Learn exactly how to smoke pulled pork on a Traeger Pellet Grill following our detailed instructions and recipe below!
This is an easy, yet really fun dish to prepare to feed a crowd, especially on a Traeger, but it can also easily be adapted for ANY pellet grill.
Pork Shoulder, Boston Butt, or Pulled Pork?
A Boston butt, better known as a pork butt or pork shoulder, is a pork cut that comes from the upper shoulder of the pig, and is most commonly used to make pulled pork.
The confusing name comes from the barrels in which they were transported during the 18th century, known as butts (from the Latin “buttis” meaning barrel or casket).
They were actually considered cheap cuts of meat and stuffed into barrels for easy bulf transportation.
Nowadays, pulled pork from Boston butts can be found not only in traditional American bbq, but all around the world.
Smoking Pulled Pork on a Traeger Pellet Grill
The pork shoulder is a cut of meat that provides a variety of options, and for our purposes, is quite easy to smoke, especially on a Traeger pellet grill
You can tell we are big fans of Traegers, especially the new Timberline and Ironwood Series of pellet grills, because they just making smoking pulled pork so freaking easy, especially for beginner smokers.
In this article, we will go over what is needed to properly smoke pulled pork step by step in a Traeger pellet grill.
Choosing the Best Size Pork Butt for Smoking Pulled Pork on a Traeger Pellet Grill
Depending on the Traeger model you are using, and whether you will need the second shelf available for a side dish like smoked sweet potatoes or asparagus, you will need to think about what size pork shoulder you need for your pulled pork.
Make sure to not only consider the grilling area of the Traeger, but the height available under the second rack if you can't simply remove it.
Also, contrary to popular opinion in some BBQ circles, bigger ISN'T always better.
Think about it.
The larger the pork shoulder, the longer it takes to cook, and the less surface area you have relative to interior meat after you pull it.
And the surface is where the rub and all the flavor is!
In many cases, you are better off smoking (2) 4-6 lb pork shoulders for pulled pork rather than one monster 8-12 lb one.
You get done cooking that much faster, which means less time for the meat to risk drying out, and you have more crusty barky surface area mixed in with the rest of your meat.
The smoke from your wood pellets will also only penetrate about an inch into your meat, so if you want maximum smokey flavor, you are better off with multiple smaller cuts
Additionally, if you want to try 2 different rubs or flavor profiles, you have that opportunity as well!
IF you can only find monster 10-14 pounders, go ahead and get one and just cut in half when you get home!
Preparing the Pork Shoulder for Smoking
You can think of the process of smoking pulled pork split into two parts.
- The first part is preparing your meat for the Traeger pellet grill.
- The second part is setting up and smoking the meat and then pulling it when it is done
You have literally a million options for seasoning and preparing your pulled pork depending on the flavor profile you are going after.
You can use anything from a traditional American BBQ rub to something more exotic or internationally flavored such as a spicy chipotle rub or maybe something asian inspired.
Trimming the Fat
First, you will want to trim any excess fat off the pork shoulder before applying your rub.
This will help the rub stick to and penetrate the meat itself rather than being obstructed by the fat.
Leaving a little fat is ok.
You'll notice one side will have a thicker "Fat Cap" on it.
It's ok to leave some of this in place but ideally trim it down to no more than about ¼ inch of thickness.
After trimming, score through the fat cap with a good meat cutting knife in 2 perpendicular directions to help the fat underneath render out during the smoking process and allow some more of the rub to penetrate the meat.
If you've followed us for any amount of time you know we LOVE the meat melting knives from Imarku.
Like we said, you can have fun finding any new and innovative rub you would like to use.
Conventional American BBQ rubs have a lot of sugar in them as that is what helps form the crusty bark on the exterior of the pork shoulder as it cooks in the smoker.
Because we are going to set the Traeger pellet grill to only 225°F, you don't need to worry about the sugar burning.
After trimming the fat, cover the pork in a thin layer of cooking oil or yellow mustard.
After the long cook you won't taste any mustard flavor, trust us.
Be generous with the amount of rub you put on. Then you can wrap the pork butt in plastic wrap and put it back in the refrigerator until you are ready to smoke it.
