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The third turn-in category during a Kansas City Barbeque Society competition is the pork butt.
There’s really only one written rule when it comes to the butt. At the time of your meat inspection, it must weigh more than four pounds.
Beyond that, the judges are looking for appearance, taste and tenderness.
How to Improve Your Pork Appearance
If you think about a traditional smoked pork butt that you serve to friends, it’s not pretty. It’s usually pulled and shredded, dredged in sauce and piled in a pan.
While pulled pork is absolutely acceptable for your turn-in, I recommend getting a little more creative, if you want to amp up your appearance score.
Top performing pitmasters usually turn in a variety of parts of the butt, including pulled, tubes, chunks, “bacon” and the coveted money muscle.
The chunks, bacon and muscle are appealing because, cooked properly, they are coated with a beautiful mahogany bark.
When it comes to appearance, judges are also looking for meat that looks succulent and juicy. If it looks dry, they’ll dock you in appearance, and they’ll probably dock you again when it comes to tenderness.
What is the money muscle?
The money muscle is the section of the pork butt on the opposite end of the bone. It is similar to a pork loin, in that it’s a cylinder of meat that’s about 2-3 inches thick.
Pitmasters remove it from the butt and then slice it into 1/4-1/2-inch thick pieces and layer it in the box as the star of the show.
Muscle usually has a great tasting and looking outer bark, and the inside is moist and delicious.
Why do people feel so obligated to add the muscle to the box?
Some people feel that judges will look at the box and expect it. They think if a judge sees a box without six slices of muscle, the judges will think the pitmaster failed in the cook somehow.
As a KCBS judge, I can tell you that judges cannot and should not dock a box if it is missing muscle. Just like they cannot and should not dock a brisket box if it doesn’t have burnt ends.
As a competitor, you are only required to include 6 pieces of pork or enough pulled pork for six judges to sample.
If it’s not good, don’t put it in the box
This is probably the hardest rule to follow. After smoking a pork butt for several hours, it’s only natural that you want to build a beautiful box showcasing a variety of cuts.
But don’t be tempted to let your appearance score trump your taste and tenderness score.
If that money muscle is not great, don’t add it to the box.
Your appearance score carries the lowest weight. So even if that muscle will earn you 9s in appearance, once the judges bite into it, if it’s not good, they could give you 7s or 6s in taste and/or tenderness.
That will hurt your overall score much more.
This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. But finally, at my last competition, I wasn’t happy with my muscle, and I had the balls to leave it out. I ended up getting a call. I don’t think that would have been the case, if the muscle was in the box.
How to select a good pork butt
The sport of BBQ is expensive, so go with a butt that fits within your budget. Pork is more forgiving, so I tend to invest more on my brisket.
I’ve had success with both Smithfield and Compart Durcoc pork butts. Other pitmasters have luck with Prairie Fresh.
No matter the brand, the important thing to look for is that muscle.
I’ve cooked 7-8-pound butts, but I tend to prefer the 10-pound butts, because the muscle is larger.
Grab hold of the muscle. You’re looking for girth. If it feels thin in your hand, put that baby back.
While you could just cook one competition pork butt and have enough portions for the judges, I always smoke two. This gives me flexibility, just in case one doesn’t turn out the way I expected.
I’ve known some teams who cook 4-5. Again, go with your budget and take into account your grill space. The more meat you add to your grill, the more you disrupt airflow and slow down your cook.
To trim or not to trim
I’ve known some successful teams that don’t trim at all. While there are others who sculpt the muscle and tubes and even others who remove the bone.
Personally, I like to remove the excess fat around the muscle and shape it out a bit. I usually leave the rest of the butt alone.
Creating a Juicy Pork Butt
A competition pork butt on its own is going to be juicy. But a pork butt that’s been injected is going to be succulent. Remember, these judges get one bite, so you need to hit a homerun.
Top pitmasters usually inject their butts. Injections can be straight up juice – try apple, white grape or peach nectar – or a combo of juices and rubs with a pop of phosphates.
I’ve had luck with the injections from Kosmos Q. I go back and forth between his pork injection and his moisture magic.
As for when to inject, I always inject after meat inspections on Friday, usually anywhere between 3-5 p.m. After the injection, I hit it with my Pork Rub.
Rub Your Butt
As with all competition BBQ, the rub is going to be that zinger on the tongue that sets your taste score above your competitors.
I look for rubs that have vibrant red color, a little sweet and a little heat – along with the right dose of salt. Don’t be shy with the rub. You want to give it a generous coat on all sides.
Let it rest overnight and brine in that injection and rub.
Smoking Your Butt
For competitions, I cook on drums, and I’m a fan of 275F degrees for pork butt. I light my drum about an hour before I add the meat, using charcoal and cherry and pecan wood chunks.
The butts go on the smoker fat-side-down for about 3 ½ hours, and I spritz with apple cider vinegar every hour or so to keep the butts moist.
Once that bark is a beautiful mahogany, it’s time to wrap.
Wrapping Your Butt
Along with the injection, wrapping is another key step to a moist competition pork butt.
Almost all pitmasters wrap in a double layer of foil. The most common technique is to add brown sugar, honey and butter to the top and bottom of the butt. For backyard cooks, squeezable Parkay does the trick, but for comps, the big boys are using European butter.
You’ll also want to add 1/2-3/4 cup of liquid. Apple juice or white grape juice mixed with some Worcestershire sauce or broth is a good combo.
At this point, you can either remove the money muscle and wrap it separately, or you can wrap the muscle up with the whole butt. If you choose to keep it connected, make sure you know which end is the muscle, because it will cook faster.
Once the pork butt is tightly wrapped, return it to the smoker.
There are differing opinions about when to pull the pork off the smoker. Anywhere between 195-205F is pretty standard. I usually like to hit around 200F.
If you left the muscle connected, separate it once it probes at 200F or so. Then, wrap it separately and hold it in the Cambro or cooler.
Wrap the rest of the butt back up, and continue cooking it to about 200.
If you separated the muscle and wrapped it separately, you can just remove it from the smoker at 200ish.
Hold That Butt
If you’re cooking at 275F, your competition pork butt should be done cooking in about 6 hours. Once it reaches temp, it’s important to hold it for at least an hour, so the juices redistribute evenly for a moist bite.
Boxing Your Pork Butt
For KCBS comps, pork turn in is at 1 p.m. This means, you should start getting your box ready around 12:30 – right after you turn in your ribs.
If you’re doing multiple sections of the pork butt, this will be your most time consuming box.
Your pork butt wrap will be full of jus. Gently pour that into a gravy separator and add the jus (sans upper layer of grease) to a disposable aluminum pan.
Next, unwrap your muscle and slice it into at least six pieces. I recommend not counting the end pieces. You want clean meat on each side. Your muscle may be too small to yield six slices, which is why smoking two butts is ideal.
Place the slices in the pan of jus.
Next, pull the tubes out of the pork butt. These are going to be found next to where the money muscle was laying. They will be obvious long narrow strips of meat. Some may be one-inch thick, while others may be thinner.
Place these in the jus.
The most popular third pork entry is chunks. The chunks are meaty pieces of pork with a sexy level of bark. I usually find my best pieces near the bone.
If you’re going with three sections of the butt like this, be sure there are six pieces of each type. And remember if one type is not good, don’t put it in the box.
Saucing Your Butt
After you have all of your pieces, the final step is the sauce.
There are two common practices. You can either sauce and box or sauce, set and box.
For tubes, I just massage with sauce and jus and add to the box. For my money and chunks, I sauce the slices, set them back on the smoker for a couple of minutes and then box them.
If you choose to set the sauce, be careful that you don’t overcook the meat. That can mess with your tenderness.
Once all of your pieces are assembled beautifully in your box, close that lid and carefully deliver it to the judges.
Competition Pork Butt
- 10 lb pork butt
- 1 1/2 cups apple juice
- 1/3 cup Kosmos Q pork injection
- Christie Vanover's Pork Rub
- 3/4 cup apple juice
- 3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 8 pats butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 cups barbecue sauce
- Trim the pork butt by sculpting the money muscle, removing excess fat that is around it.
- Combine 1 1/2 cups apple juice and pork injection. About 12 hours before you’re ready to smoke the meat, inject the meat all over with the juice mixture. Pat dry.
- Add your Pork Rub to all sides of the pork butt. Refrigerate overnight.
- Heat your smoker to 275F degrees with charcoal and cherry and pecan wood chunks.
- Add the pork butt to the smoker fat side down. Smoke for about 3 1/2 hours.
- While the meat is smoking, combine 1/2 cup apple juice and Worcestershire sauce.
- Once the meat has a nice mahogany bark, remove it from the smoker. Slice off the money muscle.
- Place two large sheets of aluminum foil on the counter. Add a couple handfuls of brown sugar, 3 pats of butter and a few squeezes of honey. Place the butt on the ingredients, fat side up.
- Add brown sugar, 3 pats of butter and a few drizzles of honey to the top.
- Fold up the edges and pour most of the apple juice mixture around the butt. Wrap up tightly.
- Place two smaller sheets of foil on the counter. Add brown sugar, butter and honey. Place the money muscle on the foil cut side down. Top with brown sugar, butter and honey.
- Fold up the edges of the foil, and add pour the remaining juice around the muscle. Wrap up tightly.
- Place the wrapped meat back on the smoker. Remove once each reaches about 200F degrees.
- Place in a hot hold for at least one hour.
- Just before turn in, gently pour the jus from the foil into a gravy separator. Add the bottom portion of the jus to an aluminum pan, leaving the grease in the separator.
- Slice the muscle into six pieces, pull the tubes and cut up the chunks. Add them all to the jus.
- Place the slices and chunks on the cutting board and brush with sauce. Return to the smoker for 3-5 minutes.
- Toss the tubes with sauce, and place in the box.
- Add the chunks and muscle slices to the box.
- Close the lid, and turn it into the judges.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.