Doug Mosurock is a Pittsburgh ex-pat and has been a fan of 7-Inch Slam since our inception last year, and has graciously volunteered to take time out of his busy schedule of blogging, reviewing, DJ'ing, cooking, and whatever the hell else people do in NYC to grace our humble site with a mountain of a meal. We'll all be back later this week, but Doug has certainly impressed us with this entry and we'll hope to see him next time he graces our humbles city. Thanks, Doug!
Pittsburgh and NYC are both pretty damn far from North Carolina and its BBQ’in ways. Hell, it’s impossible to find a decent chunk of non-contaminated soil up here in which to dig a proper pit for BBQ, much less the space and property to cook outdoors. Necessity has taken the need for satisfying, slow-cooked meats inside the oven. That’s just how it is. And truthfully, the results are pretty goddamn good. So here I present to you my recipe for Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork.
For a house full of carnivores, there’s nothing like making pulled pork. It’s cheap to make, given how much food it yields, and your guests will be very stoked on the end product, so if you need to serve a large crew (like I did on Super Bowl Sunday), it’s a lock. The moist, fork-tender meat shreds like a phone book in the hands of a gorilla. The decadent preparation lets you know you’re in for something good. The burnt, highly-spiced crust that forms on the outside (known by BBQ aficionados as “brownies” or “burnt ends”), torn up and mixed in with the meat, makes it all the more perfect. Even better, there’s no one right way to season and serve this dish. I like thick, tomato-based BBQ sauces with a lot of heat. Others swear by Carolina-style vinegar sauces; still others eat it plain. Some mix the sauce in all at once, while others do it on the side. Some throw it on a bun with slaw and others just eat it from a plate, all sauced up. My recipe here (which I cribbed from a bunch of different online suggestions, and made my own) is good in that you can do what you like to the pork once it’s done cooking, and the preparation gives you a well-flavored meat no matter how you wish to serve it.
One thing that pork BBQ does take a lot of is time and effort. It’s not gonna cook itself. To that end, it needs some slightly skilled prep work and TLC to get it where you are ready to cook it. And cooking it takes a long, long time; longer than most are willing to spend. However, take heart in the fact that every time you open the oven to check on it, people are gonna notice. The smell of heavenly, seasoned BBQ will linger in your home or apartment building for a week or so. And every time you smell it, you’re gonna want it again. But with great power comes great responsibility, so it’s recommended that you have some experience working with the oven, and enough knife skills to be able to prep this thing the way it needs to be treated. Above all, you need patience.
OK, so here’s how we start. First of all, you need a pork butt. This is also known as a Boston butt, or a pork picnic. Basically it’s the butt of a pig’s front shoulder, anchored by the animal’s shoulder blade (the big bone inside). You can get these fresh and vacuum-packed at most butcher shops or supermarkets, and it’s usually cheap, rarely more than $2 a pound. Might I suggest you get in good with your local butcher. Those guys get a lot of joy out of selling you awesome cuts of meat. Your pork butt will be between 8 and 12 pounds, untrimmed. Try and see if you can buy the bulk shoulders that the store gets, and then trims down for sale. Most butchers will be glad to accommodate this request. A pork shoulder will work in a pinch, but the butt is the best cut to cook this with, so look around for one. If you’re cooking for a lot of people, best to get two, as I’ve done here.
Here’s a list of preparatory ingredients:
• A bottle of cheap olive oil
• A good 6 ozs. or more of dry BBQ rub per butt. There are many out there for sale, or you can make your own. In NYC, I rely on a storebought brand, but you can create one out of chili powder, black and Cayenne pepper, ground red chiles, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, sea salt, Turbinado sugar, a little oregano, and just a pinch of ground star anise, nutmeg, and other savories to help sustain the flavors. But really, this is your call. Do some research, buy a pre-made mix, or doctor one up. Just keep those basic ingredients in mind – you need salt, sweetness, and heat to make a BBQ rub work, and the other spices to help those flavors hold longer. But the base should be all chili powder, cumin, sugar, salt, and pepper – the granular, sandy, savory spices. Experiment until you get one you like, and then make a lot of it.
