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If you are attempting to smoke a pork shoulder for the first time, you want to make sure you start off right.
You may have heard competing ideas on how to properly prep it for smoking.
Should you pull the pork shoulder out of the fridge and put it on the counter to come up to room temperature before you throw it on the smoker? What would that accomplish? Is there a right way to do that? When should I put the rub on the pork shoulder, right before smoking, the night before, or some other time? How long is it safe for a pork butt to sit at room temp before putting it in the smoker?
Should you bring a pork shoulder to room temperature before smoking?
There is no reason to bring a pork shoulder to room temperature before smoking.
While there are competing theories as to why you should bring it to room temperature, your pork shoulder will cook uniformly over the length of a low-and-slow cook.
Letting your meat sit out to get to room temperature means your pork shoulder will be in the US Department of Agriculture’s designated “Danger Zone.”
At temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria will rapidly grow. You want your pork shoulder to be a delight, not a food poisoning episode.
What does bringing a pork shoulder to room temperature do?
Proponents of allowing pork shoulders to come up to room temperature say that it will decrease the cooking time and even increase the smoke flavor in the meat.
However, it takes longer for a pork shoulder to reach room temperature sitting out on your kitchen counter than it does in your smoker.
So yes, once you put your pork shoulder on the smoker after reaching room temperature, it will spend less time in the smoker than if you put it on directly from the fridge.
However, it will take longer overall, and you can easily run into bacteria problems.
As for smoke flavor, experiments have shown that cold, wet meat will attract much more smoke than warm meat.
If you want the smoke flavor to penetrate your pork shoulder at all, you want it cold and moist when you put it in your smoker.
How do you bring a pork shoulder up to room temperature?
If you decide to let your pork shoulder warm up before putting it in the smoker, you need to keep it safe. Remember, the USDA says that bacteria start rapidly reproducing starting at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep a close eye on that pork shoulder sitting on your counter. You want to keep it away from anything that will give it a funky flavor.
You can let it sit out for 20 to 30 minutes, especially if you have just added the rub to allow it to set.
How long should the rub sit on pork shoulder before smoking?
You can apply the rub 12 hours in advance and leave the pork shoulder in the fridge, or if you have ingredients that can tenderize the pork, you can apply it anywhere from half an hour to two hours before it hits the smoker.
You do want the rub to adhere to the pork shoulder so it doesn’t just fall off when you put it on the smoker. The longer the rub is on the meat, the more flavor penetration can occur as well.
How long can pork butt sit at room temp before cooking?
If you are setting your pork out on the counter before putting it in the smoker, you don’t want it to sit out for any longer than half an hour.
You want to err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety. You would rather your pork shoulder take a bit longer on the smoker than have to spend extra time in bed or the bathroom with food poisoning.
There is no real advantage to letting your pork shoulder come up to room temperature before putting it on the smoker.
You run the risk of bacteria growth at temperatures starting at 40 degrees, and the low-and-slow cooking process will ensure that the pork shoulder will cook through regardless of the starting temperature.
Also, cold and moist meat will attract more smoke than warmer meat.
As for applying a dry rub to the pork shoulder, you can let it sit in the fridge overnight or apply it half an hour before it hits the smoker.