Today, I’m going to share my secrets to making pulled pork so good it’ll make you wanna slap yo’ mama (but please don’t). I’ll explain how to do it both in a smoker (the ultimate) and in your oven, in case you don’t have one (still awesome). I’ll also give you my recipe for the dry rub that takes it from good to sublime.
First off, I must say this–if you’ve ever seen a recipe for pulled pork made in a crockpot, please just look away. Don’t do it. Sure, it will be tender. But it will also be soupy and mushy. Worse, it will never have the delicious crust (bark, as we call it in barbecue) that’s pulled pork’s true raison d’etre. So, let’s just get that out of the way up front.
You make pulled pork with a pork shoulder, or pork “butt.” In this context, “butt” doesn’t actually mean the arse end of the pig. According to Wikipedia, this cut of meat got its name from pre-revolutionary New England, when butchers packed the lower-quality cuts of pork (like hams and shoulders) in storage barrels known as “butts.” The pork butt is a very fatty cut of meat that requires low and slow cooking to become palatable. The most common size is roughly 8-10 pounds. I’ve seen them bigger and smaller, but that’s the average. I prefer to get the bone-in butt. The boneless butts have to be tied up with kitchen twine so they don’t fall apart. I’m too lazy for all that.
The basic procedure is to rub the pork butt all over with a delicious barbecue rub and then roast it, uncovered, at a temperature between 220 and 270 degrees until the meat reaches 205 degrees. At that point, the connective tissue and collagen within the meat have broken down and much of the fat has rendered, making it tender and unctuous. This process takes a long time…In fact, it can take 10 to 12 hours, depending on the size of the pork butt. After this, you’ll “pull” the pork by tearing it into small pieces using two big forks or your hands, mix it with butter and sauce, and get ready for the rave reviews.
HEREIN LIES THE RUB
The secret to an amazing pulled pork is its sweet, crispy crust that will eventually be mixed into the finished product, imparting the characteristic texture and flavor. This starts with the perfect dry rub.
You *could* go to the store and pick yourself up a bottle of generic BBQ rub. But, won’t you feel so much better about yourself if you create something uniquely your own–especially if it totally ROCKS? (Hint: yes, you will.) So, I’m going to give you a starting point. After you’ve made it a couple of times, you can adjust it to your own taste.
I’m partial to Meathead’s Memphis Dust, but I’ve modified it quite a bit to suit my own taste. The original includes the following ingredients:
- 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup paprika
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons rosemary powder
When I made this recipe, my family complained that it was a little bland. I pumped up the flavor with extra brown sugar (the sugar caramelizes, gets crispy, and imparts a beautiful color and flavor), as well as some chili powder and cayenne for heat. Try it, and adjust to taste.
GET READY, GET SET…
Go ahead and preheat your oven to 225 degrees.
If you’ve got a smoker, set up your coals in a “fuse” or “snake” pattern, so that your charcoal won’t incinerate too quickly, making the temperature rise out of control. Light 8-10 coals in your chimney starter, and then carefully arrange them at one end of the “snake” or “fuse.” Wait until the smoker reaches between 220-270 degrees.
Rub the pork butt all over with your yummy rub. Coat it well. I never need to use oil or water to make it stick. The sugar helps it adhere.
Get out your digital instant-read thermometer (you’ll use it in a few hours), put your pork on the smoker grate (over a water pan) or in a roasting pan in your preheated oven.
Next, comes the waiting. If you want to eat pulled pork for dinner, you’ll have to start very early in the morning, because, as I mentioned, this can take 10-12 hours or more, depending on your temperature-control skills. In the oven, some people like to just set the temp to 225 and go to bed. In the morning, it should be good to go.
Big cuts of meat, like pork butt, go through a period of temperature plateau called “the stall.” It has to do with evaporative cooling. Raising the temp causes the meat to sweat. At a certain point, the condensation on the outside of the meat keeps the meat cool enough that it doesn’t rise in temperature for a few hours (a few could be between 2 and 6 hours, actually). So, be ready for that. Hang in there, and don’t panic. If you’ve not planned your day well and need it to be done in a hurry, you can wrap the pork butt tightly in foil. The temp will begin to rise again pretty quickly. On the flip side, you’ll lose the crispness of the crust, which can be a little sad. :-(
GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT
Check your pork in several spots with your instant-read digital thermometer when you think it’s getting close. Wait for that magic number–205. Hopefully, by this time, it will have a deep, dark caramelized crust. Now you can get excited…the good part is coming.
Remove the pork from the smoker or oven. Some folks like to wrap it tightly in foil and then in a few towels and then put it in an empty, well-sealed cooler for a few hours, but you don’t have to.
Grab two big forks, and get ready to pull (separate the meat into strands and small chunks). This should be relatively easy, if your meat has been cooked enough. Pulling 8 pounds of pork is not a quick, easy job. But it will be well worth it.
Once you’ve finished separating the pork, I recommend tossing it with butter, Carolina style. Start with a half cup and see if that works. It should glisten evenly throughout the meat.
Now, take a taste, swoon, and start patting yourself on the back for your pure genius in creating this masterpiece. Toss it with barbecue sauce if that’s how you like it. I prefer a thick, sweet, smoky sauce. If you prefer, you can also just serve the sauce at the table, as opposed to mixing it in with the pulled pork before serving.
I forgot to mention that you should pick up some disposable tupperware containers before your invite your friends and family come over for dinner. They’re going to want leftovers. But keep your containers small, so you can surreptitiously keep most of it. You can eat it all week…in sandwiches, tacos, on salads…any way you want it, baby. Alternatively, you could wrap it tightly in a ziplock bag and freeze it.
I know that I’ve given you a lot of information in this post. So if you have any questions, please ask them in the comments, below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.