We haven't made this in quite some time..But I love Carolina type pulled pork. It is something that is somewhat hit or miss around here. And while it does take a lot of time to make, it is not really that labor intensive. Last time it turned out really well. We roughly followed the following recipe and are doing so again. So now you know part of my day today.
Compliments to The BBQ Guru!
If you grew up or traveled through the Carolina's, you know this dish is the very definition of BBQ. The traditionalists in this area will prepare this by cooking the "whole pig over whole logs." It is then served, piled high on the cheapest buns you can buy and topped off with a dollop of creamy cole slaw. Depending where in the region you travel, the sauces, always served on the side, can run the gamut from vinegar to tomato to mustard based.
So, how close can we come to duplicating this process for the average cook? Well, honestly, not very! BUT you can still make a very wonderful and tasty pulled pork in the oven. You will miss the subtle taste of smoke, from those whole logs, but that is part of the price you must pay to cook in the oven.
Pulled pork starts with a cut of pork commonly referred to as "pork butt" or "Boston butt". Unlike its name may seem to imply, this is NOT cut from the pig's ass!! It is the upper part of the entire shoulder. The shoulder is comprised of 2 cuts, the butt and the picnic. The picnic can be used for making pulled pork as well, but the butt is the more traditional cut.
The butts are most likely shipped to your butcher in pairs, packed in cryovac, and the weight of each butt is around 7-9 pounds, making the total package 14-18 pounds. Many times, by the time it gets to the display case, it has been further cut in half and will weigh between 4-5 pounds. I always like to request a full butt and ask if I can have one directly from the cryovac package. The weight will make a difference when cooking, so choose whatever size is most convenient. I tend to cook only the larger, bone-in, 7-9 pounders. Pulled pork freezes very well and can be re-heated with fantastic results. So, why not cook a bunch!
OK, you have the butt, now what? There is very little trimming needed. I have always cut only the outside layer of fat away. Cut any fat off and trim right to the meat. 2 reasons why you want do this - there is plenty of internal fat to keep the meat moist and the rub will more easily disperse throughout the meat.
Once you have trimmed, now you can prep. You will want to cover the entire butt with a rub. This rub is nothing more than a variety of spices blended together. Below are 2 that I have used with some success. Feel free to experiment with your own blend!
Kevi's South-of-the-Butt Rub:
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
Mix together. Use liberally!
Memphis Style Pork Rub:
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons celery salt
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper, coarsely ground
2 tablespoons cumin powder
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Crush the bay leaves and combine all ingredients.
Prior to applying the above rub, you will want to moisten the butt with either olive oil or some cheap, yellow mustard. The mustard adds a nice crisp "bark" to the outside layer of meat, yet does not have the overpowering taste of mustard. Slather either of these all over the butt and then apply your rub.
Now, you have a choice, you can let this sit overnight and allow the spices to "mingle" OR you can cook it immediately. If aging over night, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow the roast to come up to room temp prior to cooking the next day.
How you cook this cut is the most important part to getting a nice moist pulled pork. This cut of pork is loaded with internal fat. It is this fat that we want to "render" away. Scientifically speaking, the connective tissues and collagen will start to break down at temps of around 150-160 degrees F. This is exactly what we want to happen. The great secret to allowing this process to occur is to try and keep the meat temp between 150-170 degrees F. The longer you can hold those temps, the more this fat will render.
So, how do you achieve this? By cooking the meat at very low oven temps. We cook all of our pork butts at a temp of 225 degrees F. For you at home, I would set the oven at 250 degrees F and plan on taking 2 hours per pound. This will still assure you that the meat temps will stay in those ranges for a long time. In the end, we want the meat temp to reach and exceed 200 degrees F. This can be measured with a regular meat thermometer, just be sure you stick it into meat and not fat OR you can stick a fork into the butt and twist it; it should twist easily.
Cook the butt in a roasting pan with a rack to hold it above the fat that will render out. Half of this butt will cook away, so there will be lots of fat! You may have to empty your pan, so keep an eye on this.
Cook the butt UNCOVERED. The goal is to make that outside bark nice and crispy (without burning). The only way to do that is to expose the butt to the heat of the oven. If you were to cover the pan in any way, you will produce steam which will prevent the formation of a nice crispy bark.
Let the butt cook for about 3 hours before looking at it. At this point, you can open the oven and "mop" the meat. Mopping is applying a liquid to the surface of the meat...this will help to keep it moist and add some flavor. I use a very simple mop of 3 parts apple juice or cider and 3 parts cider vinegar and 1 part of olive oil. This can be applied with a brush, a mop, or a spray bottle. You can now mop every couple hours or as often as you would like.
I believe the 2 hour per pound estimate will be accurate 90% of the time. However, one of 2 things will invariably happen when cooking a butt...it will finish early or it will finish late. What to do? To speed up the cook, take the butt out of the oven, turn the oven up to 300 degrees F. Wrap as tightly as possible in heavy duty foil and place back in the oven. It will still take some time to finish so plan accordingly. If it finishes early, remove from oven and turn oven off. Wrap as tightly as possible in heavy duty foil and return to the (unheated) oven. You can hold like this for several hours.
Once the butt is finished you can now "pull" the meat. Let it cool to the point where you can handle it. Then use your hands to pull strands of the meat. A pair of forks will also prove helpful when pulling the meat. There may still be pockets of fat, so remove these as you start pulling. Place this pulled meat into whatever serving vessel you plan on using. Be sure to mix in the nice darkened bark of the outside meat with the inside meat. This allows the flavor of that rub and mop to be distributed within the meat.
Now you can build your pulled pork sammiches. For some sauce ideas, see the sauce recipes listed on the recipe page.
For more recipes, please visit The BBQ Guru.
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