The first time I had pulled pork was in Atlanta as a wee lad. I've been hooked ever since. Lacking the necessary smoker (or right now, even a bbq) I've had to rely on the goodness of southerners to make it for me. No longer. After my dad fired me an email talking about the food in North Carolina on one of his golf vacations, I decided it would be time to give it a shot. Now I'm not claiming that this is better than real smoked pulled pork, but for a guy in a studio apartment in LA, it's pretty darn good. What follows is less recipe and more technique. The whole process hinges on getting the best pork you can but other than that, it's light on ingredients. Most likely you'll have everything else you need lying around the kitchen. This is based on trial and error, as well as becoming student of old school southern bbq techniques.
Here's what you need:
- A 5-8 lb pork shoulder (called a Boston Butt.) You can have it either bone in or out, it doesn't matter. They usually have them pre cut and wrapped at the grocery store, but if they don't you can ask and the butcher will be able to give you that cut easily.
- Dry pork rub (you can buy this or make your own, depending on your inclination. DIY recipe is at the bottom)
- Bottle of regular BBQ sauce (again, I'm trying to keep this practical here. You can make your own bbq sauce, as I have done in the past. But for my purposes, going out and buying molasses and brown sugar that I'll only use once doesn't jive with my student budget)
- 2oz bourbon
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- Bottle of apple juice
Here's what you do:
1) Preheat oven to 250F. Make sure there are two racks in the oven, one in the middle and one on the bottom
2) Cover your pork shoulder in dry rub, really massage it in there, and let it sit for about 30 mins, giving a chance for the spice to do its thing
3) Pour some apple juice onto a baking tray, and put it on the bottom rack. You may need to top up the apple juice from time to time, depending on how much evaporates
4) Put your pork on a baking pan and put it in the oven for 8 hrs. Just put it in and thats it, you don't need to move it at all.
5) When the pork is about 20 minutes from being done, dump your bbq sauce into a pan and heat on low, then add some bourbon and vinegar to taste. You can also add some apple juice to the sauce if you want. Stir.
6) After 8 hrs (or internal temperature of 160F, I don't have a thermometer so I just estimate) take the pork out and put in a large mixing bowl. Using two forks, just start pulling the pork apart from itself, it should go pretty easily, considering how tender the pork will be. After everything is all pulled apart, just dump in your bbq sauce mixture and give it a good mixing with the forks.
7) Serve piled high on fresh kaiser buns.
Overall this meal is fantastic as it has little prep work, and the reward is simply mindblowing. Whats more, you can easily scale up this recipe for an epic pork party with little added work. Since modern gas ovens tend to give off a dry heat, the apple juice prevents the pork from drying out while giving it an nice hint of sugar and apple. The addition of vinegar to the bbq sauce thins it out nicely, giving the pork more of a Carolina vibe, rather than the thicker Kentucky/Texas sauces most of us are used to. The bourbon is just an added bonus.
What to listen to: Brock Van Wey - White Clouds Drift On and On
I'm not an emotional guy, but this album is what I would call "heartbreakingly beautiful." Slow builds and sighing releases, strings and vocals all come together for a moving experience. Which is exactly how you'll feel as your first bite of pulled pork is melting in your mouth.
What to drink: Since you already have the bite of the vinegar and the strength of the bourbon, I recommend a nice full hoppy beer. Fat Tire in the US, Cameron's Auburn Ale in Canada.
*For the DIY dry rub
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper (I like it spicy, if you don't, you can leave it out and add heat as need be)
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme