Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Make BBQ Pulled Pork

By Dru Chai

Pulled pork probably doesn't get as much love from its bony companion--the ribs. After all, ribs are eaten with your hands, it's messy, and you can get it all over your face. Plain and simple, it's just a good time to eat ribs, and it just epitomizes what BBQ is all about. But don't overlook pulled pork. It's incredibly versatile, cheaper in price, and can serve a lot of people.

Pulled pork is easy to make--commonly eaten as a sandwich, either on a soft bun or roll. You see variations of pulled pork in all different cultures--for example, Mexican carnitas, and Hawaiian kahlua pork. Most people simply make their pulled pork in a good slow cooker. Basically, set it and forget it. But there's nothing that substitutes good 'ol fashioned low-and-slow, smokey flavor over 8-12 hours. You just can't replicate that smokiness and the pieces of char on the outside.

One day, I hope to visit North Carolina for some authentic pulled pork, but for now, I'll just have to make my own backyard rendition at home. For the past several months (as documented on this BBQ blog), I've honed my BBQ smoking skills mainly on brisket and ribs. With a few parties and potlucks waiting in the wings, I decided it was time to try my luck at pulled pork. Here's the breakdown for my smoked pulled pork sliders with sweet and crisp coleslaw.

I went to my local Costco and found the smallest pork butt I could find--a little under 13 lbs overall, at $1.89/lb. With the name pork "butt," one might think it is from the buttocks of a pig. But it's only a name -- pork butt is actually pork shoulder.

The next step is injecting the pork butt with a good marinade injector. Not only does it help produce juicy and tender meat, but injecting just gives that added depth of flavor with every bite. Everyone has their own concoction of what should go in the marinade, and I'm sure BBQ competition teams closely guard their recipes. It all depends on the flavor profile--if you want sweet, salty, spicy, etc. One thing's for sure, you want a balanced marinade. I used something like this, which serves as a nice base.

- Apple juice
- Vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- Salt
- Sugar
- Hot sauce

Next up, the rub. Just like with the marinade, you have to balance out the salt and sugar, then incorporate spices depending on what you like. If you want flavorful pulled pork, it's best to let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours so that all the spices and marinade get to know each other. Or, you can always be lazy and buy a pre-made rub mix.

- Kosher salt, or seasoned salt
- White sugar, or brown sugar
- Granulated garlic or garlic powder
Optional: Chili powder, cayenne, onion powder, cumin

When ready, fire up the Weber Smoky Mountain using the Minion Method so that it's around 225-250 degrees. I like to use either hickory, oak, or apple wood. Depending on your taste buds, you can go heavy on any particular wood. You can't go wrong with hickory--about 4-5 fist-sized chunks will do. Close the lid, then go read a book, watch the Simpsons marathon, knit a sweater, or whatever it is that you like to do for the next 5-7 hours.

At this point, you deserve a peek. Open the lid and see how everything looks. You should get a nice bark forming on the outside--crusty, charred, and black. If you've been reading this BBQ blog, you know that I'm a huge proponent of a good bark on my BBQ. Depending on your preference, you can spray some water or apple juice. Close the lid, and return in another hour or two.

With a good thermometer, check if the internal temperature is 195 degrees. If so, it's ready to be pulled out from the smoker. Let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes, so that all the juices re-distribute inside, then the fun part begins. Take some regular forks, those "bear paw" looking forks, or a clean set of hands and go right at it. The pulled pork should be juicy, tender, and full of porky and smoky goodness. Accompany with a good, vinegar-based (a bit of sweet and tangy) BBQ sauce, and you're all set to go to hog heaven.