• A 2-liter of Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper (regular, not diet)
• Apple juice
• Apple vinegar
• Cheap yellow picnic mustard (this is optional, and I don’t use it, but some do)
• Liquid smoke (optional – use sparingly, if at all!)
• Cheap hamburger buns
For kitchen implements, you will need:
• A good set of sharp carving knives, and the skill and common sense to use them
• A big metal roasting pan
• Aluminum foil
• Plastic wrap
• A V-rack for each roast you’re making
• A meat thermometer
• A plastic spray bottle
• A big serving dish into which you’ll shred the finished product
You’re also gonna need about three days altogether to prep and cook this thing. For a Sunday football kickoff, I started working on these the Thursday night before.
OK, here’s what’s up. Get out your cutting block and sharpen up your knife. Take the pork butt out of its package and rinse it with warm water under the sink. Then move it over to your cutting surface, making sure it’s all cleaned off before you start. If it’s a bulk, untrimmed piece like I suggest, you’re going to see one surface side of the meat that’s all fat.
It’s your job to flense this, cutting away as much fat as you possibly can from the exterior of the meat. You may end up hacking off layers of meat along with the fat. This is OK. Any of this meat you’re saving is just going to make the cleanup and shredding that much more greasy and difficult. Since this is going to cook slowly for a long time at a low temperature, you want to help out the process as much as you can. And, since you’re marinating it as well, you want marinade contact with the meat, not the fat. Connective tissues, arteries, and fat have got to go, so remove as much as you can. I figure I cut off about a half pound of disgusting flab off each of these roasts. Turn it over and trim more. Remember that the meat is going to be well-marbled, and you won’t get all of it, but think about where this part of the pig is, and why the fat is distributed the way it is there. You don’t want to eat that. Get it out. (If you’re not so good with a knife, I would suggest you let the butcher take care of it for you).
Once you’re done cutting, it’s time to put your pork inside a serving dish, casserole, large glass bowl, or something big and solid enough that can withstand the marination process. I don’t recommend plastic here, though if you have a HUGE Zip-Loc freezer bag, that would work.
Once the pork’s in whatever container you’re marinating it in, slather it generously with the olive oil, on both sides. You want this thing to be slippery with oil. This stuff helps the rub to stick to the meat, and will lube up the outside enough to get a good burn going once the meat starts to cook.
At this point, some like to slather the pork even further with yellow mustard. This is sort of a cheat, but it will provide a significant crust to the pork once it’s roasted. I don’t do this, but some do. Give it a shot to see if you like it sometime.
OK, all done? Now, take your rub, and with clean hands, firmly massage the rub into the pork, going for full coverage. You’re going to end up with this oily rub slop, which is great – rub that deep down into the meat, covering every exposed surface.
Now, pour on the Coke (or the Dr. Pepper, whichever you chose). You’re going to use enough to let a significant part of the roast soak it all in. Expect fizzing, as the carbonation will react with the sugars in your rub. This is cool. You know how Coke will dissolve a tooth, or take the rust off chrome? Same principal is in effect here: the acid in the Coke will help to tenderize the meat, and the remaining cola syrup will soak in another subtle layer of flavoring to what you’ve already done. Don’t drown the pork in the Coke; use enough so that the bottom is submerged in it, though. It’s going to go flat, so don’t worry about putting more in.
All set? Okay, take the plastic wrap and loosely cover the pork, then the dish itself, and stick it in your fridge. This will help to keep the moisture in as the pork marinates. If you’re using the Zip-Loc bag method, this step is not necessary.
I have marinated the pork for this recipe for as little as six hours, and as many as two days. I think you can find a happy medium with either, but the longer you let them soak, the more tender the meat will turn out. This batch you’re seeing is probably the best I ever made, and it marinated for two whole days. Let ‘em soak, keep ‘em covered or sealed, and don’t disturb them until it’s time to cook.
