When I used to go to my favorite barbecue place and asked for a pulled pork sandwich, I didn’t realize just how much work went into making it. But now that I make my own, I have a whole lotta respect for those barbecue guys…
First, I get a hunka pork. The kind of pig I get matters to me, and so I buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta), from a farm that humanely raises them in an environment that is not only better for the pig, but ultimately better for my family and me as a result.
Going to a supermarket for pork is certainly what most people do, but the names of the cuts of meat can be a bit confusing. Despite its name, pork butt is not from the back-end of the pig. It’s the shoulder. And the pork butt (or pork shoulder) picnic is a lower cut of the same area. These cuts can also go by the following names: Boston shoulder roast, Boston butt, Boston roast, shoulder butt, and shoulder-blade roast. Whatever the name, these are all nicely marbled hunks of pork that usually weigh in anywhere from 6 to 8 lbs, and are easy to find. Bone in or boneless doesn’t matter.
Once I’ve got my slab, I need to season it. I’ve found that a simple rub is the best way to go for the sauce I’m going to use later. Here are the ingredients for the basic rub I use when roasting pork:
BASIC DRY RUB
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake it up to blend.
Once I’ve made the rub, I generously sprinkle it all over the pork, and rub it in really well. I have a digital smoker at home, which allows me to cook and smoke my pork butt all in one place. I place the pork butt on a rack, put a drip tray underneath it to catch the grease, and set the smoker for 200 degrees. I cook the pork at 200 degrees for about 6 to 8 hours, and then I add hickory chips to the smoker and smoke the butt at 200 degrees for at least another 2 hours. The marbled fat in the pork butt slowly melts over time and the pork becomes incredibly tender and flavorful.
I remove the pork butt from the smoker and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 20 minutes before pulling the meat apart with a couple of forks, shredding it into beautiful meaty bits.
While the pork is cooking and smoking, there’s plenty of time to make two other very important parts of this recipe: a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, and the cole slaw.
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temp.
My unusual cole slaw recipe uses an interesting ingredient: pickle juice! Just a splash of juice from your favorite jar of pickles is all you need.
1 package of cole slaw veggies
splash of pickle juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more to taste)
teaspoon celery seed (not salt)
salt and pepper
There are no real specific measurements for cole slaw, because I’ve found that some people like it dry, others wet…some peppery, some not. Play around with it and make it your own. I prefer a more mayonnaise-y cole slaw, and usually err on the wet side.
In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, re-mix, and taste for seasoning before using.
OK…time to make that sandwich!
I drizzle the barbecue sauce on the pulled pork and mix well…trying not to oversauce the pork! Then I take a nice amount of pork and place it on a freshly baked bun and then add the cole slaw on top. Yes…right on top of the pork! (That’s the way they do it in the Carolinas.)
Whether you go through all this trouble yourself or not, just remember that if you’re at a barbecue joint, someone else did. Whatever you pay for that pulled pork sandwich… it’s a bargain!