David Theiss: Practical principals of plain and perfect pulled pork preparation
January 30, 2013
Around this time of year I always hear people talk about dishes they like to prepare for parties, usually Super Bowl parties. One of the simplest and most cost-effective party favorites which has gained popularity in the last 10 years is pulled pork. Pulled pork has been around for a while in one form or another. It is generally made from a cheaper cut of meat, usually taken from the shoulder or the “pork butt.” It also can be referred to as pork shoulder butt. During Pre-Revolutionary War time meat processors would prepare pigs for curing or shipping in a barrel referred to as a butt. In Boston, the shoulders were cut a certain way and the name that just kind of stuck was Boston butt. Also, an old butcher told me that in his younger years of meat-cutting the “powers to be” collaborated and decided they were not getting enough money for the shoulder cut, so they decided to add the label “butt” to the shoulder so they could charge more money. Or so the story goes. The term “butt” in pork terminology implies it is a ham piece. Ham or the back leg and the loin are the most desirable pieces. They have always commanded a higher price, with the loin and the ham being the highest part of the hog. Thus the term “living high on the hog.” In many cultures you will see similar preparations of the pork shoulder, slowly cooked to make delicacies such as Mexico’s pork carnitas, seasoned with cilantro, onion, salsa and guacamole. Polynesian cultures use more sweet fruit juices, sugars, and salts. In the Southern United States, they have perfected the art of cooking pork butt, now called darned good barbecue. Flavors vary from region to region, ranging from sweet tomato sauce and herb-crusted rubs to vinegar-mustard flavors, but they all start with the same piece of pork. It’s a shoulder piece of pork, well-marbled and slowly cooked. The process could be roasted, smoked, or braised, which makes it juicy, flavorful, and tender when cooked properly, and most always shredded by gently pulling the meat apart. Cooking the pork is done at low temperatures, around 200 degrees. Down South, they like to slow-smoke the pork over hickory coals. Southerners require their pork to have that strong smoky flavor incorporated into it to make authentic pulled pork.With the introduction of slow cookers, pulled pork is a lot easier to prepare, and less time-consuming, so with this recipe I will concentrate on the ease of preparing it in a slow cooker or crock pot.First you are going to purchase a piece of pork shoulder. I prepare these all the time for customers. Traditionalists like the bone in version, saying it enhances the flavors, but I believe boneless will do. I recommend a larger piece, (if you are going to prepare pulled pork, you might as well have plenty, and leftovers are great.) Whole pork butts are approximately 8-10 pounds, but smaller pieces can be cut. I also like the smoky flavor, but stoking a fire for hours is tedious. I recommend using some liquid smoke or smoked salts. I carry liquid smoke if you need some as it’s hard to find some times. This process takes overnight. PULLED PORK2 tablespoons of seasoning salt or barbecue rub (any favorite pork rub will do) 2 tablespoons liquid smoke1⁄2 cup water1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce1 package of good deli rolls, or try Hawaiian bread• Rub the pork butt well with the seasoning salt.• In the crock pot, pour in the liquid smoke and water, then mix.• Place pork butt in crock pot and turn the crock pot on low.This process takes about 16 hours to cook, low and slow. You will enjoy the aroma all night.When finished, remove the pork butt from the crock pot and put on a cutting board, take two forks and start gently pulling the meat apart. It should just fall apart. Put meat into a bowl and stir in the barbecue sauce. If not serving immediately, return this mixture to the crock pot and keep on warm until ready to serve. Then serve on good deli rolls and enjoy!• David Theiss is owner of Butler Meat Co. and a longtime Carson City resident.