The Lexington Collection
Pretty Polly
    A Backyard Barbecue Machine
Time & Temperature

The proper temperature for making pulled pork barbecue is the subject of much debate. Temperatures below 125F are adequate for smoking meats over long periods of time. Grilling tender cuts of meats generally requires temperatures above 350F. Pulled pork barbecue, on the other hand, is created by cooking an inexpensive cut of meat at moderate temperatures over a period of time long enough for the tough connective tissues to break down, but short enough for the barbecue to remain moist throughout. That means maintaining a cooking temperature of approximately 250 F for about 8-12 hours.

The shoulders are started face down ...

When the pit reaches temperature, the shoulders are started face side down (skin-side up). In a pit with direct heat, common practice is to turn the shoulders face side up about a third of the way through. Then, when about two-thirds of the way through, they are turned face side down again until done. Laying a piece of cardboard on top of the shoulders throughout the cooking process helps reduce the amount of ash that falls onto the meat during cooking.

... and then turned face up.

The first 6 hours of cooking are mighty dull. Beyond making more coals from time-to-time, about the only thing to do is fiddle with the coals and controls to maintain a steady temperature. The toughest part is resisting the temptation to take a peek inside the pit every now and then. Don't! It only slows down the process by reducing the temperature and letting all that wonderful smoke escape.

For the finish, the shoulders are turned face down again.

So when is the barbecue ready? Cookbooks say it is done when the coolest part reaches 170F. That may be so, technically speaking, but it ain't barbecue yet. The barbecue is ready when (1) the skin has turned a nice dark brown and is loose on the meat, (2) the outer layer of meat has developed a pink aura typical of meats cooked in the presence of smoke, and (3) the shoulder will no longer support its own weight because the meat pulls away from the bone when moved. Wiggle the leg bone. Is it loose? Lift the skin at one corner. Does it move freely? Pinch an exposed portion. Can you pull out a long hunk easily? If so, its ready! Depending upon the temperatures encountered along the way and the size of the shoulder, this happy state of affairs is usually achieved after 8-12 hours.

A pair of perfectly done barbecue shoulders after 11 hours.

If the barbecue is ready before you are, don't panic. Just wrap it tightly in aluminum foil, idle the temperature back to 100-125F, or so, and let the barbecue sit. It will only get better!

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