Barbecued Pork Shoulder on a Gas Grill

Barbecue. There is nothing better than a good pork shoulder roasted “low and slow” as they say, over wood smoke. The long cooking time and low temperature ensure a succulent roast. And the smoke? Well the smoke is the whole point of barbecuing in the first place, otherwise you could just as easily use a slow cooker.

The thing is, to do this right, you really need a smoker, or a barbecue with a separate box for wood chips. I don’t have either. I may get a smoker at some point, but at the moment, I do have a perfectly functional 2-burner gas grill. The good news is that you can indeed achieve a pretty decent barbecue with your grill, if you watch the temperature and keep up the smoke. It just takes a big more finagling and a lot more attention.

Barbecued Pork Shoulder on a Grill

I’ve barbecued a half dozen pork shoulders on my grill over the last few weeks, just to get the method solid. What follows is the approach I used to get the best results. I found this grill method works best with a 4 pound Boston butt shoulder roast, instead of an 8 pound picnic shoulder roast. With an 8 pound roast you are basically getting up really early in the morning to hopefully have the meat done by dinner time. With a 4 pound roast, or two 4 pound roasts cooked at the same time, the whole timing of the barbecue is more manageable. The meat requires several hours of smoking to get infused sufficiently with smoke flavor. After that, it’s just easier to finish, wrapped in foil, in a 300° oven. It’s hard to maintain a consistent low temperature on a grill, gas or charcoal. Wrapping in foil in the oven helps to capture all of the juices and rendered fat from the last hour or so of cooking.

With a good rub, and a long smoke, barbecue sauce isn’t really necessary. But do feel free to add some of your favorite barbecue sauce at the end, when you’ve pulled the pork apart.

Any experienced grill barbecuers out there? I’d love to hear your tips for perfecting barbecued pork shoulder on a grill.

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Barbecued Pork Shoulder on a Gas Grill Recipe

  • Prep time: 1 hour
  • Cook time: 8 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Note that this cooking time is for a 4-pound Boston butt pork shoulder. A general rule on barbecued pork is to cook it at about 215°F to 225°F for 90 minutes per pound.

If using a rub, you'll need to get the rub on the night before and refrigerate.

Cooking a 4 pound roast, allowing time for the barbecue to heat up and for the meat to rest once done, can easily take 9 hours, so start early in the morning if you want to have the roast done in time for dinner.

You need to keep smoke on the meat for at least 4 hours for a 4 pound roast. If the roast isn't done after 6 hours, finish it in the oven, wrapped tightly in foil to hold in the moisture.

Two rub recipes are provided here. Pick one for a 4 pound roast, or if barbecuing two roasts, try one each.

Ingredients

  • One 4 pound pork shoulder roast, preferably Boston butt, boneless or bone-in (you can easily make two 4 pound roasts in about the same amount of time if your grill is big enough to accommodate them both)
  • 5 to 6 cups of wood chips, hickory, oak, apple, or other fruit wood

BBQ Rub (enough for a 4 pound roast)

  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

Santa Maria Rub (enough for a 4 pound roast)

  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dry rosemary (or fresh, finely minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Method

The day before:

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1. Prepare the rub. Mix all the ingredients for the rub together, breaking up any clumps. Taste the rub as you make it and see if you like the taste, adjust accordingly.

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2. Rub the roast with the rub. Unwrap the pork roast and place it on its butcher paper or in a roasting pan, something that can catch the rub. With your (clean) hands work the rub mixture into the pork shoulder all over, including inside any crevasses you may find in a boneless roast where the bone had been. Be generous with the amount of rub. Rewrap it in the butcher paper or wrap it in plastic and place it in a pan (to catch any liquid that may drip out), and refrigerate it overnight.

The night before:

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3. Soak the wood chips. Take 3 or 4 large handfuls of wood chips (hickory, oak, apple or other fruit wood) and place them in a bowl and cover them with water to soak them overnight (can also do for an hour before using). I think it helps to have a mix of sizes, from small chips to larger (1-inch x 2-inch) chunks. The smaller chips will get smoking more quickly, but will burn out more quickly too. The larger chunks will take longer to catch, but last well past when the smaller chips have burned themselves out.

The Day Of:

4. Bring the chilled roast to room temp. 1 to 2 hours before you start the barbecue, take the pork out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Now, if you forget to do this, which I have done, you can still go ahead and BBQ it. You'll likely be finishing it in the oven anyway. It will just take a bit longer to cook.

