Sous Vide then Smoke OR Smoke then Sous Vide for the Best Pulled Pork

Sous vide then smoke OR smoke then sous vide? That seems to be a common question amongst sous vide enthusiast for the best pulled pork. Well, we tested out both methods and give you our honest opinion here. 

Fairly simple procedures here, no real recipe either. We didn’t use two whole pork shoulders here, I deboned it, tied it with butcher twine, and split it down the middle. I mean it’s only the two of us, there’s no way we would be able to finish one pork shoulder let alone two. More on how to reuse it at the end. You can use your favorite rub here, I adapted a recipe from Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats. In my rubs, I usually leave out the salt, I like to salt all my meat separately so that I can control exactly how much I want. This way you can add extra flavor without the extra salt. I like to use a little shaker to put on my rub, but anyway to get it on is fine. This is a big cut of meat, it’s ten pounds total, so it can handle quite a bit of salt and rub. 

THE EXPERIMENT

For this experiment I went with the exact same times and temperatures for both. Both were smoked at 200F for 4 hours, and sous vide at 165F for 18 hours. Yes, there are many combinations here as well, but we won’t get into that. Since we were sous-viding I didn’t care what temperature the meat got to, just make sure to keep it under the temperature you’ll sous vide to, in my case I wouldn’t go over 165F (you shouldn’t be getting close to there at those temperatures anyway. The only difference between the two was one was sous vide before and one after smoking. 

I’m running a Green Mountain Grill Daniel Boone, aside from the built in thermometer, I also ran 2 extra thermometers to ensure the temperatures stay pretty even and consistent. While I put one half of the pork shoulder into the smoker, the other half went into the sous vide at the same time. After the 4 hours passed on the smoker, I put it into a vacuum sealed bag and dropped into the sous vide as well. After the first 18 hours was up, I removed the sous vide first pork shoulder, and chilled it for a little bit to bring down the temperature. If you are making this in advance, I would sous vide it, refrigerate, and when ready smoke it back up to the temperature you had originally sous vide at. I patted it dry, saved the juices of course (use it in your bbq sauce or pour it back into your pulled pork after you remove the fat), sprinkled more rub onto it and placed it into the smoker for the 4 hours of smoke. 

Now, I did run into some very minor issues, I ALMOST ran out of pellets, i made it to the store with 3 mins to spare. Crisis averted. There was also a SURPRISE rain storm … pellet grills and rain don’t go too well together. Pellets turn to cement, and well water, electricity, and fire don’t always make a good match. Luckily I had a couple of umbrellas and the rain didn’t last too long. 

The two finished at about the same time, I tented one and let the other one rest just for a bit to come back up to temperature. When filming everything gets a good rest so we never have to worry about that. It takes time to set up the shots. 

THE RESULTS

Sous vide then smoked had a nice bark
Sous vide then smoked pulled pork provides a nice thick bark.

Initial thoughts, the sous vide then smoked version looked much nicer. It had a nice bark to it, but it was a bit firmer. The sous vide version still had a bit of a bark, but it was definitely more … jiggly? Now, it’s all going to get torn up to shreds, so who really cares about that. I think i’ve blabbed nough, let’s just get to it. 

Smoked then sous vide pulled pork was more moist
Smoked then sous vide pulled pork didn’t have as much bark but still had good flavor.

For me, the smoked sous vide version won. Now I warn you, this is a matter of personal preference. I enjoyed it more because it was slightly more moist and tender. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The sous vide first method allows you to add on extra flavor by way of rub and have a nice bark. The smoked first version you don’t get as good of a bark, but you do have more moist meat, with still a lot of flavour. I think it also had more smoke flavour but it was very subtle at most. Carmen also chose the smoked then sous vide version, for very similar reasons. If you really like bark, go with the sous vide then smoked, if you don’t really mind I would go with the smoked then sous vide. That’s what it all comes down to. Additional pointers, if you’re doing the smoked first, you’ll want to trim more of the fat, I felt that it didn’t render as nice so it was a bit greasier. Also note that some does NOT mean all. 

Sous vide then smoked pulled pork has a nice bark and smoke ring.
A nice smoke ring on the sous vide then smoked option.

There is one more option that I ignored, you can smoke, sous vide, then chill, and smoke it back to temperature again. I didn’t do this method because … If i’m going to smoke it twice I might as well have just smoked it all the way. 

smoked then sous vide pulled pork was more moist
Smoked then sous vide pulled pork was more moist.

HOW TO ENJOY

Our first meal with the pork was with yellow rice (turmeric, curry powder, onions, peas), and the amazing green sauce from Serious Eats. Probably some veggies somewhere there, but who counts that. We still had extra and found that making a pizza is an awesome awesome awesome way to reuse it. We made our own dough, use bbq sauce as a base, topped with cheese, our pulled pork, onions, and jalapenos. If you’re lucky enough to have a pizza oven definitely use that, we use our Bakerstone pizza oven over the grill. This definitely works in the oven as well. It was soooo good. Interspersed between, we had it over rice, gave a bunch to family, and in sandwiches.

If you like jerk flavouring, we’ve made a sous vide Jamaican jerk pulled pork recipe. Check it out.

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