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Full smoker cook better than mostly empty?


New member
I just got my first pellet smoker (Louisiana) and just did my first smoke. It was a smallish (3lb or so) wild boar shoulder. After doing a lot of reading I decided to do the low and slow process. I set the temp to 210F and put the shoulder in the middle. I was going for an internal temp of 180F but after 8 hours it was still only 147 so I increased the grill temp to 250 because it was getting late. 4 hours later it was 175F and I decided to just take it off. Came out pretty good actually. Nice smoke ring and still moist and tender. Center part was a bit plain in taste but I didn't do anything special with the meat other than an overnight soak in brine.

Anyway, I'm curious if that is a normal amount of time or if it was just too much grill volume and too little meat. In other words, does it work better to have more in the smoker? Everything I read said 1.5 - 2 hours per pound so either I need a higher temp to start or more patience.

Any advice for a new smoker? Thanks.


Welcome phdog,

No, you didn't need more in the smoker. 210 is a bit low, next time try running at 225. It will reach 'the stall' somewhere around the 150 mark. At that point you have a choice. Do nothing, which means you are in for a long smoke as the stall can last as long as 4-6 hours before the IT starts to move again. Double wrap the shoulder in foil and bump the temp. This will help it power through the stall. You are looking for a finished IT of around 203 at which time the meat should be pulled and rested (in a cooler with towels above and below) for at least 2 hours. Wonderful things happen during the rest period.

Meat can't tell time, and it's done when it wants to be. Invest in a good reporting internal meat probe (Mavericks or Thermapen) and monitor the temp vs the clock. BTW: have you verified your smoker's actual grate temp. Built-in therms are notorious for being off.

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Yep, like mcschlotz said, 210° is pretty low. It would take a l-o-o-o-o-ng time for a shoulder to cook through at that temp.

Adding more food adds a bit more time to your cook depending on what it is and how much, etc. For example; if I fill my MAK up with 8 butts/picnics, versus only cooking one or two, it always adds at 2 - 3 hours to the cook time, because there's more meat pulling heat from the air in the pit, especially in the beginning when the meat is still cold.

phdog said:
Center part was a bit plain in taste but I didn't do anything special with the meat other than an overnight soak in brine.

That is normal. First, shoulders have a much smaller surface area to meat ratio than something like ribs, so you never get as much smoke flavor throughout the meat as a whole, especially in the center.

That is also why I prefer foiling shoulders with a little vinegar and catching the juices. Those juices mingle with the rub on the outside and are like liquid gold when mixed back in with the pulled pork! ;)


New member
Thanks for the info. Good to know about the temp. That's one thing I wasn't sure about - low and slow vs too low. I'm doing some salmon today. Maybe I'll try 225 although obviously different "meat".

You are looking for a finished IT of around 203 at which time the meat should be pulled and rested (in a cooler with towels above and below) for at least 2 hours. Wonderful things happen during the rest period.

So, just to clarify, would you leave it in foil inside the cooler with like cotton towels to help hold the heat or are we talking paper towels?

Thanks again.


Bath towels - cotton..... I usually place the foil wrapped butt in an aluminum pan first just to be sure to trap any escaping juices while it rests.


The FTC (Foil, Towel, Cooler) method mcschlots described is one method, and a lot of guys swear by it.

Another is the probe method: After my pork shoulders have been foiled for a couple hours I start probing for tenderness. I stick a probe into the meat and if it slides all the way to the middle with little to no resistance, then I know, without a doubt, the meat is done and tender. If there's any resistance at all, that means the connective muscle tissue has not yet broken down, and it needs more time.

Using that method to test for doneness, I also never have to bother with resting pork shoulders (unless they're done ahead of schedule). Think about it; if they are tender enough for a probe to slide in easily, then there's no connective muscle fiber left to rest and nothing is gained.

This method is very predictable, BUT here's the caveat; it requires a little time to learn and consistency in cook times and temperatures. And ALWAYS leave a least an extra hour for fudge room in case you have a stubborn shoulder or two!

For example; when I do a large group cook (such as the Marching Band cookout every year), I know that 4 whole shoulders (4 butts + 4 picnics) requires around 10 hours of cooking time. So I start them at least 11 hours before I need them to be done, and if they're done within the 10 hours, then I just ramp the MAK down to a lower temp to hold them.

One more note: Good gloves help a lot when dealing with hot pork shoulders!

I put on a double layer of these: Cotton Glove Liners - Big Poppa Smokers - and then a layer of nitrile gloves over top. They're very flexible and comfortable!

I also have a pair of these for pulling the shoulder off the grill and love 'em!: Insulated Neoprene Gloves

Hope this info helps!


New member
I put that boar shoulder, cubed, into some chili and cooked it all day in a crockpot. It was one of the best chilis I've made. I see now how the long cook on low heat helps to break down the meat.

Just sharing.

Big Poppa

first question needs to be answered better....there is an ideal balance between smoke and moisture...especially in a convection type cooker like a pellet smoker. You can get that with a little water pan..or more meat....I think four shoulders are bettter than one...but you dont want to crowd the smoker because that will affect the coverage and cook time

A brine will not get any flavor into the middle of a piece of meat....injections do...search injections.

A couple of threads from newbies remind me to talk about temps and meats. A good rule of thumb is the thicker the meat the lower the temp...or the thinner the meat cut the higher the heat....salmon at 225 will come out ok but not near as well as 275-325. I see a lot of people running smoke for 4 hours then bumping to 210 for 8 hours then 4 hours at 275 because they are panicing. Think of the meat as sitting with a hot fan blowiing on it for 16 hours...you will get drier meat.

That is also why its good to spritz every 30-45 minutes helps build a bark, protects the meat and adds flavor depending on what you use. Some just use water...some go with a mop instead and they are usually vinegar based. You can spritz a diluted vinegar...straight apple juice, water...the sky is the limit


New member
Thanks for the info, but not sure I get how salmon would do better at higher heat. I've cooked plenty of salmon in the oven in the 300-350 range and on a plank in a grill (around 400) and it's always been fine, but the salmon I did on the smoker at 225 came out really nice. I wouldn't say any of my salmon came out dry, but on the smoker at 225 it was much juicier than anything I've done previously in the oven or on a grill.
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