To inject or not to inject, that is the question. The subject is pork shoulder. Pork butt. Pulled pork. All the same thing, and I will use these terms interchangeably. The question is should one inject a pork shoulder? I was on the fence on this one. One one hand, a pork shoulder is full of fat and collagen, and thus is very forgiving and should yield tender, juicy results every time. On the other hand, injecting can also add flavor to the inside which doesn’t happen with a big roast like this. Sure the outside bark is delicious, but the inside, to me, is just underseasoned meat. So I decided to do a side by side comparison. And who better to partner with on this experiment than the king of injecting, Tony Chachere’s (pronounced sasherees for those that are curious. I was). I told them that if this was a bust, then I would report it as such and they agreed. Here’s a lil’ hint. It was not a bust. But before I go into the details of the differences between the injected shoulder and the one that wasn’t injected, let’s go over the ingredients and my methodology, just in case you want to run this experiment yourself.
2 pork shoulders, about 7.5 lbs each
1 bottle of Tony Chachere’s Roasted Garlic and Herb injection
1 can of Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning
Pink butcher paper
A clean, empty cooler or a Cambro
Buns, BBQ sauce and cole slaw (to make sandwiches after the experiment)
So the methodology here is we selected two nearly identical pork shoulders. Both were extremely close to 7.5 lbs and had similar marbling. We prepared them identically and cooked them the exact same way:
The only difference, one was injected and one wasn’t. So let’s get at it.
Notice I didn’t list salt in the ingredients. See, the Tony Chachere’s seasoning requires no extra salt:
Now that we have the salt thing cleared up, let’s prep those butts. Start with the fat cap up and carve a criss cross pattern in each one by slicing about 1/3 to 1/2 inch deep every inch across the shoulder and then again at a 90 degree angle:
Now let’s inject the one on the left with that Roasted Garlic and Herb. We need to inject every few inches along the top and the bottom:
And don’t forget the sides:
Pro Tip ~ When injecting, slide the injector back an inch or so while pushing on the plunger so it doesn’t create one giant bubble of injection fluid and distributes it more evenly. I also find less of the injection mixture comes back out when I do this. The giant bubble has more pressure on it from the surrounding meat and thus more liquid is pushed out. Whichever way you do it, some is going to come back out. Simply slide the shoulder across the liquid on the cutting board and use it as a binder for the rub.
When we are done injecting the one shoulder, it’s time to rub each of them down with some of the creole seasoning:
Don’t worry. The creole seasoning has all that great creole flavor but won’t light your tongue on fire by any means.
And the other one. Don’t forget to work it into those cuts that we made which means more surface area for bark (which is the tastiest part):
Now prepare the grill for two zone grilling with charcoal and smoke wood on one side and the meat on the other, OR get a dedicated smoker like pellet grill and put them anywhere. The injected shoulder goes in first:
The injected one went in the back, and the non-injected right in front of it, with a water pan on the side. You’re just going to have to trust me here. We had four different photographers shooting this cook and none of them got a pic of the raw shoulders hitting the grill.
I used the built in probe thermometers on my pellet grill and pulled each shoulder when it reached 167F. I laid down two sheets of pink butcher paper (aluminum foil works too) and set the shoulder on the paper. This is the one that wasn’t injected:
And a close up:
Yes, it is very tempting to grab one of those squares and do a little quality control test. Patience is a virtue.
Wrap the butt up in the paper making sure to seal it all the way around:
And both pork butta go back on the grill and get a probe thermometer to monitor the progress:
The injected shoulder got to 167F first and got wrapped first. It also hit 203 first and went into our empty cooler to stay warm while the other one finished.
Keep in mind that when cooking pork shoulders, when we get to around 160-170 we hit “the stall.” Basically all the fat and collagen liquify inside the butt at this time and slows down the rise in the temperature. So there is a steady rise until the stall and then the temp flat lines for quite some time. The paper helps to mitigate this. Both butcher paper or foil will steam the shoulder in its own juices and hyper accelerate the breaking down of the connective tissue and shorten the time spent in the stall. The difference between foil and paper is foil doesn’t breath, so the bark is a little better with paper. It doesn’t mean the shoulder will be junk if wrapped in foil. It just means paper is a little better, but not night and day better.
