A Southern favorite, Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches are ‘real deal’ Carolina style barbecue without shortcuts. A tender smoked pork butt and a heap of pulled pork sandwiches are what I’m after today. Y’all are coming along for the ride.
Rich, savory, slow-smoked pork butt is mopped with a thin, vinegar based sauce, bringing a wee bit of bite to that melt in your mouth smoked masterpiece.
Barbecue is interpreted in many ways or “styles” across our country. I have had folks challenge me here on Not Entirely Average. About barbecue that is. Whether the sauces I have shared on this site are “southern.”
Maybe this is because I am NOT originally from the south.
‘How ever would a Yank be able to adequately judge the merits of a southern sauce? After all, she isn’t southern to begin with.’
You be the judge. Make my Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches and let me know.
The traditional method for any Carolina style barbecue is to smoke the pork low and slow for 14 to 16 hours, imparting a deep smoky flavor and unbelievable tenderness to the butt. The beautiful ‘bark’ or crust on the outside is kind of the prize, and the goal of any great pitmaster is to ensure each sandwich gets some of that bark…
First and foremost, I am a fairly skilled home cook before I am a Comeya or a Beenya. Oh, “Comeya” is a Geechee term that translates to “Come here”. This term is used to describe someone that is not native to the area. That’s me. Beenya, well that’s just the opposite; somebody who is from here.
Either way, I speak food! I am a quick learn when it comes to educating myself or watching what experts do to teach me. Most of the time, they don’t even know they’re teaching me. I observe and absorb. Anybody who grew up here in the great American South is an ‘expert’ on most things barbecue in my opinion. And I watch ’em like a hawk.
I allow myself to “get schooled” whenever I have the opportunity. And I’ve eaten barbecue in 42 of the United States. We could argue all day about what region of the US has the best barbecue. But if you ask me, I’m a fan of each and every region.
I offer my Southern-Style Molasses Barbecue Sauce whenever I smoke a pork butt for my Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches. My Creamy Southern Coleslaw and Cinnamon Spice Pickled Onions are “necessary add-ons” according to my faithful food followers!
When I first moved here to Charleston, South Carolina, I was introduced pretty immediately to what is referred to as the ‘Carolina-style’ of barbecue. Carolina-style means pulled pork almost always. And this is not a quick fete. It’s a midnight start and an all day affair with a couple of heavily seasoned pork butts, a mess of hickory or apple wood chunks, and a tangy vinegar sauce. Well, and you need a smoker.
Now, I have done smoked Boston butts on my charcoal grill before, however the temperature control was always an issue. Issues lead to dry meat and nobody wants dry barbecue. Today, I am smoking my butts (I laugh whenever I say that!) on a Weber Smoky Mountain Smoker which I purchased about five years ago.
I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. Yet, it wasn’t but after one smoke that I was WOWED into wondering why I had not purchased one a decade earlier. The hang of a smoker is not difficult to pick up. Not at all. Preparation is key.
A lightly buttered and griddled or toasted burger bun is all I require to pile a heap of this smoked pork atop…we go old school down here.
I smoked a beef brisket and it came out PERFECT. So much so that the folks I fed questioned if I was really the person who made it. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
I never gave much thought about highlighting the cooking art that is smoking here on Not Entirely Average. I have received quite a number of barbecue questions of late, and most of my answers always involve smoking over and above just throwing something on the gas grill.
Don’t get me wrong, I grill. But just because you grill something and add a traditional bottled sauce to it doesn’t mean you’ve got yourself barbecue. No it does not. Let’s put it this way; a good smoke no matter if a brisket or a pork shoulder, NEEDS NO SAUCE. And no gas grill is going to yield a smoke ring.
Hickory or apple are my woods of choice when smoking in the Carolina style. I was taught to use hickory by a central North Carolina pitmaster, however both cherry and apple work well, too.
It may not look like much, but it’s a hell of a great appliance if it can be referred to as such. My slow cooked, 14 to 16-hour butts are going to turn out more tender and more moist and exponentially more flavorful than anything conceivable in a crock pot or a gas grill, and with no need for a liter of cola or liquid smoke to fake out my eaters.
And despite the large fat cap on this cut of meat to begin with, the final product is essentially melted and completely broken down. It is considerably lean.
A traditional vinegar moppin’ sauce is for anyone who takes their pork BBQ seriously.
As far as Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches go, I like to think I have learned from the best. The hogs are smoked over a multi-hour slow hickory heat, mopped with a vinegar-based solution, and shredded or ‘pulled’ with a pair of meat claws before being mopped with the vinegar based solution again and then again. The Lowcountry has been doing it this way for a couple of centuries at least, so I have it on good authority that I am doing it correctly.
