Make the Perfect Pulled Pork at Home

Public Market CafeWhen you hear that something is inexpensive to shop for, easy to make, and an economical way of feeding yourself because it'll last for more than one meal, it's pretty hard to turn it down. So why do we keep buying our pulled pork premade from the store?

For many, pulled pork is a quintessential Southern dish that can't even be touched with a ten foot pole. "I don't have a smoker," may be a common excuse heard, or "I don't know how to make authentic barbecue," might be another. What people don't understand is that pulled pork is one of the most basic and easy barbecue dishes to try their hand at (and we're talking about real barbecue, not a party that you have in your backyard that revolves around a grill), and that even some of the most basic recipes for pulled pork don't require a smoker or an open flame, like traditional barbecue recipes do.

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A staple of the south, pulled pork originated out of the basic theory behind barbecue's beginnings, which took place during the colonial period when plantation owners would give their slaves the cheaper cuts of meat that they didn't want. What was soon realized was that these cheap cuts actually tasted pretty good, so long as they were cooked low and slow and slathered in sauce. Because of its origins, it's clear that pulled pork was meant to be something that's easy, and nothing could make this more clear than when barbecue guru Meathead Goldwyn instructs you to "make love to your spouse" while cooking it, among many other things. Time would soon tell, too, that pulled pork is not just popular because it's easy, but because it's also finger-licking-good to enjoy.

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If you're not convinced already, then maybe the flexibility of pulled pork will further encourage you to try it. Pulled pork can be made from brines, marinades, dry rubs, or wet ones, and there's not just one method used to make it, but a few for you to choose from. Particularly like olives? Then throw a couple of them in the braising liquid and call yourself a Cuban. Don't have a smoker? Hope is not lost - your oven is a great alternative. Making pulled pork is really about deciding how you're going to flavor it and what method you're going to use to cook it, so to help you make the perfect recipe, we've mapped out all of your options with the help of barbecue experts who share their opinions, as well.

Related: Pulled Pork Sliders Recipe

The Flavor
Chef Kyle Rourke of Red Star Taven in Portland, Oregon says it best when he tells us, "The two different ways to start the pork would be wet or dry." The dry method involves making a blend of spices and rubbing the pork down before you begin to cook it. Some like to wrap their dry rubbed-pork in aluminum foil so that the juices will create a natural sauce from the rub, while others prefer to leave it dry so that it gets a nice, charred crust.

To start wet, the pork is usually brined for two to three days to break down the meat. Chef Chad Bowser of Katch in Astoria, New York likes adding his own special twists to the brine, like beer and espresso beans. While brining is a great way of marinating meat, other chefs, like Kornick, are less partial because they think that brines are less interesting, as they focus mostly on salt. Those who agree with Kornick might inject their pork with a marinade of choice, or slather it in a sauce before throwing it on the smoker or dry-roasting it.

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Pulling the Pork
Once your pork is fork tender, you're ready to pull. There are two ways to tell when it's ready. For those of you who chose bone-in, use tongs or gloves and slightly jiggle the bone to see if it easily comes out. You can also take a fork and turn it - if the meat wraps around it spaghetti style, you're ready. The best way to pull pork is in a large dish so that all of the juices and melted fat are collected and mixed into the meat. Take two forks - or these fancy meat shredders if you've got them - and pull away to the consistency you like.

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Finishing it Off
Once you've decided on how you're going to cook it and flavor it, you're practically ready to enjoy some pulled pork. Now you just have to decide how to serve it. Will it be served in tortillas with sliced radishes and sour cream, as tacos? Or will you go to the traditional Southern route and throw it on a bun and top it with coleslaw and pickles. You might even go with North Carolina-style and skip the pulling, chop it up, and enjoy it all on its own. As with each step of making pulled pork, finishing it off is all about deciding what flavors you're craving, and once you do that, your perfect pulled pork has been made.

All that's left to do now is decide what to do with the leftovers, which only get better with each passing day.


Pernil Asado Recipe

This recipe from Havana Central in New York City gives pulled pork a Cuban twist, with manzanilla olives and canned pimentos, and it uses a dry roasting method for cooking it.

INGREDIENTS

One 10-pound pork shoulder
20 cloves garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
One 12-ounce can canned pimentos, drained
2 cups manzanilla olives
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 cup orange juice
1 cup lime juice
2 cups olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Cut 1-inch holes all over the pork and fill each hole with a clove of garlic. In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the other ingredients together. Place the pork into the bowl and marinate it over night.

The next day, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake the pork for 35-40 minutes per pound, approximately 5-6 hours total.


Recipe Details
Servings: 5


Pulled Pork Sliders Recipe

This recipe is from Astoria's Katch Brewery & Grill, and it has you brine the pork shoulder for up to three days so that it's extra moist and tender. This sandwich wouldn't be complete without a coleslaw topping, though, and chef Chad Bowser shares his signature recipe for this, too.

INGREDIENTS

For the brine:
2 gallons water
2 cups salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar
20 cloves garlic
2 bunches thyme
10 bay leaves
4 cups beer
1 cup espresso beans
One 2-pound pork shoulder, bone-in
Barbecue sauce, as needed
Black pepper, to taste

For the coleslaw and sliders:
1 head red cabbage, shredded
1 Granny Smith apple, julienned
2 cups mustard greens, julienned
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pulled pork
Barbecue sauce, as needed
Sandwich pickle slices
Slider potato buns

DIRECTIONS

For the brine:

Boil the water and add the salt and sugar to dissolve. Add the hot mixture to all of the other ingredients except for the pork and allow to cool. Once cool, add the pork. Keep pork in brine 2-3 days.

Remove pork from brine. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Coat the pork in barbecue sauce and wrap in aluminum foil. Place the pork in a Dutch oven or large baking dish and cook in the oven for 6-8 hours, until fork tender. Pull pork using 2 forks and add additional barbecue sauce, salt, and pepper, to taste.

For the coleslaw and sliders:

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients up to and including the celery seed for the coleslaw and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Top slider buns with an even amount of pulled pork, coleslaw, and a slice of pickle.

Recipe Details
Servings: 4

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-Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal