BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork (on a Gas Grill)
This AMAZINGLY juicy and tender BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork is made on a GAS grill! Get that unique smoky flavor you love without investing in an actual smoker. It’s an easy recipe that is pretty hands-off. The flavor is legit. The meat just falls apart, and you get that crispy blackened edge that only comes from outdoor cooking! Also try my Slow Cooker and Oven Pulled Pork.
My son Truman, who just finished up 3rd grade, was in his room the night before the last day of school. I heard a loud, “YESSSSSS!!!!” and found him fist pumping.
“What are you so happy about?”
“I just realized I don’t have to wear underwear to school tomorrow!”
His class was having an end-of-the-year splash party, and everyone would be in swimsuits.
File this under thoughts that have literally never crossed my mind. Is this a boy thing?? Not once in my life have I been excited about the prospect of wearing a swimsuit all day. I like my underwear right on my booty unless I’m actually swimming, thankyouverymuch. Tell me I’m not alone here!?
It just makes me think of that part on Miss Congeniality when Michael Cain’s character starts spraying Sandra Bullock with hairspray down there. “It keeps the swimsuit from riding up.” “Up where??” “Just….up!!”
I suppose “riding up” is going to be a much bigger problem in my life from here on out, because we just moved to a house with a pool. Hello summer swimsuit days! (Hello hairspray down there?? Has anyone tried this irl?? 😳)
I’m a little terrified of the pool situation though. We have a two-year-old with zero swim training, who also has absolutely no sense of self-preservation. They just finished putting in the new pool fence today, but I’m convinced he will climb it. And if any of my kids leave the gate open, I’m going to show them what it means to have a PERMANENT riding-up situation.
Along with all these lazy summer days I feel like we need some good grill recipes, because who wants to heat up the oven when it’s a billion degrees outside?
BBQ Pulled Pork on the Grill? No smoker, no problem
Enter this amazing smoked pulled pork recipe!! I’m not going to lie, I have never been super into pulled pork. I love Carnitas. I love Cafe Rio Pork. (these are both the same cut as pulled pork, just Mexican flavors). But BBQ? I’m a California girl. It’s just never been my thing.
But all that has changed now that I’ve discovered this recipe!! This is the absolute BEST pulled pork I’ve ever made, and guys, I don’t even own a smoker. I did it on my gas grill!
I discovered this cooking method by combining a few cookbook methods I found when I started researching smoked pulled pork. (Once I get into a recipe, I tend to go pretty deep, it’s an addiction) I read in Cook’s Illustrated about their adventures trying to get smoked flavors using a gas grill.
I tried it with my own twist and it WORKED LIKE MAGIC. Someday I would love to own a smoker but today is not that day. I’m SO EXCITED to have a hack to recreating those amazing flavors that I usually can only get in a restaurant (or from my neighbor down the street who has a smoker and will give me some of his bounty in exchange for cookies. I’m not above mooching off my neighbors when it comes to smoky flavors. Don’t judge me.)
You can also make this pulled pork recipe in the slow cooker or oven. Not gonna lie, today’s grill method is my favorite, but sometimes you just need life to be easy, I get it!
How to make smoked pulled pork
The full recipe is at the bottom of the post, but here are the basics!
- Rub your pork with homemade spice rub
- Marinate 6 to 48 hours
- Use a smoker box or foil packets to create smoke on your gas grill
- Grill at a low temperature for 4 to 7 hours
- Shred and devour! Way more details right here ↓
What is the best meat to use for pulled pork?
First things first: choose your pork. For this recipe, a pork butt or pork shoulder are best. These cuts are actually both from the shoulder of the pig: the pork butt (or “Boston Butt”) is higher on the foreleg, the pork shoulder is further down.
(Back in the day, these cuts used to be stored in barrels called “butts.” That’s what the name is from. Not from a pig’s butt. So we can’t even work in any legitimate “I like big butts and I cannot lie” jokes here. What a waste.)
Pork butt has a bit more intramuscular fat marbling than a pork shoulder, but they both have a high amount of connective tissue and collagen that will melt into gelatin as it slowly cooks, giving us that fall-apart-tender texture we want. Whichever cut you use is going to turn out delicious!
I recommend buying a bone-in pork butt or shoulder. The bone is going to make the meat cook slower (what we want!) and the bone marrow is also there to add more flavor. But a boneless cut will do in a pinch.
The best sweet heat spice rub ingredients
The spices for smoked pulled pork are kind of hard to mess up. Look up any pulled pork recipe, you will see dozens of comments GUSHING about how good the pork is. The magic is in the meat and the cooking process, my friends. That said, I love me a good spice blend, and here is my favorite combo, amounts given in the recipe below:
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- chili powder
- cayenne pepper
- dry mustard powder
- brown sugar
On a work surface, dry the pork with paper towels and rub with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. This helps the spices adhere to the meat, and helps retain moisture.
Set aside about 3 tablespoons of the spice rub for later. (I save it in a little baggie) Then go to town rubbing the rest of the spices into every nook and cranny of your pork. Use allll of it. I like to sprinkle the spices on top of the pork with one “dry” hand, then rub it in good and hard with the other “wet” hand.
Place in a ziplock bag. I love these 2 gallon bags for this big ol hunka meat. Refrigerate for 6 hours, or up to 48 hours. The longer the better!
What is the secret to getting tender pork?
Low and slow cooking is the special sauce you need! You simply cannot speed up the process if you want to get that juicy, tender flavor. Pork cooked too quickly doesn’t give the fat enough time to break down, leaving the meat tough and stringy.
Start the cooking process early in the day. It’s easy to reheat finished smoked pulled pork, but it’s impossible to speed up the cooking process when you are cooking low and slow. Every cut of meat is different, and of course there is size to consider for how long it will take to cook. So don’t take risks: start early and make sure you have plenty of propane on hand, at least half a tanks worth. Double check the ingredients and equipment list to make sure you have everything you need!
How to create smoke on a gas grill
There are two methods you can use to create smoke on your gas grill:
- smoker box
- wood chip foil packets
With either method you choose, you are going to need to get yourself some hickory wood chips. The smoke from these chips smells soooo amazing!
Smoker box: I bought this smoker box on Amazon for 18 bucks. It’s a smallish metal box with holes on top, designed to house wood chips on a gas grill. The smoke escapes out the top, and there are no holes on the bottom, preventing the chips from bursting into flame. This is the easiest, most foolproof method, that you can use again and again.
Wood chip foil packets: If you want the cheaper (though slightly less convenient) option, you can make wood chip foil packets.
How to make wood chip foil packets
The method is super easy. Place your wood chips in the center of a large square of heavy duty tin foil, then fold into a packet.
Use a knife to cut two slits in the top (or I’ve seen some people poke with a fork a few times), for the smoke to come out from. The packets should sit on top of the grill grates.
The down side of this method is that it’s easier for the packets to catch fire if it gets too hot, potentially giving your pork an overly smoky, acrid flavor. So you need to watch them. But! It is very cheap! Both methods work great to produce smoke.
Prepare your grill
Remove the grill grates from one side of your grill, where there will be indirect heat. Place two disposable pie pans full of about 3 cups water each on your grill. They should sit right on the heat plates. This water will be right below the pork. It will catch any drips from the meat, preventing flare ups, and also provide a nice humid environment for our pork to slow cook in.
On the other side of the grill, where there will be direct heat, place your wood chips. If you have a smoker box, place it directly on the burners of your grill (remove the heat plates and grill grates on that side. The box is sitting on the heating plates in the above photo. don’t be like me). If you are using tin foil packets, place them on top of the grill grates.
Turn all the burners to medium heat and close the lid. Let the grill heat up for about 15 minutes. You should see smoke emitting from your smoker box or foil packets.
While you are preheating the grill, get your pork out of the fridge and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub the 3 tablespoons of extra spice rub all over. This dry rub helps give our finished pork that crusty “bark” on the outer edges once cooked.
When the grill is hot and smoking, turn off the two burners that are under the pans of water. Oil the grill grates on that side. I always dip a crumpled paper towel into some oil and rub the grill grates (make sure the grates are clean!)
Place your rubbed pork butt or shoulder directly on the oiled grill grates, fat cap facing up. There should be no direct heat beneath the pork. The other two burners, over by your wood chips, should be turned to medium or medium low, to get the grill to a consistent temperature of 300 degrees F.
This is not a set it and forget it recipe, especially not the first time around. You are going to have to hang out and check on your grill’s temperature gauge (or use an oven thermometer placed inside the grill.) It is your job to make sure the temperature inside the grill sticks to about 300 degrees F.
You are also in charge of keeping an eye on your smoke. Most wood chips will smoke for about 45-60 minutes. If the smoke goes out early, you may need to turn the burners up on that side for a minute or two, until they start smoking again, then turn the heat back down to maintain 300 degrees.
After about an hour or so, your smoke will peter out. You can replace the wood chips in your smoker box, or create new foil packets with new chips, or just leave it. Smoke contains mostly water-soluble compounds, and meat has more water in it at the beginning of cooking, so smoke early in the process is more important than later.
That said, it’s pretty easy to throw together those smoke packets or refill the smoker box, so add more wood chips as desired if you like a very strong smokehouse flavor!
After the first 60-90 minutes of cooking, when the first round of smoke goes out, transfer the pork to a 9×13 inch disposable pan. This step is optional of course, but the intent is to capture all the smoky juices that are going to be released from our pork. We want to keep all that flavor!
When you slow cook a large piece of meat like this, the temperature of the meat does not go up at a consistent rate. The temperature rises until it reaches about 155-165 degrees F, and then it just stays there a while, often for hours and hours.
Pitmasters call this plateau “the stall,” and it is totally normal. There is a lot of moisture in a raw pork butt that needs to evaporate as it cooks, and this evaporation makes the cooking stop for a while. It’s totally normal, so don’t panic when it seems like your pork has stopped progressing. Keep going and eventually you will get through it.
How long does pulled pork take to cook?
All in all, your pork will be on the grill for about 5-7 hours, depending on how big it is. Get through the stall, keeping your grill temperature at 300 degrees.
What temperature do you cook pulled pork to?
Your pork is done when it reaches about 195 to 203 degrees F. (The temperature of the meat will continue to rise about 5 degrees after you take it off the heat, so taking it off at 195 degrees will get you to about 200 F.)
A decent meat thermometer is absolutely essential for this cooking method! You cannot rely on the clock; the range on times is way too high. Get yourself a meat thermometer and once you are approaching the 180s, check the temperature of the pork about every 30 minutes.
Can you overcook pulled pork?
Oh you absolutely can, sadly.
For as much as I’ve emphasized cooking low and slow, the fact that you can overcook is an important thing to be aware of! I said low and slow, not set it and forget it. Time for a quick science lesson.
As it’s cooking, the pork butt will reach about 130 degrees, and the fat will start to render (melt) and braise the meat from the inside out (yes please). Then, once it hits about 160 degrees, the collagen (connective tissue) starts to break down and melt into the meat as well (yum). If you take it off heat at this stage, it is safe to eat, but very tough. Keep going until you hit 200!
But be careful. When the temperature goes up to about 210 degrees, the muscle fibers themselves start to toughen up and dry out, leaving sad, chalky, chewy pork. Nooo!! We want to hit that sweet spot right at about 200-203 degrees. This is why I HIGHLY recommend a meat thermometer to get it juuuust right. Digital ones are best so we can be exact. I’m asking for this fancy wireless thermometer for my next birthday. (Eric are you reading this??)
Pull your pork (shred it)
Once you’ve reached about 195-200 degrees, take your pork off the heat. Tent it with foil and let rest for about 20 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute properly. You can leave it right in the foil pan, if you used one.
