Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pulled Pork

So, I tried Quinoa for the first time this week; Heads Up, people.. it's VILE!  I did some reading on Quinoa and found that since the U.S. demand for it has accelerated beyond the speed of light, this poor little grain derivative has been taken from it's Peruvian mountain soil and been mass produced in other, less hospitable places, making it the vile nasty dirt-filled fungal mess that you can now buy at the local grocery.  These facts failed to deter a pitch-fork wielding mass of Vegans from yelling at me and calling me names.  Sticks and stones... For all of their posturing and whining, all they managed to do was to convince me it was time to cook something very muscular and very big; Pork Shoulders!
Pulled Pork is a heavy favorite at any BBQ restaurant and while you could certainly achieve tender pork goodness by slow cooking it in a crock-pot, why would you want to let such a pinnacle of porcine purity cook by simmering it in its own fat?  Infuse it with smoke, I say!

You Will Need:
  • At least one 8-12 whole "Bone-In" pork shoulder
  • A squeeze bottle of yellow mustard
  • 1 Cup of Dry Rub per shoulder, equal amounts of:
    • Fresh Chili Powder
    • Brown Sugar
    • Kosher Salt
    • Black Pepper
    • Paprika
    • Cumin

Notes: Let's talk for a minute about how many shoulders you should consider smoking.  A healthy pork shoulder should weigh in around 10lbs. You'll render at least 2lbs of fat out, and the bone weighs a bit, so let's say that you end up with 7lbs of meat to serve.  According to reason, that should serve 28 people a 4oz pulled pork sandwich.  However.... if you put a tray of 7lbs of this glorious dish in front of 5 hungry teenagers, it will completely disappear.  So, purchase accordingly.  Also, it's important to find bone-in shoulders.  If the shoulder has been de-boned, it's been fileted open so the bone can be removed.  You can roll it back up and tie it, but it just won't behave the same way in your smoker once it starts to cook and swell up, and render fat, etc.  Find a bone-in shoulder, it's worth the effort!  Warehouse stores (Sam's, Costco, Restaurant Depot) usually have bone-in pork shoulders available.  They come two to a pack and that's a perfect place to start.  It's funny to me that the shoulders in each pack obviously come from different pigs... how does that happen?


Let's get started!  Open the pack and rinse and dry your pig using cold water and a clean towel. Use a sharp knife to cut away any obvious chunks of fat.  Keep in mind, the thing is riddled with fat and that's a good thing, so don't spend time trying to cut it all out; you'll lose.  Just cut off any large pure nodules that you might find offensive.  Remember, as the fat and connective tissue slowly dissolve and render away, it will leave the meat with the glorious flavor and texture we're looking for as BBQ providers!
Squirt the shoulder generously with yellow mustard.  Smear the mustard all over and into the shoulder with your hands.  It will be messy... do it anyway!  Rinse your hands and shake on a generous amount of your dry rub.  Cover all sides and surfaces.
Wrap your shoulders in plastic-wrap and let them "marinate" in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  This is when the magic happens!  The salt (and other spices) in the dry rub will dissolve into the mustard, and the meat on the shoulder will react by leeching out some fat and moisture and a gooey "bark" will form.  This gooey bark will eventually become the dark and smokey crust that pulled pork is famous for!  On the day of the smoke, pull the shoulders out of the chill-chest and let them rest on the counter while you build your fire.
Empty the grease bucket under your smoker, things will get messy and you do NOT want an overflow!  Your dogs do... you do not.  Place your shoulders on your smoker, and make sure the temperature is 225 degrees.  I strongly suggest the use of a temperature probe because of the "Stall Factor!"  Your target temperature is 200 degrees.  This is when the last of the collagen and connective tissue will finally break down and melt away.  How long will that take?  That's the million dollar question because pork shoulders are stubborn!  Some are more fatty than others and they take longer.  You'll see them come up to 160ish degrees fairly quickly, but then they'll stall!  They'll stay at 163 degrees for hours, and you'll swear that your fire went out, or that your temperature probe is broken, or that God made a mistake when he gave you dominion over the animals.  Stick with it!  Be patient, for it is during this "stall" that the best of things is happening!  Fat is rendering away, unwanted chewy tissues are breaking down, lean meat is cooking up, etc.  Just let it stall... eventually, she'll climb up over 170 and continue on her quest for 200.

If you take your shoulders off the smoke during the stall, thinking, "It's been 8 hours, these MUST be done," you won't be "pulling" your pork, you'll be "chopping" your pork with a cleaver or knife.  The meat will be done, but it will be very chewy and it won't have that "melt in your mouth" texture that will set you apart from the competition.  Patience.

When you take the shoulders off, cover them with foil and let them rest for an hour or so.  They'll be too hot for you to pull anyway, so you might as well let them rest for awhile.  Take the foil away and the first thing you'll want to do is to remove the bone.  If things are as they should be (internal temp. is 200, pork is well-rested), you should be able to grab the end of the bone with two fingers and literally slide it right out of the shoulder.  It should come out cleanly and neatly, and your dogs will want it, BAD!  I let my dogs have one each, after all; their noses have been driving them crazy during the cook for the last ten hours or more so...  Grab a fork and simply start pulling the meat apart, using a knife if you want to chop it into smaller pieces.

Personally, I like to heap a pile of this stuff on a fresh bun with a bit of coleslaw and honk it down!  Some like to cover it with BBQ sauce and some like to "hover" near the cutting board, just to steal pieces and eat it, right out of the pan!  It freezes well, so you can portion it out for future lunches.  Nothing tells the rest of the office, "you're missing out," like a re-heated pile of pulled pork!  You'll be the scourge of the break room, and that's a good thing!


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