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5. Prepare your grill. Remove one of the grill grates. This will be your "hot" side, where the wood chips will go. The other side of the grill will be the "cool" side, and where the meat will be, away from direct heat. Depending on the structure of your grill, you may want to remove the "flavor bar", the thin metal piece with lots of holes in it that sits over the burner. The wood chips will smoke more easily if they lay in a (fireproof metal or foil) container directly on the burner.

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6. If there is room on your grill, place a small aluminum tray of water on the grill to help moderate the heat and help keep the roast from getting too dry. A good place to place this is on an upper rack if you grill has one.

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7. Get the grill smoking. Create a double layered aluminum foil boat with a handful or two of damp wood chips in it. Place the boat directly on the burner on the "hot" side of the grill if you can (otherwise place on the flavor bar). Turn the grill on to medium flame, cover the grill and let it heat up until the the wood chips start smoking. You'll either see smoke coming out of the grill, or if you raise the lid, you'll see smoke coming out of the wood chip boat. You should see and smell the smoke. You'll be replenishing the wood chips periodically for the next several hours so put more dry chips into water to soak if needed.

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8. Once the grill is smoking, place the roast on the grill grates on the cool side of the grill, away from direct heat. If your grill has a hot spot, position the roast away from it. If there is a fatty side to the meat, put that side facing up; the fat will render over time and baste the pork. Cover the grill, lower the flame, and let the cooking begin. The temperature you want to maintain ideally is 225°F. Try to keep it close to that temperature, within a range of 210°F to 240°F. If the temperature goes too high, the roast may dry out. If it's too low, it will take forever to cook.

9. Maintain the smoke and the 225°F temperature. This is the tricky part. You will want to maintain smoke in the grill for at least 4 hours (6 hours for a bigger roast). You will also want to maintain a cooking temperature of around 225°. So, you have to check the grill! Check if the temperature is being maintained between 210°F and 240°F, and check to make sure the chips are still producing smoke, every half hour. About once an hour you will likely need to replenish the chip boat with more wood chips. Resist the temptation to open the grill more than once an hour. Every time you open the grill the inside temperature drops and you increase your overall cooking time.

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I found the best way to check the temperature, since I don't have a gauge in the grill itself, is to put an instant read meat thermometer into an opening in the hood on the meat side (cool side) of the grill, and just keep checking it. Make sure sensor tip of the probe is not touching the meat itself. You want to avoid opening up the hood too often, because every time you do that, you lose heat. Of course, if your gas grill gets too hot, opening the hood can cool it down quickly.

Expect a minimum cooking time, if you have been diligent at maintaining a 225°F, of 90 minutes per pound. So if you are cooking a 4 pound roast, total cooking time will be at least 6 hours (and easily more). An 8 pound roast will take at least 12 hours of cooking time. (If you want to cook 8 pounds of pork shoulder more quickly, I recommend starting with two 4 pound roasts, spaced on the grill a few inches apart, which will cook in just a little more time than an 8 pound roast.)

10 After 2 or 3 hours, during one of your hourly opening of the grill to refresh the wood chips, reposition the roast so that the side that was closest to the heat is now furthest from the heat.

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11. Test internal temperature of meat. After about 5 hours, start taking the pork's internal temperature: You can eat it at 165°F, but if you are making pulled pork the meat needs to be ideally 195°F. When the meat reaches 195°F, remove it from the heat, tent it loosely with foil over a cutting board (to catch the juices) and let it rest for at least 30 minutes, and preferably 1 hour. If after 6 hours of cooking, if the meat hasn't reached 195° internal temp (usually after 6 hours, the internal temp on my roasts is about 155°F), my recommendation is to remove it from the grill and finish in the oven.

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12. Finish in the oven. Wrap the roast in aluminum foil to help prevent it from drying out in the oven, and place it in a roasting pan, in a 300°F oven. Cook until the internal temperature of the roast reaches 195°F. If your starting internal meat temperature is 150°F or so, this can take anywhere from an hour to two hours. When it reaches temperature, remove the roast from the oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes, up to an hour.

13. Pull the pork. Pull the pork with 2 forks. Only now do you add any barbecue sauce (and any accumulated juices) to the meat. Taste it first: It might not need sauce at all, and if it does, add only a little at a time. One of the biggest sins of barbecue is to oversauce perfectly good meat.