You might think this pork looks burned. You are wrong. This is the gorgeous, blackened, incredibly flavorful “bark” on the outer edge of smoked pulled pork. It’s a combination of your spice rub, the smoke, and the meat protein, and it’s divine. You can’t get this from indoor cooking.
Now it’s time to “pull” your pork, or shred. I like to use two forks. It’s very satisfying if you’ve cooked it properly! It just falls apart at the slightest touch.
If there is a lot of cooking liquid, transfer the pork to a cutting board first. Pour the liquid into a fat separator. Discard the fat and pour the smoky juices back into the shredded pork, or stir a little into your BBQ sauce later. This stuff is liquid gold.
Do not ruin your pulled pork: keep the fat
I’m going to get bossy here for a minute. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE FAT.
I’ve actually seen instructions on other recipes, “remove the crusty fat cap and discard.” Ummm I’m sorry, what? You want me to just throw away this crispity-porky-blackened-bark goodness?? Who do you think you are?
One time, many moons ago, before I was a cook, we were camping and I was cooking bacon. My brother-in-law found me over the trash can, peeling off the strips of fat on the bacon that hadn’t crisped up. He yelled, “What are you doing! Do you not understand bacon??” No, no I did not.
Fat = flavor. Say it with me now. Pork is delicious because it has lots of fat. If you’ve ever had bacon, you are literally eating pork fat. AND IT’S DELICIOUS. Get over yourself and your fat hating ways. I know pulled pork fat is not as crispy as bacon, but it still has all that porky flavor we want.
Discard any gristle you find, any bits and pieces that are unpalatable, but please do not discard every bit of fat you find. Shred it up and toss it in with the pork. THIS is what makes smoked pulled pork so flavorful. You will not regret it!
Now what about that sauce?
To quote Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec, during a burger contest: “It’s a hamburger made out of meat on a bun with nothing. Add ketchup if you want, I couldn’t care less.” The point is that when the meat is made well, sauce is superfluous.
Pulled pork is kind of the same deal. Especially when it’s just off the grill like this, you hardly even need any BBQ sauce. I’m telling you! Try it! I love making a pulled pork sandwich with just the meat and a ton of coleslaw. SO. GOOD.
That said. Sauce is boss, I mean come on. After shredding, toss your pulled pork with 1-2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce, either store bought or homemade. Sauce is especially important for leftovers when the meat has already been pulled and may have dried out a bit in the fridge.
I have been testing and tweaking my homemade BBQ sauce and I’ve finally nailed it!! It will be posted next week. In the meantime, I recommend Stubb’s Original. It has a smoky-black-pepper-classic flavor that I worked hard to recreate in my homemade version! I had many miserable failures that went straight down the drain, haha. But I’m telling you, Stubb’s is legit. It’s a great option if you don’t have time to make your own.
How to store leftovers
Pulled pork makes for about the easiest leftover meal ever. Let the meat cool to room temperature, add to a container with a lid that seals well, and store in the refrigerator.
To reheat a single serving, add some pork to a bowl and microwave, covered, on 50% power for a minute or two until warm. To reheat a large amount, you can follow the same microwave instructions for a longer amount of time, or put it in a pan on the stove on low with a lid on and 1-2 tablespoons water until warm, or put it in a slow cooker on the warm setting until warmed through.
Can you freeze pulled pork?
Pulled pork is a great candidate for freezing. Let it come to room temperature, add to a freezer ziplock bag, seal with as much air removed as possible, and toss it in the freezer. That’s it! It will keep in the freezer for about 4-6 months. To reheat, defrost the bag on a plate in the refrigerator. Once thawed, follow the reheating methods described above.
And that’s all folks! I hope you have delicious pulled pork in your future! Don’t forget, if you don’t have a grill, try out the Slow Cooker or Oven Pulled Pork recipe. It’s so good!
What to serve with pulled pork
So many options! Here are some of my favorite side dishes:
- Easy Broccoli Bacon Salad << a classic bbq side, with plenty of bacon!
- The Only Macaroni Salad You Need << it’s true. Love these flavors
- My Favorite Coleslaw << all the lemon, all the herbs!
