Let's talk about one of the biggest secret weapons that pitmasters possess – patience. It takes a lot of patience to properly marinade a pork butt roast, and a lot of patience to carefully smoke it low and slow. It also takes patience to let a perfect pork butt rest after smoking.
We'll admit, sometimes, the hardest part of the process is having the patience to let the meat rest before we grab our favorite carving knife and get after that delicious smoked pork butt. While skipping the resting step won't ruin your meat, you also won't get the tender, juicy, delicious results you want. You'll also sacrifice the juiciness that you really need if you are going to be reheating leftover pork butt.
Letting Meat Rest After Cooking: How It Works
Resting meat after cooking isn't a magical process. Instead, it is based on science. When you are smoking a pork butt roast, the smoker temperature is typically between 225 and 250 degrees, hot enough that the meat will slowly cook but not so hot that it will dry out and shrivel up to nothing. As the internal temperature of the meat increases, moisture is pushed to the surface.
At a certain temperature – usually, about 165 degrees – the surface of the meat will hit the temperature when moisture begins to evaporate. This evaporation is what causes the stall when smoking meat. In order to get through the stall, most pitmasters will wrap their pork butt in butcher paper and put it back in the smoker until it hits the proper internal temperature of about 205-degrees.
When you remove the pork butt from the smoker, the surface is very hot and the internal temperature is forcing moisture to the surface. If you slice into the pork butt right away, the temperature will force the juiciness out of the meat and it will end up all over your cutting board, table, or floor.
When you rest a piece of meat after cooking, all you are doing is allowing the internal temperature to drop slightly so that the meat gets a chance to reabsorb the moisture. Both resting and using the Texas Crutch to get your meat through the stall use the science of evaporation to ensure you get excellent cooking results.
How Long To Let Pork Shoulder Rest Before Pulling
This is one of those tricky situations where everyone is going to have a different answer and the manner in which you rest your pork butt will also impact how long it takes to rest.
The minimum time that you should rest a pork butt is about 15 minutes. Keep in mind that the internal temperature of your pork butt will continue to climb as it rests. You may see as much as a 10-degree rise from when you remove the roast to when you shred it.
The longest you should let a pork butt roast rest is about two hours. That's because, at this point, the temperature will have dropped down to a level that is approaching the danger zone. You never want to let meat (raw or cooked) sit between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. That is the temperature range at which some of the most harmful bacteria begin to grow.
We've found that the ideal rest time for a pork butt roast that is around six to eight pounds and came out of the smoker at 195-205 degrees is about 45 minutes. That seems to be a good point between too soon and too long for our rests.
To Cover or Not To Cover?
This is another point of contention between pit masters – whether to cover or uncover. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods. There are also some differences in the way you cover your pork butt after smoking.
It is common to wrap a pork butt roast in aluminum foil or butcher paper during the last stages of cooking. This helps to push the meat past the stall point and gets it finished without drying it out. You can rest your pork butt in the foil that you used for the Texas Crutch and it will work just fine.
The downside of this method is that the crispy, crunchy, crackly bark you worked so hard to create will suffer and might become soggy from its own juices.
Another covering method is to unwrap the picnic shoulder, place it in a glass baking dish, and tent the roast with aluminum foil. This method will help to prevent the bark from getting chewy and allows the meat the opportunity to begin cooling a little more quickly than when you just leave it wrapped in foil.
Finally, you can simply unwrap the roast and place it in a glass baking dish on the counter, uncovered or in the oven set at the lowest temperature This is the best way to maximize the crunchy bark texture, but you'll also want to keep a close eye on your internal temperature. Resting on the counter can allow the pork butt to cool very quickly which can make it more of a challenge to shred.
In our personal experience, wrapping the pork butt in pink butcher paper gives us the best results. It offers a good compromise and allows us to avoid cooling too quickly or wasting the bark. Using butcher paper helps to keep all the juices from the roasted meat together – better than any other method we've tried.
There are a few temperatures that you should pay attention to as you are smoking picnic shoulder or Boston butt roasts. The first thing to pay attention to is the temperature of your smoker. Start out with your smoker around 225 and let the pork butt smoke for at least three hours. When you notice that the pork butt's temperature isn't climbing anymore, you have a few options.
The first option is to do nothing. Eventually, enough moisture will evaporate that the internal temperature can climb again. You may end up with dry, chalky pork butt that way though.
You can also use the Texas Crutch, which basically just means that you'll tightly wrap the butt roast in foil. You can raise the temperature to 275-300 degrees at this point since you aren't smoking anymore. This will help to push the roast through the stall and get you to your final internal temperature of 195-200.
The final option is to remove the pork butt roast from the smoker, wrap it in foil, and place it in a preheated oven at 275 to 300 degrees. This is an easy and economical way to finish the butt roast.
Should You Rest Every Meat You Cook
There are very few things we don't rest. About the only things that we've found through personal experience that don't benefit from resting are pork chops and fish. Almost everything else seems to be better with a rest period after roasting or grilling, and particularly when smoking.
Steaks typically won't need a long resting period. About 15 minutes seems to be the right time. Thicker cuts require a longer resting period so you'll want to plan ahead. For big cuts like tri-tip and brisket, you might need to rest the meat for an hour or longer.
Tips for Keeping the Temperature Up
When you are resting a large piece of meat, you don't want the temperature to drop too much or too fast. One of the tricks that we often use is we'll rest our grilled or roasted meats in a clean cooler. Coolers work very well for trapping the heat and preventing a rapid drop in temperature.
It's All About the Patience
Patience is the ultimate tool for mastering smoking, grilling, and barbecuing techniques. It's also one of those things that is easier said than done. When that pork butt is sizzling and the aroma of freshly smoked meat is filling the air, it can be a huge challenge to avoid grabbing your meat shredding claws and getting a pulled pork sandwich started. But if you give the pork shoulder a rest before shredding, you'll find that it shreds easier, has a better flavor, and is juicy and delicious.