Smoking at Altitude: Pork Shoulder

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by danuary, Jun 7, 2013.

  1. danuary

    danuary Newbie

    Greetings, first time poster, long time reader...

    There's some information on here and other forums about smoking meats at altitude but some of it is a little inconclusive. I live south of Denver at an elevation of 6,800 feet, and water boils at 190 for me. I'm new to smoking, and as I learn more I'll try to share what specifics I discover in case it's of benefit to others.

    Last weekend, smoked a pork shoulder for the first time. I'm using a Masterbuilt Electric (yeah, yeah, yeah... Hey, I'll be the first to admit it - I'm lazy :) ). The cut was 3.5 lbs on the nose (it was a 7.5 lb that I cut roughly in half as it was only three of us sharing it). 

    Started out at 225, smoked with a mix of hickory. Stopped the smoke at about 140. 

    Internal temp got to the high 150's and stalled f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Not unexpected. Spent many hours in the high 150's to the low 160's. I eventually turned the temp up to 275 for the last hour or so, and pulled the shoulder off at about 192. I wanted to get to 200, but what can I say, we were hungry. :)

    At 192 it was right on the edge of fork-pullable. I was able to pull it with a couple forks, but it wasn't the easiest thing in the world - not "falling apart" - but it was delicious and everyone enjoyed it, not dried out at all. Smoke amount was perfect, not overpowering, glad I stopped it at 140. 

    All told, the 3.5 lb shoulder was on for 7h45m to get to 192. The "hour for every 1.5lb" rule DOES NOT apply, that's for sure - not unexpected. I think next time rather than going longer, I will turn the heat up to 240 - since generally baking requires a little higher heat at our altitude, I'm guessing the same will be true here.

    I'm thinking that I will probably do baby backs this weekend, 2-2-1 won't cut it, so not quite sure what I'll do there (any suggestions for time and temp for baby backs at this altitude?)
  2. kathrynn

    kathrynn Smoking Guru OTBS Member

  3. roller

    roller Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member

    Welcome to SMF...
  4. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    I think you got the guideline backwards, most people figure 1.5 hours per 1 pound and a lot will even go 2 hours/lb. I have had 9# pork butts go 20 hours before and I'm at sea level. Your times seem pretty much right on track for the temp you were smoking at. I think you will be fine with the 2-2-1 on the ribs. Another member here lives not far from you and I have seen her post spares or St. Louis doing a 3-2-.5 (I think) but I know she does them in less than 6 hours so your BB's should be just fine. Oh and she uses an MES also.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2013
  5. Hey! So i just popped into this website from another BBQ forum. I was from Colorado Springs where the elevation was about 6500 ft.  Water boild at 195. Im assuming your by a mountain cause Denver is just above 5280ft.

    I never noticed a time difference on the cook in the meat. But the stall was very long usually about 2-4 hours depending on how much fat was in the pork butt.  After the stall the meat will regain to cook up to pullable temp 195-200degrees internal.  Im not going to be back on this site, but if you have any questions feel free to message me. My email is my username @

    To answer you questions:
    BB work quite well doing the 2-2-1 method as long as you cook them around 245 degrees in the grill.  Im assuming you mean 2 hours smoke, 2 hours foil, 1 hour without foil to toughen up bark? If so yeah. it'll work. I did BB's all the time.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2013
  6. danuary

    danuary Newbie

    Haha. I did it right, but posted it wrong. I meant the other way around. Not enough coffee yet (is there even such a thing?)
  7. Hello...Here's the info you are looking for

    I live near Woodland Park at an altitude of 8500 ft or so, my first pork butt and brisket took forever in the prepared for it especially if you hit a stall and I always did in the MES. [​IMG]

    I always erred on the side of caution and went by the APPROXIMATE COOKING TIME of 2 hours per pound of meat.  I would also suggest you check the actual chamber temp compared to the temp you set it for. I've had 2 MES and both have been off on the temps as most everyone here that owns one will agree.  You might have set if to 240* but the chamber temp is only at 225*. Yep it happens or there are some that run hotter. 

    I now have a home built propane and smoking at 250*-275*, I smoked a 10 lb butt over Memorial Day in about 12.5 hours to a 200* IT. This one only stalled for about an hour and I don't foil. 
  8. Danuary,

    Welcome to SMF!

    Just to be sure, you're using a separate thermometer and have check it's accuracy with boiled water and ice water? The consistency of the heat makes a huge difference!

    I use 2 different smokers, one 220v (The Electric Frankensmoker) with 4,800w of heating power and a 110v (Frank, Jr.) with 1,500w of heating power. I've had zero issues smoking items with the 1.5hours/lb on butts and 2hour/lb on briskets, I can almost set my watch by the time! I'm at 6,290' of elevation. I use not only the thermometer that the smokers use, but also separate ones with dual probes for smoker temps and meat temps.

    Both of mine use fans (4 in the 220v and 1 in the 110v). It seems to regulate the heat/smoke/air consistently? My best advice is to ad a small 110v fart fan motor and metal blade to help in making it all even (available at or at the local C/S Store)? I also have found that using anything other than olive oil in the electric smokers will not allow the smoke to adhere properly to the meat. I'd say it's the moisture, but people smarter than me could tell you other "wetting" agents might do the trick? I spritz about every hour with a concoction of whiskey, honey and apple cider vinegar.

    Let us see your set-up, maybe we can offer some assistance in getting it to produce even heat?


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