Sous Vide: Hot Smoked Pork Butt; Customize Your Own Rub

This classic barbecue specialty stands on its own carved, leading eventually to the alliterative favorite called "Pulled Pork."


Pork butt (boneless shoulder), 1 each, 8 lb/3.7 Kg.

Egg whites, 3 each, or
Powdered egg whites–2 Tablespoons powdered egg white plus 2 Tablespoons water equals three egg whites. Powdered egg whites are reasonably priced, all natural, and prevent the accumulation of egg yolks in the refrigerator. I highly recommend them.
Flour, 0.5 cups/70 g (optional).

Salt, 2 teaspoons/lb. 5 teaspoons/Kg.

Sugar, 1 teaspoon.
Ground pepper, 1 Tablespoon.
Paprika, 1 Tablespoon.
Garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon.
Fennel seed, 1 Tablespoon.
Oregano, 1 Tablespoon.
Allspice, 1 teaspoon.
Coriander seeds, crushed, 1 Tablespoon.

Equipment requirements
“Back yard” hot smoker/bbq or conventional indoor oven.
Kitchen tongs.
Sheet pan.
Lipavi racks for use in the smoker–optional but recommended. They are water proof, chlorine proof, dishwasher proof, and oven/smoker proof.
Infrared or probe thermometer.






Serves 10+
Level of difficulty 3

Notes on rubs:

Store bought rubs are convenient, and convenience is important in our fast paced life styles. I have been known to use store bought seasoning mixes myself. I always feel a little guilty though, because I cannot forgive myself for paying $6/lb for salt. Salt barely costs $0.40/lb.

If you dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of hot water, and dissolve 1 teaspoon of your favorite proprietary rub in another cup of hot water, you will notice that the degree of saltiness is almost exactly the same. Things like this bother me.

Just another face palm.
Proprietary rubs also provide “umami” because they contain mono-sodium glutamate in one form or another. Most of us are hesitant to actually PURCHASE granulated glutamate for reasons that I probably don’t need to explain–they say it’s really bad for us. Proprietary rubs provide us with an excuse to consume MSG for the same reason that we shamelessly enjoy popcorn and potato chips. We know salt is bad for us too, but since somebody else put it on there we have no choice but to suffer through it.

The rest of the ingredients in proprietary rubs are pretty predictable. Garlic powder. An assortment of your basic spices like oregano and so forth. Paprika for color. Manufacturers reconstitute these components into multi-colored pebbles to catch our eyes, the old shiny object trick. That’s really all there is to it.

Rub recipes can be easily deconstructed and then reassembled. First, you calculate how much salt should be applied–usually about 2 teaspoons/lb. It can then be applied first, and directly. Salt is there for flavor–most of the other stuff is really just aroma. Assemble all the other typical ingredients that we all know go in there–there’s not much mystery to it. It’s fun to have fun with it. Add things, subtract things, nobody at the bbq will say “YOU LEFT OUT THE BLUE PEBBLES!”

UPDATE: For those interested in creating their own rubs, we have created such a series HERE.


Before we flavor and hot smoke our pork shoulder, we will use sous vide to tenderize, pasteurize and preserve it. Click HERE for this simple but all important first step. After processing and cold shocking:

Submerge the entire package for 5-10 minutes in a preheated sous vide bath or hot tap water (110+ F/44+ C). This will fully melt the gel. Cut one of the corners of the bag and drain the juices. Set aside. At your convenience, click HERE  to learn how to clarify the juices for use in any recipe that calls for stock or water. Finish opening the bag and remove the roast from bag. Pat the roast dry with paper towels.

Place roast on a clean surface.

Albumins are a clear, sticky protein easily detectable on the surface of raw meats. They are very similar to egg whites. Sous vide processing dissolves the albumins into the juices in the sous vide pouch. When the juices from the bag are brought to a boil, the albumins congeal and form those dots that look like discolored, broken up scrambled eggs–which is just about what they are.

We are going to recreate the sticky surface so that our rub clings to the roast. Use a fork to create a thick paste in a bowl by mixing the egg whites and the flour. The flour may be omitted to accommodate people with gluten intolerance. Spread the solution over the entire surface of the roast(s). The easiest way is to use clean hands, but some people find the tactile sensation unpleasant. Rubber gloves are a good alternative. I do this with everything from sous vide pork spare ribs to prime rib and even steaks. Many chefs do this even if they are not using sous vide processing. It’s great on baked potatoes too–sprinkling with kosher salt before baking makes the skin especially tasty and crisp.

Wash and dry your hands or dry the gloves. Sprinkle the roast(s) with the kosher salt in the amount of 2 teaspoons/lb. 5 teaspoons/Kg as explained in the ingredients section. This enables you to apply as much or as little rub as you like without affecting the salt content of the ultimate result. Apply your rub generously to the entire roast.


If you use a sodium free rub, you will not have to worry about over salting like you would with the store bought stuff. Life is grand.


I use a PID driven pellet smoker but any smoker will work. The lowest temperature practical in these devices is usually
180 F/82 C
Hot smoke the roast(s) at this temperature for a minimum of four hours–internal temperature should read at least 135 F/57 C–the same as the original target temperature. Remember: every time you open the lid, the smoker/oven loses about 100 F/38 C. It takes a smoker at least half an hour to recoup. This is why amateur barbecue practitioners end up serving so late at night. Do not open the lid for at least the first two hours of processing.

Most back yard smokers have thermometers. Most people either never glance at them or do not even know what temperatures they want. There are inexpensive, wireless thermometers so you can monitor the IT remotely from the comfort of your BarcaLounger in front of the television. Take advantage of the technology! And, again, remember: even at 350 F/176 C the roast will not burn in two hours.

The Roast:


Despite the pink color, the pork is safe to eat–after all, it has already been pasteurized in the sous vide bath. The pink color is not an indication of doneness or “rareness.” The pink color is the result of a reaction between carbon monoxide, CO, nitric oxide, NO and the meat itself. This is responsible for what pitmasters call the “smoke ring.”

Above, for me. Below, for “her.”

When it’s all over, avoid letting the roast sit out at room temperature for longer than two hours total. As soon as it achieves 70 F/21 C it should be refrigerated. This is the difference between properly prepared food and potentially hazardous “leftovers.

End of Round 2!

Stay Tuned.

Norm King


Once we have used sous vide to tenderize, pasteurize and preserve the boneless pork shoulder, we can proceed to the seasoning/hot smoking stage that follows. We will elaborate on the virtue of designing your own rub--an easy way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the weekend bbq crowd. No longer need you depend on overpriced powders and granules in eye catching packaging just to provide some zig and zag to your barbecue crust.

A pork shoulder that has been sous vide processed, hot smoked and served is still not ready for categorization as a "left-over." Rather, it becomes best suited for conversion into steaks, shavings, pulled pork and burnt ends. Read on!

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