Today I took off my barbeque training wheels. My first real pulled pork.
I say first real pulled pork because I’ve done pulled pork before. In fact, I did six four-pound shoulders for our housewarming party. That pork was delicious. But it wasn’t real pulled pork.
I have to take a moment here to air my grievances with the Big Green Egg cookbook. When I bought the Big Green Egg I spent $50 for the cookbook. It had so many cool recipes in it, and the style of grilling was so different than what I was used to, I figured I just needed to do it. When we were planning our big housewarming party, I decided pulled pork would be a good thing to feed the masses. So I found a recipe in the BGE cookbook.
Per the recipe, I cooked the pork shoulder at 300 for about three or four hours, in a bath of orange juice, Pernod (a French liquor), red wine vinegar, and fennel (among other things). Southerners, this is where you take another sip of whisky and mutter something about Yankee cooking. I know. It’s sacrilege. But it was delicious (although impossible to pull), everyone loved it, and I was a grilling hero. My, how things have changed.
My point on the Big Green Egg cookbook is this – I know they know you don’t cook pork shoulder for three hours to 160. I also know they know that anyone worth his sauce will just ignore this recipe. But I bet my brisket they consulted some marketing guru about the wisdom of putting a recipe in their book that called for cooking a piece of meat for 12 hours. I bet that same brisket the consultant told them they won’t sell Eggs if they included that recipe. It would scare the novices (such as myself). So that’s my frustration with the BGE cookbook. It’s intellectually dishonest. See for yourself – go to a store and look at the book. It’s a recipe book for a SMOKER and there’s not a dish in there that cooks for longer than 4 hours.
Even though the cookbook’s false pretenses are disappointing, I have to admit the marketing guru was probably right. In my early days of egg ownership I spent time cruising the internet looking for tips (like this blog!). I came across post after post about the perfect pulled pork. All of them involved cooking overnight, or getting up at some ungodly hour, or setting alarms in the middle of the night. I was completely overwhelmed. I told myself I would enjoy my Big Green Egg to the fullest extent comfortable, but I would never set my alarm for grilling.
Fast forward to today. I think the Brisket did it for me. I caught the low and slow bug. So as I went to bed Saturday night, I found myself setting my alarm for 5:00 a.m. so I could get up and barbeque.
But I should tell you how I got there. I fully intended to start my pork shoulder Saturday night before going to bed. However, when I visited the butcher Saturday morning, the largest cut of pork shoulder they had on hand weighed 3.75 pounds. I bought it. When I started doing my cooking research, I determined that starting at midnight would put my finish too early. My 3.75 pound cut was just too small to smoke for 16 hours. So instead, I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m.
I’m still too much of a novice to include my definitive pulled pork method on this blog. So this post is more about successes and failures, all wrapped into one. I pulled my inspiration from this site. I decided North Carolina style was the way to go. I made the flatlander vinegar sauce. I used a rub I had on hand.
Basic method: I rubbed the meat without trimming. I have since learned that you should always trim the exterior fat. There’s plenty of internal fat in a pork shoulder to keep it moist. I mixed up a batch of the vinegar sauce. Half of it went in a pan on the grill (plate setter set for indirect cooking, of course). I put the shoulder in the V Rack on top of the vinegar. I stabilized the temperature at 225, hung out for a bit, and then went to church.
This is the part of the blog where we feature the failures. My temperature started dropping before I went to church. I opened the vents a little bit and hoped for the best. When we got home from church, I was greeted with the worst. My fire had fizzled.
Major bummer. So I tossed some more charcoal in the egg and it fired right back up again. Minor setback. Or so I thought! My pork shoulder cooked away and soon reached the plateau. If you barbeque you know what I’m talking about and I don’t need to explain it. If you don’t barbeque and you’re reading this because you’re curious, I’ll keep it short and sweet – pulled pork will plateau at about 155-160 degrees for an hour or many. It just hangs out there and you wonder what you’ve done wrong. But it will eventually start increasing temperature again and get to your desired 190-200.
So, anyway, I plateaued at about 170. My shoulder hung out. I took a nap. When I woke up, the pork was down to 169!!! Ugh! Fire down again! I had to restock to the charcoal one more time. Luckily, pork shoulder is as forgiving a piece of meat as you’ll find – at least when you’re barbequing. So finally, after an afternoon of angst, my roast reached 190 at about 5:30 pm. I gave it the fork test – if the fork twists 90 degrees easily it’s done – and the pork passed. I took it off the grill and let it set for 45 minutes. It was beautiful. After the juices settled, I went to pulling it. I couldn’t believe the difference between this 12 hour pork and the 4 hour imposter I made for our housewarming party. I can’t put it better than I read on one blog (and I’m paraphrasing): Pork is “done” at 160, meaning it’s safe to eat. But it’s not really done until you get to 190 or 195 and you can pull it with a fork.
So my first real pulled pork was a success. When I’m confident enough in my style to include some details, I’ll post the Esquire pulled pork recipe. But more work is necessary before I can do that!