Hog Wild

Pulled pork (aka barbeque) is something Southerners can sometimes get a little peculiar about. The Texans have their brisket, but you best not show up elsewhere and expect to hear ‘beef’ and ‘barbeque’ in the same sentence. Everyone has their own special way to make pulled pork, but the general assumption is that it’s cooked ‘low and slow’, and smoked. On a grill or in the oven? Charcoal? A spice rub or sauce prior to cooking? The choices are limitless.

And although choices are aplenty, I won’t pretend to be unbiased in where I stand on the barbeque itself – I prefer the whole pig smoked outdoors on the ‘pig cooker’, practically overnight (preferably over a few beers in the wee hours of the morning), simply seasoned, and doused in vinegar and not much else. In that respect, I am Eastern NC through and through.

In fact, for Christmas dinner one year, my Aunt Faye and some other folk did just that – we had a certified pig pickin’, sans turkey and all that other mess, and ate outdoors on paper plates, with cups of sweet tea at our feet and coleslaw and hushpuppies crowding our plates. It was blissful, and while I fancy the turkey and stuffing, I’ll gleefully admit that the ‘year of the pig’ was one of my favorites, dinner-wise.

Before I go any further, let’s discuss the sauce a bit. You see, the sauce that covers said pork has various areas divided for eternity, probably moreso than any culinary tiff, definitely any tiff in the South. The battle primarily takes place in NC, where a vertical line divides the state in two halves, a tomato at the root of all evil.  Western NC sauce is sweet, with tomato, while Eastern sauce is hot and spicy, tomato-less, and if I must be truthful – the best. You’ve also got the crazies from South Carolina who use mustard as their main sauce ingredient, and I’ve seen other versions as well, but I daresay these are the main three.

With all this said, you may have noticed by now that the pictures you see before you are in fact not my ideal version of pulled pork (i.e., you see pork shoulder, rather than the whole pork, which wouldn’t be weird if we were referring to Western barbeque since they tend to only use the shoulder). You may remember that I live in a condo in Chicago, and as a result I seriously doubt we’d be able to procure a pig cooker for our balcony, let alone locate a whole hog to toss on the cooker. You may also be thinking to yourself that you’ve already seen pulled pork here before, and you’d be correct there too. But those of us who like our NC barbeque and can’t get “the real deal” regularly have to improvise, and by improvise I mean find a recipe that sounds pretty decent, and one that works with balconies and less than a backyard full of people.

This recipe was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. For one, there was no spice rub (!), but instead a generous basting of a mustard sauce, which scared me a little. Also, it utilized two techniques – a low and slow stint in the oven followed by a brief visit to the grill, with wood chips. It seemed to be a good combo, so I gave it a whirl, with a few adjustments along the way.

The end result is an incredibly juicy hunk o’ pork that could possibly feed a roomful, but in our world it fed four of us, with a little leftover. I like to think of that as a testament to how good it was, and as it turns out, the mustard gave the pork a nice flavor, but the smoke is really where it’s at. Of course, it doesn’t quite compare to the barbeque back ‘home’, but in the meantime, it will most certainly do.

Carolina Pulled Pork
Adapted loosely from Food & Wine, September 2010; serves 8

time commitment: 10 hours (1 hour active time)

printable version (pork & sauce)

ingredients
¾ c Dijon mustard
2 T dark brown sugar
2 T kosher salt
2 T pepper, freshly ground
1 T smoked paprika
1 T onion powder
8 lbs bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt)
2 c mesquite wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained
Eastern NC bbq sauce (below)

Special stuff: a thermometer with a cord that can go into the oven is perfect for this so that you don’t have to constantly check the temperature. For the first stage of cooking, plan for about 1 hour / pound of meat.

instructions
Preheat oven to 225 F. in a medium bowl, whisk together mustard through onion powder. Set the pork shoulder, fat side up, in a roasting pan. Brush pork with mustard mixture and roast, uncovered, for ~8 hours, or until the internal temperature registers ~170 F.

If there are any roasting juices (not fat, juices), pour them into a measuring cup and refrigerate to separate fat. Keep at room temperature after fat is poured off.

Heat grill to 400 F. line roasting pan with aluminum foil and scatter the presoaked wood chips over the bottom. Place pork back in roasting pan. Put roasting pan on grill and close; smoke until internal temperature of meat reaches 185-190 F.