This can even be done the night before to save some time the next day and to let the salt in the rub fully penetrate the meat.
We have a simple recipe below for a good pork bbq rub, or, if you prefer to buy your own, you know we are big fans of Blues Hog Dry Rub Seasoning.
For additional flavor, some bbq cooks like to inject their pork shoulder with a marinade before putting it on the Traeger.
The idea is to add flavor and moisture deep into the meat to help season the bland interior of the pork while its cooking.
The only problem, is it adds water weight and significantly extra time to your cook.
By adding 8 oz of injection you may be increasing your pulled pork cooking time by an hour or more.
And think about it, when the pork butt comes out of the Traeger pellet smoker, you are going to be pulling it apart in a big tray, and adding more seasoning at that point too.
So why go through the hassle of injecting the interior if you are going to be adding seasoning later anyways?
Injections work great on sliced meats like the ones mentioned above because you are slicing and serving and wanting the slices of meat to have flavor all the way through.
But with pulled meat like Traeger smoked pulled pork, skip the hassle and add your seasoning at the end.
If you REALLY want to inject your Boston butt or any other type of meat, always use a good quality meat injector like this one from JY COOKMENT.
You can use a mixture of apple juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, and some of your favorite BBQ rub mixed together.
The Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Pulled Pork on a Traeger Pellet Grill
You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to smoke your pulled pork on a Traeger pellet grill.
In fact, we went DEEP in depth on our favorite smoking woods for pulled pork HERE if you want to read more on the topic.
Most smoking wood pellets are fair game to some degree, however, mesquite will give a very aggressive smoke flavor to the pork, usually a little too much if used solely on its own rather than mixed in lightly with a milder fruitwood.
Pecan, hickory, apple, beech, alder, and cherry pellets all give great results on pulled pork when smoked on a Traeger.
For a very straightforward flavor, we are also big fans of Bear Mountain Red and White Smoky Oak Pellets
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Traeger's hopper outside.
Traeger pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
How a Traeger Pellet Grill Works
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a Traeger pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how a pellet grill works.
***Completely New to Using a Pellet Grill? No Worries!****
Hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works if you are interested in learning more in depth. We'll be here when you get back!***
Add your Hardwood Pellets
First, you add hardwood pellets into the side hopper.
The Traeger pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot where they are burned up, providing both heat and smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically controls the flow of pellets depending on your temperature setting so that you maintain an even temperature throughout the entire cook.
How to Smoke Pulled Pork on a Traeger Pellet Grill
- A large piece of foil to cover the meat
- Cutting board
- Wood pellets
- Brush or spray bottle (preferably the latter)
- Large forks or a proper pair of grilling tongs
- Meat thermometer
- Traeger pellet grill
- 4 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons of salt
- 3 tablespoons of paprika
- ½ tablespoon of cayenne
- 1 tablespoons of onion powder
- 1 tablespoons of garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons of ground black pepper
- 5-8 lb pork shoulder
- Apple juice or Cola
- Apple cider vinegar
How to Start up the Traeger
There is a specific start up process for the Traeger brand pellet grills you can read all about in depth HERE if you aren't sure how to fire it up the first time.
Otherwise, here is the basic process for how to start a Traeger before throwing on your pork shoulder:
- Plug in the grill.
- Flip the power switch to ON and turn the dial to "Smoke".
- You will hear the fan kick on and the auger start to move and begin to kick pellets into the fire pot. Your fire rod will begin to heat up as well.
- Leave the lid open for about 5-7 minutes until you start to see white billowing smoke come out of the grill. This happens when the pellets are first igniting.
- Once a smoke is being produced, close the lid and change the temperature dial to your desired temperature setting, in our case 225°F.
- Allow about 10-15 minutes to preheat the grill.
- While you are waiting, make sure you've got the drip pan in place and the grease bucket hanging to catch any grease that comes out during the cook.
- Put your grates on if they aren't already in place.
- Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates if there is any leftover stuck on food from the last cook.
- When the pellet grill comes up to temperature go ahead and put on your food!
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Pulled Pork on a Traeger Pellet Grill?
At 225°F, it will take roughly 1.5 hours per lb to fully cook a pork butt. So a 6 lb pork shoulder may take about 9 hours.
