenty more pork shoulder tips, techniques, and recipes, visit

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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is