Good pulled pork has to be one of the most satisfying meat dishes in the world. I often find myself dreaming of those beautiful strands of juicy, smokey pork mixed with bits of spicy “bark.” Beautiful moutainscapes of steaming pulled pork topped with coleslaw snow-caps. A place where North-Carolina style red sauce flows like a river…. mmmmm. After living in North Carolina for a while I really fell in love with pulled pork. Some of my fondest food memories were had in small BBQ shacks around Gastonia and Charlotte. I recommend that every teenager should move to NC for high-school because pulled-pork sandwiches go perfect with reckless-abandon. Ah, those were the days!
I may really love this delicacy but I don’t get to enjoy it very often. Those BBQ-shacks seem to be hiding from me on this side of the ocean. So left with no other choice I set out to make my own. First problem, what the heck do I ask for at the butcher? Cuts of meat are different in pretty much every land. I wanted a Butt (no, it doesn’t come from that end of the pig) but the butcher had no idea what that was. Thankfully Picnic was something that they know here. To my surprise they are typically about 6 kg. Pigs must be bigger here. I thought that was a bit big for my first try, especially since I don’t have a freezer to hold any leftovers. I ended up ordering a nicely trimmed and de-boned half picnic, weighing in at 2.2kg (4.85 lbs.)
For the first cook I decided to pretty much stick to some standard recipes out of Smoke and Spice. It was time to say hello to “the Renowned Mr. Brown.” I slightly altered the Southern Succor rub in the recipe by adding some onion powder and garlic powder.
- 1/4 cup black pepper (fresh ground)
- 1/4 cup mild paprika
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
The pork was well rubbed with this mixture and placed in a ziplock bag. He hung out in the fridge overnight with the hops and yeast. The next day I started the fire (Minion method fire with a 3/4 full ring of briquettes) around 8am and took the meat out of the fridge. After another roll around in the rub I let the pig rest until the smoker was up to temp.
The swine went on the smoker at 9:10 am and in typical fashion it started to rain. Not wanting to get too wet, I decided to quickly take the burning smoker apart and move it under the awning at the back door. From there on out it was a pretty simple cook. One of the big questions with this kind of barbecue is, to mop or not? Seeing as I was using the water pan in the smoker with water (as opposed to dry, or with sand or terra-cotta pot coasters as some recommend) I did not need to use a mop to add moisture, but I did want to use it to help add flavor. So I only mopped the meat a few times starting a couple hours into the cook.
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp black pepper (fresh ground)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tbsp paprika
- 1/2 tbsp cayenne
- 2 tbsp remaining rub
Since this was a somewhat small hunk of meat by pulled pork standards, I took a rough guess that it would be on the smoker for about 7-8 hours until it reached the magic “pullable” tenderness. Seeing that dinner was planned for 7:30 pm this seemed like ample time. Unfortunately I suck at these types of estimations. As we approached dinner time I ramped up the smoker temperature from the 110-120C range (230-250F) up to the 140-150C range (280-300F) to try to finish the pork faster. After 10.5 hours of cooking I had to take the meat off the smoker. Now I was aiming for an internal temp of around 87-93C (190-200F), but I had to pull the meat off at 84C (183F). The real test isn’t the internal temp but taking your temp probe or a skewer and seeing that it slides into the meat easily, like butter. Mine was almost right there, but I couldn’t wait another 45 minutes or so. Fortunately the pork did pull apart very nicely and easily.
To accompany the meat I whipped up some coleslaw, some cornbread, and a salad. The coleslaw was also a first for me. I was so used to buying it back in the US that I never bothered trying to make it before. I have to say that is was quite tasty! The cornbread was again baked on the OTP. This time I was able to improve the cooking technique and get a very nice browned top on the cornbread, however the new recipe I tried out was not so great. It was just too darn dense. Next time I will use the recipe I used the first time and just cut back on the sugar… and perhaps use a touch more cornmeal.
Of course I also had to make up some Carolina red sauce. I used the recipe straight from the Smoke & Spice cookbook. I have to say though that I remember most sauces in North Carolina being just a touch thicker and spicier, but that was a long time ago.
The final accent to the meal was a bottle of Hop Nest IPA. The hops were able to cut through the spice, vinegar and smoke and really worked out nicely.
Of course I didn’t take any good photos of the final product, so you’ll have to put up with a slightly blurry photo of some of the leftovers.
All in all I was highly impressed with my new found pork pulling skills (please don’t take that out of context). I think everyone really enjoyed it but the black pepper spice may have been too much for them. The cornbread wasn’t so much of a success. The meat was absolutely fantastic! Super moist, full of smokey flavor, wonderful rich spice notes and melt in your mouth tenderness. I will definitely be cooking up more of this. Once we get a freezer it will be stocked with pulled pork for those times when I have THE craving.
For more photos of the cook click on the photos or here