barbecued pulled pork

The best part of barbecuing a whole pork shoulder on the grill is that you are forced to spend all day outside tending the grill. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday. We started the grill before breakfast, then spent the rest of the day in the backyard.  First we drank coffee, then some water because you have to to survive, even on weekends, and then it was time for afternoon margaritas, and then we capped it off with beer, because what else are you going to drink with pulled pork?

The truth is that while you do need to keep a constant-ish eye on the grill, you don’t need to spend much time actually doing anything with it. Once the pork is cooking, it takes just a couple of seconds every hour or so to add a handful of fresh coals. A thermometer is key to monitor the temperature, although a cheap oven thermometer – which is what I used – will work just fine.  And if you do find the temperature varying widely, it won’t ruin your pork; just let it slowly come down to the right temperature range or add more coals to bring it up and continue cooking. Cooking a whole pork shoulder on the grill is a simple and forgiving process, even if it does take a long time.

I know the question everyone is asking: Is it really better than crockpot pulled pork? Well, of course it is. Crockpot pulled pork, especially using the same spice rub, is incredible – flavorful, tender, and easy easy easy. Barbecued pulled pork isn’t as moist and as a result, its flavor seems more concentrated. It’s still easy to pull, but it has more chew than crockpot pulled pork, which can get mushy if you’re not careful. The biggest difference were the outside bits of the roast, which were deeply browned and crisp. (This is not the same thing as the blackened top in the photo below, which is a thick layer of fat that I discarded.) Dave and I filled up on those while I was still shredding the roast. But the best part of making pulled pork on the grill as opposed to in the crockpot is that while one method frees you up to do chores and run errands all day, the other keeps you in the backyard with a book and a beer.

One year ago: Home Corned Beef and Corned Beef Hash
Two years ago: Orange Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Three years ago: Hash Browns with Sauteed Vegetables and Poached Eggs

Printer Friendly Recipe
Barbecued Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves a lot

The least messy way I’ve found to add the spices to the meat is to line a rimmed baking sheet with a large piece of plastic wrap. Set the pork on the plastic wrap; add the spice rub, rotating the meat to rub all sides. Wrap the plastic wrap around the meat, then wrap another layer of plastic around in the opposite direction.

I use all of the spice rub on one roast, but if you think it’ll be too much, save half for another use. It’ll keep in the pantry for months.

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder

1. Combine all of the ingredients in the spice rub. At least one day, and up to three days, before cooking the pork, rub the spice rub onto all sides of the pork (see note). Wrap the pork in a double layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

2. About 10 hours before you plan to serve the pork, remove it from the refrigerator; let it set at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, soak 4 wood chunks (or 4 cups of wood chips) in water for an hour.

3. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill, light about 30 charcoal briquettes (half a chimney starter). Once the coals are covered with a layer of ash, dump them into a pile on one side of the grill, then top with ¼ of the wood chunks or chips. Open the bottom vents completely. Place the meat, fat side up, on a double layer of aluminum foil with the edges folded up or in a 9×13-inch disposable aluminum baking pan. Place the meat on the side of the grill opposite the coals. Put the lid on the grill with the vents opposite the coals; adjust vents to be ¾ open.

4. Use a grill or oven thermometer to monitor the temperature of the grill, which should remain between 200 and 250 degrees. Add fresh coals, about 8 every hour, when the temperature drops. Add more wood chips an hour after you start cooking, then again at the 2- and 3-hour mark. (Don’t worry if the top of the meat blackens; you’ll discard that layer of fat anyway.)

5. After about 5 hours, when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 degrees, wrap it completely in foil. Continue cooking until the internal temperature of the pork is 195 degrees, another 2-3 hours.

6. Remove the pork from the grill and let it set at room temperature, covered, for one hour.

7. Place the pork on a large rimmed baking sheet. Remove and discard the thick layer of fat. Use your fingers or forks to shred the remaining meat. Serve.


  1. Pulled pork is a favorite of mine!

  2. Wow this looks awesome and like a great way to spend an afternoon.

  3. I do my pork bbq with a dry rub and in the crock pot – have never tried it on the grill…thanks for the idea!

  4. Mmmmmm, if only I had a backyard to hang out it, instead of just a balcony on an apartment. This looks delicious!

  5. Yum, looks so good! I am always on the look out for new recipes using pork shoulder as it goes on sale often for great prices and it’s an easy economical way to entertain. Thanks!

  6. 195 seems high, do you cook to this temp so that it is cooking long enough to be sufficiently tender?

  7. bridget says:

    Ben – When you cook a lean pork cut like tenderloin, you only need to heat it to 145 degrees or so. But for slow-cooked barbecued meat like this, you need to melt the gelatin contained in the meat and bones. 195 degrees is around the temperature when that process is complete.

  8. “Ben” above (my husband) made this last weekend, and it turned out AMAZING! We loved it!

  9. picked up a weber charcoal grill this week to compliment the gas grill… and have spent the week (on vacation) smoking ribs, chicken, and today – a pork shoulder. Used your rub recipe, some applewood for the smoke, kept it between 225 and 250 for most of the day, and just had some fantastic pulled pork. Threw together some ‘slaw, and put both on some home made buns for some really great pork sandwiches. Not a bad way to spend a day. Thanks for the rub recipe, and the motivation to jump into a shoulder. I think my weber needs a break after this week 🙂 – gives me some time to make mac and cheese, and eat a ton of leftover pork 😛

  10. Daryle in VT says:

    A good friend and I once cooked a little pulled pork for about 750 of our closest friends. Actually we did a benefit for the families of American soldiers. We cooked about a dozen restaurant-sized pork shoulders. He smoked his half first, then simmered them in his secret sauce. After seasoning with a dry rub, I wrapped my batch in heavy foil and baked them in the oven. All the juice was saved, chilled and the fat removed. The remaining liquid amount was matched with cider vinegar. I used Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce in half the reserved liquid amount. The pulled pork was seasoned with a little thyme, marjoram, rosemary and garlic powder and mixed with the sauce. It was put in the smoker for a couple of hours to finish. The interesting result was both methods produced very similar final products. As I recall, there wasn’t a single complaint among the approximately 750 attendees.