On days where I plan to smoke, I also set aside a biggie home project to tackle. It seems cleaning out the garage takes just about the same amount of hours as a long smoke.
Since I have no intention of harvesting a whole hog, a couple to three Boston butts, bone-in, and with heavy fat caps are on my list when I visit my local box store. Its fattiness is actually an asset, as it will render and “self-baste” the meat during smoking to create exceptionally moist and tender meat. I recently picked up an 8-pound butt for $0.97 per pound and KNEW I was going to HAVE TO SMOKE.
Using a leaner cut won’t work well, as the final product will be exceptionally dry before it’s even entirely cooked. I am looking for the highest quality I can find if I am going to invest this much time.
The outcome, oh…it’ll be WELL WORTH IT. Just watch my neighbors as they begin sniffing around (LITERALLY) by hour 2 or 3…you’d be shocked at who starts chatting you up once the primitive aroma of smoked meat is in the air.
Be sure to tuck some of the prized ‘bark’ into each sandwich. It is undeniably THE BEST part of a long smoke.
When the pandemic was still a few weeks out before hitting the United States, I panicked some. You who follow me weekly know that I have discussed this feeling of fear and being “caught without” before in prior posts. I went into what can only best be described as quasi survival mode. I had us stocked up on EVERYTHING.
Some of the supplies I focused on were smoking woods like mesquite and peach and hickory, as well as natural lump charcoal. I purchased bags and bags of the charcoal because I knew that no matter what happened, we could cook. Having the luxury of hardwoods to use to smoke with would just be a bonus.
Do a lot of tailgating? Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches are your answer for great food to share. All that’s left is to chill down the beer.
The trick with natural charcoal is to purchase, but also be able to keep the coal as well as the woods, dry. The garage was the only place I would consider storing the coal as it is mighty dirty.
A gigantic unused plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid was my solution and I tossed plenty of shredded brown paper bag material in with it to absorb any moisture, just in case. The shredded brown bags make excellent tinder starters when jumbled into a ball, so nothing to waste.
I prepped my Weber Smoky Mountain by giving it a good hose down. Given the number of hours that go into smoking any recipe or recipes, I made sure that she was ready to rock and roll. Grill grates clean, smoker placed AWAY from the house and all structures, and where I would NOT be beneath low-hanging trees with any dead branches or Spanish moss. Smoking means first playing with fire, so make sure you use care.
What Is Moppin’ Sauce?
Earlier, I referenced a vinegar based solution used to flavor the pork. The flavor does not come entirely from the hickory smoke or the moppin’ sauce, but rather from both. Moppin’ sauce is made with apple cider vinegar, a wee bit of ketchup, some brown sugar, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground black pepper. Rarely, but sometimes, I cut the cider vinegar with plain distilled vinegar in equal parts.
The sauce I am using is NOT a South Carolina Lowcountry sauce, nor is it technically (from what I am told) a true eastern North Carolina sauce, rather a ‘North Carolina style’ bbq sauce. And yes, this recipe comes from a friend born and raised in High Falls, North Carolina.
How Is Moppin’ Sauce Or BBQ Sauce Made?
I combine his 6 ingredients, give it a good shake, and let it sit overnight. If you do not have overnight, aim for a minimum of 2 hours. I use a cheap plastic condiment bottle which I purchased online for my moppin’ sauce. The biggest canning jar you’ve got on hand will work, too, as long as it has a tight-fitting lid.
I will ONLY use natural lump charcoal. Never briquettes. Lump Charcoal is raw wood. Briquettes consist of wood byproducts held together with a binding agent. I am not okay with that binding agent despite the claims that it is safe. There are always exceptions because not all briquettes are created the same. Do your homework if using briquettes.
Smoking one or two pork butts ahead of a party like New Years Eve or the Super Bowl means a HEAP of burger-sized sandwiches for everybody to enjoy.
How Long Does It Take To Smoke A Pork Butt?
Smoke the pork shoulder(s) at 225 degrees for 2 hours PER POUND. it’s nothing for an 8-pound shoulder to smoke for 16 hours. I often set my smoker up in the day. Load it with coals and prep the chimney. I do this so I can get a midnight start on my shoulder. Yes, midnight. Light the chimney, get the coals red hot, transfer the chimney coals to the smoker, and assemble the barrel and add my water while the coals catch.
