It’s Memorial Day weekend and I’ve got in-laws in town, and on Sunday, we all went over to a friend’s house for a little quality time and a dinner. He asked me to bring over some pulled pork, so here’s how I made it.
I started with a pair of five-pound Boston pork butt roasts — the best and easiest cut for making pulled pork. That’s enough for 15 to 25 people — i.e., way too much for this gathering — but pulled pork freezes well and I wanted to have leftovers. Here’s how this cooking session developed, from start to finish:
1. The rub: Here’s all the ingredients I used in this rub: Equal parts of turbinado sugar (“Sugar In The Raw”), kosher salt and sweet Hungarian paprika, along with some black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano and just a little hit of MSG (Accent), which helps to make the other spices ‘pop’ if you use it right. I typically just eyeball all of the spices except for the Basic Three.
In this case, for two butts, I mixed half a cup of paprika, salt and turbinado sugar together, threw in perhaps two tablespoons of black pepper and oregano, then used about a tablespoon of everything else except for perhaps a teaspoon of the MSG.
2. The trim: Pork butt roasts almost always have a solid “fat cap” on the bottom –you know, the side you can’t see in the meat case at the store, but that you get to pay for anyway. Since pork butt roasts have plenty of fat threaded through the meat, we don’t need this fat cap at all — all it will do is prevent smoke from penetrating the meat and considerably lengthen the time needed to finish this pork. Off it went.
I also trimmed some exterior fat elsewhere — really, you can’t be too aggressive about that, and I easily could have taken even more fat off of this roast than I did. I stopped trimming after removing about a pound of fat.
3. The mustard: This application of cheap yellow mustard to the outside of the roast helps the rub to adhere, and also helps create the “bark,” or crust, that is the best part of pulled pork. You won’t taste the mustard at all when the cooking is finished.
As an alternative, I’ve rubbed in a splash of vegetable oil in past cooks to help keep the rub in place, but the mustard crusts up and creates more bark and I prefer it with pork in particular.
4. The application: I just poured the rub across each surface of the roast and pressed it in. Applying rub is a messy process and requires you to use your hands.
If it bothers you to get your hands somewhat grungy, put on a pair of disposable latex or nitrile gloves. It’s always handy to keep a box of these gloves around the house for work like this, or painting, or working on the car, or doing anything where you don’t want your hands covered with goo that stains.
5. The prep rest: I like to prep my BBQ as much as a day in advance, giving the salt and sugar in the rub time to start breaking down the meat, but I was busy this weekend and couldn’t get to this until Saturday morning. This still got a 13-hour prep rest, which was fine.
6. The cooking: I came back from a gig Saturday night and fired up my Medium Green Egg about midnight. I stabilized the cooker at 225 degrees in anticipation of a 12- to 14-hour cook, put on the meat, got the Egg temperature stabilized again and went to bed.
This is the first time I’ve made pulled pork with the Egg, which is so efficient and stable that I did not have to add charcoal and only had to perform minimal adjustments for the entire cooking time.
I use a common method for cooking big hunks of meat known as “halftime cooking.” After 6.5 hours (or half the estimated cooking time), I used a spray bottle to lightly apply apple juice to the roasts (helps keep the exterior moist while keeping the rub in place), then flipped the roasts over and put temperature probes in each one. After another three and a half hours, I basted again, then hit ‘em again about an hour before pulling them.
After 13 hours, the roasts reached an internal temperature of 190 degrees and I proclaimed them done. Notice that this piece of meat looks like a meteorite that’s had a flaming trip through the earth’s atmosphere, but as you’ll soon see, that is not the case.
Some people cook the roasts even longer — closer to 200 degrees –but I had plans for:
7. The finishing rest: All thick cuts of red meat need to be rested after cooking. This allows the juices to settle back into the meat, where you want it, rather than running off into a pan, where you don’t.
Twenty minutes to half an hour, lightly covered with foil, is fine for a rest if you’re eating right away. If not, do what I did: Wrap the roasts tightly in foil, wrap your foil packages in towels, and drop the packages into a clean, not-too-large cooler. Note that the internal temperature of your meat will continue to rise at first, and this method will keep roasts piping hot for at least two — and probably closer to four — hours!
8. The pulling: If everything goes well — and if you’ve kept your temperature stable while cooking the pork, it almost always goes well — this will be easy. I use thick neoprene gloves for the pulling — they’re moisture-proof, resist the heat and can be easily washed (before I use them for a pull, I wash my hands while wearing them!). I own a pair solely for this purpose.
Just pull the meat apart, picking out anything that looks nasty (clumps of fat, any odd cartilage, etc.). If you’ve done everything properly, the meat will just fall apart in your hands as you pull on the roast.
I usually add a little barbecue rub to the pork post-pull to help give it some flavor — pork roast is far too thick for smoke and/or rub to penetrate very far.
And there you go. Pulled pork, while often the most time-consuming of barbecue meats, is also the easiest if you own a smoker that keeps a stable temperature. It is inexpensive, serves a herd of people and tastes great. Enjoy.