When each shoulder hit 203, I checked them a couple times with my hand held probe thermometer to make sure I wasn’t getting a false reading by being up against the bone or in a pocket of fat. Then the butt, paper and all went into an empty cooler. The injected one was in the cooler first and about 30 minutes later the other one hit 203 and went into the cooler. An hour later I pulled them out and placed them in an aluminum pan. So the injected one got 90 minutes of rest time and the other one 60.
Here’s the injected shoulder:
And here’s the other pork butt:
They look pretty much the same at this point.
Next up is the bone pull:
They both came out clean as a whistle. At this point, I was sure that they would be extremely close and this test would be a draw. But then I started pulling the pork with my hands:
The injected shoulder was uber tender and juicy all the way through:
The one that wasn’t injected initially fell apart when I started to pull it, but once I got through the outside, the center would not pull with my hands. I had to tear it a piece at a time. It was also not very juicy. About a third of that shoulder would need to be chopped which is OK if one is pressed for time and has to serve before it gets too late, but we had all the time in the world here.
I did the squish test on each. I put a chunk of intact pork (not shredded yet) from each shoulder in my hand and squished it by clenching my fist. The one that wasn’t injected didn’t do anything. The one that was injected, shot out the top and completely came apart:
Then we did a semi-blind taste test. I took a piece from a similar place from each shoulder and gave them to relatives that were at the house as well as the camera crew and had everyone try them without knowing which bite came from which shoulder:
The injected shoulder was chosen every time. It was a landslide. The injected shoulder had a distinct garlic and herb flavor. It wasn’t overpowering. It still allowed the pork to shine through, but it was there. And the one that was not injected tasted extremely bland comparatively. It was a complete slam dunk. Three for three. The flavor, juiciness and tenderness were all better on the injected pork butt, and it wasn’t close. The outer inch or so of the one that wasn’t injected with the bark was on par with the injected butt, but once we got deeper into the shoulder the injection proved to be almost life changing. I know that sounds a little over the top, but the difference was that startling.
But enough with the nibbling and taste tests. Time for a monster sando:
I’m a firm believer that cole slaw is terrible as a side dish, but is amazing as a condiment!
Here, have a bite!
I said these exact words when doing that side by side taste test, “I will never not inject again.” I always inject my Thanksgiving turkey with Tony Chachere’s, but was on the fence about the shoulder, thinking the white meat of a turkey needed to be injected but the well marbled pork shoulder didn’t. I was soooooo wrong. Think of it this way, if you just season the outside, there is a ton of meat that gets no seasoning/salt whatsoever. Injecting the pork solves that problem.
Next time I do a pork shoulder, I’m injecting with Tony Chachere’s and studding it with garlic.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or shoot me an email.
Also, I want to thank Tony Chachere’s for sponsoring this experiment. I don’t work with brands I don’t absolutely believe in and this is one of those brands. I’ve been using them for a very long time and am a believer in what they do.
- 2 pork shoulders, about 7.5 lbs each
- 1 bottle of Tony Chachere's Garlic and Herb injection
- 1 can of Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
- Pink butcher paper
- A clean, empty cooler or a Cambro
- Buns, BBQ sauce and cole slaw (to make sandwiches after the experiment)
- Slice a criss cross pattern on the fat cap of the pork shoulder, by slicing ⅓ to ½ inch deep every inch and then turn the shoulder 90 degrees and slice again
- Inject one of the shoulders with Tony Chachere's Roasted Garlic and Herb injection
- Rub each one down with the Tony Charchere's Creole Seasoning (no salt needed)
- Set up the smoker for 275 and place the two shoulders in the cooker
- Smoke until they reach 167F-170F and then wrap in pink butcher paper and place back into the cooker
- Once the shoulders hit 203, remove from the heat and place in an empty cooler, paper and all
- After at least an hour, pull the pork and do a taste test
This was not the first time I had done this experiment. About 3 weeks before I did this, I cooked four shoulders for what is normally our annual pig roast. But due to the pandemic, we had a much smaller affair so instead I did four pork shoulders. We bought some Tony Chachere’s to inject the shoulders but forgot to do the first one. We were working on the second shoulder when we remembered the injection so we injected the next three. Here are the four on the grill:
That one in the back corner that also didn’t get the criss cross cut was not injected. Again, we cooked all of these identically but when we pulled the shoulders one was not nearly as good as the other three. The one that did not get the injection had to be chopped, the rest pulled easily:
That was a pretty good test, but we didn’t have enough pics of the process since it was more of an accident, thus this cook (and the documentation) took place. Some times happy accidents are the best accidents.