Now, you can speed up the cook a little by increasing your cooking temperature to 250°F or even 275°F. It will still be delicious, albeit maybe a little tougher around the exterior.
Make sure to use a good temperature probe to keep track of your meat's temperature while it is cooking.
We are big fans of this one from ThermoPro.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It's got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It's like a GPS for your meat!
Anyways, back to our smoked pulled pork...
You are going to leave your pork shoulder on the Traeger until it hits somewhere between 197-203°F when measured with a probe or instant thermometer.
Don't rush it.
It will not be fall apart tender or pull well even if you take it off at 180°F.
165-180°F is a great temperature range for SLICING pork, but if you want it fall apart tender and easy to pull, leave it on until it hits 197°F.
To Wrap or Not to Wrap, AKA the "Texas Crutch"
Another way to speed up your cooking time is by using a tried and tested barbecue technique known as the "Texas Crutch".
Cool name, but don't worry, it's not complicated.
Sometimes for hours depending on the size of the meat.
This can be maddening if your guests are arriving soon and the internal temperature needs to rise another 50°F and hasn't budged for over an hour.
Without getting too much into the science behind why this happens, just understand it has to do with a lot of trapped moisture evaporating at this temperature and continually cooling your meat as it evaporates.
One way to "power through the stall" is to take your pork butt out of the Traeger when it hits 150°F, and double or triple wrap it tightly in aluminum foil.
Then replace your thermometer, place the meat back on the pellet grill, and let it continue to cook.
The aluminum foil will keep the moisture from evaporating, possibly keeping your meat from drying out as much while to cooks, and most importantly, let it continue to steadily rise in temperature.
Leave it wrapped until it gets to your target temperature range of 197°-203°F and then remove it from the smoker.
Unwrap the Boston butt and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes before pulling it.
Pro Tip: If you want to firm the bark back up before pulling, take it out of the aluminum foil at 192°F and place it back on the Traeger UNWRAPPED for the last 15-20 minutes until it hits 197°-203°F.
How to Pull the Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork
Once you've removed the pork butt from the Traeger pellet grill and you have let it rest in an aluminum pan for about 20-30 minutes, it's time to pull that meat!
You can use 2 forks, or better yet a pair of BBQ Bear Claws to make the job even faster (and fun)!
Once you have pulled the meat, test it for seasoning, you likely need to add some salt.
Add a little salt at time, mixing it in and re-taste testing as you go.
You can also add a little apple cider vinegar and mix it in the give it some sweetness and acidity to balance out the fattiness.
As far as sauce, our hands down favorite sauce for smoked pulled pork is Blues Hog Tennessee Red Sauce.
It has everything: spice, acid, sweetness, and gives you that truly authentic vinegary carolina pulled pork flavor that perfectly counterbalances and cuts through the rich fat and smokiness of your Traeger pulled pork.
Keep in mind a little goes a long way because it has SO MUCH FLAVOR.
Pro Tip: It's always best to offer BBQ sauce on the side and let your guests choose whether to add it and how much to add rather than slopping it all over your meat and possibly turning folks off.
You spent a lot of time on that meat so let them taste it first rather than dousing it in bbq sauce immediately!
Serve and Enjoy!
And there you have it!
Serve your Traeger smoked pulled pork on large brioche buns for an extra level of deliciousness, and you can even top it with some vinegary coleslaw and serve along with some baked beans and corn on the cob for an authentic bbq experience!
What Else Can I Smoke on my Traeger Pellet Grill?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration for that new Traeger?
So glad you asked.
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
They can all easily be adapted to be made on a Traeger pellet grill.
Smoked Pork, Turkey, and Chicken
- Traeger Smoked Baby Back Ribs
- Pellet Grill Smoked Pork Chops
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cajun Butter Injection
- Spiral Sliced Smoked Hot Dogs
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Gas Grilled Bratwurst
- Pellet Grilled Bratwurst
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Honey Smoked Salmon
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Honey Smoked Tilapia
- Perfect Smoked Halibut
- Smoked Prime Rib on a Traeger Pellet Grill
- Perfect Smoked London Broil
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Hot and Fast Smoked Beef Brisket
- Smoked Corned Beef
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Smoked Eye of Round Roast Beef
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
Other Odds and Ends
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked Asparagus
- Smoked Cauliflower
- Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes
- Perfect Steamed Tamales
Trash Can Turkey - OK, technically not made on a grill or smoker but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey...at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours!