Serve on a bun with or without sauce, and with or without coleslaw. Also great with grilled or raw pineapple.

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Links:

How to turn your kettle grill into a smoker - tips from Hank here on Simply Recipes
Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches - from Steamy Kitchen
Vietnamese Grilled Pork - from The Gastronomy Blog
Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder - from Nom Nom Paleo

25 Comments

  1. phil

    From personal experience, smoking meats when the internal temperature is >122F is a waste of time and money. The proteins have already coiled and the smoke will not permeate the proteins anymore.

    Great site. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks for the advice! Next time I’ll use a remote meat thermometer to measure the internal temp of the meat while smoking, and see how long I need to smoke to get it to 122°F. ~Elise

  2. Jill

    Looks delicious! Any suggestions for how to arrange a gas grill that has three burners? Should I use the heat on one or two? It might be hard to fit a large roast on just a third of the grill.

    I would put the heat on just one burner and leave the other for the meat. ~Elise

  3. Joe Cunha

    I own a carry out bbq business here in Travelers Rest, SC. I use a Masterbuilt electric smoker,(purchased at Sam’s club for around $200, or you can buy online)
    It is a God-send. You set the temperature, the time and voila…The only thing necessary is to add your wood chips approximately every hour. That’s it!

    Yes, I’ve been considering a Masterbuilt smoker. Certainly makes it easier! ~Elise

  4. Nisrine

    This would normally intimidate me but your recipe makes it look so easy. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Sheila

    We love smoked pork around here. I usually just do mine in the crock pot with a can of smoked chipotle peppers and call it good, yours looks soooo good, but I have to admit, I would never have the patients to do it. I want a green egg smoker…..I think you need one too Elise! Go get yourself one girl, you earned it!

  6. Ron

    I’ve used this technique with a few modifications. Before applying the rub, I use a steak knife to stab the roast around the entire surface. Then pour Worcestershire sauce over the entire roast, place in gallon sealable plastic bag and refrigerate over night. I place the water pan under the roast which supplies moisture and catches drippings. I smoke it for only four hours and finish in a Crock Pot on low for five hours.

  7. jim austin

    Elise, this is a very good bit of information for the novice, with much sensible easy to follow advice. I have been smoking pork shoulders for many years, and without going into many details, I would offer a few observations.
    First and foremost I also recommend the shoulder, but even though it will take longer I stongly urge the use of the WHOLE shoulder with the BONE IN . I just do not get as good a result from the smaller cut , but even more importantly without the bone. It usually takes about 8 to 10 hours to smoke the whole shoulder, and there is NEVER a problem getting rid of the leftovers as many of my guests ask for leftovers BEFORE the meal begins ! I hope this will encourage others to try the whole bone in shoulder. It is NOT difficult, just keep the heat down [225 degrees or less], start early , and be patient. Thanks, Jim

  8. Terrie Crawford

    Can this be done with beef? Like a brisket? Maybe you could suggest another cut of beef. I love pork, but I get migraines when I eat it.

    I’m guessing that a brisket with that Santa Maria rub I listed would be great. Just watch the meat’s temperature. I suggested the timing on this recipe for a pork shoulder roast. Not sure about a brisket, given it’s a different shape. Also, I do suggest finishing it in the oven, wrapped in foil to catch the moisture and fat. ~Elise

  9. Sue

    I like the whole pork shoulder too. My method is a little easier with great results. I also marinate it overnight with Worcestershire sauce and a rub. I let it sit out for about 30 minutes while I preheat my gas grill to medium high. Then I put it on direct heat and sear it on all sides. It doesn’t take long so don’t walk off and leave it. Then I put it in a roasting pan with a lid and cook in the oven at 300 degrees for 3 hours with more Worcestershire sauce and a little barbeque sauce just to keep it moist. After it starts getting tender I cut it in chunks and transfer it to a large crock pot and continue cooking on low for another 3 hours or so. I stir it with a big fork while it is cooking in the crock pot. It will fall apart when it is done. Even my picky eaters love it! Freeze the leftovers and heat it up in the crock pot again when you need a quick meal.

  10. red sweater

    We’re new home owners, and we couldn’t grill at apartments because of fire codes. So I’m new this summer to smoking meat. But I’ve already done it three times: a beef brisket, a turkey breast, and (just this past Saturday) an 8 lb pork shoulder.

