The popularity of pulled pork hasn't seemed to wane since it first burst on the scene a few years back. Pork butt, Boston Butt or pork shoulder has to be cooked 'low and slow' in order for the tough muscles, tendons and fat to be broken down leaving perfectly tender pork that can be pulled apart with ease. Pulled Pork is one of the traditional BBQ meats of the Carolina's where it's smoked at low temperatures for many hours. BBQ is an extremely popular cooking method, particularly in the Southern states of America were historically slaves and poorer sections of society could only afford cheaper cuts of meat, think brisket, ribs, sausage, pork shoulder. These tough, fibrous cuts need to be broken down over a long period of time and since wood was in plentiful supply that's what was used.
Today in the UK when you mention the term BBQ most people's initial thoughts would be standing in the rain with lighter fluid burning cheap burgers and sausages. This perception is slowing changing though with more and more people getting into smoking meats in their back garden.
Yes, there are hundreds of how-to videos on YouTube (the best is probably BBQ with Franklin). My version doesn't do anything different than the majority of other tutorials but it's fairly simple and works. All is needed is a Kettle style bbq, some wood and some decent charcoal or briquettes. Yes, you could braise, slow roast or cook the pork shoulder in a slow cooker which will produce very good results. But if you enjoy making fires (which I do) and have a day around the house to tend to the coals there are few things as enjoyable and the payoff is well worth the time.
- Pork Shoulder 2kg-2.5kg
For the Basting Sauce
- Apple Cider Vinegar 20mls
- Mustard based sauce 5 Tablespoons
For the Spice Rub
- Smoked Paprika 2 Teaspoons
- Chilli Powder 2 Teaspoons
- Sea Salt 2 Teaspoons
- Black Pepper 1 Teaspoon
- Hardocre Carnivore (Available at Great Outdoor BBQ) 2 Teaspoons
- Coleslaw (Try my pink lady slaw)
- BBQ sauce
1. The first stage is to rub the pork shoulder with the spice mix. The rub's main purpose is to add flavour to the pork but almost as important is the bark it creates around the surface of the joint when in the presence of smoke. The majority of pork rubs all have four main ingredients, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and brown sugar. Many rubs also have garlic powder, onion powder or chilli powder so if you have these don't be afraid to use. I also used Hardcore Carnivore rub which along with garlic powder and chilli includes activated charcoal that gives the meat a striking black colour when applied. When adding the rub you want to ensure it's spread evenly over the surface of the meat without it caking into lumps.
2. The next step is to set up the bbq for smoking rather than direct grilling. Again there are many ways to do this but I find setting the coals up either side of the meat works well. If you have a chimney starter it's best to use it as it ensures all the coals are evenly lit which will give you a more even heat over time. Once the coals are white and the flames have died empty half of the coals on each side of the pork.
3. Before closing the lid add in a few lumps of wood on each mound of coals, this will produce the smoke that will flavour the pork and help create the bark on the surface of the meat. Temperature wise you are looking for around 130c and the key to a successfully smoked pork shoulder is to maintain this temperature throughout the 8 hour cooking period (for a 2.3kg joint). Initially, the temperature will be fairly hot meaning I had to close the bottom vent to bring the heat down to 130c. This takes a bit of playing about once you have done it a few times you get to know how opening/closing the vents affects the airflow within the kettle. Kettle bbq's also have hinges on the grates that allow for easy access to the coals so once you see the temp dropping below 110c-100c (for me this was about 1hr 15 into the cook) add in a few more lumps of charcoal. It is a bit of trial and error but thankfully cooking pork shoulder is relatively forgiving compared to other leaner cuts of meat.
4. Basting time! After around 2 hrs 30 mins I added a basting sauce comprised of apple cider vinegar and a mustard sauce. This helps keep the joint moist while also adding another flavour profile to the pork. I did this at the 2hr 30, 4hr and 5hr marks.
5. If you have been successful at maintaining the temperature over the first 5 hours the pork should have taken on the smoke flavour and there should be a nice bark created on the surface. At this stage, it is advised to wrap the joint in foil to along with more basting liquid. The foil traps heat and moisture around the meat, accelerating the rendering of fat and the breakdown of connective tissue into soft gelatin that will ensure perfectly tender pork that can easily pull apart. I continued to cook the pork at around 130c for a further 3 hours when wrapped.
6. After the 8 hours of cooking remove the pork from the bbq. If you have a meat thermometer you are looking for an internal temperature of 96c. Alternatively, if the pork shoulder has a bone, give it a twist and if it easily comes away you are on the money.
7. Wrap the meat back up and let it rest for at least half an hour before shredding. I served on fresh white baps with coleslaw and some Smoking Yankees Apple and Whiskey BBQ sauce which is the sh*t, check them out on twitter.