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The Best Pork Butt Rubs

Pulled pork is one of my family’s favorite barbecue dishes I smoke on a regular basis. It’s easy to understand why. You can season the pork butt with a lot of different flavors, make it with barbecue sauce or not, and you can put leftovers in a ton of different dishes.  However, if you’re trying to smoke pulled …

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By Jeremy Pike

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Best Pork Butt Rubs
Franklin Style Pork Butt Rub – Simple = Awesome

Pulled pork is one of my family’s favorite barbecue dishes I smoke on a regular basis. It’s easy to understand why. You can season the pork butt with a lot of different flavors, make it with barbecue sauce or not, and you can put leftovers in a ton of different dishes. 

However, if you’re trying to smoke pulled pork for the first time at home or perhaps you want to try your hand at making a homemade pork butt rub recipe, you might have some questions. In this article, we’re going to cover what to make your pulled pork out of, what types of flavors you want to put into your pork butt and give you some homemade recipes to check out. We’ll also look at some quality store-bought rubs if you’re in a pinch or looking for some convenience. 

What Is The Best Cut Of Meat For Making Smoked Pulled Pork?

Pork Butt aka Boston Butt

If you’re new to making pulled pork at home, you might have stopped at your local grocery store or supermarket and questioned which cut of pork you should be making pulled pork  from. In order to get that wonderfully tender and moist pulled pork, you need to start with a cut of pork that has plenty of marbling, that is intramuscular fat. This renders throughout the cooking process, keeping the meat moist and tender.

Our preferred cut is the pork butt, part of the pork shoulder. Yes, it’s called the butt, and no, it doesn’t come from the rear end of the hog. Now don’t confuse the pork butt with the picnic shoulder. This is the other part of the pork shoulder. For the quick and dirty breakdown, the pork butt is located higher on the shoulder and did less work during the hog’s life, so it’s naturally more tender and has more marbling. The picnic shoulder is tougher, has less fat, and typically comes with some of the pork skin still on. For a full breakdown of the two cuts, check out our comparison of pork butt and pork shoulder.

Pork Butt vs Pork Shoulder


Bone-In Versus Boneless Pork Butt – Is One Better Than The Other?

You will see all of our pulled pork recipes start with bone-in pork butt. That’s because it’s widely available and fairly cheap, two things that are music to a backyard pitmaster’s ears. Now, you may hear that people prefer bone-in pork butts because the bone adds flavor or it helps the cooking process. 

However, the bone actually requires more heating, thereby slowing the cooking process down. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re trying to render fat and break down connective tissue. Just don’t automatically assume that the bone actually helps you cook the pork butt. As for the flavor, some people insist it does while others say they can’t tell the difference. It’s probably up to your personal preference.

One way that a boneless pork butt can actually be better is due to its shape. While it may be more irregular, it’s thinner so it cooks more quickly. Also, you get more surface area which means more bark. I don’t know about you, but my favorite bite of pulled pork is one with bark on it. Which brings us back to the rub that will help create that flavorful bark. 

What Flavor Profiles Do We Want In Our Pork Dry  Rub Recipe?

One of the best parts of smoking a pork butt is that you have a great base for building  flavors on. When smoked properly, you’ve got a smoky and rich meat with good pork flavor  that you can make sweet, savory, spicy, or any combination of those that you want. Personal preferences rule when it comes to smoking pork butt, but here are some good guidelines and seasonings that you’ll likely want to integrate into your own rub recipe or look for in a store-bought dry rub for Boston butt.

The Basics (AKA The Base Dry Rub Ingredients)

Whether you’re looking to keep things simple, like in Michael Haas’ take on Aaron Franklin’s  pork butt recipe, or you’re looking to experiment and get deep into the spice cupboard, there are still a few ingredients that will show up. 

You should always start off your homemade seasoning with salt and black pepper. Just about every piece of meat you ever cook, whether on the smoker, grill, griddle, skillet or in the oven should have salt and pepper. These iconic and sometimes overlooked ingredients help draw the flavor of the meat out and accent it. You should always make sure these two ingredients are on your pork butt.

We know there are different types of salt, like our standard table salt, kosher salt, and specialty salts like Himalayan pink salt or sea salt. The vast majority of cooks and pitmasters will typically use either kosher salt or coarse sea salt to make their rubs and season their foods. It’s easier to control both the amount of salt and how evenly you can salt your food. You’re also a lot less likely to oversalt your foods when using coarse-grain salt.

The same goes for black pepper. We like using coarse ground black pepper because it’s more flavorful. It also simply looks better on the surface of the meat as well. 

There’s another spice that will show up in just about every seasoning for pork, including the best pork butt rubs, and that’s paprika. A lot of people use it simply to add some great red color to the finished product, and that’s great. However, there are varieties of paprika that can enhance the flavor as well. There’s sweet paprika which works quite well if you’re looking for a sweeter rub as well as smoked paprika which obviously works great for smoked pork butts.

Now this is where the legendary pitmaster Aaron Franklin would stop, but the vast majority of people smoking pork butts for pulled pork would consider a few more ingredients to be basic staples of pork rubs. 

Bringing Some Sweetness To The Party

Brown sugar in a jar

The vast majority of pork butt seasonings will include some combination of sugars. This could be standard granulated white sugar, light or dark brown sugar, and potentially even turbinado or raw sugar. Some store-bought rubs might include honey powder, a dehydrated form of honey that still packs all the flavor into a dried powder.