    Yes, with the 8 lb shoulder, you need to get an early start on it. My cookbook said about an hour a pound, but I’d budget a couple extra. I started at 9 am, and hoped to be done by 5:30 pm (we were having company for dinner). Nope. I had to wrap it in foil early and raise the grill temp, and managed to get it to about 185 by dinner time. I used a charcoal grill, and maintaining temperature can be a bit of a chore. Use the vent to control air flow. More air burns the briquettes hotter (and faster), and vice versa. Add briquettes before the temperature starts dropping. I add them cold, and let them gradually catch from the hot ones. There’s also the Minion method, which I’ve been meaning to try: fill the grill with unlit briquettes, save for the middle; put well lit (gray all over) briquettes in the center. That’s supposed to be the best way to keep even heat for several hours, as the fire gradually spreads. I imagine it takes some experimentation with amounts of briquettes and airflow.

    Every hour that I added wood chips, I also sprayed the meat with apple juice, per my cookbook. I don’t know how it would have turned out without spraying, but the juice kept the meat moist and added a nice flavor.

    Now I have plenty of meat for sandwiches to take to lunch for a while! I was pleasantly surprised to see how little bone comes in a shoulder roast.

  11. Dawn

    We have a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker and love using it. We always use the Minion method, mentioned by red sweater above. To save on clean up, we actually put the whole (bone-in for us) shoulder into an aluminum tray inside the smoker. We still get great smoke penetration and a nice pink smoke ring on the meat. I agree with Elise though – wrapping in foil and finishing in the oven is the way to go, although we use 250F oven temp. The aluminum tray makes the transfer to the oven easier. One more thought, this meat freezes beautifully after smoking, but we cut the smoked meat into large chunks (don’t pull it), wrap in foil, then freeze. When you want some, defrost, reheat in a 250F oven for an hour or two, then pull and add sauce if desired. One of our favorite meals!

  12. Carla @ Gluten Free Recipe Box

    I usually make pulled pork in my crock pot, but I love the idea of grilling it this summer. Thanks so much for the tip about the water. That makes total sense and has encouraged me to give this a try. Thanks again. Love you blog!

  13. Lillianne

    Great post, Elise. I love smoked meats but can’t afford to lose the deck space to another piece of equipment. This method is do-able.

  14. cardshoot

    You might also try using a couple of disposable aluminum pans to aid in clean up and to collect drippings to make an awesome sauce with real smoke flavoring. The size I use come in packs of two. If you use the pans you can simply use one for helping to maintain a lower temperature by putting water in it as suggested. In the other use a roasting rack to hold the meat up out of the liquid and use apple juice in this pan, a half gallon bottle of juice will do and the apple juice will pick up the smokey flavor from the drippings as well as from just being in the grill. Use as much as possible under the meat, just so the meat isn’t sitting in the juice, more can be added later if needed, and if the other pan is directly over the heat put some apple juice in the water in it too or just use apple juice instead of water, but be aware it can raise the boiling point and thus the grill temperature slightly. If you are spending the time and money a couple of more dollars for a bottle of juice is well spent.

    After the meat is removed from the grill take the pan of apple juice and drippings and put in a separator and let sit until the oil and fat form a layer on top. Pour off the broth into a pot or large pan and add a can of tomato paste, a little can will probably be enough but depending on taste you might want to use two small cans of paste. Boil to reduce liquid content by about half the initial volume or until sauce thickens as much as you want. Or for a milder taste and just more sauce use a thickener such as corn starch instead of reducing the sauce as much. Let your own taste be the guide. If you don’t have a separator put the juices in a pot and let it cool and separate and then pour and spoon off the oil and fat.

    Depending on the rub and personal taste, you may want to sweeten the sauce with some brown sugar(white sugar will work) or it might need a touch of salt. Of course you should feel free to add any other spices but I’d recommend going lightly on them until you taste the reduced sauce as they could seem stronger after the sauce reduces. And you can divide it and make a sauce selection by adding more sugar, mustard, hot pepper, pepper sauce, or whatever you wish to each portion as desired.

