Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Two-Day pulled pork

Bill's Two-Day pulled pork

Pulled pork is one of the categories of barbecue foods that people get very competitive about. There are tons of different ways to prepare the meat, lots of different sauces, and lots of different general philosophies that are embedded in the approaches that people take.

So I’m going to be upfront about my philosophy: use good pork, cook it a long time, and use just enough sauce to enhance the natural flavor of the meat. Make this a dish that is about the pork, not about the sauce.

I’ve tried lots of different ways to cook the pork: in a slow cooker with apple cider, onions, and garlic; in a Dutch oven with vinegar or wine. I’ve used butts, shoulders, and country style ribs (basically a shoulder chop).

I’ve also tried a lot of different sauce recipes. Hot and spicy, sweet and sticky, vinegar tangy, apple infused, and tomato soupy.

But this low and slow method on a smoker has given me the best results, and the combination of maple and balsamic vinegar is my favorite sauce. I know not everyone has a smoker. With a little fussing around, you could do this on a charcoal grill over indirect heat, or even on a gas grill with a smoke box. The key is to not rush it -- keep the heat low for the whole time.

It will take as long as it takes. There is no short cut that won’t compromise flavor. I’ve broken it up into two days to allow the smoking of the pork to take a full day, so that no one will be tempted to rush it to get it on the table at dinner time.

Day one: smoking the pork and the garlic 

For the pork, I used a picnic shoulder -- about 8 pounds, bone-in and skin on

Prepare smoker for a long day. Put the picnic shoulder on the rack skin side down. Temp should be about 225° and it may take as much as 13 hours to reach the internal temperature of 195° that’s needed for the meat to pull properly.

While the pork is smoking, put a few heads of garlic, skin and all, in the smoker for a couple of hours to roast the cloves and add a bit more smoky flavor.

Smoking technique

I like using cherry because it creates a very nice bark that seals in moisture. I use a charcoal fire with cherry logs for smoke, and I keep the smoke flowing the whole time. Some say the first six hours is enough, but as long as I’m tending the fire I’d just as soon keep putting smoking wood on it. Have plenty of charcoal on hand before you start this project. I used at least 10 pounds of charcoal and eight good sized chunks of cherry for my picnic shoulder.

When the pork reaches an internal temperature of 195 (and even 200 might be better), remove it from the smoker. Let it cool for a while, then place it in the fridge overnight. It’s possible to pull the pork while it’s still warm using two forks, but I prefer to cool it off overnight and pull it with my hands the next day.

Day two: pulling and saucing

Get the sauce started.

Peel the skin off the picnic shoulder and scoop out some of the fat under the skin. This is one of the many reasons not to cook at too high a heat: you don't want the fat to render out. If you're using a butt or other skinless cut, you'll need to use a different source of lard or a different fat to sauté the vegetables and aromatic herbs.

lard from under the skin (you can also use butter or olive oil) 
1 ½ cup minced onion 
1 cup minced sweet pepper 
5 cloves smoked garlic, smashed into a paste 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon thyme 
1 Tablespoon rosemary 
1 Tablespoon black pepper 
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes 
¾ cup dark maple syrup (cooking syrup or the old grade B) 
¾ cup ketchup 
½ cup balsamic vinegar 
¼ cup apple cider vinegar 
1 cup stock (chicken, beef, pork, vegetable, or whatever mixed stock you have on hand) 

Combine syrup, ketchup, and vinegars in a mixing bowl. Hint -- measure and mix ketchup and maple syrup together in a 2-cup measure, then use the vinegars and stock to rinse it out. 

Heat a saucepan over medium fire. Drop the fat from the skin in the pan and remove any cracklins that render out. Add enough lard to cover the bottom of the pan. Or use a similar amount of butter or olive oil.

Add onions, peppers, and garlic to hot fat and stir. Add salt and herbs. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.

Add liquids and stir until the mixture returns to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour, until the liquid thickens slightly.
Pull the pork However you do it, now is the time. Remove bones, gristle, and excess fat and shred the rest. Add the pulled pork to a large crock pot set on low. Pour the sauce over the meat and stir to combine.

Continue cooking in the crock pot for two to four hours. More time in the slow cooker means more time for the flavors to combine.

Serve it
Arrange a bed of fresh greens on the plates and add the very hot pulled pork on top of the greens. It should be hot enough to slightly wilt the greens directly under the meat. It’s also really good a brioche bun. Serves a small army once, or a couple of people for a long time. Freeze in meal-sized portions.

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