Pulled Pork, need we say more?

pulled pork, peter hertzmann, recipes, knife skills illustrated

Pulled Pork from BG member and author Peter Hertzmann 

Next time you’re in the area, drop in at Cape Fear BBQ & Chicken in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It’s easy to find on Grove Street, State Route 24, not too far from Fort Bragg. Order a BBQ Sandwich. You’ll get an moderate helping of pulled pork and a garnish of slaw on a plain hamburger bun. The sandwich will set you back $4.19. I order two with a side of Brunswick Stew.

This is the part of the south where barbecue means pulled pork. North Carolina barbecue is nothing like Memphis, St. Louis, or Texas barbecue. It’s closer to Hawaiian Kalua Pig than to most other mainland versions of barbecued pork.

The basic method to prepare pulled pork may be the world’s simplest cooked-meat recipe. Place a large piece of pork shoulder in a covered pot, and cook in a low-to-medium, say 325 °F (160 °C), oven until the meat shreds easily. A lower temperature will work just as well, but it will take slightly longer to reach the desired result. You don’t need to preheat the oven. It doesn’t matter if the meat still has bone or doesn’t. If you can’t find a lid for your pot, cover the top tightly with foil. If you have a crockpot, that’ll will work, too.

After the first couple of hours of cooking, I usually turn the meat once an hour, but this isn’t absolutely necessary. The most important endpoint is that the meat shreds easily. This takes a bunch of hours. Once the meat is shredded, mix the accumulated juices from the pot in with the shreds for serving.

Want to fancy up the recipe? Thoroughly rub the meat with a prepared meat rub of your choice. Then air-dry the meat overnight in your refrigerator on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. If you don’t have time for the overnight drying, then cook the meat right after you rub it. The meat rub doesn’t have to be conventional; I’ve used a rub made from ground and peeled roasted chocolate beans and dried piment de Espelette. It was yummy. Commercial rubs have also been good. Plain, no rub, is also fine.

If you want to add some sauce at the end, you can make a traditional Carolina Barbecue Sauce from vinegar and mustard. Or you can use any other form of barbecue sauce. I like chipotle sauce from south of the border.

Since I usually start with a seven- to ten-pound piece of meat and much of it remains after cooking, I pack portioned-size quantities of the cooked pork into plastic bags, for the meat into a flat layer, and vacuum seal them. When I desire pulled pork for dinner, a bag is reheated in simmering water for about ten minutes. A pair of scissors is all I need to serve the pulled pork. If you have an end-style vacuum sealer, separate the cooking juices from the meat, chill them until solid, and divide the solidified mass between the storage bags before sealing. The liquid will redistribute itself through the pork during the reheating.

This technique for cooking pork works because before cooking, the meat is about two-thirds water. During its slow heating, the collagen that give the meat structure slowly shrinks a little causing water to be squeezed from the meat. By the time the meat shreds easily, the water content of the meat is reduced to about fifty percent and much of the collagen has been converted to gelatin. The juices that accumulate in the bottom of your cooking pot is a mixture of the released water, loose proteins, and the gelatin, and is full of great meat flavor. During the cooking, the juices provide water that is converted to steam to cook the portion of the meat that is not submerged. The final cooked product has been truly braised.

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