carolina pulled pork
I don’t like to proselytize, but there are times when you simply have to share crucial, vital information. Get the word out and make it stick. As it happens, this is one of those times. I’ve told you about Scott, my husband and grill-master. What I may not have mentioned is that his ascension to grill-master came when I purchased a book for him on Father’s Day — 10 years ago. Steve Raichlen’s, How to Grill has transformed my husband from a “hot dogs, hamburgers and an occasional steak” griller to a “make my own rubs, sauces, tend to the pit ” connoisseur. He has wood chips and planks, mops and buckets, a smoker and a gas grill – and he knows how to use them. Which brings me to today’s post.
As a child of the south, I’ve grown up on barbecue. Mom served it piled high on a bun, topped with crispy-tangy cole slaw. It is to me, one of the greatest sandwich revelations I’ve ever known. I don’t say that lightly. Being familiar with mile-high hot pastrami with mustard on rye, or a tangy-salty-melty reuben. Croque monsieurs and croque madame. Po’ boys, hoagies and subs. I appreciate them all, but the patience and dedication that goes into a proper carolina pulled pork deserves reverence.
For this is not a slap-it-together in five minutes sandwich. No. And frankly, the commitment extends beyond time. It’s also a commitment in quantity. Because for pulled pork, you start with a pork shoulder (also known as a boston butt).
These cuts of meat generally come in the five to seven pound range. That’s what I mean about quantity. You don’t make this on a whim for two people. You get a group of friends or family (or both) together to partake.
During the hours spent tending to the smoker, a pork shoulder can be transformed into a lucious, smoke-kissed, unctuous cut, that literally falls apart when pulled with a fork. No sauce is needed for this ‘cue – just that spicy, tangy mop which is liberally applied during cooking and infuses the meat, settling into the crevices and permeating the flesh.
So as we approach Labor Day, I can think of nothing finer than to stock your cooler with ice cold libations, ask everyone to bring their favorite picnic-friendly sides (like this pasta salad, farro salad, corn salad, or grilled vegetable salad), and corral your friends and family to partake in your wondrous creation!
Ooh. There is nothing better. It’s a commitment. Yes. And it’s so worth it. At this point, there’s nothing to do but let your eyes roll back in your head and swoon!
- 1 5-7 pound pork shoulder roast (he calls for bone-in, but we had boneless)
- 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sweet paprika
- 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon hickory-smoked salt or additional coarse salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons celery seed
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1-2 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 1/2 bottle beer (this is Scott's addition. The other half is for you.)
- 12 hamburger buns
- Special equipment - 4-6 cups hickory wood chips, smoker boxes, gas grill or charcoal grill.
- Make barbecue rub: In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk together - or combine with your fingers to break down any lumps in the brown sugar. Rub will keep for up to six months in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.
- Sprinkle the pork shoulder liberally on all sides with rub, patting and rubbing it in with your fingers. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor penetration.
- Soak wood chips for at least an hour.
- Light charcoal in a chimney starter. Rake coals to two piles at opposite sides of the grill using a long handled tool, like a garden hoe. Place a drip pan in the center. Indirect grilling is usually done at a medium heat. To adjust the temperature, partially open the vents on the bottom. (Closed vents will extinguish the fire, open will fan the flame.)
- Adjust vents on top of the grill to half open. The same rule for closed and open vents applies. When adjusted properly, the grill will be between 325 and 350 degrees. Toss the drained wood chips onto the coals (about half a cup on each side of the grill). The smoke should start almost immediately. Replenish wood chips about every hour or so to continue the smoke.
- Indirect grilling is easy on a gas grill but requires at least two burners. Preheat only one burner. If your grill comes with a slide out smoker box, fill it with soaked wood chips. You can run a high heat under the chips to generate smoke, while moderating your heat elsewhere on the grill for the required low and slow cooking.
- If you don't have a smoker box, you can make one. Using heavy duty aluminum foil, place a pile of drained, soaked wood chips in the center of the foil. Create a wood chip pouch by folding together the two short ends and crease them to create a seal. Fold the remaining ends over on themselves to create a seal. With a sharp knife, poke several holes in the pouch. Set the pouch over the hot burner, it will begin to generate smoke. You may want to make a few additional pouches to swap them out for a fresh pouch every hour or so.
- When the pouch begins to smoke, place the food over the unlit burner to start the cooking process.
- Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive glass or plastic bowl and stir until the salt and brown sugar dissolve.
- Place pork fat side up in the center of the hot grate away from the heat source -- remember it's the indirect heat that cooks the meat, otherwise you'd be grilling. Cover the grill and cook the pork until very tender (4-6 hours or about 195 degrees on an instant read thermometer. If using charcoal add 12 fresh coals and half cup of wood chips every hour. For a gas grill replenish with a new smoker pouch when the smoke begins to diminish. After the first hour base the pork with the mop sauce, repeat hourly.
- Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board and cover loosely with aluminum foil to let it rest for about 15 minutes. You'll notice the pork is a deep mahogany -- that's the bark. I dare you not to pull a piece off and inhale it. Raichlen's recipe says to pull off the skin and fat. I say, heresy - but do what you want. Wearing rubber gloves, remove the skin and fat, chop up what you want to add back to the pork. Pull the pork into shreds and pieces with your hands, or if you have meat-claws, you can use them too. You could also use a cleaver to chop the pork. Add pieces of skin and fat back into the meat to suit your tastes.
- To serve, pile pork on soft bun (we like Martin's potato rolls) and top with a spoonful of coleslaw. Enjoy!