It’s a seemingly simple comfort food that has many iterations and is the ONE thing that most people think about when they hear the words “BBQ” and “Sandwich” together. Everyone’s got their own special ‘method’ and we are no different. You can find Pulled Pork that’s been cooked on a Smoker, Stovetop, braised in an Oven, Tossed in a Crock Pot and Soaked in Sauce…yata, yata. This is how WE do our Pulled Pork (with a few key details left out intentionally) which I share to illustrate just ONE of the many reasons that I think there is a REAL ‘GreatQ4U!’ difference here in Central PA!
First of all we start with local sources, hand picking every cut of meat that we put on the smoker to ensure optimal results. For our Pulled Pork we use the whole front shoulder of the hog (Boston Butt and Picnic Roast) with the bones left in much of the time, other times and perhaps more practically at home, we use the ‘Boston Butt’ which is the top half of the front shoulder with the shoulder blade still in. You can get the ‘boneless’ variety…but that’s just plain nuts! Bones help preserve moisture because of the connective tissues and they also add flavor! Better yet…they can be ‘repurposed’ following the cook to make an INCREDIBLE Smoked Split Pea Soup!
Once we’ve got the right cut of meat, we allow it to gradually warm up to ‘room temperature’…which is exactly that…whatever temperature that the room we’re in is at. During this time we use our own spice rub and apply it liberally using a small amount of neutral oil (canola) to help make sure it gets into every crevice. We’ll rub it at least twice during this period and give it time to ‘set’ before the meat hits the smoke. Speaking of smoke, this is a good time to fire up the smoker (or an oven of you don’t have a smoker) to around 225 degrees. No exact temps here kiddies….but suffice it to say that you’ll hear 225 a LOT from BBQ folks…we DON’T cook at that temp, but it’s a good starting point! (We cook a bit lower than that, FYI)
Once the smoker’s had a chance to not only warm up, but to ‘stabilize’ (meaning that all the metal is at the same temp as the chamber) we let the meat ‘hit the smoke’. We put whichever cut that we are cooking on the heat with the fat side up so that it can render through the meat during the cooking process. It is MY opinion that this is where many folks begin to screw up. Constantly opening and closing the lid of the smoker or the oven door is a BIG no-no! We open the door about once every 3 hours to apply a primarily vinegar based ‘mop sauce’ that will, after several applications and hours, help to build an incredibly flavorful ‘bark’ or crust. Pulled into the finished product, this Bark adds texture and flavor and it’s an integral part of our “Q”! We NEVER cook by the clock, we ONLY cook by the internal temp! Using a QUALITY meat thermometer is KEY to this part of the process…we use (unsolicited plug) Thermapens because they are ‘Instant Read’ and VERY accurate! (http://www.thermoworks.com/products/thermapen/) While again, I won’t tell you the exact temps that we use…suffice it to say that when the meat reaches a temp around 190ºF at the deepest part next to the bone, we wrap it tightly in heavy duty foil and remove it from the heat, placing it into a thermally insulated storage container…coolers work well! Then it has a chance to ‘rest’ for about an hour or so…giving it time to continue to cook from the ‘carryover’ heating AND allowing the moisture to permeate all of the meat.
By now, you are probably pretty full from all the little pieces of Bark and pork that you’ve pulled off to ‘sample’ during the whole process. A great way to work up more of an appetite is to Pull that Pork. We pull ours by hand and it’s easy to do if you’ve cooked it right, but there are LOTS of other options out there. A quick ‘Google’ will deliver devices from the ever popular and effective Meat Rake (http://meatrake.com/) and Bear Claws to the RO-Man drill powered pulling device. While it’s up to you what you use, we do the hand method in order to preserve the texture of the meat and integrity of the bark that we work so hard to create.
If you’ve followed along to this point and the Pork was cooked over smoke…BBQ Sauce REALLY should NOT be necessary! In fact…it will erase much of your hard work! If you cooked it in the oven and you want a smokey flavor, then a sauce may help you out there. We use a ‘semi-traditional’ Eastern North Carolina sauce that is primarily Vinegar Based with some Tomato base and a few other common ingredients and it’s a pretty ‘thin’ sauce in that it doesn’t put a thick, sweet coating on the meat. Obviously the choice is yours, but when you put more than 24 hours into cooking a piece of meat, I think it’s a great thing to let your efforts and the magic of slow cooking over smoke speak for itself!
SO….that’s our story on Pulled Pork and I’m sticking to it! It’s a tough road sometimes because folks are looking for the best deal that they can get these days and typically that means comparing nothing more than prices. Our price tends to be a tad higher than those who take shortcuts and have overhead that makes it necessary for them to sell as much as possible, but it’s not even CLOSE to covering all of the time, effort and LOVE that goes into every BBQ product that we make! Now it’s your turn, give it a try and let us know how it goes! Feel free to post your experiences here on the Blog and send pics! We LOVE to have more company here in the world of Great “Q” and we welcome YOU! 🙂