As a young man, the subtleties of pulled pork were lost on me. Technique, patience, care: pointless wastes of time to my still immature, I-want-it-fast mind. "Grab the pork," I thought, "and pull it. It's not rocket science."
With maturity, though, came understanding. And a world of unimagined pleasures. The explosion of flavors, the mysteries of sauces, the tender porkiness, the grease-stained paper plates that once held a half pound of heaven. And it's different everywhere. The personal nature of techniques means one person's mind-blowing, life-changing minutes of pleasure may, to another, be a nightmare of rank pig. This is pulled pork's beauty; this is pulled pork's curse.
So a while back, I found myself staring at an unpulled pork roast in my kitchen and decided the time had come to make my own. Sure, there were roadblocks: I did not have the time or patience to smoke it, and even if I dropped the dosh to buy a smoker, I would have been in for a 24-hour wait before getting down with some pig -- way too long to drag out the pain of a pork jones.
But trial and error, advice from chefs, and some less-than-amazing pork experiments finally yielded the secrets I sought. Given the time and patience I rarely have, I'd use a smoker for pulled pork, but I've found a shortcut to heaven using an oven and a big ovenproof pot. It's damned good, takes just a couple of hours, and, when in the grips of a feverish need for pulled pork, provides (almost) immediate release.
You want in on this?
Start by heading to Publix (yeah, you can hit your choice of other
markets, but I've personally had good experiences with the Publix
butcher near me) to grab yourself a nice Boston butt (insert crappy Ben
Affleck joke here). I prefer boneless, which is often not on display, a
good thing that gives you an excuse to get the butcher to cut you some
fresh piggy. Tell the nice person wearing the blood-stained apron and
carrying a cleaver that you'd like a four-pound boneless Boston butt.
While they're cutting it, go get whatever's on the following list that
you don't have:
Apple cider vinegar
Consider grabbing a Red Bull from the little fridge on the way out to
help you get psyched for what's ahead. Go home and preheat your oven to
325 degrees. Now get a bowl and make yourself a dry rub by combining
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
A few shakes of cayenne pepper (it's a feel thing)
Remove the pork from the wrapping. It's like a
beautiful present, isn't it? If the butcher left a hefty flap of fat on
the bottom, go ahead and trim it off with a sharp knife. Do not
playfully toss the flap of fat at your significant other, causing it to
stick to his or her face.
Rinse the pork, pat it dry, and rub the mixture you just made all over
ever single exposed surface you can find. Throw a bit of vegetable oil
(and don't you DARE use olive oil in a lame attempt to be heart smart)
in a big ovenproof pot, heat it up, and brown the pork on all sides. Now
put the top on and put the whole thing in the oven for about three
Now make your sauce. I've been digging tomato-based sauces lately, so
that's what I'm passing along. In a pot over low heat, combine:
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups of ketchup (not catsup)
1 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup of soy sauce
1/8 cup of Worcestershire sauce
1 cup of packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons oil (NOT olive)
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
A crapload of minced garlic (slightly less than a crapload is also acceptable)
Once it all heats up a bit, toss in a couple of slices of lemon. Simmer it
for no more than five to ten minutes, and do not let it reduce (unless,
of course, you're in the mood for a thick, overly rich, tar sauce that
would choke a badger). Set it aside until the pork is done. (By the way,
this will keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks. You'll have
leftovers, so consider grilling some chicken thighs in a few days.)
Once the three hours is up, you should have a bunch of liquid in the
pot, most of which is fat. Strain off as much as you want, but leave
some behind (it keeps the pork moist and delicious even without sauce).
Now grab a couple of forks and work them through the meat, mixing it
with the juice you've left behind. Stop often to shove many pieces of
tasty pork into your mouth. When you're done, you can either add some
barbecue sauce to the pot and mix it up, but don't add too much --
oversauced pulled pork sucks. I usually add about 3/4 cup to the pot,
then pour more to taste at the table.
Pile a huge, ass-enlarging portion onto your plate, sit down somewhere
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that normal humans won't freak out, and start inhaling it. Stop when
you can no longer speak coherently.
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and believes that any conflict can be resolved with the help of meat.