- Italian Tortellini and Pepperoni Pasta Salad << a total crowd favorite
- Bacon Baked Beans << smokey, bacon-y goodness
- Santa Maria Pinquito Beans << these BBQ beans have such a smooth, distinct flavor!
- The Best Potato Salad Recipe << no crunchies
- Classic Deviled Eggs << deviled eggs always disappear so fast, have you noticed?
- Literally the Best Mac & Cheese I’ve Ever Had << mac & cheese with BBQ is my fav.
- Check out my Labor Day/4th of July recipe section for even more ideas!
More summer grill recipes!
BBQ on the grill is the best part of summer! Try out these other recipes!
- Carne Asada Made with Juicy Skirt Steak + the BEST Mojo Marinade! << tastes even better than your favorite restaurant
- How to Cook Ribeye Steak (Grilled or Pan-Seared) << with Garlic Butter and Rosemary!
- How to Cook Tri Tip Roast (Grilled or Oven-Roasted) << if you’ve never had tri tip, you haven’t lived.
- How to Cook Flank Steak (Grilled or Oven Broiled) << flavorful, tender, and juicy
- Nana’s Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs and “Barb”-ecue Sauce << these are a family fav! start in the oven, finish on the grill
BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe
For the rub/marinade
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, use 2 and 1/2 teaspoons if using table salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
Pork and equipment
- 3 tablepoons olive oil, for rubbing on meat
- 5 to 7 pound pork butt or pork shoulder , leave the fat cap on
- 4 cups hickory wood chips
- heavy duty tin foil, OR a smoker box
- 2 disposable metal pie pans
- 6 cups water, for pie pans
- 1 9×13 disposable metal pan
- meat thermometer, not optional
- at least half a tank of propane
- oven/grill thermometer, for gauging temperature of the grill
- barbecue sauce, homemade or store bought
- brioche buns, if you're making sandwiches
- butter, softened
- Coleslaw, <– my favorite recipe everrr
- Choose your pork. A pork shoulder is great, but a pork butt (sometimes called Boston Butt) is better. They are similar cuts of meat and have all the fat and connective tissues we need to break down into a tender and juicy pulled pork (Butts have just a little more). Use a bone-in butt or shoulder if you can find it, but boneless if fine too. Choose one that is well marbled with white fat.
- Marinate with spice rub. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons onion powder, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder, and 1/3 cup packed brown sugar. Measure out 3 tablespoons of this mixture and set aside in a small ziplock or covered bowl; you will need it later.
- Use paper towels to dry off your pork as best you can. Massage 3 tablespoons olive oil into the meat, making sure it's well distributed. Use your hands to rub the spices (all but the 3 tablespoons) into the meat, getting every nook and cranny and under every flap. Place in a large ziplock bag and seal (I love these 2 gallon bags).
- Marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or up to 48 hours.
- Prepare for grilling. We need to have a home for the wood chips we are smoking. You can use a purchased smoker box, or make a homemade version using heavy duty tin foil. Skip to whichever method you are using:
- Smoker box instructions: Add 4 cups dry hickory wood chips to your smoker box, or however much will fit. Remove the grates from your grill and place the smoker box directly on the primary burner. (You may need to remove the heat plate entirely from your grill).
- Heavy duty tin foil instructions: Use large sheets of heavy duty foil to make two foil packets, each filled with about 2 cups dry wood chips. See photos. Your packets should be about 8×5 inches. Make sure the chips do not puncture the foil, and that it is well sealed. Cut a 2-inch slit on either side of the top of the packets. This will allow smoke to escape, and oxygen in to feed our chips. Place the foil packet on top of the grill grates over the primary burner.
- Once you have either your smoker box or foil packets in place, remove the grill grate on the other side. Fill the two metal pie plates with 3 cups of water each, and place them either directly on the burner, or on top of the heat plate. (This water is there to catch any drips, preventing flare ups, and also creates a great moist environment so our pork doesn't dry out.) Replace the grill grates on both sides. You should have your smoker box or foil packets on one side of the grill (where there will be direct heat), and 2 pans of water on the other side, where your pork will be placed over indirect heat.