Each type of sugar provides a different flavor and different positives to the smoking process. You will even find recipes that call for both white sugar and brown sugar at the same time. There are plenty of people who will tell you that white sugar helps form a better bark while  brown sugar (which is just white sugar with molasses added) helps deliver more flavor. 

Upping The Savory Factor

However, in my opinion, the best pork butt rub isn’t just salt, pepper, paprika, and some type of sugar. I enjoy layers of flavor with some balance. That’s where some spice staples come into play. Some of the most common additions to a rub include garlic powder and onion powder which just add some complexity and balance. Cumin is a great option for adding depth of flavor as well.

Bring The Heat

Another way to bring some balance and depth of flavor is by adding some spice and heat. You can use as little or as much as you want for your personal preferences. Adding a little bit of heat can make each bite of bark just a little bit warmer without burning your mouth. You can also amp up the heat for a true sweet-and-spicy experience. The most common ingredients include chili powders and cayenne powder, and you can also use crushed red pepper flakes. Some commercial rubs even dehydrate jalapeno peppers to add spice.

Experiment

Once you’ve got the basic flavors down of a pork rub, you can start to experiment with some different flavors. You could add in some different herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, and even mustard seeds. These may not be the typical pork dry rub seasonings, but one of the best parts of smoking barbecue in your own backyard is the ability to try some new  flavor combinations that you won’t find in most BBQ joints. 

Homemade Pork Rub Recipes

Aaron Franklin Style

Franklin Style Pork Butt Rub

If you want to go simple and follow in the footsteps of Aaron Franklin, we’ve got a great pork rub for you. All you need is kosher salt (or coarse sea salt,) coarse-ground black pepper, and paprika.

  • 10 TBSP Kosher salt (or coarse sea salt)
  • 10 TBSP coarse-ground black pepper
  • 6 TBSP paprika

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container or empty seasoning shaker. Should easily cover an entire 10lb pork butt. 

Kansas City Style

Kansas brisket rub

If you’re more of a sweet pulled pork fan, we’ve got you covered as well. While we may call it a Kansas City-style brisket rub, it works great on pork as well. 

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp kosher or coarse sea salt

Mix thoroughly in a bowl and add to a seasoning shaker or store in an air-tight container. This recipe has all the main ingredients we talked about above, combining sweet, spicy, and savory in one quality rub.

Best Dry Rubs For Pork You Can Find In Stores

While we are all big fans of homemade rubs and sauces here at Angry BBQ, that doesn’t mean we never reach for a good-looking rub on the store shelves or online. You can find all sorts of flavor combinations, but we’ve got a few that we would recommend if you want to go this route.

Killer Hogs Barbecue The BBQ Rub

This rub comes from the mind of Killer Hogs and How To BBQ Right pitmaster, Malcolm Reed. It’s a great all-purpose BBQ rub that I’ve used plenty of times on pork butts and ribs. It has a great color from the paprika and a good blend of sweet and savory with just a hint of heat. 


Lambert’s Sweet Rub O’ Mine

Mark Lambert is a three-time world champion and has won the prestigious Memphis in May competition in pork shoulder with this rub as well as the overall championship team in 2013. This rub gives your pork a beautiful color while also combining the elements of onion, garlic, mustard flower, and even celery with the sweetness of cane juice and the heat of chili pepper. 

Plus I can’t resist the play on words from the iconic Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”


Meat Church Honey Hog BBQ Rub

Meat Church pitmaster Matt Pittman may hail from Texas, but his Honey Hog BBQ rub does not resemble the traditional salt-and-pepper combination you’ll find on a lot of Texas barbecue. The rub gets its sweetness from honey powder and sugar while adding paprika, garlic, and celery for color and the savory factor. If you want to go in a sweet and spicy direction, Meat Church also has the Honey Hog Hot Rub which uses dehydrated jalapeno peppers to give it a kick.


Final Thoughts

The beauty of smoking pulled pork is that it’s a versatile base that you can take in a lot of different directions. Do you want a sweet pulled pork? Brown sugar is a great place to start. Want more of a savory finished product? Play up the salt and pepper along with onion and garlic powder. If you’re a fan of heat, add a healthy dose of cayenne or chili powder.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy pulled pork? Are you a fan of pulled pork sandwiches or do you simply prefer eating pulled pork on a plate with BBQ sauce? Let us know in the comments!

FAQs:

Question: What’s The Best Wood To Smoke Pork?

Answer: We’ve been focusing on the flavors for making the best pork dry rub but haven’t talked about the other major component for the flavor of your pulled pork, the wood smoke. I’m personally a fan of either hickory or oak as my hardwood (even though it’s not on our smoking wood chart; what can I say, I’m a rebel.) Apple, pecan, and maple are great fruitwoods as well. Take some time to experiment with the different flavors and even combine them to get amazing blends. 

Question: Should I Spritz When Smoking Pulled Pork?

Answer: Anytime you are cooking with heat, you want to ensure that you aren’t drying your meat out. Smoking pulled pork is no different. One of the ways to combat dried meat is by spritzing which we do recommend. You can use apple juice or a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water. Some people will even use soft drinks like root beer or Dr. Pepper to add even more flavor to the bark.

Question: Do We Wrap When Making Smoked Pulled Pork?

Answer: We are firm believers in wrapping most big cuts of meat when smoking. It helps get them through the stall, the part of the cooking process where all the moisture evaporating from the meat equals the amount of heat cooking the meat, thereby causing the internal temperature to stop rising or stall. Wrapping with aluminum foil or butcher paper helps speed up the stall. 

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