Smoked pork shoulder is a classic dish that brings together savory flavors and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness for an unforgettable meal.
Cooking this delicious cut of meat on a Traeger grill is straightforward and you are guaranteed to be serving delicious pulled pork with some smokey taste and mouthwatering aroma.
Mastering the art of cooking a perfect smoked pork shoulder is all about patience, low temperatures, and honoring the process. This recipe takes time, but the end result is well worth the wait.
In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about preparing a perfect smoked pork shoulder with your Traeger pellet grill. Follow these step-by-step instructions to cook amazing pulled pork that will impress your friends and family.
Planning – Smoking Time and Temperature
It makes sense to plan a bit before buying the ingredients and starting to smoke the pork shoulder.
If you are going to have pulled pork as a main dish for a party of 8, you’ll need a large cut of pork shoulder and plenty of time to smoke it. But even a smaller cut will take hours to cook.
The most important things to consider are:
- How many people are you going to serve?
- What size of pork shoulder cut should you buy?
- What smoking temperature are you going to use?
- What will be the total cooking time?
I have experience in smoking many sizes of pork shoulders and butts. This time I was only serving 3 people so I bought a 3-pound pork shoulder. It took me 5 hours to smoke it, so the total cooking time was almost 6 hours including the preparations and resting the meat.
I recommend buying a bone-in pork shoulder that weighs as many pounds as what is the number of people you are going to serve.
This might sound like a lot, but the pork will have some parts that you can’t eat, like the bone and some connective tissue. Also, if you have some leftovers they can be refrigerated and used later for many different types of dishes.
I think that 250 degrees Fahrenheit (or 121 Celcius) is the optimal smoking temperature, but you can also go lower than that. If you smoke the pork at 225 °F it will take longer to be ready.
So how long does it take to smoke a pork shoulder at 250 °F?
There is no exact answer, but as a rule of thumb, we can estimate that it takes about 90 minutes per pound.
Below are some examples of cooking times:
- 4-pound pork shoulder: 6 hours
- 6-pound pork shoulder: 9 hours
- 8-pound pork shoulder: 12 hours
Again, remember that this is just an estimate. Each cut of meat is different and there are some other factors that affect the cooking time (e.g. how you wrap the pork). That’s why you should use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the pork.
But this estimate will definitely help you with getting the dinner ready on time!
If you want to cook something faster, check out my recipe for smoked trout on Traeger.
What You Need – Equipment & Ingredients
Before you begin, it’s essential to choose the right kind of pork cut. Look for a bone-in pork shoulder with a good balance of meat and fat. This will ensure that your dish is juicy, tender, and full of flavor.
Alternatively, you can also choose a pork butt. This cut comes from the upper part of the shoulder and usually has more fat compared to pork shoulder cuts.
In addition to the pork shoulder, you’ll also need a Traeger pellet grill and a few ingredients for making a dry rub and spritzing the pork while smoking it.
You can use any Traeger pellet grill for cooking this recipe. I used my Traeger Pro 22 which is very reliable and easy to use, and it also has meat temperature probes for monitoring the internal temperature of the pork.
In addition to the pellet grill, you’ll also need some wood pellets. I recommend Traeger Hickory or Signature Blend pellets but you can also use other types of pellets or even create your own blend.
Here is what you need:
- Pellet Grill: Any Traeger pellet grill will do (or you can also use other brands).
- Wood Pellets: I recommend Traeger Hickory or Signature Blend pellets for this recipe.
- Aluminum Foil or Butcher Paper: For wrapping the pork.
The size of your pork shoulder depends entirely on your preference and what is available at your local meat monger or supermarket.
I had a rather small cut, only 3 pounds, and it took me about 5 hours to smoke it. The larger your pork cut is the more time you’ll need for smoking it. An 8-pound pork shoulder might as long as 12 hours to be ready, so you have to prepare a lot of time for smoking larger cuts.
I made a quite simple dry rub that gives a nice flavor to the bark of the pork shoulder. You can also use a pre-made rub, such as Traeger’s Pork & Poultry Rub, to save time.
List of ingredients
- 1 Pork shoulder cut (3-10 lbs) bone-in or boneless (or pork butt)
- 2 tbsp Muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 2 tsp of Paprika powder
- 1 tsp of Garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp of Black pepper
- 1/2 tsp of Cayenne pepper (or chili powder)
- 1/2 tsp of Ground cumin
- 1/2 cup Apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup Apple juice
How to Smoke Pork Shoulder on a Traeger Pellet Grill
Ok, now it’s time to get smoking!
Here are a few tips before you start:
- During the smoking process, avoid opening the pellet grill too often, as this may cause temperature fluctuations and extend the cooking time.
- Make sure that you have enough pellets and check the pellet hopper a few times while smoking to make sure that they don’t run out.
- Reserve some time to rest the meat before serving it. Minimum of 30 minutes, but better to have one hour for larger cuts.
Step 1: Make a Dry Rub and Prepare the Pork
Before diving into the smoking process, you need to prepare the pork shoulder. Take the meat out of the refrigerator for at least one hour before cooking it.
You’ll also need to prepare the dry rub for your pork shoulder. Combine the muscovado sugar (or brown sugar), kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cumin in a bowl, mixing the spices until they are completely combined.