- Turn on all the burners to high heat if using a smoker box, or turn all the burners to medium if using foil packets. Close the lid, and let it heat up for about 10-15 minutes. Your wood chips should be smoking. Now you are ready to place the meat on the grill.
- Prepare the meat. Take your marinated pork out of the ziplock bag. Rub the remaining 3 tablespoons of spice mixture into the meat.
- Place the meat on the grill: Turn off the burners below the pans of water, and turn the primary burners (where the smoke is) to medium heat. Make sure your grill grates are clean from debris. Oil the grill grates that are over the pans of water. (I dip a crumpled paper towel into a small bowl of oil, and rub it on the grill grates.) Place your pork on the oiled grates, with the fat cap on top.Make sure the two burners directly below the pork are OFF. The two other burners should be turned down to medium or lower (we want the heat at 300 degrees F).
- Smoke the pork for about 1 hour, maintaining a grill temperature of about 300 degrees. Come back and adjust it as necessary. This pork needs to cook low and slow. Use an oven thermometer set inside your grill to gauge the temperature if your grill doesn't have a built in thermometer. Check to make sure your wood chips are still smoking (turn heat up a bit momentarily to get them to smoke again if necessary, returning the heat back down to maintain 300 degrees F.)
- Your wood chips will smoke for about an hour. Once they stop smoking, you can remove them from the grill, let cool completely, and toss in the trash. If you like a very smokey flavor for your pork, make two more foil packets (or fill your smoker box) and repeat the process. (I didn't repeat and thought it turned out great. Meat is able to absorb a lot more smoke in the beginning of the cooking process, so early smoke is most important.) At this point, transfer the pork to a disposable 9×13 inch pan so that we can catch the juices. Return the pan to the same spot on the grill over the water and over indirect heat.
- Continue grilling for another 4 to 7 hours, maintaining a grill temperature of about 300 degrees the whole time (adjust as necessary!)Your meat is done when the internal temperature of the meat is between 195 and 200 degrees F. (Lower than 195 and your pork will be tough; much higher than 200 and your pork will get dried out.)
- Remove the pan from the grill and let rest for about 20 minutes, tented with foil. Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Pour any pan juices into a fat separator. (this is to add back into the shredded pork later, or into your BBQ sauce)
- Shred the pork using two forks. It should be just completely falling apart. Remove any gristle, but please, do not discard all the fat. Shred it up and toss it in with the meat. Fat=flavor, and that slow bbq'd fat is part of what makes pulled pork so amazing. (You don't throw out the strips of fat on bacon, do you? I think not. Show your pork some respect.) Pour some of the pan juices back into the shredded meat.
- Eat as is. I swear, it doesn't even need a sauce, especially when it's fresh. But of course BBQ sauce is delicious. (It's even more delicious if you add in some of the smoky pan juices that you saved, if there is any leftover). Toss about 1 to 2 cups homemade or store bought sauce with the pulled pork. Serve warm.
- Make a sandwich: To make the best pulled pork sandwich of your life, butter both sides of a brioche bun. Heat another tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat on the stove. Toast the buns for 2-4 minutes, until lightly golden.
- Add shredded pork to your bun. Top with BBQ sauce, if desired (I'm telling you though, try it at least once without the sauce). Top with an unreasonable amount of lemony herb coleslaw, if you're like me. Smash with the top of your toasty brioche bun and devour messily. If you are not qualifying for a Carl's Jr. commercial by the end of eating this thing, you're not doing it right.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Leftovers will dry out over time, so BBQ sauce is more important at this stage. It will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.
- Pulled pork freezes beautifully. Seal in a ziplock bag (with or without BBQ sauce mixed in). It will freeze for up to 3-4 months. Let thaw in the fridge overnight. Heat leftovers in the microwave, or in a tin foil covered pan in an oven set to 300 for about 20-40 minutes, depending on how much there is.
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