Pulled pork has been a craving of ours ever since the Barbecue Festival. Jon and I spent some time recently out on Fire Island, where my family has an outdoor grill. We decided to make our first attempt at pulled pork.
The first thing we found out is that there are a few ways to make this barbecue item, as would be expected. The choice cut of meat to use is the pork shoulder (also known as pork butt), which is what we had. The pork shoulder is fatty and allows you to cook it for a long time without it getting dried out. There are a few ways you can prepare the pork before you cook it. One method is to put the butt into a brine solution for a day, to make it tender and infuse it with flavor from herbs and spices. You can also rub the pork with a spice mixture, wrap it in plastic, and let the flavors of the rub sink into the meat.
We used the spice mixture method for this first attempt at pulled pork. Once we had massaged our spice mix into the meat, we wrapped it tightly in plastic and let it sit in the fridge for 6 hours. Then we went to the beach.
When we came back to the house around 5, our little porky friend was ready to be cooked. Pulled pork is slowly smoked until it is fork-tender, allowed to rest, and then shredded and smothered with the barbecue sauce of your choosing. Unfortunately we were stuck working with a gas grill, but charcoal or a real smoker would have been our first choice. We used hickory woodchips and created our own makeshift smoker on my dad’s gas grill, monitoring the internal temperature of the grill to make sure that it did not exceed 250°.
The first step in the smoking process was to take the pork out of the fridge and let it lose some of its chill, 30 minutes to an hour. Then we soaked the woodchips in cold water for about 30 minutes. Soaking the chips creates a wet smoke, which serves several purposes. First, it makes the wood burn more slowly, ensuring a more even smoke of the meat. Second, it creates steam that helps add moisture to the meat. Wet smoking is better when you are making something that takes a long time to cook, like pulled pork. Meat contains collagen, which is connective tissue that can be tough.The smoking process breaks down the collagen, which makes the meat both sweeter and more tender.
We needed a way to heat the woodchips and cook the meat over an indirect heat source. To create our makeshift smoker, we removed the grill pan on one side of the grill and wrapped the woodchips in several foil pouches. The grill has three sets of burners, so we lit only the row on the far left and placed the wood chips directly above the flames. We let the woodchips start to slowly smoke and maintained a temperature of 225°-250° inside the grill. Once there was a moderate amount of smoke going, we put the pork butt on the far right side of the grill, so that it did not sit on the wrack directly above the wood chips (we didn’t want the meat to get too smoky too quickly, or to drip juices onto the wood). Then we let the pork smoke for 6 hours, occasionally checking on it to make sure the temperature was right and the chips were still smoking.
6 hours later we had a nice looking piece of meat! We allowed it to rest for 1 hour and then shredded the pork with two forks and mixed in a homemade peach barbecue sauce (recipe coming soon). Although we wished we could have used a charcoal grill or made a campfire and used a real smoker, we did learn how to successfully turn a gas grill into a smoker, which was a little more practical at my family’s beach house.
1 6-lb pork butt
4 tbsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp salt
3 tbsp pepper
1 tbsp cayenne
1. Mix herbs and spices and rub all over pork. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate up to 24 hours.
2. Soak woodchips in cold water for 20-30 minutes. Remove pork from refrigerator.
3. Set up your grill, be it gas or charcoal, to be ready to smoke pork for 6-8 hours until very tender. Your cooking time should be based on allowing for about 1 1-2 hours per pound of meat. This time will vary according to whether you keep the temperature closer to 200° or 250°.
4. Smoke pork until it is tender. Rest for 1 hour. Shred with forks and eat on a roll with sauce of your choosing.
© 2010 Jonathan Meter and Jessica Hertle