I add my pre-rubbed/seasoned shoulder, FAT CAP UP, on the top grate. I use a handy device that allows me to constantly know both the internal temperature (IT) of my meat, as well as the IT of the smoker itself. Once my vents are working to where my smoker is reading anywhere between 220 and 230 degrees Fahrenheit, I’m off to bed. (If you prefer to smoke hotter at 250, the range should be 245 to 255). The coals will do the job while I snooze. My device’s alarm will alert me to if there is a huge temperature rise or fall to which I need to attend.
Pulled smoked pork is great for sliders. I also stuff them into quesadillas with Muenster and onions, homemade chalupas with pineapple salsa, or toss into a mean smoky chili with beans and lentils. The possibilities are endless.
Ultimately, the internal temperature for the safe consumption of pork is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For smoked pork, we go a heck of a lot further. For our purposes, we’re going all the way to 201 degrees Fahrenheit for melt-in-your-mouth, falling apart TENDER and MOIST pork.
Even then, the butt(s) are removed from the smoker carefully and double wrapped in aluminum foil TIGHTLY for 2 hours before pulling. I like using hickory wood for smoking pork shoulder, though cherry and apple are also respectable options. It really comes down to personal preference.
I can’t discuss ANY kind of Carolina barbecue without a firm nod to both South Carolina and North Carolina…
So, I have touched on the Carolina style pulled pork. What I have failed to educate you about is which Carolina, and what region of either state.
A South Carolina Lowcountry barbecue sauce is a mustard-based sauce. It tends to be popular because it’s both mustard-pungent and brown sugar sweet all at the same time. It is applied during the smoke and again at the end as a condiment. We are not doing that here today.
An eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce is a vinegar-based sauce. A North Carolina pulled pork vinegar sauce is the tiniest bit sweet with a nod to red pepper. It is used as a condiment at the end, not as a baste during the smoke. We are not doing this one here today either.
As I referenced above, I am using (and teaching YOU!) a ‘North Carolina-STYLE‘ sauce given to me by a pitmaster friend from central North Carolina. It is neither a traditional North or South Carolina sauce, rather “in the STYLE of…” Just know that regardless of the bbq sauce you choose, the method for the smoke is still largely the same. L-O-W and S-L-O-W.
Barbecue may be a lot of things to a whole lot of people, but when you hear Carolina barbecue, people are referring to low and slow smoked pork butt, rested, pulled, and mopped with a vinegar-based sauce.
Set your smoker up for a long, low-and-slow smoke. It must run in the 225 degree range for a 14 to 16-hour smoke (preferred), or in the 250 degree range for a 10 to 12-hour smoke for this method and recipe. Make sure you have AMPLE CHARCOAL before embarking. Even a short 10-hour smoke will likely require you adding additional coal as you go along.
Once my pit temperature has stabilized and holds steady in the range I have decided to smoke in, I’m ready. Toss a couple to three chunks of the wood atop. Place the pork butt FAT SIDE UP on the cooking grate. I begin with a good natural lump charcoal base and I use hickory wood for the smoke. I add the hickory to the coals as needed for the first 4 to 5 hours.
Do not remove any of the fat cap from the pork butt prior to smoking. The vast majority will render out during the smoke, and the fat “self-bastes” and keeps the meat moist during the cook.
I will be using a ‘North Carolina style’ pulled pork sauce recipe which I refer to as my moppin’ sauce. This is important to me so I continue to add moisture throughout the smoke. Additionally, I will set aside one cup of the sauce for doctoring. This doctored finished sauce will be offered as a condiment for serving. Gotta have sauce options for the folks committed to adding a condiment. Really though, once this meat is ready to serve, no additional sauce or condiments should be needed.
This is a long process, but it is ridiculously easy if you do not overthink it. You are aiming for an internal temperature of 201 degrees. THAT’S THE SWEET SPOT. 201 degrees Fahrenheit. And the sweet spot gobbles bunches of coal so keep the remainder of the bag ready for adding as you go to lengthen the smoke time relevant to your internal temperature. Oh, and have a couple bottles of wine or beer chilling, because this is gonna be a while!
DO NOT FORGET to serve your smoke with quick pickles and quick pickled onions. My recipes work fantastically for seriously awesome overnight ‘cue accompaniments.
Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- charcoal or pellet smoker
- meat thermometer
- heavy duty aluminum foil
- disposable aluminum pan(s)
Ingredients for Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches
for the pork sandwiches
- (1) 8 pound bone in pork butt
- 1/2 to 1 cup Kosher salt
- 16 yeast rolls or hamburger rolls or as needed
- 1 stick unsalted butter melted; this will not be used until JUST before serving
for the Moppin' Sauce
note: this solution will be divided, 1 cup being set aside for the sauce condiment at the end for serving
- 1 quart apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon pepper
for the Moppin' Sauce served with the sandwiches
- 1 cup the above solution
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- additional red pepper flakes if you desire more heat
to smoke the pork butt for a Carolina style bbq of smoked pulled pork
- Set your smoker up for an 8 to 10 hour smoke (this is based on a 4 pound butt; plan on 1 to 2 hours PER POUND of the size butt you are smoking if different than the 4lbs I am smoking)
- Remove the pork butt from the packaging and rinse under cool water. Pat the outside dry with paper towels and place in a large disposable aluminum pan.
- Coat the butt on all sides with a sizeable layer of Kosher salt. You will need anywhere between 1/2 cup to 1 cup. Most of this salt will render out along with the fat, however you need this amount of salt for a tender and seasoned finished smoke. Allow the meat sit until the smoker temperature is stabilized. The meat can even be prepped the night before you plan to smoke. Remove it from the refrigerator 45 minutes prior to smoking.
- Prepare your coals. (add the hickory to the coal as needed for the first 4 to 5 hours). Once your temperature gauge has stabilized to around 225°F, add 2 chunks of the hickory and place the pork butt FAT SIDE UP on the cooking grate. Replace the lid and resist lifting it for at least 2 hours. Check back to monitor your temperature gauge and adjust the vents as necessary to maintain temperature without lifting the lid. Don't worry is the smoker temperature fluctuates. Any temperature between 220°F – 230°F is sufficient. I use THIS DEVICE to monitor both my smoker internal temperature as well as the internal temperature of the meat.
- Once the pork has smoked for 2 hours remove the smoker lid and observe the meat. Mop or drizzle the top of the butt with a healthy dose of the vinegar sauce. Repeat this process every hour or so until the pork butt hits 201°F degrees internally.
- Once the pork is cooked through, DOUBLE WRAP the butt(s) in aluminum foil. Allow them to rest for 2 hours on the counter or inside of a dry cooler with a lid.
- After the meat has rested, remove from the foil making sure to incorporate all of the accumulated juices and blackened bits of bark. THIS IS THE GOLD. Remove the blade bone and shred the meat by hand for a pulled texture. Chopping it finely is how it'd typically be served in a barbecue restaurant here in Charleston and is also a good technique. I personally prefer my pork pulled versus chopped. I make a point of adding a little bit of the crunchy blackened bark bits into each sandwich.
for the Carolina Moppin' Sauce or pulled pork mop sauce
- One day ahead of cooking, add all of the ingredients in a bottle or jar and shake well. **NOTE: if you do not have advanced time to allow the vinegar solution to sit, try for a MINIMUM OF 2 HOURS. This solution does not need to be refrigerated but I do out of habit.
- Reserve 1 cup of the solution and add to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Pour the remainder of the solution into a squeeze bottle (or in a jar with a sauce mop) and set nearer the smoker to use as a baste every hour or as needed.
for the Carolina Moppin Sauce condiment
- To the 1 cup of reserved vinegar solution you added to a mixing bowl, add the ketchup and the brown sugar. Whisk well for several minutes until to sugar is COMPLETELY DISSOLVED.
assembling the sandwiches
- I enjoy serving these on smaller buns and plating two sammies per person/serving. I also prefer a yeast roll over a potato or Hawaiian roll, but this is strictly my preference. It's your smoke, you serve on whatever works for you. A hamburger bun will do the trick.
- Melt the unsalted butter in a sauce pan. Use a pastry brush to brush the butter on the inside tops and bottoms of the buns. If the smoker is still hot, arrange the tops and bottoms, buttered side down, atop the grate and cover for 3 to 5 minutes. You can also melt the butter in a shallow skillet and toast the buttered tops and bottoms in the skillet over medium high heat, 2 to 4 minutes.
- LOOSELY pile a handful of the smoked pork atop the bottom half of each buttered and toasted roll. You can either stop here by replacing the buttered and toasted top bun, or assemble with a scoop of creamy southern coleslaw added before replacing the top bun. Serve with the doctored barbecue sauce.
- Offer pickled onions and pickles alongside the smoke. They are as much a condiment as the sauce itself. Some prefer the pickled onions over the creamy slaw. It just depends on who you are feeding 🙂 I have links to both my Creamy Southern Cole Slaw as well as my Cinnamon and Spice Pickled Onions and my 3 Ingredient Flash Pickles herein. I have also linked to bbq sauces other than the sauce I specify herein. Serve them in addition to or in place of. It's your call.