Every now and again I receive a request on how to cook a pork butt or brisket from a new backyard cook, the friend of a guy or gal who has just purchased a new cooker, or an anxious wife who is looking to help her man serve up something that will make friends and family rave about his cooking prowess. This information is something I don't mind sharing. I learned a great deal from experience over the years, but I've also received some great tips from like minded friends and some pretty cool folks on the competition circuits. Except for some of the deeper closely held secrets there is a great kinship in sharing information with guys (and gals) who are backyard cooks. So here you go.....
Zig's Guide to A Perfect Smokin' Hot Butt
This will work with any smoker or cooker, but is best if you are able to cook low temp (Low & Slow as we say in "the trade") with indirect heat.
The Brine Get Ready
Get you a new 5 gallon bucket from Lowe's or Home Depot. They have bucket lids close by. Get one of those, too. Before you start your brine clear room in the fridge for you brine bucket and do a test run to make sure it fits. Personally I keep a shelf in the Beer Fridge at brine bucket height because, hey, I'm a simple guy. By the way, the brine bucket is a great place to keep your BBQ stuff when you are not cooking.
The Brine -I keep it simple.
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar or turbino sugar
A handful of whole peppercorns
zest of one lime
Squeeze in the juice of the lime after zesting
Bonus: For a toasty flavor you can add a cup of black coffee or a bottle of Malta (a soda from the Mexican section at the market)
Mix your brine with enough water to complete submerge your meat. Put meat into brine, cover, and place in fridge from 8 to 24 hours prior to cooking.
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp good-quality chili powder
1 tbsp ground coffee (a secret for many BBQ competitors. Don't tell them that I told you)
1 tbsp lemon pepper
Note: Penderys.com is a great place to order spices if you want fresh good-quality stuff. Otherwise, pick what you want at the market.
The Cookin' Get Ready
Pull the meat out of the brine one hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temp. As soon as you pull it out inject some of the brine into the meat (a big needle & syringe will work or you can get an injector at many hunting supply shops or restaurant supply places). Then massage in a couple of healthy tablespoons of your rub on all sides of the meat. Make sure you get it in the nooks and all over.
Don't wait to cook to fire up your cooker. It it going in time to even out and be close to temperature when you are ready to cook. If your cooker allows set it up for indirect cooking. Since I use a Big Green Egg I use a plate setter for indirect cooking. With this set-up, like some other smokers or grills, you can choose to use a drip pan. I do this and add a can of beer or apple juice just to kick in a little more moisture during the first hours of the cooking until the liquid cooks off.
Big cuts of meat like brisket and pork butts are most tender at a low cooking temp. 225 degrees works well because it is low, but holds enough fire in most cookers to not go out. If you go much over 275 degrees it is hard to not have tough meat. Note: If your grill has a thermometer in the dome or lid it will show a higher temp than at the grill surface AND many of them are not very accurate. Double Note: Resist the temptation to peek when you are cooking. It disrupts holding an even temperature. With some cookers you get more even results if you flip the meat once during the process, but otherwise leave it alone as much as you can bear.
You will need a meat thermometer. A simple dial model on a stick will work, but if you cook a lot you will want a digital model with a wired probe that can be left in the thickest part of the meat. Tip: The Maverick ET732 of available from Amazon and other places. It measures meat temp, grill surface temp, and has a remote monitor with a 300 foot range. It's an awesome gadget.
Cook to This Internal Meat Temperate
Brisket @ 195
Pork Butt @ 185
Restin' & Servin' (no, it ain't huggin' & squeezin')
Once you pull your meat off it is good to let it rest a bit before cutting or pulling to let the juices redistribute. This helps things be as juicy and tender as possible given the cookin', the cut of meat, and your awesome talent. If you have time, wrap the meat in tin foil and drop in a cooler for a good hour before it is time to serve. It will make more difference than you believe. You can actually go several hours and not need to reheat.
Cuttin' & Pullin' (again, no it ain't huggin' & squeezin')
Cut the brisket across the grain when you are ready to serve. Serving pork butts varies depending on regions of the USA and especially here in The South, but I prefer to pull my into medium chucks with a pair of serving tongs. If you have a tougher chunk or two they can be chopped with a cleaver or butcher knife. DO NOT mix BBQ sauce with the meat. There is nothing wrong with a tasty sauce or two or three, but go pro and serve it on the side to be added by the diner as they see fit.
Serve It Up.
That is it. Serve it up.
Not every detail is included, but you have the basic details. The rest will come to you. Good luck!