Pork butt, or Boston butt, is one of the most popular meats to smoke, and one of my favourites. The glory you feel during the smoking process and the succulent deliciousness of the pork makes for the ultimate barbecue experience. If you’re new you might be wondering what the best wood for smoking pork butt is, or if you’re experienced you may be looking for a new flavor combination to try out for your next smoking session.
Although it does mostly come down to personal preference, there are some clear wood flavors that just work better.
Which Wood Is Best For Smoking Pork Butt or Shoulder?
Smokiness: Strong & Traditional
Flavors: Bacony & Well-Rounded
What Matters The Most:
- Hickory has the power to deliver the traditional barbecue smokiness we all love over all other woods. Because pork butt is a large chunk of meat and takes on flavor well, hickory helps the smokiness really stand out.
- Because pork butt pairs well with sweeter or fruitier flavors you can blend your favourite sweet or fruity wood with hickory at a 50:50 ratio for a perfect combination of both smokiness and sweet or fruitiness.
- As hickory doesn’t contribute sweet, nutty, or fruitier flavors it’s very versatile. Therefore hickory will pair nicely no matter what rub or sauce you use, whether it’s a spicy barbecue rub or even a salty, sweet rub.
- Hickory can leave an overwhelming smokiness on the meat if smoked at high temperatures or very long periods of time, but generally this doesn’t become an issue for pork butt.
Hickory is a fail-safe option to deliver an incredible smoke to your pork butt. Because of its versatility and strength in smoke you can’t go wrong. If you do like a bit of sweetness or fruitiness with your smoked pork like I do you can blend hickory wood by adding equal parts of apple or cherry too for an amazing combination.
If you really want to go the extra mile, you can cut your pork shoulder in half to maximize the bark to meat ratio, and allowing the meat to absorb more smoke.
Flavors: Sweet & Subtle Fruitiness
What Matters The Most:
- Apple is a classic smoking wood, and pork butt takes on the flavor very well.
- If using apple wood for smoking pork butt by itself you will have a mild smokiness with a sweeter note to it.
- If you love the unique flavor of smoking apple wood but like a bit more oomph you can blend apple with stronger smoking woods such as hickory or oak for a well balanced profile. It’s certainly up to personal preference whether to blend it or not though.
- It’s hard for the smokiness of apple wood to overpower any meat so long as you burn it at too high temperatures, which is always a plus-side.
Definitely one of the favourites for sweet and fruity woods. Apple wood smokes very cleanly and easily, but because of this it’s best to always keep it in control, and ensure the smoking temperatures stay around 230°F. Still, the overall smokiness is quite mellow, so if you prefer the strong traditional barbecue smoke, try blending with oak or hickory, or through a small amount of mesquite in with it.
Smokiness: Mild Smokiness
Flavors: Uniquely Sweet & Fruity
What Matters The Most:
- Cherry wood is a dream pairing for smoking pork butt. Not only does it burn hot and provide a good amount of smoke, it has an even smokiness to it too.
- Cherry is uniquely sweet, so it works even better when pairing with a hot and spicy rub and sauce to even it out.
- Again, it doesn’t provide the oomph of hickory, oak, or mesquite, but its still a top pick for smoking pork butt, either by itself or by blending it.
Cherry is an interesting wood flavor as it’s uniquely sweet. This really enriches the pork and balances out the flavors, particularly if you’re pairing it with a spicy rub (which I usually do). The saltiness of the pork, the spiciness of the rub, the acidity of the sauce, and the smoky-sweetness of the cherry wood. Fan-tas-tic.
Flavors: Sweet with a Subtle Smoke
What Matters The Most:
- Maple is the go-to for those who don’t require the power of hickory or oak, but still want a solid smokiness without the fruitiness of cherry, peach, or apple.
- Maple blends very well with a stronger smoking wood, particularly with hickory.
- You can’t go wrong with maple, it burns easily and consistently and I’ve never had any over smoking or unwanted or bitter tastes. It’s a safe choice for pork butt but with a more subtle smokiness.
Maple is a common choice for smoking pork butt. It’s easy, it gets the job done, and it’s consistent. Maple is the perfect choice in between the sweetness of a fruit wood like apple or cherry, and the strong smokiness of hickory or oak.
Blending Woods For Smoking Pork Butt
Blending woods give you even more control over the flavor. Again, it’s always more important to nail the other aspects of the smoking process before focusing on wood, but once you’re experienced it’s always enjoyable to try the combinations that from mixing smoking wood.
- As a rule of thumb, hickory can be blended with most other woods. It works particularly well when blended with apple, cherry, peach, or other fruit woods.
- These fruit woods also pair well with smokier woods such as oak or hickory.
- Blending fruit woods together can work fine, but the main reason you would blend woods is to find a more balanced and even flavor.
There are countless different woods to blend, and you really can get creative, if there is an uncommon must-try flavor combination please let me know i would happily try it out.
Easy Smoked Pork Butt Recipe
Start by applying a binder to the outside of the meat, usually a light coating of yellow mustard works well or ketchup is fine too. Generously apply your favourite rub (whether it’s spicy, savoury, or sweet) evenly and on all its sides.
If using a charcoal smoker, light your best lump charcoal for smoking allow your smoker to come up to temperature – around 275°F.
5 minutes before putting the pork butt on the smoker, add your favourite wood for smoking with in chunk form, or wood chips if that’s all your smoker can fit.
Control your temperature and smoke – utilise your vents! Hold the temperature around 275°F.
After two hours, start using using a spray bottle every hour to spritz the meat in order to keep it moist, help create the bark, and add complexity to the flavor. You can choose to mix water with either red wine, or vinegar, just to add that moisture to it.
After 3-4 hours, and repeating the spritzing process every hour, your pork butt should be a nice dark mahogany brown all over with edges of blackened bark. Once you’re happy with it, remove the pork butt, insert your thermometer probe, give it one last spritz, then immediately wrap it up in 3-4 layers of foil to lock in that moisture.
Return to the smoker until the internal temperature comes up to to 195-200°F.
Finally, unravel all the foil and apply your favourite barbecue glaze. This could be your own recipe of barbecue sauce or store bought, or a concoction of spice, sweetness, and traditional barbecue flavors.
To finish off the pork butt and to develop the bark even further put the pork butt back on the smoker for an additional 10-15 minutes.