November 2, 2009


Making pulled pork is an undertaking of time and faith but, really, not all that much work. It starts with the shoulder cut of pork, which may need a minute of explanation. The shoulder is the front leg of the pig and it consists of two halves; the butt or Boston butt, which is the upper section and the lower called picnic shoulder or, worse yet, the picnic ham, though it is not really a ham*, just as the top half is not really a butt. Shoulder (which is the important word to remember when the desire to pull pork arises) can be purchased whole, with these two cuts attached to each other, or separately. On average, the cuts weigh between 6 and 10 pounds each, but in the photos you see here, we are working with 19 pounds of butt and a 16 pound picnic shoulder. The butcher at Dickson’s Farmstand had these enormous and subsequently delicious Berkshire pigs and I did purchase a whole shoulder but asked that he divide it for me since my home oven is only a standard size. Nonetheless, the two pieces were crammed in, touching the top of the oven, almost the bottom and each other in the middle while stacked on the two shelves. This caused no harm/problems when cooking but it was certainly the first leap of faith.

The second leap was trusting my oven to maintain the temperature of 325 degrees for almost 10 hours. I checked in on it every few hours and in the beginning made sure that the meat had enough liquid in the roasting dish so it would not burn. I used two cups of water per pan and then covered each with foil for the duration. I took some advice to use a bit of cider vinegar which was admittedly delicious but made the house smell like hot vinegar for so many hours that I would not like to repeat that experience. Anyway, pretty soon after the cooking starts, the meat releases its own (fat) juices and keeps itself safe and basted and delicious and fantastic.


Once you have figured what kind of seasonings you want to put on your shoulder and how long you’ll need to cook it, it is as good as done. For ‘marinating’ I put 1/2 of my spice rub on the pork the day before, and another coat just before cooking. If there is any to spare I either dump it in the barbecue sauce that accompanies the finished pork, or save it to dump into some other dish. A spice rub is a flexible ingredient and hard to get wrong. For starters, try a tablespoon each of brown sugar, mustard powder, ancho powder, garlic powder, onion powder mixed with two tablespoons each of kosher salt, pepper and paprika. There is no exact formula really, I just add and taste and add and taste. (I would even triple or quadruple this formula so as not to run short.) We have accumulated a great collection of dried spice powders, many from Kalustyan’s, so it is a great opportunity to use them for extra flare. It could be anything from dried Greek oregano to chipotle powder, Creole seasoning or a badass dash of jalapeno powder.


Once dusted up, it really helps to take the meat from the fridge at least 1/2 hour before placing it in the oven for even and accurate cooking. This also gives you a good head start to preheat and make sure your oven will keep a steady temperature. I am a huge fan of an oven thermometer, I keep it in there all the time, just to be sure. An easy formula for timing the pork is approximately 40 minutes per pound at 300 F. I have had success with it, though I am not afraid to creep the oven up to 325 and shave a few hours off of the process, especially when undertaking those giant pieces. In this case I have no neat formula but it is pretty easy to eyeball when the bones pull easily away from meat, perfectly clean, it is ready. If I had to guess I would say something like 30 minutes per pound @ 325 F. The internal temperature (of the meat) will be somewhere between 185 and 195 F but to know that exact info necessitates another type of thermometer, one may or may not have stocked in the kitchen. After removing the entirely cooked meat from the oven, just let it sit there (covered) for an hour or so before pulling it.


The next step is to hand-shred the pork into a clean container (it will fall apart so easily, it practically pulls itself) and then strain a quart or two of the juices to pour over for keeping the meat moist. The liquid is pretty fatty so you may want to cool the strained portions and scoop the fat off of the top before mixing it with the pork. Barbecue sauce would be my next suggestion. It is a subject of controversy with barbecue people all over the country. Everyone has their preferred style whether jarred or home made, sweet or spicy, vinegary or ketchup-based. No need to get pushy here, save it for the ball game and just use your favorite. I go for a spicy, vinegary sauce with a little touch of sweet but either way, it is a good idea to put a light coat over the pork now and drown it later on your plate or sandwich or whatever.


*A ham as we know it is the back leg, by the way.

One comment

  1. your post made me hungry for this all over again! so incredibly delicious! will you publish your bbq sauce recipe??

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