One of the toughest parts of competition cooking is when your much loved, crowd pleasing, legendary recipes fall flat in the judging tent. For those following our comp reports, you would know our pork has been falling in that category. This Carolina style pulled pork gets accolades from all that taste it but has failed at the judging table. So while we work hard on some new flavour profiles, I thought I’d share my favourite pulled pork recipe – now relegated to home cooking only!
Firstly, you want to start with a good quality piece of pork. For a pulled pork you want something from the neck/shoulder. A whole Shoulder or Boston Butt is the most common option, a shoulder roll will also do the trick unless you’re trying to produce comp style presentation. If you’re in anywhere near West Pymble give Rhett at Campbell’s a call and he’ll hook you up!
Prepping the Meat
I’m a big believer in the ‘fat is flavour’ mantra but it’s important to differentiate between the fat content of the meat and the and the fat cap on top. Leaving large amounts of fat on the outside of the meat does more harm than good. Despite what many say, that fat won’t penetrate the meat as it renders so it doesn’t add moisture – mostly it just prevents the rub getting to the meat and often takes all the good bark with it at the end of the cook as it falls off, creating an unappealing fatty mess!
So as you can imagine, the first thing I do is trim the meat fairly aggressively. A thin layer of fat on top is all that is required and exposing the meat in places isn’t a problem. If you have a good piece of meat there is plenty of fat marbled in there to keep things moist.
I use a sharp boning knife for trimming. If you don’t have any knives that are up to the job I highly recommend investing in a quality unit. Getting a decent knife turned taking the skin off a pork shoulder form ordeal to quick prep task. It also means I get a nice single piece of fat off the shoulder that turns into a lovely crackling with some salt and a hot cook.
I’m a fan of dry brining my pork. This is as simple as coating the meat in salt and leaving it in the fridge before cooking. Much like traditional brining in a saline solution, this helps with tenderizing the meat and adding flavour. You can read more about the science over at Amazing Ribs but for this recipe simply coat the meat with ~1/2 teaspoon of salt per kilo (1 teaspoon if using kosher salt), wrap in cling film and chuck in the fridge for 8-12 hours. I usually do this the night before I’m planning to start my cook. One thing to watch is that you give the meat enough time to brine. If you’re pushed for time, skip the brine and simply salt as you add the rub. If your dry brine is only on for an hour or so you’ll find it simply pulls out the moisture.
The Pork Rub
One of the best things about a good BBQ pulled pork is those lovely, crunchy, chunks of bark in amongst the pile of tender, juicy pork. Generally mine has a little less than it should by the time it hits the table – the chef gets to take liberties, right? My go to rub is a homemade Memphis Dust that I make based on the Amazing Ribs recipe. You’ll note the rub has no salt since we do the dry brine.
To make the rub throw the following in a container and mix well:
• 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
• 3/4 cup white sugar
• 1/2 cup American paprika
• 1/4 cup garlic powder
• 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
• 2 tablespoons onion powder
• 2 teaspoons rosemary powder
Coat the meat completely in a good amount of rub just before it hits the pit. This is destined to be a delicious crusty bark!
Get the on the pit at ~250°F and let it run. For a full shoulder in the 4-5kg range I typically allow 12 hours from the time I start cooking until plating up. Actual cook time varies but 8-10 hours is typically enough, though I have had a shoulder take 18 hours before, resulting in a very late dinner and a very hangry wife!
Start checking for tenderness at 195°F internal temp. It’s ready to come off when the whole piece of meat probes like butter with a skewer or thermometer probe. Usually this is in the 195-200 range. I tend not to wrap as pork shoulder rarely dries out and unwrapped gives a great crusty bark. If you’re running out of time wrapping in foil with a little apple cider or juice will speed things up – it’s not unusual for me to have to wrap a couple of hours before dinner. It’s also worth wrapping if the bark starts to blacken towards the end of the cook.
Once it’s done, wrap tightly in foil, if not already, wrap it in a towel and pop into an esky until serving time. You can let it rest for several hours and it’ll still be piping hot.
While the pork is cooking it’s time to knock up our cider vinegar BBQ sauce. While not the prettiest sauce, it has a lovely vinegar tang and goes great with your pulled pork to really make this dish. To make the sauce, add the following ingredients into a saucepan:
- 3/4 cups cider vinegar
- 3/4 cups water (if you prefer more bite, you can replace this with more cider vinegar
- 1 cup yellow or brown mustard
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed (minced garlic from the jar work well if you don’t have fresh)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Simmer gently over a medium heat, stirring, for 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Take it off the heat and let it sit until you’re ready for it, reheating if necessary. When you serve the pork be sure to get all the juices in the foil into the sauce. Depending on the consistency you may want to add up to another 3/4 cups of water to thin out the sauce.
Serving up Delicious Pulled Pork
When you’re ready to serve, put the pork into your serving dish and start pulling the pork apart. If you have heat proof gloves the easiest way is with your hands, otherwise a set of bear claws or a couple of forks in a pinch will do the job. The bones, if present, should pull out easily to set aside. You may find some larger chunks of fat, pull these out as well. Once it’s all pulled and there is a good distribution of bark, cover it in the sauce and serve.
The judges may not like it, but I promise you it’ll be a crowd pleaser at the table!
The Doctor Cue Parsley boy, until he can convince someone else to do it. IT Ninja by day. BBQ God by night. There isn’t a recipe he’s found yet that wouldn’t be made better with bacon.