Saturday, June 30, 2012

Perfect Pulled Pork

These days, I'm all for making food on the weekend that will feed us during the week. It's just smart! It's also cost-effective, efficient, and gives us back time otherwise spent making dinner and cleaning it up. Pulled pork is a great for this purpose.

Here's the thing about pulled pork. It's completely low-maintenance. But yet it tastes like you spent hours caressing it, massaging it, and willing it to be tender.

Before trying this recipe, you should ask yourself a few questions:
  • Can you order a Boston/pork butt from your butcher? I'll be honest, it feels a little silly to say to a grown man, but it pays off. Note that while it's called "pork butt", it's really a shoulder cut of meat.
  • Can you mix spices and brown sugar together and rub them into the meat? 
  • Can you place the pork in a low temp oven and not touch it for 8 hours? 
  • Can you take a fork and shred the meat in a totally imperfect, and even haphazard, way?  

I'm going to assume you've answered yes to all four questions. (If you haven't, I really think you're selling yourself short!)

Pulled pork can be thrown into the "barbecue" category of foods — something that varies greatly by region and personal taste. I tend to gravitate towards the purest side of things. I want the pulled pork to taste like pulled pork, not anonymous meat drenched in sauce. So my recipe isn't overly saucy; however, you should feel perfectly free to drench the meat in sauce if that's your schtick!

When I put a pulled pork sandwich together, I like to put good barbecue sauce on the bun (we buy ours from the Pennsylvania Dutch ribs joint in the Reading Terminal Market), pile on some pulled pork, and then top it off with a little homemade coleslaw for good measure. And the coleslaw I make has a lot of lime and ginger flavor, which pairs so well with the pork.

And I like a nice bun. There's nothing worse than a bad bun — you might as well just eat the insides if the bread is no good. So buy yourself some good buns. After all, there's more out there than Martin's potato rolls (no offense Martin's!). Personally, I like something with sesame seeds.

Pulled Pork Recipe (makes 8-10 cups pulled pork)

6 to 8 lb. pork butt (aka Boston butt)
About 1/2 cup of dry rub (see recipe below)
1 lager (e.g., Yuengling, Sam Adams)

Night Before: Take the pork butt out of the fridge and trim any excess fat. Typically, one side of the pork will have a good layer that can be removed — don't worry, you're not sacrificing flavor when you do this! Once it's trimmed, massage the dry rub into the meat with clean hands, covering all sides. Be sure to get into any creases/crevices too. Tightly wrap the seasoned pork in plastic, place in a deep dish or another plastic bag (there will be juices that you don't want to leak into your fridge), and refrigerate overnight.

Pork Day: The morning of "pork day", remove the pork from the fridge and unwrap. Place the meat into a dutch oven and pour the lager around it, trying not to pour directly onto the meat.

Heat your oven to 250 degrees F, and make sure the rack is low enough to fit your dutch oven. Put the cover on the dutch oven, place into the oven, and go find something to do for 6-8 hours!

Once you start to smell your pork cooking, you can start to check the internal temp. with a meat thermometer. You want it to reach about 190 degrees at the thickest part (don't let the thermometer touch the bone when you take the temp) for prime "pulling" conditions. If you drag a fork across the top of the meat, it should fall apart/shred very easily.

When your pork has reached the appropriate internal temperature, turn the oven off and let the meat rest for about 30 minutes. Then, pull chunks of it from the bone, place on a cutting board (I recommend one that has a well to catch the juices), and shred the meat using two forks, one in each hand. Be sure to remove any pieces of fat or bone as you go.

Store pulled pork in an airtight container — I recommend spooning some of the juices from the pot (skim the fat first) over the shredded meat so that it has enough moisture to reheat well. My butcher has said that pulled pork freezes well too: Store in an airtight freezer bag; thaw overnight; pour chicken broth over it; and heat in the oven until hot.

Some notes:
1. A lot of recipes have you soak the pork in a brine overnight. The meat is so tender cooking it the way I've described above that I don't know if it's even worth the effort! If you start with a good piece of meat and give it enough time to cook at a low temp, the brine really is unnecessary. And that's just my two cents on the matter!

2. You don't need to adjust the amount of lager based on the size of your pork butt. In fact, you can get away with using just a half beer if you'd prefer to drink the other half while you prep dinner! I just think it gives a nice flavor and helps generate some steam in the dutch oven while the pork cooks. You could substitute chicken broth too, but I prefer the beer for its flavor. Please don't go throwing Bud Light (or something like that) in there!

3. If you want to serve a saucier pulled pork, add your favorite BBQ sauce to the meat post-shredding.

Dry Rub (makes about 1 cup)

3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. paprika
2 tbsp. black pepper, fresh ground
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. ancho chili powder
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground star anise
1 tsp. cumin

Mix together the above ingredients with a fork. Store rub in an airtight container if you don't use all of it.


  1. The left overs make for a great Fritatta.

    1. That's a great idea! They'd also probably work for some carnitas tacos...yum!

  2. That looks DELICIOUS, Danielle! And your photos are always so pretty! :)

  3. Dad made a Frittata and used some left-over pulled port and then topped it with arugula! It was delish!! Love your blog-always so clear and simple on how to do things!!


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