Saturday just past Laura and I cooked up a little indoor picnic for some amazing new friends all of whom just happened to be on staff with or hosts for AirBnB. There was cole slaw. There was cornbread. There were collards. There were sweet potato fries. There was even a syrupy berry salad for dessert. But! The core of the meal was an 11 lbs Boston Butt that I turned into some of the best pulled pork we’ve ever had. If I do say so myself. Now, a battalion of smokers, BBQers, and grill masters have spilled an ocean’s worth of ink and probably some blood on the best way to make this Southern staple and I have no doubt that any number of them can tell me exactly what I did wrong and why I am a heretic for having done it my way. So, I’d now like to spill a little myself describing how I did it so that you, dear reader, can have my Carolina Pulled Pork at home with only a little bit of effort.
I have to admit upfront that this was the first time I had ever done pulled pork solo and so I relied on a few hours of internet research and a long conversation with my best friend, Whit, on the best way to get the job done. All that being said – here’s the way it happened:
- Obtain the Butt – I got lucky on this one. I was pretty sure when we were putting the menu together that the kind folks at Harvey’s Market would have what I was looking for and, lo and behold, they came through with a 22-day dry-aged pork shoulder and we’re even kind enough to do all the trimming for me. For those that don’t already know, dry aging is a process of allowing natural enzymes in the meat post-slaughter to activate and so tenderize the meat. 22 days is a long aging and made for a very tender shoulder.
- Brine the Butt – In my brief research, my experience being around pulled pork growing up, and through my conversation with Whit, it was made clear to me that brining your meat is absolutely necessary to getting the best results at the end. All Brining means is soaking the meat in a heavily salted water (with a few other choice seasonings) for 4-18 hours. Be sure to do this in the fridge. No one needs to die for their pork. The brining process improves on the meat’s natural juiciness and infuses it with the flavors added to the brine. In my case that was a hickory smoked salt from Maine, my own dry rub mix, and a few bay leaves.
- Massage that Butt with Dry Rub – this last step before cooking is absolutely essential to having Carolina Pulled Pork. Take whatever mix of kosher salt, black pepper, and spices you want (mine is a secret) and shovel lots and lots of it onto the brined pork that you have pulled out of the liquid and patted dry. I really mean lots and lots. You want the pork to look like the first picture below. Massage the mix into the meat being sure you get into all those cracks and creases. It’s the dry rub that turns into what the old hands at this call a “bark.” That bark is what provides the sharp points of flavor in old-fashioned pulled pork that everyone loves so much.
- Slow Cook that Beautiful Butt – once the pork was thoroughly covered in dry rub, I lightly covered it with foil and put it in the oven at 215ºF. At that low temperature, the meat had to cook for 18 hours before it reached the goal – a core internal temperature of 200ºF. It was a long wait but it was totally worth it. When it was all done and had rested for about 30 minutes, the shoulder bone slid right out with no resistance at all and the meat pulled apart with two forks just like it was supposed to.
Those are the four steps to delicious Carolina Pulled Pork. Easy-peasy. Except that it takes three days. Enjoy these before and after pictures!