Alright. Now the day (and night) is upon us. Put the oven rack in the bottom of the oven, and set the oven for 250 degrees. That’s low heat, and that’s just fine. Nobody said this was gonna be fast. Take your roasting pan and line that thing with aluminum foil. The nightmare of cleaning pork grease is not yet upon you, and this preventative measure will make your life a LOT easier once this thing is done cooking, so line it thoroughly with good, even coverage, and try not to leave any surfaces exposed. It’s easier to clean up the oil this thing will drip than the grease the roasting will bring out of it.
At this time, you’ll want to set a V-rack in the pan. The rack is built to elevate your meat out of the pan, and let the grease and drippings run out of it.
Take the pork out of the fridge and discard the marinade. Let the pork sit, covered, out on the countertop for a good 15-20 minutes, in order for it to get back to near room temp and its juices redistributed throughout the meat. When you’re ready, place the pork on the rack and put the whole pan into the oven.
Pork shoulder cooks at about 2 hours per pound at this temperature. Why? This is slow cooking. This cut of meat has the tendency to dry out really damn quickly. All of our steps up until now have been done to prevent the meat from drying, while suffusing it with BBQ flavor. During the cooking process, it’s pretty crucial that this stays a concern. The slow cooking will encourage the fat and connective tissues to break down and drip out of the pork, allowing the tender meat to remain.
To that end, what you’re going to do now is make a mop – a solution that you’ll use to keep the meat moist at certain intervals while it cooks. In the spray bottle, mix up 1 part olive oil to 2 parts apple vinegar, 2 parts apple juice, and 2 parts Coke. Close up the bottle and leave it sit out. You’ll need to shake it up when you’re about to use it, but that’s not gonna be for a while.
For the first six hours, DO NOT open the oven. Let the meat cook undisturbed. Find a way to stay awake while this thing cooks up, or have a friend nearby so you can nap in shifts if need be. After the first six hours, pull the pan out and spray down the pork thoroughly with the mop. It is critical that you do not allow the meat to dry out. From there on, you can open it up every 2 hours and spray it down, or as you deem necessary.
Since undercooked pork can make you sick, the temperature of the finished product is a pretty big concern. It should register at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit on the meat thermometer – make sure you don’t hit a bone, or any fat, but rather the meat itself when you insert the thermometer for a reading. Expect up to 16 hours of cooking for an 8 lb. roast, and more if the roast is bigger, but keep checking it in the later stages for moisture, temperature, and consistency. If you can stick a fork in the meat and twist it, and the meat strands break apart loose (kinda like spaghetti), it’s on the done side of things. Roast, mop, check. You’ll know when it’s ready.
And when it is ready, it’s time to pull. Take the meat out and off the V-rack (this is tricky, as it’s been sitting on there for the better part of a day). Put it in a serving dish or casserole and cover it with aluminum foil on the countertop, letting it sit for an hour or so until it cools a bit. Then, using your CLEAN hands or a couple of big forks, start ripping this sucker apart.
If you see any pockets of fat, just separate and discard them.
Remove the bone and discard that, too. You’ll end up with enough shredded pork for 6-8 people per roast (with seconds), and leftovers for days.
To serve, pile pork onto a hamburger bun, and apply sauce as desired. Serve with vinegar cole slaw and other BBQ-appropriate sides. Beer or a pop would be a nice beverage to compliment this with.
I served this at my Super Bowl party. No one was left disappointed, and though I was too blissed out on how good this pork ended up to take pictures of people eating, I think you can see in everyone’s eyes here how good it was. They all ate it, and look how stoked they are.
If you have a charcoal grill, this is a great thing to do outside, but I’ve never attempted it. Read up on BBQ techniques in books and online for more clues if you wanna try.
Anyway, a soundtrack for this would be more of a playlist, but the record I rocked the hardest during the cooking period and serving was a 1972 album by a British rock band called Jerusalem. It’s heavy-as-balls, dumb-as-dirt hard rock, produced by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan when such a thing mattered. It’s not hard to imagine these guys handling barbaric, Flintstone-sized cuts of meat.
Anyway, that’s how it’s done. I’ll see yinz in Pittsburgh soon.
Labels: ian gillian, jerusalem, mosurock, pulled pork