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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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.
It is not viable to compare cooking times for a single shoulder with that for a whole hog. There are some reasons for this:
- 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.
- 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.
1) A "market" size pig, i.e. one they cut up and sell in pieces at the grocery store is much bigger---(250 lbs or so) than a 90 lb. "roaster." Cooking time depends on the largest cut, so a shoulder from a market pig will be larger than the shoulder from a roaster, thus taking longer to cook;
2) 25 degrees does make a very big difference in cooking--yes, hours;
3) 6-7 hours for a 90 lb pig at 250 is not enough time in my experience. I cook ribs for 5 hours at that temp--no way the shoulder or ham is getting done to an internal temp of 195-200 in that time. I have not cooked a 90lb pig, but the 65 lb ones I have cooked took over 7 hours cooking at temps higher than 250. A lot of the recipes for cooking whole hog use homemade cement block pits--not exactly precision cooking instruments. There may be a thermometer somewhere in the pit that reads 250, but that may not be the temp at the meat which is exposed to the coals.
So, yes it could take 15 hours to cook a big shoulder at 225. It will take much less time to cook a 90 lb roaster at 250, but more like 10 hours.
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.)
I have cooked whole pigs for 39 0f the last 40 years. I missed 1983 as I was stationed in South Korea. I have a home made grill, made from 1/2 inch rebar, that is reinforced at the corners and has a rod on one end, and a crank handle on the other. The two sides of the grill are connected on one side with large barn door hinges. The dressed weight of the pig is usually around 160 pounds - live weight 200 to 220 pounds. I have the pig dressed with the skin remaining on, and the pig "butterflied", leaving the skin on the back intact, but splitting the backbone. I pick up the pig 24 hours before eating time.
I use a modified 55 gallon drum I made to burn hardwood. The barrel has 5 3/4 inch rebars across the bottom 1/3 of the barrel, and an access door cut to provide access to the coals as the drop down from the wood.
I place my "pit" on my driveway. It consists of 26 concrete blocks and about 1/3 cubic yard of fill dirt. The bottom layer of block, which is 3 blocks along the sides, and 3 blocks on each end, is filled with the fill dirt. The second layer is placed on the first, and a third layer consists of 2 blocks, one centered on each end for the grill to sit on.
I start the wood fire in the barrel 2 hours ahead of the time to start cooking. I am in south Alabama, so the air temperature is usually in the 40's at night and 60's in the daytime, in mid March.
When the coals reach a sufficient amount, I place the pig open on the grill, fold the top over, and secure the two sides together using #9 fencing wire.
I cut off the legs right at the edge of the grill. This allows me to turn the pig every 30 minutes during the cook.
I have a new plastic 3 gallon bucker, and a new mop for the drenching. I use one quart on cider vinegar and 1/2 pound of table salt in the 3 gallon bucket, filled with water.
Using the mop, I drizzle this mixture over the hog every 15 minutes.
We add coals along the sides of the pit usually every 5 - 6 minutes, using a square nose shovel, and dropping the coals along side on the grill, inside the pit. Our temperature guage is our hand. If you can hold your hand underneath but up next to the pig for one minute, you need more coals.
As the cook progresses, we concentrate the coals under the hams and shoulders. Experience has shown you will require 1 hour minimum for every 10 pounds of dressed weight. We usually feed 40 - 50 people, who bring covered dishes , deserts, breads our sodas to the cookout.
I check the internal temperature with a digital thermometer and will not serve it until the lowest temperature is above 165 degrees.
When the pig is cooked, we move it to a cutting table and let it set for about 20 minutes. Then, we give the guest the option of "pickin" there meat off the pig, or we will cut it up and put it on the buffet line for self service.
It is a continuous 24 hour job, but the slow cooked pork, drizzled with the salt water vinegar solution id absolutely delicious, and well worth the time spent. Enjoy the good eating!