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The King of the South: The Pulled Pork Sandwich
I have had the pleasure of traveling all across the globe and the United States from coast to coast, north to south, and everywhere in between. This gave me the opportunity to have some of the best foods this country has to offer.
Whether here in the Northeast or down South in the Carolinas or over to Texas, barbeque is king. It's American! It's what we do and love! Today, I'll show you the way into Graceland where even the King (Elvis Presley) would stop singing and shaking for a pulled pork sandwich. So let's get that smoker, grill, or even your oven fired up and make some pulled pork.
- 5 to 10 pounds pork butt or pork shoulder
- Cord or chips hickory wood
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 3 teaspoons pepper
- 3 teaspoons paprika powder
- 3 teaspoons garlic powder
- 3 teaspoons onion powder
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 bottle BBQ sauce, any type
- 12 kaiser rolls
Let's Get Shaking, Baby!
Making pulled pork isn't hard. For that matter, it's easy. But the first thing you need to do is put on some country or blues music or even a little Elvis, grab a shot and a beer and get shaken' baby! This isn't a chore, it's a fun thing to do so don't get too serious and have fun with your butt.
The best way I make pulled pork is on my smoker using hickory wood chips. But I didn't always have a great smoker so I will show you how to do it using indirect heat on your barbeque or even in your oven with the steaming method.
I get my pork butt or pork shoulder, mix all my spices together and rub (massage) the spice mixture all over the meat. Then I get my smoker going and throw that pork butt in and let it smoke, low and slow (230 degrees for 8 to 12 hours). Now that was easy, right.
The following directions are for your smoker, barbeque grill, or home oven.
The one thing I like about smoking meat is how many people you can feed. Above, we smoked two pork butts and two beef briskets for a 200-person wedding last September. We made appetizer tacos with it and served the rest with barbecued chicken, baked beans and all the fun sides. So whether serving 200 or just your family, follow me to impress your hungry crew. Let's get started:
- Purchase a nice pork butt or pork shoulder from your supermarket or butcher. A nice 5 to 12 pounder should be an appropriate size. Make too much; give it away to friends and neighbors. They'll love you for it.
- Mix the spices together and rub (massage) it on the pork. Get messy!
- Get your wood wet. Put the wood chips in a bucket and cover with water. Let them soak for about a half-hour or longer. I use hickory wood chips but feel free to use other wood and experiment if you want but keep in mind some woods work better on different meats. Other wood: mesquite, oak, maple, apple, cherry
- Get that smoker going. I use a propane smoker because I don't plan on standing by the smoker all day. Set the cooking temperature to low, around 230 degrees and place the wood chips in and get the smoking process going.
- Once the soaked wood begins to smoke, get your pork butt or pork shoulder inside the smoker and close the door.
- Smoke for 8 to 12 hours. Once in a while, check that the smoke is still coming out of the smoker. if not, add some more wood chips and close the door again.
- After or around 6 plus hours, check the pork with a fork. If it seems to pull apart easily, you're almost finished with the smoking process.
Cheat method: At this point, if the meat (pork) isn't done enough and you are running out of time, take it out of the smoker and place it in a 350-degree oven in a roasting pan. Put 4 to 6 cups of water (or beer) in the pan with the pork and cover with tin foil. Place in oven and cook for one to two more hours. This helps break down the meat (pork) faster. I had to do this once or twice over the years and it tastes great.
Barbeque Grill (Indirect Heat)
When using your barbeque grill, the pork butt will be placed on the grill on one side of your grill and the burners or charcoal (or wood) will be on the other side of the grill. This is called cooking with indirect heat. The fire is NOT below the meat but off to the side. The heat from the fire is used to heat up the meat, low and slow: 230 degrees for 8 to 12 hours.
- Mix all spices together.
- Rub (massage) spice mixture all over the pork.
- Fire up the grill on one side only for a steady 230 degrees (low heat).
- Place the spice-rubbed pork butt or pork shoulder off to the other side of the grill.
- Let it cook (smoke) for 8 to 12 hours.
Note: Indirect heat cooking has been used for centuries all over the world. The meat is cooked at low cooking temperatures for a long time. This method of cooking breaks down the proteins making the meat tenderized and falling apart or as we say, falling off the bone.
When I was in South Africa and other African countries, I had amazing barbecue. There it's called a Braai (pronounced “bry") by the Afrikaners I worked with as we secured the northern borders. The meats I had there where lamb, goat, wildebeest, and pork. After working in and near the northern cape region one night, we settled down for a "Braai" and some of it was cooked using indirect heat. If you've never been to South Africa, go. It's an amazing place to see and the people are wonderful.
Home Oven (Steam Method)
When using your home oven, the pork butt will be cooked using the steam method. The heat from the oven is used to heat up the meat, low and slow: 230 degrees for 4 to 6 hours. As you can see, the cooking time is reduced because the pork is steamed. It breaks down the meat (pork) faster because the steam penetrates the meat faster.
- Mix all spices together.
- Rub (massage) spice mixture all over the pork.
- Heat oven to 275 degrees (low heat).
- Place the spice-rubbed pork butt or pork shoulder in a pot or roasting pan.
- Place some water or beer into the roasting pan and fill to about halfway up to the meat. Usually about 6 cups of water.
- Cover with tin foil and make sure it's tight and secure on all sides. The aim is to steam the meat (pork) until the proteins (pork) become tenderized and fall apart.
- Let it cook (steam) for 4 to 6 hours in the oven.
Note: Cooking/steaming meats (pork) this way has been used all over the world for centuries. This method of cooking breaks down the proteins making the meat tenderized and falling apart or as we say, falling off the bone.
When I was in Hawaii, I had some of the best pulled pork when I attended luau on the main island of Oahu. The Hawaiians used a whole pig, placed it in the ground over hot rocks and covered it with wet sacks, leaves, canvas, and dirt early in the morning. The meat steamed in the ground all day and by the time dinner (Luau or Feast) came around, the pig was uncovered and lifted to a table. It was fork-tender: pulled pork. If you've never been to Hawaii, go! It's amazing, and the people are wonderful. Go to a Luau and take in the tropical Pacific trade winds.
How to Shred the Pork
- Once the meat is fork-tender and falling apart, begin to shred it. If it's in a pot or roasting pan, shed it into its own juices. This is called pulled pork. After it is shredded, sprinkle some apple cider vinegar onto the pork and mix. This gives it a nice southern flavor.
- Get your rolls and place some of the pulled pork on the rolls, squirt on some of your favorite BBQ sauce and enjoy.
Now that wasn't too hard. Your guests will love you, and if you have extra, your neighbors, too. Crank up that country or blues music and grab a nice cold beer. Kick off those cowboy boots and chug-a-lug, shimmy shake and make your way to the dinner table. Enjoy!