Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why You Should Try Making Your Own Pulled Pork

Two 8-pound pork butts being smoked at the cottage

I get a lot of traffic on my blog from people looking for information and tips about BBQ.

For the past few years, I went from primarily being a consumer of good BBQ to learning how to smoke my own meat.  But for the past few months, I have been working on pulled pork.  I have learned that pulled pork is a relatively easy way to try smoking meat on your own.

Here are a few reasons why you should try making your own pulled pork:

1)  Pork is inexpensive:  Compared to some other types of meat like beef, pork is relatively inexpensive.  If you're doing pulled pork, you want a bone-in pork putt and that is a relatively cheap cut of pork.  Find a good local butcher, budget for about half a pound per person and call ahead and place an order. If you get too much, don't worry as there are always things you can do with leftovers. 

2)  Pulled pork is versatile: You can do lots of interesting things with pulled pork.  Get some high-quality buns from a local bakery and serve with coleslaw and corn bread (I used the Dinosaur BBQ recipes for both).   Or if you want to class it up a bit, get some really good tortillas or taco shells and make tacos.  Use the leftovers for breakfast and wow your guests with pulled pork eggs Benedict.   You can keep any leftovers around for a few days and simply reheat as needed.  Pulled pork shephards pie... the possibilities are endless.  

3) Pulled pork is scalable:  You can easily smoke two butts at the same time as you smoke one so it's almost as easy to feed a family of 10 as it is to feed a gaggle of 40 friends.   

4) Pulled pork is relatively easy:  People spend years or even a lifetime testing and perfecting their BBQ/smoking techniques and that's part of what makes it so much fun.  With a little knowledge and patience you can make pulled pork that blows almost anything you've had at a BBQ restaurant away.  Granted, that might be because you don't live near quality BBQ, but even then, BBQ restaurants have to cater to a wide group of people who don't always show up to eat when the food is ready.  The best part is that there is no shortage of great knowledge available for free on the Internet. 

Here's a great video by Aaron Franklin that I used as my template for pulled pork:

Here are a few tips based on my experience so far:

You don't have to smoke it the whole way: Your meat really only absorbs the smoke flavor for the first 3 or 4 hours so really concentrate during this period of getting a good smoke onto your meat.  Use cherry or apple wood if you can find them or try something else.  Either way, focus your time at the start of infusing your meat with smoke flavor and then you can worry about making sure it's cooked properly later on. 

Wrap it: After about 4 or 5 hours, wrap your pork butt in tin foil.  I'll add some beer or something else and seal it up in tinfoil and finish it on the oven if required.   Purists will argue that it's cheating but we're trying to make sure we don't waste our time/effort when we first start doing this ourselves.  Plus, when you have guests coming over, you have to serve them something and so wrapping will ensure you don't screw up. I will wrap my pork butts at about 180 degrees F internal temp and leave on the smoker for a few more hours until it hits 200.  I have even transferred my pork butts to the oven at 180 internal temp with the oven at 250 and let it finish that way while I go for a swim. 

Trust your temps:  The real science of good BBQ and smoking comes from understanding how to maintain a good grill/smoker temperature and knowing when your meat is done.  The real pros can do this with their eyes, ears and noses.  Not being a professional and a being bit of a gadget nerd, I have a wireless thermometer that tells me the temp of my grill and temp of my meat from as far away as 100 yards so I don't have to open the grill or poke my meat to get a good reading.    You want to cook at 275 degrees F and pull it at 200 degrees F internal temp.

Let it rest:  Perhaps the biggest mistake people make is not letting their meat rest and that goes for everything from steaks to chicken.  Let your pork butt rest in foil for about 45 minutes after it gets to 200 internal temp.  I might even add some beer or something to keep it moist as this is when the meat will suck the juices back into it and you won't end up with dry results.  If you are done early, you can even wrap it in a towel and put it in a cooler to keep warm for a few hours or keep warm in an oven at about 150 degrees F. 

Have fun: Play around with rubs and woods.  You can start rubbing with salt and pepper and then add in some other things if you want.  It's fairly easy to get different kinds of wood chips these days so try something new.  Relax and try to enjoy the process of trying to make your own pulled pork.  The more time to spend letting your rubs, meat and wood do the work the better your end product will be.  Like the pros say "if you're lookin' - you ain't cookin'". 

If you have anything add, feel free to comment... and I hope you have as much fun making pulled pork as I do.