    Great tips, thank you! ~Elise

  15. chip

    That is a nice looking butt, great bark, almost better looking bark then alot of smokers I have used. If you go the Materbilt route make sure you inspect the door before you take it out of the store, some have hadith door alignment. I wouldo recommend the digital thermostat . Keep in mind It may be off by as much as 10 to 20 degrees so you need to test it with a QUALITY thermometer and adjust the reading in your mind accordingly. As for smoke, rule of thumb, a handfull of chips an hr for the first three hours. At hour 4 to 7 (dependng on size and color (get a barrst) pull meat out and wrap in heavy foil for remainder of cook time. this is for a cook temp of 225, a 7 to 9 lb butt should be good to go in 12 to 14 hrs. let it come to about 205 degrees…you will be rewarded. You can also cook the butt a bit hotter, 350 for 4 to 6 hours again depending. Myron Mixon does his competition pulled pork in this manner tender and not quite as juicy I think.

  16. tom

    sounds good to me, i was suprised to see you mention “santa maria style” rub. is this also good on tri tip?

    Yes, it is designed for a tri tip, but you can also use it on a pork shoulder roast. ~Elise

  17. Terry

    Elise,

    A little hint. You can easily add an internal thermometer to your grill. They are readily available as replacement equipment but all you need to do is have a hole the size of the thermometer stem, stick the new thermometer into the hole and secure it with the included bolt.

    Well worth the bother and very easy to control the temp inside your grill box.

    I use mine all the time for rotisserie grilled chicken @ a perfect 400*. Better than store bought and you can use your own rubs making the chicken your own creation.

  18. joe

    Great job! I followed your recipe and it was superb! I gave you 4 stars, what else can I say.

    Bon Apetite!

  19. Juicingpedia

    Thank You!

    This summer I have been eating so many bbq smoked pork sandwiches at get togethers and outings. I have never smoked pork myself and did not even know where to start.

    This guide was perfect.

    Thanks again!

  20. Jason

    My personal favorite thing to smoke is duck. Also, experiment with your smoking material – I like to smoke with tea also.

    185 seems to a really high temperature to cook meat to…especially if it’s left on the grill til then, considering meat will still gain temperature once removed from the heat. That may be your preference, though – FDA site says non-ground (and non-poultry) meat can be safely removed at 145; .Ground meat should be 160 minimum, poultry 165 minimum. I’ve noticed celebrity chefs and cookbooks sometimes give you lower numbers. Your mileage may vary.

    Hi Jason, you only need to cook the pork to 145°F for it to be safe to eat. But you do need to cook it to 195°F if you want it to be fall apart tender. Otherwise, your pork shoulder is going to be rather tough. ~Elise

  21. Carrie

    When i cant bbq or bear to use the propane bbq for 6 & 1/2 hrs i make mine in the oven…I like to put Montreal seasoning on the skin side up & seasoning salt& pepper on all sides,, wrap it tight as I can in tinfoil.. Poke 1 hole in the top, so it doesn’t bust on a side from thebsteam expanding. &put it in a roasting pan skin side & poked hole up!..in a 500 degree oven & turn it to 450for 30 minutes to sear it a little then turn it to down to 300& cook for 6 hours,, this is for the 8 lb roast, comes out a carmalized&fall aprart deliciousness!

    • Carrie

      Make that 8 hours like 8am to 4pm from start to pulling it out of the oven, let it rest for 30 minutes, drain(save juices if u want to make gravy),&shred.. I make green chili burritos, enchiladas, and BBQ sandwiches all out of the same roast .. Or just whip up the gravy and eat it on the meat !

  22. John K

    This was May first try at this followed your plan exactly as peresented here, turned out perfect! Running out to buy another roast to cook for our friends now that we have more confidence. Thank you

  23. Elise A

    Made my Pork Shoulder yesterday. It was spot on! started it at 1:00 after marinating over night but I used a dry and a fresh herb rub, all the herbs from my garden. ( Purple basil, Fresh oregano, Parsley, Fresh garlic minced fine, and a little Lemon basil, olive oil, splash of red wine. For the dry part; Paprika, cumin, fennel seeds,& red chilly flakes ( a little pat of butter.) Blended all together and rubbed all over. (24hrs) I used chicory wood chips. Then followed your steps. I did not finish in the oven, I was not pressed for time. I did loosely cover the shoulder with foil. (just a top) Then I shut the grill and at 6PM my husband and I were in our glory! Definitely going to do again. Thanks for the yummy tip!

  24. George

    I have made this recipe twice. Used both rubs each time, and all I can say is THANK YOU. I followed the recipe to the letter, and I cannot tell you how superb both came out.

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