If you are trying to figure out the right time and temperature for smoking a pork shoulder then this article has you covered. And, just to save you some time and cut to the point, here is your answer.
The best temperature for smoking a pork shoulder is 225F and it will take about 14-16 hours to complete the cook.
This article is going to explain how I came to the conclusion that 225F is the best temperature but will also point out that the temperature is not critical and there are several other temps you can use if you need to have a faster cook.
We are Talking About Pork Shoulder
Let’s get something straight right off the bat.
This article is about smoking a Pork Shoulder and is NOT about a Boston Butt.
You are going to find a lot of articles on the internet about making pulled pork from a pork shoulder but they are actually using a pork butt instead. Imagine that…there is bad information of the Internet…GASP!
A pork shoulder is a massive cut that contains both the butt and picnic ham. A shoulder will, by definition, always be much larger than a butt with an average butt weighing in at 5-8 pounds and an average shoulder weighing in at 15-20 pounds.
Additionally, a shoulder will have some skin over part of the meat while the butt does not.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making pulled pork from a Boston Butt, just please don’t call it a shoulder.
Why 225F is the Best Temperature for Smoking a Pork Shoulder
When I want to know the best way of doing something I take a look at how the best people in the world approach the task.
In this case we can look to the Pork Shoulder World Championship that is held at the Memphis in May barbecue contest every year. Below is a list of all of the World Champions in the Pork Shoulder category from 1999-2021.
Take a moment to glance through the winners and see if you notice anything interesting.
So, just in case you missed it….out of the 22 World Championships the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, led by pitmaster Chris Lilly, has won half of them all. Seriously, count them up….Chris has won 11 World Championships in 22 years.
I am going to go out on a limb and make the suggestion that the team that wins as many Pork Shoulder World Championships as Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q has a pretty good idea on the best temperature to smoked a pork shoulder.
And, you guessed it, the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q team smokes their World Championship Pork Shoulder at 225F.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Shoulder at 225F?
The amount of time it will take you to smoke a pork shoulder at 225F is going to depend upon the size of the shoulder and whether or not you wrap the shoulder in foil later in the cook.
In general, if you do not wrap the shoulder, you should expect it to take about an hour per pound to fully cook. So, a 15 pound pork shoulder should be done in about 15 hours.
You will know that the pork shoulder is done when the following three conditions are met:
- The meat will have an internal temperature of at least 195F.
- The thermometer will slide through the meat like melted butter.
- The blade bone will pull cleanly.
If you decide to wrap the shoulder in aluminum foil in the latter half of the cooking process then you can anticipate the shoulder being done a few hours faster.
Should You Wrap a Pork Shoulder in Aluminum Foil?
Some of the reasons people have for wrapping the shoulder after 6-8 hours in the smoke include:
- Protects the color of the bark for best presentation
- Protects the meat flavor from being overpowered by smoke
- Opportunity to add layers of flavor
- Speeds up the cooking process
The Big Bob Gibson team does not wrap their shoulders in aluminum foil but many other teams do, including at least two of the teams that have also won a Memphis in May World Championship (Cool Smoke, Blues Hog).
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Shoulder at 250F?
If you raise he temperature of your smoker up to 250F then the pork shoulder will cook faster.
A 15 pound shoulder should take about 10 hours to at 250F to fully cook. This will save you a few hours of cooking time over smoking at 225F.
Below is a delightful, fun video by Mojo BBQ showing you how to cook a “backyard style” pork shoulder at 250F. He isn’t going for a perfect competition style cook which makes things much easier.
This guy was won Memphis in May for ribs and some ancillary categories so he has serious bbq credentials. In addition he is pretty dang funny. You will have a laugh or two watching his routine!
Can You Smoke a Shoulder Hot and Fast?
Here is where things get interesting.
Tuffy Stone, the pitmaster behind the Cool Smoke barbecue team, cooks his pork shoulders at around 300F. Tuffy won the World Championship with this method in 2010 and 2019.
The Blues Hogs barbecue team that won the pork shoulder World Championship in 2021 also cook Hot and Fast with their pits running a little over 300F.
The Blues Hog team documented their entire championship winning cook and shared it on YouTube. They don’t got into details about the exact recipe, etc but it is still fascinating to see such a detailed behind the scenes look at what it takes to win a world championship in competition barbecue.
The first part of the cook is embedded below and it should auto-play into the second part when it finishes playing.
The Big Take Away
If you want to try your hand at making world class, blow you socks off smoked pork shoulder then set your smoker to 225F and settle in for a 15 hour cook.
If you are not obsessed about perfection and just want to put some seriously delicious barbecue on the table then you can raise the temperature of your smoker to 250F and take a few hours off your cook time.
Lastly, you can choose to throw the rules out the window and cook your shoulder Hot and Fast as long as you are paying serious attention to what is happening in your pit.