Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pulled Pork - City Style

Of the many things I loved about living in North Carolina, one of my favorite was the multitude of good quality barbecue joints. On two of my three cross-country drives I made it a point to stop at as many barbecue places as I could conveniently locate. While certainly not an exhaustive list, I have enjoyed barbecue in such classic locales as the Carolinas, Austin, Texas and Kansas City. As any American can tell you barbecue means different things to different people and folks whose hometown happens to be in a well-known barbecue region will assure you that theirs is the only true barbecue.
City style pulled pork with confetti collards and pickled red onion
For the uninitiated, and in the most basic terms, American barbecue is defined geographically and thus:
  • Eastern North Carolina - uses a thinner vinegar based sauce.
  • Lexington, North Carolina - located in the central part of the state the barbecue sauce common here is a ketchup-vinegar based sauce. 
  • Western North Carolina - this area uses a thicker tomato based sauce.
  • South Carolina - here you can find the three aforementioned styles of sauce as well as a mustard based sauce. In all of the Carolinas barbecue generally means pork but diners can almost always also find chicken on the menu as well. 
  • Kansas City, Missouri - here the barbecue is different not so much for the sauce but because all varieties and cuts of meat are used, including but not limited to: pork, chicken, turkey, beef and sausage. The sauce is tomato based and can be sweet, tangy or spicy. 
  • Texas - most people generally consider Texas barbecue to be strictly beef based and often enormous beef ribs. It's helpful to remember, however, that Texas is a truly vast state (trust me, it took nearly three days to drive across from Louisiana to New Mexico including stopping at the Alamo) and its barbecue has been influenced by Northern Mexican cooking styles, by German immigrants and their traditional butcheries, by the tomato and pork based sauces that migrated west from the Southern US and by the "cowboy" style of cooking directly over a mesquite-wood fire (as opposed to indirect heat from smoking). 
Here in the Northeast we will often say "we're having a barbecue" but we really mean a cookout where food is grilled outdoors but no actual barbecue (as described above) is served . Although we have some Southern style barbecue joints here in the Boston area (my favorite is the take-out only, no-frills Blue Ribbon which I always make it a point to stop at if I'm also going to the local Penzeys outlet) they are few and far between.

So what's a girl to do when she wants pulled pork, doesn't want to drive out to Arlington and the local fire laws don't exactly allow for a smoker to be installed on her oh-so-enormous back alley "patio"? City-style pulled pork is what to do!

Oh Cake's City-Style Pulled Pork
Bone-in pork shoulder - approximately 7-8lbs
1T mustard powder
1T garlic paste - 1 extra large clove or 2 medium cloves
1/2 T cumin
1/2 T dried oregano
1/2 T black pepper
1t coarse salt
1t red pepper flakes
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2T sriracha (hot sauce) - optional

Preheat oven to 450º F. Note - this is a great recipe to make in the middle of winter when it's freezing out. The oven is on so long if you truly have a tiny apartment you can turn off the heat and just bask in the glow of slow roasting pork shoulder!

I happen to be a fan of a combination of using a dry rub as well as a tomato-vinegar sauce with bone-in pork shoulder. This recipe features both a dry rub and a homemade sauce. Begin by trimming the skin from pork. If you're so inclined you can make pork rinds but since I'm not a fan and Thom doesn't need any help from me to keep his cholesterol raised I discard the skin.
Combine the salt, brown sugar, spices and garlic in a bowl.
To make a garlic paste use the flat of your knife and the heel of your hand to smash the clove. Discard the peel and mince the clove.
Press the edge of the blade over the minced garlic and gently drag it against your cutting board. This will crush the tiny pieces further and release the juices.
It appears as though the blade is flat against the board; it's actually at about a 15º angle
Mince everything together into a paste.
Rub the pork with the sriracha - one tablespoon per side - and then cover the pork with the dry rub, making sure to rub it into all crevices and nooks in the meat.

Place meat in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 325º F. You will cook it for one hour per pound. During the first hour of cooking prepare your sauce. I wish I had an exact recipe to offer you here but I really think "to taste" is best when it comes to barbecue sauce. In a small sauce pot over a low heat I combine ketchup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, sriracha, and depending on what I have on hand and my mood I may also add honey, homemade beef stock, and finely minced and caramelized onions. I am sometimes the recipient of various brands of red pepper sauces or barbecue sauces. Taste these jar sauces before you use them. Rounded out (or as Grammie would say, "doctored up") with your own touch they can produce a good, basic sauce. If you put sriracha directly on the pork I would probably err on the side of a sweeter sauce (unless you are a serious heat seeker) since it's pretty easy to add more hot sauce to the finished product. When your sauce is basically where you want it turn off the stove and let sit until you need it. Once the pork has about 1-2 hours left to cook pour about a third of your barbecue sauce over it and continue cooking.

Once the pork has finished its allotted cooking time turn off the oven and let the pork cool. You should be able to just pull it right off the bone and shred with two forks. Mix your pulled pork with the rest of the sauce and any collected juices. Serve with collard greens and cornbread or on a roll with fresh made coleslaw.
Make no mistake - this isn't "authentic" pulled pork - but it is, as Thom says, "damn tasty." Remember, you don't have to be an expert in each and every culinary sub-topic to make, and appreciate, a good quality product at home.



  1. Oh, I miss BBQ, and Summer, and BBQ... :) We are in Kansas so we have the sweet bbq sauce here, but my Hubby loves NC style also. Great recipe!

  2. I like the addition of the pickled onion with the pork, sounds delicious!

  3. I do the same thing! I've had to train myself to say, "I'm gonna grill" instead of BBQ, since I've had a stern talkin-to by a few BBQ purists! Either way, delicious.

  4. Love, love, LOVE pulled pork! ....heck, who am I kidding - I LOVE BBQ! I always say I grill because most of the time, I am simply grilling...but even my foodie friend - who is a Master BBQ Judge - allows me the occasional slip!

  5. Can't go wrong with such a great dish!

  6. Wow, I sure learned something as a non-American! :) Thank you for that! I've had bbq I loved and some that left me cold, so I can see where the variety comes in. Looks like a great pulled pork dish! :)

  7. I love doing pulled pork this way though my sauce differs. Yours looks absolutely amazing! Definitely buzzed!

  8. Your city version sounds perfect!!! My family would love this :)

  9. Wow, that last picture is just amazing! I love pulled pork, but I've never had the homemade stuff. I really want to try it because I'm more than certain it will beat anything from the restaurants! Thanks for the recipe :)

  10. this looks really, really good...I have several recipes but I'm always looking for more, pulled pork is one of my favorites!

  11. I've been craving for pulled pork, and you make it look so easy. Gonna try this recipe really son. Love the darker/burnt color on the side.


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