Anyone who enters the fray about which region in America has the best Pulled Pork is in dangerous territory. Passions run high about BBQ and smoked meats, and from region to region, there is fierce competition. That being said, I’ll dive in anyway. I’ve always liked salty sour tangy flavors more than sweet, so I’m naturally drawn to the vinegar based marinades and rubs of Eastern North Carolina versus the sweeter stickier tomato based BBQ sauces of Kansas City or Texas.
I follow the exploits of superstar pit masters like a real fan boy, guys like Samuel Jones in Ayden and Ed Mitchell in Raleigh. To me they have a deep solemn stoic mystery, a gravitas that everyone senses… studying them is like watching a water witch with a forked branch find a deep well. In his ground breaking book COOKED: A STORY OF TRANSFORMATION, Michael Pollan became an apprentice pit master to Ed Mitchell and his descriptions of the process of smoking a whole pig were wonderful and, like his book, transformative for me.
A friend of mine from that region in Eastern North Carolina (looking at you, Geoff) taught me a few of his techniques, which were handed down to him in that region, as well as recipes for preparing Pulled Pork from a pork shoulder, along with a tangy slaw, and I’ll share those here. I’m sure every devotee of Pulled Pork has their own passionately held beliefs and secrets, that’s a big part of cooking meats over fire… it’s very primal and very personal.
I have found that the sights and sounds and smells of meats sizzling over fire, and the hours spent watching, waiting and then feasting, goes very deep into the heart and soul of who we homo sapiens are and where we come from. Also deep inside our DNA is around 4 or 5% Neanderthal, so not only did we roast meat and feast with them, it appears that some fooling
around happened afterward. So as you are pulling apart that roasted pork shoulder, raise a cold beer to our ancestors who handed down to us the deeply satisfying communal experience of standing around the fire and roasting meat until it falls off the bone. Always a memorable umami bomb event.
Pulled Pork Sauce
2 cups apple cider vinegar, raw and unfiltered (we use Bragg)
1 teaspoon ground red peppers
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Texas Pete’s or Crystal pepper sauce
5 tablespoons Colgin or Wright’s hickory liquid smoke (if you aren’t using a smoker)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoons salt
Mix all the ingredients together and place into a 16 oz. plastic squirt bottle. Shake well and allow the sugar to melt and the spices to marry.
Pulled Pork Dry Rub
This recipe is for a 6 to 8 pound bone-in pork shoulder. Although it’s called a “dry” rub, my version is actually a paste. It sticks really well to the flesh. Use 2/3 of this rub the night before you roast the pork, and then 1/3 on the day before the fire/smoke roasting.
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoon porcini powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons white pepper, ground
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
5 tablespoons of Liquid Smoke
If your pork shoulder still has the cap of fat, trim it off and also trim whatever large veins of fat that are on the outside.
Combine all the ingredients until you have an extremely aromatic paste. Rub the paste all over the entire pork shoulder, especially in the cracks and folds, and refrigerate over night. The next day apply the last of the rub on any bare spots just before roasting, mostly on top.
I 1/2 pound green cabbage, finely diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced to the same size
1/2 cup onion, diced to the same size
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoon raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar (we use Bragg)
3 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Put the cabbage, carrots and onion, one by one, into a food processor and pulse until diced to preferred fineness, about the length of a rice grain. Place each one into a medium bowl after they are diced, one by one. Mix together until blended.
In a separate smaller bowl, mix together the buttermilk (or yogurt), mayonnaise, vinegar and lemon juice. Add to the vegetables and blend well until creamy. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
Whether using a smoker, a grill, or an infrared roaster, heat the cooker to 350 degrees. It will generally take between 4 and 5 hours to finish a pork shoulder till it’s falling off the bone. You will know that the shoulder is nearly finished when the bone pulls out easily. (When not using a slow smoker, we often use a Char-Broil Big Easy Tru Infrared Fryer.)
Using a kitchen cotton string, wrap the pork shoulder tightly together so it stays intact when fully cooked. The fats and tendons will begin to melt into the meat after the third hour, and at four hours you will need to monitor the pork so the bark doesn’t burn too much. We generally take the shoulder out at four and a half hours when the internal temperature is 190 degrees.
Once out of the cooker, wrap the shoulder in aluminum foil for about 15 minutes to allow the juices inside to redistribute and begin to cool.
With the shoulder on a cutting board, and using thick rubber gloves, tear the meat into shreds, discarding the bone, any gristle or fats.
Once the pork has been pulled apart, squirt the sauce all over the meat and mix together with the gloves until moist and aromatic, with the deeply umami aroma of vinegar and spices and smoke.