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Pork Butts In Foil Pans

Larger pork butt on top cooking grate

I’ve watched some of those barbecue competition shows on television and noticed that some pitmasters cook pork butts in disposable foil pans. Often times the pitmaster has a big stick burning smoker with lots of shelf space, and they move pork butts in and out of the cooker with ease using foil pans.

This got me to wondering if I could use foil pans in the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and if there would be any benefits. I gave it a try for the first time in May 2016 and the results weren’t that great. Each butt sat directly on the bottom of the pan and the lower part of each butt braising in its own juices during cooking. The result was that the bottom 25% of each butt looked and tasted more like braised pork than barbecue pork—not exactly what I was looking for.

In December 2017, I tried it again, but this time using wire racks to elevate each pork butt out of its cooking liquid. This resulted in better color and texture on the bottom 25% of each butt, but it still left the actual bottom surface lighter in color than the rest of the meat. I guess that’s the price you pay when using a foil pan.

There were some benefits of cooking pork butts in foil pans:

  • They were easy to move in and out of the cooker, just pick up the pan and go.
  • They were easy to foil part way through the cooking process. No need to lay-out foil on the table and wrap each pork butt like a package. Just cover the top of the pan with foil and you’re done.
  • They kept the cooker clean. All the drippings were contained within the pan, so the cooking grates and water pan didn’t get dirty.
  • The drippings in the foil pan can be defatted and the au jus used to moisten the pulled pork before serving.

But on the negative side:

  • Even with a wire rack in the bottom of the pan, air does not circulate around the butt like it does on a cooking grate, which affects the color of the finished meat. This may be more of an issue in the WSM where heat rises up from below the foil pan than in a stick burner where heat flows horizontally across the meat in the open pan.

In any event, using foil pans was something interesting to try and you may want to try it for yourself. It’s a technique rather than a recipe, so you can take any pork butt using any rub/injection and drop it into a foil pan on top of a small wire rack and see if you like the results.

Here are some photos I took on December 10, 2017 when I cooked two pork butts on wire racks in disposable foil pans in my 18.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.

Video: Pork Butts In Foil Pans

This video highlights some of the steps of smoking pork butts in foil pans described in this article.

Buy Foil Pans That Fit Your WSM

Two rubbed pork butts on wire racks in disposable foil pans

You’ll find lots of different sizes of disposable foil pans at the supermarket. Make sure to buy pans that fit on the top and bottom cooking grates of your WSM, and for the top grate, a pan that fits with the cooker lid in place.

Here are the top and bottom grate dimensions for each of the WSMs. Take a measuring tape to the supermarket, you’re looking for foil pans with a diagonal dimension a few inches less than these measurements.

  • 14.5″ WSM: 13.5″ top / 13″ bottom
  • 18.5″ WSM: 17.5″ top / 17″ bottom
  • 22.5″ WSM: 21.5″ top / 21″ bottom

In the photo above, you can see that I used two different sized pans for these similarly sized pork butts. This wasn’t strategic; I just happened to have two mismatched pans and used what was on-hand. You don’t need to buy overly large pans, just buy something that fits both the pork butt and your WSM.

Buy Small Wire Cooling Racks

Two small wire cooling racks

Buy a couple of small wire cooling racks that fit both the pork butts and the foil pans. The racks shown here measure 8″ x 10″ and fit a 1/4 rimmed baking sheet pan.

Prepare & Smoke The Pork Butts

Purchase two pork butts, trim and season them as you like, and place each in a foil pan on top of the wire cooling rack. You can use bone-in or boneless butts, you can slather or inject and rub with whatever concoction you like. You can barbecue these butts “low & slow” or “hot & fast”. At this point, it doesn’t really matter, this is about the technique of using the foil pan, not the particulars of the pork butt preparation and cooking. I’d suggest that you take whatever recipe and cooking method you like for pork butt and just add the foil pan and rack into the process and see how you like it.

For the two butts shown here, I used boneless butts weighing about 8 pounds each, trimmed most of the exterior fat according to the instructions in the Pork Butt Selection & Preparation article, tied with kitchen twine, and rubbed with Big Poppa Smokers Money Championship Rub. I refrigerated the butts overnight, then lightly re-rubbed the meat again before placing it in the WSM.

I fired the WSM using the Minion Method, filling the charcoal chamber to the top with unlit Kingsford Charcoal Briquets, nestling two large chunks of dry apple smoke wood into the unlit charcoal, then lighting 30 briquettes using a Weber chimney starter and spreading them over the unlit briquettes. I assembled the cooker and filled the water pan from above immediately with hot tap water, then placed the foil pans onto each of the cooking grates.

I started with the 3 bottom vents at 100% open. I opened the top vent fully and left it that way throughout the entire cook.

When the cooker reached about 250°F, I started to partially close the 3 bottom vents so the cooker settled in at 250-275°F measured at the lid, adjusting the 3 bottom vents as necessary to maintain this temperature range throughout the cooking session.

I cooked the butts at 250-275°F until the internal meat temperature measured about 160°F with an instant-read thermometer, checking in 3-4 spots and averaging the results. Along the way, I used a spray bottle to spritz the meat with Martinelli’s Premium Apple Juice once the crust was set about 3-1/2 hours into the cook and about every hour thereafter.

Once the meat hit that internal temp, I removed the pans from the cooker, covered them with foil, and moved them into a 300°F oven to finish cooking. After 90 minutes, one of the butts reached 199°F and I removed it from the oven, letting the second butt cook for another hour until it reached 198°F and I removed it from the oven.

Here’s how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:

Time Lid Temp Meat Temp Vent 1 % Vent 2 % Vent 3 %
1:15 pm 100 100 100
1:30 pm 192 100 100 100
1:45 pm 230 100 100 100
2:00 pm 250 25 25 25
2:30 pm 265 25 25 25
3:00 pm 270 25 25 25
3:30 pm 267 25 25 25
4:00 pm 274 15 15 15
4:30 pm (s) 272 15 15 0
5:00 pm 266 15 15 0
5:30 pm (s) 265 15 15 0
6:00 pm 259 15 15 0
6:30 pm (s) 255 25 25 25
7:00 pm 245 25 25 25
7:30 pm (s)(b) 225 156 25 25 25
8:00 pm 267 50 25 25
8:30 pm (s) 280 50 25 25
9:00 pm 282 50 50 50
9:30 pm (f) 276 163 50 50 50
10:30 pm – oven 300 173 50 50 50
11:30 pm – oven 300 181/191 50 50 50
12:00 am – oven (r) 300 188/199 50 50 50
12:30 am – oven 300 191 50 50 50
1:06 am – oven (r) 300 198-202 50 50 50

(s) Spritzed with apple juice
(b) Added 40 briquettes to the fire
(f) Foiled the pans and moved to a 300°F oven
(r) Removed butt from oven

Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.

Pull The Pork

Large container of pulled pork butt

After cooking, let the butts rest for 30 minutes before pulling the meat. See Pork Butt Selection & Preparation for a description of how to pull pork. Make sure to mix the pulled pork so everyone gets some of the dark outside meat along with the light inside meat.

Pulled pork sandwich drizzled with BBQ sauceAs an optional step, you can pour the pork drippings from the foil pan into a fat separator and use the defatted au jus to moisten the pulled pork before serving.

More Pork Butt Links On TVWB

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