You've got to check it out!
Easy Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork
- Traeger Pellet Grill
- Wood pellets for Traeger, preferably hickory, apple, and/or cherry
- Aluminum Foil Trays
- Plastic Wrap
- Internal Meat Thermometer
- Brush or spray bottle (preferably the latter)
- Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
- Cutting Board
- Large forks or a Pair of BBQ Bear Claws
- 5-8 lb Pork Shoulder Bone-In. Also sometimes labeled as a Pork Shoulder or Boston Butt.
- Olive Oil or Yellow Mustard
Mad Backyard's Pulled Pork Rub
- 4 tablespoon Brown sugar
- 3 tablespoon Salt
- 3 tablespoon Paprika
- ½ tablespoon Cayenne
- 1 tablespoon Onion powder
- 1 tablespoon Garlic powder
- 2 tablespoon Ground black pepper
- Apple Juice or Cola in a Spray Bottle optional to spray during the cook
- Salt to taste to add at the end after pulling
- Apple Cider vinegar to taste to add at the end after pulling
- Blues Hog Tennessee Red BBQ Sauce Or any vinegar based BBQ sauce for pulled pork
Prepare the Pork Butt for the Traeger
- Trim any excess fat from the exterior of the pork butt. Trim the fat cap down to ¼" thickness. Score the fat cap with a meat knife in 2 directions perpendicular to each other.
- In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. This includes the brown sugar, salt, paprika, cayenne, the onion and garlic powders and the ground black pepper. Mix it all to make the dry rub. Keep in mind you can always buy your own dry rub or use your own recipe. It’s up to you.
- Cover your boston butt with a thin layer of olive oil or yellow mustard, then generously apply your rub to coat the entire exterior of the meat.
- Wrap your boston butt in plastic wrap and place it back in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Start the Traeger Pellet Grill
- Start up the Traeger pellet grill, add your chosen pellets to the hopper, and set the temperature to 225°F.
- If you are using a newer model Traeger such as the Ironwood or Timberline series, you can also select the "Super Smoke" setting but you will have to set the temperature to 220°F as this is the maximum temp for this setting to work.
- Remove the top rack if you are not using it and cover the drip tray in aluminum foil for easier cleanup later.
- Fill an aluminum pan with water pan if you want to add extra moisture, and place it on the far left side of the Traeger grill. Place a disposable bucket liner in the grease bucket as well if you want.
Start Smoking the Pork on the Traeger
- Remove the pork from the refrigerator, add any additional rub that may have come off, and once the Traeger is up to 225°F, place the pork butt on the grate with the fat side DOWN and the thickest part facing to the hotter RIGHT side.
- Place your thermometer inside the pork making sure to not touch the bone.
- Set a timer to 3 hours and close the door to the Traeger. Every hour you can optionally spray the exterior of the meat with apple juice or cola to help form the bark and keep the meat moist.
- Your meat will take on average 1.5 hours total to cook per pound. You can empty and refill more wood pellets as needed, however, with a full hopper you should not need to add much more
- When the internal temperature of the pork butt hits about 150-155°F, remove it from the Traeger and triple wrap it in aluminum foil. Replace the thermometer and place back in the pellet grill. You can turn OFF the "Super Smoke" feature at this point if you are using it.
- Once the internal temperature hits 192°F, remove the pork from the foil and place it unwrapped back in the Traeger to firm the bark back up. You can increase the temperature up to 275°F at this time if you wish.
- Once the internal temperature hits 197°-203°F, remove the pork butt from the Traeger and place it in an aluminum pan. Let it rest fo 20-30 minutes.
Pull and Serve the Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork
- Pull your pork using a pair or forks or Bear Claws. Discard any large pieces of fat and the bone.
- After you finish pulling and mixing, taste the pulled pork and add salt to taste, mixing as you add it in. You can also add some apple cider vinegar to taste to add some acidity.
- Serve with buns and a vinegar based BBQ sauce on the side to top with like Blues Hog Tennessee Red.