I feel like I'm really getting in touch with American cooking with this project.
And now I must wake up my little sleepyhead so that we can go pick up another pork butt for Test 2 of the pulled pork recipe. This time, I'll try the full 7 pounds, which scares the crap out of me! That's enough meat to give someone a concussion, should you choose to wield it like a weapon. We still have frozen leftovers from the 4-pounder. This one will be turned into chili on Tuesday, for my company's yearly chili competition.
(cook in advance)
“Pork shoulder“, also known as “pork butt” or “whole Boston butt” is a large and economical cut of meat. It needs to be cooked slowly over a long period of time in order to make it tender and flavorful. The process takes a while, but the results are mounds of perfect pulled pork. This is a great way to feed a crowd of people. Leftovers can also be frozen for later.
Pork shoulder ranges in size from four to seven pounds, and a pound will make enough meat for up to four sandwiches. If you cook a large pork shoulder, you will need a very large casserole dish - preferably with enough room so that the meat is not touching the sides of the pan. If you do not own a large casserole dish or roasting pan, a disposable aluminum pan will do.
You will also need a container to brine the meat. While this could possibly be done in the casserole dish, it’s much less messy (and less likely to splash dangerous raw meat juices in your refrigerator) if you use a container with a lid, or a two-gallon Ziploc bag.
“Brining” is the process of soaking a piece of meat in "brine", which is salt water. In this recipe, the salt water not only helps to carry the flavors of the sugar and spices into the meat through osmosis, but it also adds moisture to the meat, which will prevent the pork from drying out during its very long cooking process.
This recipe requires that the meat first be brined for at least eight hours, and then that the meat be cooked for 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. So, you will either need to start brining the meat in the morning of the day before, and cook the meat all night; or you will need to brine the meat all night and then cook it all day.
A probe-style thermometer with an alarm is a good idea for this recipe, to take out the guesswork of when the meat is done. While the pork will be cooked and sliceable at 170 degrees, the pork will become soft enough to be pulled apart only as it reaches 200 degrees. But if you are in a hurry, 185 degrees will do.
This recipe is just one of many ways to make pulled pork. It is not necessary to use exactly the spices listed here. Wet recipes use barbecue sauce rather than a dry rub, and many recipes do not call for brining at all. Pulled pork can also be cooked in a slow cooker.
The meat: one pork shoulder, from 4 to 7 pounds
The dry rub:
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 tsp dry rub mix
2 bay leaves
½ cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
8 cups of cold water
First mix up the dry rub; then mix up the brine, starting by adding the salt to the water and stirring until as much salt is dissolved as possible. When the brine is ready, put the pork shoulder into the brining container, and pour the brine over the meat. If not all of the meat is submerged in the brine, then you will want to flip the meat over halfway through the brining process.
Put the container of meat and brine into the refrigerator. If your container is not leak-proof, you may want to set a towel on the shelf under it, to absorb any spills.
When it is time to cook, set the oven to 225 degrees. Notice that this is only 25 degrees higher than the temperature that you want the meat to hit!
Pour the brine down the sink. Coat the meat liberally on all sides with the dry rub mix, rubbing it in with your hands as you go. Then place it fat-side-up in the casserole dish or roasting pan, and insert the thermometer probe. Set the thermometer’s alarm to ring at 200 degrees, and put the pork in the oven.
If in the final hours, the temperature of the meat seems to be going up too slowly, turn up the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Your oven may be running cold, and you should test it later with an oven thermometer to see what temperature it actually is.
When the meat is cooked, you can either pull it apart immediately, or you can leave it to cool in the turned-off oven until the temperature reaches 170.
If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain the pan before pulling the pork. Also remove the fat from the top of the meat and discard before shredding the pork. Then “pull the pork” by holding the meat down with one fork, and ripping off chunks of meat with another. If the pork needs more flavor at this point, sprinkle on more of the dry rub mix.
If it is going to be a few hours before the meat is eaten, refrigerate it, and reheat in the microwave, or in a 350 degree oven until the meat hisses and smells delicious. The meet can also be frozen for longer storage.
Serve on bread or buns, with mustard, barbecue sauce, pickles, coleslaw, and/or lettuce.
(quick side dish)
There are many possible variants on coleslaw. This is a basic recipe that can easily be added to or changed. Coleslaw is particularly good with pulled pork.
Coleslaw can also be made with broccoli instead of cabbage.
¼ head of green or red cabbage, shredded, OR one crown of broccoli, sliced thin
1 tsp sugar
1 grated carrot
Mayonnaise or salad dressing to taste
Salt and pepper to taste.
(optionals) vinegar, milk, mustard, raisins, grated cheese; chopped apple, bell pepper, pineapple, walnuts, onion
Cut the core from the cabbage quarter, and then slice as thinly as you can manage. Mix the dressing and then stir everything together. Serve at once.
(quick side dish or dessert)
This is a quick way to get more fruit into your diet. Children especially love this. Per person, you will need:
A little brown or white sugar
A little cinnamon (or other pumpkin pie spices)
Peel and slice the apple onto a cookie sheet or casserole dish. Sprinkle both sides of the slices with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes, or broil for about three minutes on each side. (Broiling will result in slices which are more dry on the outside, which makes them good as finger food for kids.) Eat them while they are hot!
Baked apples are particularly good with pork. They can be dipped in yogurt as a snack or a dessert, or they can be served alone or with ice cream as a dessert.