kitchen firsts: indoor pulled pork
This Fourth of July, we found ourselves without plans for a potluck, barbecue or family get together. This was totally ok by me for a change, but I did want to preserve a little tradition, at least by making some semblance of a to-do about it, since my usual fourth’s of july rely heavily on a barbecue, copious fireworks, a chocolate butterscotch bundt cake, and a generous sprinkling of sangria. So, to maintain a sense of celebration, we decided to try something new: pulled pork! I happen to love a good pulled pork sandwich, so I figured now was as good a time as any to learn how to do it.
However, a google search of pulled pork recipes quickly revealed that there are a dizzying number of ways to make it, and everybody seems to think theirs is the best. As a pulled pork enthusiast but a total virgin at making it myself, this makes it pretty friggin difficult to figure out the best/easiest/traditionalest version to try. As far as I’ve gathered, there are several ways to attack a pork shoulder:
1) Most traditionally, on the grill (we are ill-equipped for this, so it wasn’t an option for now)
2) In a slow-cooker, with or without searing it first. I gather that the Splendid Table’s unseared, slow-cooker “ultimate cheater” pulled pork is a well-loved recipe, and can maybe be improved by searing it first, but you can also check out Martha’s slow-cooker version here (slow-cooker appeals to me, and will star in its own post as soon as we’re ready for more pulled pork)
3) In a dutch oven, also à la Martha (we don’t have one for the time being)
4) In a roasting pan in the oven— there are many ways to do it, but I figured I could count on Cook’s Illustrated‘s indoor pulled pork recipe
5) On the stovetop, à la Simply Recipes, which I trust, and which seems quickest (about 2 to 3 hours start to finish) although this method will result in no crunchy bits in the finished pork.
Given these options, and after a ton of internet comparison, I decided that for our first pulled pork, I would try the Cook’s Illustrated oven version, which I dub the rub n’ roast. Instructions follow, both for a little roast like the one we used (2 lbs, only makes 4 sandwiches) and for a more standard, 4-6 lb pork shoulder. This method features a seasoned brining (to keep things moist), a wet and dry rub (for flavor), a covered roasting period (simulating a dutch oven), and an uncovered roasting period (for developing a crunchy crust) before shredding and saucing, and it produces a fabulously flavorful pork shoulder with those oh-s0-lovely crispy bits. Once the meat is rested and shredded, you can toss it with your favorite barbecue sauce (bottled or make your own), and I like that you have the flexibility to use a sauce you like (also, you can leave some of it unsauced and use it for all kinds of other applications if you have leftovers). We thought this method was great for its ability to produce a shoulder with deep pulled pork flavors, melt-in-your-mouth shreddable-ness, and crunchy bits, but also for its accessibility to those of us who are either new to pulled pork, or lacking in certain equipment. Stay tuned for part 2 in this series, where I will try pullin’ some pork in a slow cooker.
Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork: The Rub n’ Roast
Adapted from much internet research– dry rub here, method from Cook’s Illustrated, via here
Makes one 2-lb pork shoulder (4 sandwiches) or one 4-6 lb pork shoulder
You will need:
One 2-lb pork shoulder roast (for 2 with leftovers, or 4 in one sitting), -OR-
One 4-6 lb pork shoulder, for four or more people with leftovers (follow the directions for doubling throughout)
and, to serve: buns of your choice, barbecue sauce of your choice, slaw of your choice
1. First, prepare the dry rub. As written below it will make a heaping 1/2 cup of spicy deliciousness, perfect for one 2-lb shoulder. If you’re making a bigger roast or want some extra rub (it’s delicious on other things as well), double it, or triple it to 1 T of each spice and 1/2 cup brown sugar. If you want a simpler dry rub that would leave the pork flavors more to their own devices, try 1 T paprika, 1 T black pepper, 1 T brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp cayenne for a 2 lb roast. Either way, simply mix the spices together in a small bowl and set aside for now.
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 T brown sugar
2. Cut your pork shoulder in half horizontally. Then, brine the pork pieces; dissolve your salt, sugar, liquid smoke, and tablespoon of dry rub in the water in a large container, and submerge the pork pieces in it. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. For a 2 lb roast, use the following proportions, and if you’re making a 4-6 pounder, just double:
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
1.5 T liquid smoke
1 T dry rub
2 quarts water
3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove your pork from the brine and dry it thoroughly. Make your wet rub by mixing 1 T mustard and 1 tsp liquid smoke. Smear this sauce all over the pork, then sprinkle the rest of the dry rub over it and rub it into every nook of the pork.
4. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil (you’ll hate yourself at cleanup time if you don’t), place a wire rack in it, and put the pork on the rack. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper followed by a sheet of foil, the put in the oven. If you have a small roast, leave it for 2 hours, if it’s a large roast, for 3.
5. Take the pork out of the oven, and remove and discard the foil and parchment lid. Pour off the pork juices in the bottom of the pan and put them in a fat separator or glass measuring cup to settle in the fridge. You can use the defatted juices to make your own barbecue sauce or to thin out a store-bought barbecue sauce. Once the juices are removed, put the pork back in the oven, uncovered, and bake for another hour (for a 2 lb roast) to hour and a half (for a larger roast), until it’s well-browned, the internal temperature of the pork reaches 200 degrees, and the meat falls apart with a fork prodding.
6. When the meat reaches 200 degrees, remove the pan from the oven, and move the pork to a serving platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 2o minutes before taking to it with two forks. Toss the bite-sized shreds with a swirl of barbecue sauce (thinned with the defatted pork juice if you want), salt, and pepper and serve on buns with slaw. If you want to make your own bbq sauce (we didn’t bother), these three recipes come highly recommended. If, for some ungodly reason, you do not plan on consuming the meat right away (just try not to snack on it), you can store it in the refrigerator, either sauced or unsauced, until you’re ready. But be prepared to add more sauce later if it dries out a bit while it’s stored. Then you can reheat it gently in the oven at 325 for about 15 minutes. Same goes for leftovers, if you have any pork left after the sandwiches. Enjoy! And stay tuned for a slow-cooked version sometime soon.