It wasn’t until my 2007 trip to Oklahoma that I realised the food called “barbecue” in the USA bears no relation to the charred-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside sausages that bear that name over here in the UK. My visit to Van’s Pig Stand in Norman, Oklahoma was a revelation to me. I experienced meat like I had never tasted before. I’ve never attempted to replicate the ribs or brisket — one day I will — but pulled pork is astonishingly easy.
So here’s how I do it.
Start with a big chunk of pork (surprise!). Then make up a dry rub which will give it additional flavour. Lots of people have lots of opinions of what exactly should go into the rub, and you can find lots of recipes. But I skew simple: sugar, salt, pepper and the magic ingredient, smoked paprika.
How much of each to use? I do this by feel, but for a recent batch I weighed what I used so my sons could replicate it when they make this. (We have them cooking for us now, a couple of days each week). Here’s what I used:
- 75 g dark brown sugar
- 35 g salt
- 1 g freshly ground black pepper
- 2 g smoked paprika
This was for a 2 kg chunk of pork, so if yours is bigger or smaller than that, you can adjust these quantities accordingly. But they are pretty vague anyway, so feel free to use more or less as you prefer.
Mix the rub ingredients together. Then remove the pork from its packaging and cut off any string that might be tying it up. Work the rub all over the pork, including into any crevices. Often a tied-up chunk of pork will unfold when the string is removed. Great! Work the rub into the central areas that are thus exposed before folding it back into shape.
When you’re done, place the pork in the centre of a large piece of baking foil in an oven-proof tray and sprinkle any remaining rub over the top of the pork. Now you need to make a foil parcel that completely encloses the pork and is airtight, but which has some air-space inside, so that air can circulate inside the package. (The airtightness is really important: if you tear the foil, then all the moisture will escape during cooking and you’ll be left with a charred lump.)
Now bake the wrapped parcel. You want a low temperature and a long time that will result in cooking all the way through without ever getting really hot. I usually use 140 degrees C, and cook for maybe six to eight hours. An even lower temperature might be OK. The idea is that the slow cooking breaks down all the tough gristle in the pork, and leaves it amazingly tender.
When it’s time to eat, remove the pork from the oven and open the foil package. If you did it right, then plenty of steam will escape and the pork will be beautifully moist. Lift the meat out of the baking tin into a heavy glass or ceramic dish and pull it apart with two forks. (That’s where the name “pulled pork” comes from.) You will want to incorporate some of the fat but not too much. And pour in some of the juices from the tin: they combine melted pork fat with all those delicious things in the rub, plus they help to get the texture of meat right.
If you like, you can mix in some BBQ sauce, peri-peri sauce and liquid smoke.
This is just delicious. We tend to serve it with vile potatoes and coleslaw.