Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is something that I love. Having had it at many restaurants, I was excited to try to do it at home. Assuming you can get Boston Butt (which is the same as pork shoulder), it is surprisingly easy to do yourself. I always feel that doing it yourself allows you to customize it and make it exactly how you like it. It turned out really well for me, so I hope that you enjoy this recipe as well!

 The first thing that you need is some Boston Butt. I've found that this is fairly difficult to find in Ithaca. I'm sure you can order it through Wegman's, and The Piggery (Ithaca's new Pork Butcher) is now sure to carry it, but up until this point, I've gotten Boston Butt in Massachusetts at Price Chopper while visiting my parents. As I said above, Boston Butt is the same thing as pork shoulder - it got its strange name from the fact that way back when, this cut of pig came primarily from Boston, shipped in barrels known as "butts." The pork shoulder is generally well-marbled, and sometimes when you buy it from the store, it comes with part of the shoulder blade still in. Don't let the blade scare you away - with the way that this dish is prepared, the presence of the bone is not troublesome to remove. Below is a picture of the beautiful Boston Butt that I used:

As you can see, the meat is fairly fatty. In the cooking process, all of this fat will be leached out of the meat, so the resulting pulled pork will actually be extremely lean (if you are worried that all that pork fat will go to waste - don't worry, at the end of the recipe I will show you how to use that too!). Now the first thing that I do in preparing this meat is to dry rub it with spices. This is optional, but it really enriches the flavor. Dry rubbing meat that will be slow cooked is a great technique to use (so it's also good for Ribs). My dry rub recipe is a typical barbecue spice mix that I use quite often:

Dry Rub:
 1 part chili powder
1/4 part turmeric
2 parts cumin
1 part corainder
1 part garlic powder
1 part onion powder
2 parts brown sugar
1 part salt

To dry rub the meat, just pat it onto the pork fairly thick. It's impossible to over-season here due to the thickness of the cut, so don't worry about that. The salt in the rub will wick out some of the moisture inside the meat, really concentrating the flavor, so I recommend at least using salt and pepper if the other spices don't suit you.

Once the meat is dry rubbed, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap (leave no air), and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.

When you are ready to actually start the cooking process, take the pork out of the fridge. The next step is to make the braising liquid. You can use just water for this if you'd like, but I take every opportunity to impart flavor. Also, you can use the braising liquid later to make sauces, so I like to put a lot of tasty things in.

Braising Liquid:
 2 onions, chunked
10 cloves of garlic, cloves smashed and split
3-6 jalapenos, chunked
Can of diced tomatoes
salt and pepper
splash of vinegar or lemon juice
vegetable stock or water

The first thing that I do is to put the chunked onions, jalapenos, and garlic in the bottom of my slow cooker (you can use a regular stockpot too, and set the stove top to simmer). This forms a bed to place the pork on top of. Then fill to cooker to about 2/3 full with your liquid of choice (I used water this time; vegetable stock is good too, but I avoid meat stocks because I want pork flavor to be the only meaty flavor). The vinegar or lemon juice helps to allow flavors to penetrate into the meat. Be careful not to add too much more liquid than pictured, as once everything comes to a boil it could overflow.

The legwork is done now. Set the crockpot to low (if you do this in a normal stockpot, bring the water to a slow boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover), cover, and let this pork go. It will be done in 4-6 hours, and to me, it's ideal to eat after 8 hours. Nothing will happen if it goes a little extra, but 8 hours is a long time to wait before devouring this!

After the meat is cooked, remove from the pot and put on a cutting board. There may be a strip of fat that will just come off at this point - you can discard it. Similarly, if your Boston Butt had the blade bone in it, it will simply slide out now, and you can throw that away too. Some of the meat may have already fallen off, so use a slotted spoon to remove any delicious chunks floating in the braising liquid. Reserve the liquid for now - you can make sauce with it later. Use two forks to pull the pork apart. No directions needed here, the meat will shred with ease.

You can eat this pork as is or put your favorite sauce on it. I split my pork into two portions, as I wanted to eat it with different sauces on different days. For the first day, I wanted to put it in a barbecue sauce. I made the barbecue sauce from scratch, but if you want to cut time, your favorite bottle works too. My barbecue sauce is chipotle based, so it is a little spicy. The recipe is secret (everyone has to have some secret recipes, especially their own BBQ sauce! :)), but here's what it looked like:

This was truly delicious! And there was still left over pork for making carnitas quesadillas the next day...


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