Pulled pork

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.

6 responses to “Pulled pork

  1. Pingback: Vile Potatoes | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  2. Basically, it’s American pork rillette. You can cook it down around 120C if you want. A lot of pit BBQ places smoke the meat at around that temperature for six or ten hours, so the meat gets both cooked and smoked. There are even wood smokers with timers, thermostats and WiFi connectivity for serious fans.

    Back in the 1960s, President Johnson (LBJ) said that America’s three great contributions to world culture were toilet paper, barbecue and fingering f–king. Glad to read that you are enjoying one of them.

  3. As a Tennessean, I approve this post. If you have a grill, you must try smoking your pork for the full pit barbecue experience. I don’t know if you can find hickory or mesquite wood where you are, but apple, cherry, or oak will do just fine. Of course when you are smoking you can’t keep it air-tight the whole time or the smoke can’t get in and give you that wonderful flavor boost. A tin of water or other liquid placed in the grill will help keep the pork from drying out too much.

    Also, try it without sugar. Midwesterners like their barbecue sweet, but they are known to be addled.

  4. Kaleberg, having looked up pork rillette, I think I am happier with the American version!

    Yes, smoking would be best, but I don’t have the equipment, nor the time or inclination to build a pit. Maybe one day when I have less other stuff going on. I do feel though that smokers with timers and especially with WiFi have to be completely against the spirit of BBQ.

    Nathan, perhaps as you say smoking on a grill (what the in the UK confusingly call a barbecue) is the reasonable middle way.

  5. Bevan Bennett

    If you enjoy this pulled pork, I also suggest that you look into a recipe for “Cochinita Pibil”, a similar dish from the Yucatan peninsula.

  6. Thanks, Bevan, I’ll look into it!

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