~ Pablo Picasso
Put that in your back pocket and save it for later. You’ll thank me whenever later comes – which hopefully is this weekend.
That’s right, this coming weekend is Labor Day. Labor Day, not to be confused with International Worker’s Day, is a celebration of the American Labor Movement began in the year 1887.
The modern understanding of Labor Day is varied. For some it means the beginning of cooler weather and the closing of the neighborhood pool. Others might actually celebrate the labor of laborers. Who knows? But my personal opinion, and the opinion of the two gentlemen with whom I share a workspace, is that Labor Day is basically a day dedicated to not laboring – a day to do nothing. A day to do nothing except cook a large amount of some kind of meat over some type of heat source, either direct or indirect.
So let’s get straight to the point. You’ve worked hard this year and it’s time to reward yourself and eat like a caveman (or woman) for a day. That’s why I’m here to share my recipe for awesome pulled pork. Don’t worry, there will be other holidays and opportunities to talk about things like ribeyes, chicken wings, ribs, sausage and brisket. But those holidays aren’t today, are they? Let’s begin.
** Before we really begin, please note I have an affinity for grilling with charcoal, but all recipes can be adapted for a gas grill. I use a Webber kettle but I’m more than sure you can pull this off if you have one of those fancy Big Green Eggs. Also, this is mainly about the meat. You get to make all the decisions about sauce, buns and whatever else you want.
You will need:
6 Hickory or Pecan Wood Chunks (roughly 3 inches in diameter)
2.5 Quarts Name-Brand Charcoal (If Using a Charcoal Grill)
1 Disposable Aluminum Pan
1 (6-8 lbs) Boston Butt (Pork Shoulder)
1 Large Paper Grocery Bag
Your Favorite Rub*
Your Favorite BBQ Sauce*
Cook Time: 7 hours + 15-30 min of “pulling” meat. Hey, good things take a while sometimes.
1) Generously apply your favorite rub to the pork shoulder 3 hours minimum before cook time. If you apply rub more than one hour prior to cooking, wrap meat in plastic wrap. If you need a good rub, check this out.
2) One hour prior to cooking, take meat out of refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Soak wood chunks in a bowl with water.
3) 30 min prior to cooking, light 1.5 quarts of charcoal. When the coals are covered with a light grey ash, you’re good to go.
4) Pile coals on one side of the grill (this is called a two level fire). Place three soaked wood chunks on top of coals. **(If using gas, go with low heat, wrap wood chunks in foil, vent foil with holes to allow smoke to escape and placing chunks over or close to the flame.)
5) Place the meat in the aluminum pan and place pan on the side of grill with the indirect heat (not over the coals). Make sure the lid vents sit over the meat during the cooking process.
6) Every 45 min during cooking, add 1/3 of your remaining charcoal and 1 wood chunk to the charcoal side of the grill. The goal is to maintain a temperature range of 250 – 275 degrees, and continued smoke from the wood for a total (on the grill) cooking time of 3 hours. About 15 min prior to the 3 hour mark, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
7) At three hours, remove the meat from the grill, wrap the entire pan in foil, and continue to cook in 325 degree oven for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove pan from oven, insert into paper bag and seal for one hour. Don’t skip this last step…the bag seals in steam which continues to break down collagen in the meat.
8) Place the meat on a cutting board and tear apart using either two forks or your finger. Cut off fat if you want. Leave it if you want. Whatever. You are the head chef today.
9) Serve with a good quality bun and your favorite sauce. Or however you like to eat pulled pork.
If you really want to do things right and impress either yourself or someone else, brine the pork shoulder the night before. Then add the rub an hour before cooking. Alton Brown has a fantastic method.
And if you really really want to do things right you’ll make your own BBQ Sauce. Personally, I think this is the only way to go. And I like both tomato and mustard based sauces. If you’re ok with the tangy nature of mustard and a little cider vinegar, check out this sauce from Tyler Florence.
Now, go read that quote up top again. Sure, it applies to impressionism and finger painting but I think it’s also very applicable to cooking. In fact, it sums up my entire philosophy on all things culinary. You’ll notice I’ve borrowed (or stolen) ideas from several different chefs and combined them into my own perfect technique for pulled pork.
Whatever. You don’t care about that. You’re all set. Time to stop reading and go eat.