Once you have the spice rub ready, rub it generously onto the pork shoulder, making sure it’s entirely covered. After applying the spice rub, allow the pork to sit for about 20 minutes while your Traeger grill is heating up.
Step 2: Start Smoking the Pork Shoulder
When your Traeger gets to 250 °F (or 121 °C) place the seasoned pork shoulder onto the grill grates and insert the thermometer probe into its thickest part, but not too close to the bone. Then close the lid, and let the smoking process begin.
Mix the apple cider vinegar and apple juice and spritz the pork every 30 minutes.
Keep an eye on the internal temperature, aiming for around 150 °F (or 65 °C), before wrapping the pork in foil. It took 3 hours of smoking for my 3-pound pork shoulder to reach the target internal temp. See the next step for more details on wrapping the pork.
Step 3: Wrap in Foil and Finish Smoking
When the internal temp of the meat is about 150 °F, remove the pork from the smoker and wrap it in aluminum foil. Before you completely seal the wrap, pour in the remaining mix of apple cider vinegar and apple juice.
You can also use butcher paper, which is more breathable. This means it allows some smoke inside and traps less steam. But you can’t pour liquid on the pork if it’s wrapped on butcher paper.
Place the meat back into your Traeger, insert the meat probe, and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches approximately 195-205 °F (or 90-96 °C).
This process usually takes several hours, depending on the size of the pork shoulder. For me, it took 2 more hours to reach an internal temp of 201 °F (or 94 °C) and it was time to remove the pork shoulder from the grill.
Step 4: Let it Rest and Serve
Once your pork shoulder has reached the desired internal temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest inside the foil for about 30 minutes to one hour before shredding it. Allowing the smoked pork shoulder to rest enables the juices to redistribute, guaranteeing the final product is moist and flavorful.
After resting the meat, use a pair of forks or shredding claws to easily shred the tender pork into succulent pulled pork. Of course, you can also shred it with your fingers, but remember to wash your hands and watch out for burning your fingers!
While I think pulled pork is the way to go, you don’t necessarily have to shred the pork. You can also just slice it up and have it that way.
I served the pulled pork with grilled potatoes and coleslaw, and it was just delicious!
I also added some hot bourbon BBQ sauce on top of the pork after taking this photo.
More Pairings and Serving Suggestions
Smoked pork shoulder is a versatile food and can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. You can use the smoked pulled pork to create mouth-watering sandwiches or tacos, or incorporate it into a hearty salad for a lighter option.
If you have leftover pulled pork, simply portion, package, and refrigerate or freeze it for future meals.
To enhance your dinner experience, consider pairing your smoked pork with the following:
Barbecue Sauce: Serve your pork shoulder with a tangy, homemade barbecue sauce to elevate its savory, smoky flavors. You can also offer a variety of store-bought sauces to allow your guests to choose their favorite.
Sliders: As an appetizer or main dish, shred the smoked pork and serve on small, fluffy bread rolls with coleslaw and your desired sauce. These sliders are perfect for parties or picnics and can be enjoyed straight from the cooler.
Bread Pairings: Choose from a variety of bread options to accompany your smoked pork shoulder. Cornbread, soft rolls, or crusty baguettes all work well to absorb the delectable juices and flavors of the dish.
Tacos: Swap out your traditional taco protein and fill them with tender smoked pork, topped with fresh salsa, sliced onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. This twist on a classic dish adds extra excitement to your weekly taco night.
Salad: Mix smokey, shredded pork into a hearty salad, featuring mixed greens, avocado, roasted corn, black beans, and diced tomatoes. Drizzle with chipotle ranch dressing for a satisfying, lighter meal.
Continue experimenting with different side dishes such as grilled vegetables, baked beans, or a Southern-style potato salad to diversify your meal experience.
The key to a great pulled pork meal is balancing the rich, smoky flavors of the pork with complementary textures and tastes.
Traeger Smoked Pork Shoulder Recipe
- Pellet Grill Any Traeger pellet grill will do.
- Wood Pellets Traeger Hickory or Signature Blend pellets (or other pellets).
- Aluminum Foil For wrapping the pork.
- 1 Pork shoulder (3-10 lbs)
- 2 tbsp Muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 2 tsp Paprika powder
- 1 tsp Garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp Black pepper
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper (or chili powder)
- 1/2 tsp Ground cumin
- 1/2 cup Apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup Apple juice
- Mix the dry rub ingredients in a bowl until they are completely combined. Apply generously onto the pork shoulder, making sure it’s entirely covered.Allow the pork to sit for about 20 minutes while your Traeger grill is heating up.
- When your Traeger gets to 250 °F (or 121 °C) place the seasoned pork shoulder onto the grill grates and insert a meat thermometer probe.Mix the apple cider vinegar and apple juice and spritz the pork every 30 minutes.
- When the internal temp of the pork is about 150 °F (or 65 °C), remove the pork from the smoker, wrap it in aluminum foil, and pour in the remaining mix of apple cider vinegar and apple juice.Place the meat back into your Traeger, insert the meat probe, and continue smoking until the internal temperature reaches approximately 195-205 °F (or 90-96 °C).
- Once the meat has reached the desired internal temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest inside the foil for about 30 minutes to one hour. Then shred the pork and serve it!
Looking for more recipes?
Check out my guide for perfect smoked chicken drumsticks on Traeger.