Transfer pork to work surface and let rest for 30 minutes. Pull meat off the bones and discard bones and outer layer of fat that’s remaining. Using two forks, finely shred the pork and transfer it to a large bowl. Toss meat with some of the bbq sauce and roasting juices (if any). Serve with bbq sauce and coleslaw!

Vinegar-Based Eastern NC bbq Sauce
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 cups

printable version (sauce only)

ingredients
1.5 c apple cider vinegar
1 c water
1 T tomato paste
4 T dark brown sugar
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
2 t smoked paprika
1 t chile powder

instructions
combine all ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil. reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. add more red pepper flake, if desired.

Barbeque: Gooder than Snuff

Have ya’ll ever been to North Kakalaka? Let’s just say, if you haven’t, and if you ever do, a little preparation for the lingo might benefit you or else you may find yourself ‘running around like a chicken with its head cut off’. I am Southern, after all; it’s only fittin’ that I use my manners and translate a few for you :). So here we go.

Hug your neck: this is how we talk about showing affection. “Aunt Faye, that fried chicken looks so good it makes me wanna hug your neck!”

Bless his/her heart: this is what you say in the same sentence before you say something that’s not very nice. “Bless his heart, that boy has a face only a mother could love!”

Fixin’ to: what you say when you’re about to do something. “I’m fixing to warm up some of this tasty leftover barbeque.”

Gooder than snuff: when something is really, really great. “This vinegar-based barbeque sauce you made is gooder than snuff.”

Fit to be tied: angry. “When Ralph dropped that pe-can pie on the floor, Luna was fit to be tied.”

Down yonder: further down the road. “The best barbeque in Duplin County is down yonder on Hwy 13.”

Barbeque: this is not what you non-Southerners use as a verb, which is actually ‘grilling’. Barbeque is a noun, and there are many different barbeque varieties in the South. “The only barbeque I care to eat is from Eastern North Carolina.”

Full as a tick: basically, when you have eaten so much you’re about to explode. “I ate so much barbeque and red velvet cake that I was full as a tick.”

Clearly, this here list is not all-inclusive. Do you know some more? While you’re thinkin’ about it, consider trying your hand at one of my favorite Southern dishes, eastern NC bbq. And don’t you dare consider using another kind of sauce – vinegar-based is the only way to go. Don’t ruffle my feathers, now!

Eastern NC-Style Slow Roasted Pulled Pork
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009; serves 16

if you’ve got barbeque joints in your backyard, you may not feel the need to make your own. but up here in the midwest, it’s a necessity. if you do use bone-in, allow extra time to let the pork tenderize even more. if you need less time, boneless works just as well. serve with Southern-style coleslaw – either on the side, on your samich, or both (like me).

printable version

ingredients
2  T dark brown sugar
1  T smoked paprika
1  T chili powder
1  t salt
2  t ground cumin
1  t freshly ground black pepper
1/2  t dry mustard
1/2  t ground chipotle chile pepper
1  (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed
2  c water, divided
1 t liquid smoke
1/2  c apple cider vinegar
1/3  c ketchup
vinegar-based Eastern NC bbq sauce (recipe below)

instructions
To prepare pork, combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub sugar mixture evenly over pork. Let pork stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 225°.

Place pork on the rack of a roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Pour 1 cup water in bottom of roasting pan. Place rack in pan. Bake at 225° for 1 hour.

Combine 1/2 cup vinegar and ketchup in a medium bowl; brush pork with ketchup mixture (do not remove from oven). Bake an additional 3 hours, basting every hour with ketchup mixture.

Pour remaining 1 cup water in bottom of roasting pan. Cover pork and pan tightly with foil. Bake an additional 3 3/4 hours or until a thermometer registers 190°. Remove from oven; let stand, covered, 45 minutes.

Shred pork with 2 forks. Serve with sauce.

Vinegar-Based Eastern NC bbq Sauce
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 cups

printable version (sauce only)

ingredients
1.5 c apple cider vinegar
1 c water
1 T tomato paste
4 T dark brown sugar
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
2 t smoked paprika
1 t chile powder

instructions
combine all ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil. reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. add more red pepper flake, if desired.