Thursday, July 14, 2011

Adventures in Pulled Pork

Hi everybody!

Posting today on one of my more recent forays into the world of smoking that most noble animal, the Pig!

So, after months of hemming and hawing over trying pulled pork on the smoker, I finally tried my hand at it for a Canada Day BBQ. It didn't quite go as planned (maybe I should have followed the recipe more accurately), but the end result was quite tasty.

Now, as you all know, smoking is my new favourite. But most of the cuts of meat I've done have been fairly small and easy. How would a 6 pound pork shoulder turn out? I was justifiably nervous, especially as I was making it for a party! Eep!

So, let's start from the beginning. Well, there are numerous pulled pork recipes that abound on the 'Net, so I want looking and found enough info to cobble a basic recipe in my mind and I think I had the techniques well organized. And all it took to ruin that was to watch one episode of Road Grill on Food Network... For those who don't know, Road Grill is a travelling BBQ show hosted by former CFL QB Matt Dunigan (and also features Whalesbone executive chef Charlotte Langley!). As much as Mr. Dunigan's super-jock attitude might grate on my nerves, it's actually a pretty good show.

Now, in what I thought was a moment of TV serendipity, that particular episode covered off pulled pork. Awesome! And the way Mr. Dunigan made everything look was perfectly simple. Rub pork, let sit, mop (baste) with "mop sauce" once, leave on smoker for 5-6 hours and that's that! Unfortunately, I forgot to look at the actual goddamn recipe online! If I had, I would have noticed the "mop every 30 minutes" part. DAMMIT!! As a result, the pork was well-cooked, but a little dry. The fork-tender, "pullable" quality wasn't there as I took it off the smoker. I was a bit discouraged, but I had this giant slab of pork that was tasty, albeit a bit tougher than expected, and I'd be damned if I was going let it be ruined.

That being said, it looked mostly like smoked pork shoulder should, which is this:

So jealous of the forker who got it right in this picture!

Anyhoo, with resolve and knife in hand, I began the process of carving up pieces of the cooked pork shoulder and chopping it into small pieces, giving it that pulled pork look and feel. But how to make it more tender? Well, here's where I went "out of mandate", at least out of BBQ purist mandate. See, from what I've read of "Real BBQ", it has a strong presence/following/origin in North Carolina, where the slow smoked pork is indeed fork tender and is almost always served "dry" with some sort of dipping sauce on the side. Not at all like the sauce-laden messy goodness we usually find in this end of the continent.

Well, I went with the saucy method. I turned the oven to 300 F, placed all the meat and excess fat in a roasting dish, and slathered it with the Blueberry BBQ Sauce that seems to be my new signature and popped the whole mess into the oven for about 15 minutes. The heat helped render some of the fat, which in turn moistened the meat. When I took it out of the oven, I had nearly perfect pulled pork by Canadian standards.

So, disaster averted! All our guests enjoyed the pork, and Kari got to use it to make her grand experiment of the Pulled Pork Cupcake a reality (more on that in a future post, although the recipe may have to remain a closely guarded secret). But, that being said, I learned an important lesson: don't believe everything you see on TV!

OK, now that the dramatic account of "what went wrong" has been covered, maybe I should actually show y'all how it's done, and the proper directions will be provided!

Smoker Pulled Pork

First, you'll need your meat. I suggest going with a 2.5 kg pork shoulder (aka picnic roast or Boston butt), preferably bone-in, with fat cap still attached. The great thing about pork shoulder is that you don't need to prep the meat in any way as you would with ribs or tenderloin.

Once you get your meat home, rub it with a spice rub 12-24 hours before putting it on the smoker.
The following rub is my own adaptation of the rub used on Road Grill. It was really spicy and tasty.


- 1 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 4 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp yellow mustard powder
- 4 green cardamom pods, ground

Mix all ingredients together until well blended and coat meat with rub. You can apply a thin layer of olive oil or prepared yellow mustard to help the rub stick to the meat. Don't worry about the mustard changing the flavour of the meat, it's dissipated by the smoke.

Wrap rubbed meat in plastic and put in fridge.

The next day, remove meat from fridge about an hour before you put it onto the smoker so it warms up to room temperature.

While the meat is warming up, start your fire. You REALLY want to stick with lump charcoal when building a fire for smoking. I find briquettes, no matter how natural they say they are, smell (and, therefore, taste) like chemicals. And you don't want that flavouring your meat! What you do want flavouring your meat on top of the natural lump charcoal (usually maple in my neck of the world) is some sort of lovely wood chips. I used mesquite with my pulled pork to impart a strong flavour that can compliment the strong flavours in the rub and the mop (more on the mop in a moment). Soak 2/3 of your wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Reserve 1/3 of wood chips and keep dry.

OK, now it's time to apply your mop. A good mop is a thinner version of a basic BBQ sauce that helps keep the meat moist as it smokes.

I basically used the exact same formula as on Road Grill:


1 2/3 cups ketchup
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh apple cider (I used beer instead as I had no juice)
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a glass or ceramic bowl.

Using a "mop brush" (see your local hardware store or BBQ dealer, if you're lucky enough to have such things where you live!) or simple basting brush, apply a generous amount of mop sauce to the pork shoulder before putting it on the smoker.

Once on the smoker, keep adding wood chips (2 handfuls wet chips to one dry) every 30-45 minutes to keep producing smoke. You want to smoke the pork at 250-260 degrees Farenheit for about 5 to 6 hours, and apply the mop sauce every half hour or so. You may need to add charcoal to the fire as you go to keep the heat up.

As the pork is smoking, you can make your BBQ sauce as you like it. I love my Blueberry BBQ Sauce so much, I'm linking it twice in the same post and it works wonders with pork.

Once the pork has finished smoking, you should be able to pull it apart with tongs and a fork in a large roasting pan. At this point, you may want to stir in your sauce to serve it "wet" or leave as is to serve "dry".

Serve on fresh buns topped with a bit of coleslaw for crunch with BBQ sauce for dipping on the side.


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