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I have seen many posts that say smoking a pork shoulder at 225F to an internal temperature of 195F will take 15 hours. I have also seen many posts that say you can barbecue a 90 pound whole hog at 250F in an above ground pit in 6-7 hours. How can this be possible? Both shoulders are whole, not cut up. Can 25F really make that much of a difference in cooking times?

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Welcome to Seasoned Advice! Can you link to an example, especially for the whole hog? (You can click "edit" below your question to just add it in.) If it's in a pit, the heat transfer is very different from in a smoker. –  Jefromi Aug 23 '13 at 3:40

3 Answers 3

You may want to check out the following pages:

What Influences Cooking Time

Thermodynamics of Cooking

Using their methods, I have not had a shoulder take 15 hours to come to temperature at a smoker temperature of 225 (computer-controlled). I have never done whole hog, but as Jefromi stated the actual method of cooking makes a significant difference. The Hawaiian imu (the bury-it-in-the-ground style of cooking using the retained heat from sand and rocks that were under the coals) is a much more efficient way to rapidly transfer the heat to the meat than using air to conduct the heat, and forced convection from the blower in my smoker is more efficient than natural convective currents. If my smoker did not have the blower it would take longer to get the meat to temperature, but I still don't think it would take 15 hours for a shoulder.

Whole hog weight versus time at 250 degrees:

  • 40 pounds: 3.5 hours
  • 75 pounds: 9 hours
  • 100 pounds: 12 hours
  • 125 pounds: 15 hours
  • 150 pounds: 18 hours
  • 175 pounds: 21 hours
  • 200 pounds: 24 hours

From Goin' Whole Hog

AmazingRibs.com is essentially a peer-reviewed barbecue site. They don't publish a recipe until it has been tested multiple times and is nearly foolproof. They also bust some of the barbecue myths that have been spread for generations. I am not affiliated with it other than donating some money to them due to their high-quality articles.

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If you're aiming for an internal temperature of 195F, the difference between 225F and 250F is huge. Heat transfer rates are proportional to the temperature gradient, or roughly, the difference in temperature between the hot part and the cold part. Say you're trying to get those last 5 degrees, from 190F to 195F in the middle. If the hot part is 225F, you've got a difference of 35F; if it's 250F you have a difference of 60F, 1.7 times as much. So you'd expect it to take (very roughly) 70% longer at 225F.

And yes, the depth the heat has to penetrate (the distance from the surface to the center of the meat) has a similar effect, but from what I understand, when you're roasting a whole hog you flatten it out somewhat so that the thickness isn't actually that much larger than a pork shoulder.

(Still, as RudyB said, 15 hours is a pretty long time; it might be overkill.)

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It is not viable to compare cooking times for a single shoulder with that for a whole hog. There are some reasons for this:

  1. Surface area is the biggest factor in determining cooking time per mass. A 9-pound pork shoulder may take 12-16 hours to cook whole, but if you were to butterfly it, the cooking time would be drastically reduced. You may have a 90-pound hog, but you are exposing a much greater amount of surface area to cooking at one time.
  2. You are not going to cook a whole hog to nearly as high a temperature as you would a pork shoulder. If you are only making pork shoulder or pork butt, you can cook it to 195f+ with no problem. It will be moist, tender, and pull apart easily. When you're doing whole hog, you're also including a lot of pig (loin, back, etc) that is not so amenable to cooking to that temperature. The latter is cooked to a lower temperature, and is chopped to help tenderize it.
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