Pulled Pork. For many of us, all it takes is those two words to get our mouths watering. But what’s the best way to cook it on a weeknight? What about what to look for when buying your pork? Well, let’s dig into those questions and show you how to make an awesome dinner that will leave you with plenty of leftovers for the week.
What to Look For When Buying
A great dish of pulled pork starts with one thing, pork. Specifically, pork shoulder or as it’s more commonly called Boston Butt or plain ol’ pork butt. Why in the world is it called that? Well, I’ll let the experts over at the National Pork Board take over (seriously, there is a National Pork Board, how great of a job is that?!):
“In pre-revolutionary New England and into the Revolutionary War, some pork cuts (not those highly valued, or “high on the hog,” like loin and ham) were packed into casks or barrels (also known as “butts”) for storage and shipment. The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area became known in other regions as “Boston Butt.” This name stuck and today, Boston butt is called that almost everywhere in the US… except in Boston.”
You really do learn something new every day. So now that you know what type of meat you are going to buy, what should you look for in your butt? There are two things I look at every time I buy pork shoulder. The first is, does it still have the bone still in? When cooking something low and slow, the bone can add a ton of flavor so I always prefer bone-in meats if they are going to be cooked for longer than an hour. Secondly, it’s price. As the National Pork Board hinted at, pork butt isn’t as fancy as ham, pork chops or pork loin. So the most I’ll be paying is about $3/lb. Anything more and you are being ripped off, plain and simple. And, I’d like to point out, that these are San Francisco prices – you should be able to find them cheaper in other parts of the country.
Let’s Get Marinating
A big ol’ hunk of meat like this needs a good deal of marinating to give it some tasty goodness. I like to keep it simple so I went with some fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, garlic, dijon mustard and, of course, some salt and pepper.
After you have done all the above steps, wrap your bowl in saran wrap and stash it in your fridge. I’d recommended leaving it in there overnight at a minimum, two days is even better.
Let’s Get Cooking
Alright, now that you’ve let your meat marinate for at least 18 hours, it’s finally type to cook up this bad boy. We’ll be using our oven for this job so do me a favor and preheat your oven to 450 degrees. But before you do that, go ahead and take out your pork and let it sit on the counter for 45 minutes before you put it in the oven. Why would you do this? It’s science! Your fridge is somewhere along the lines of 40 degrees meaning your pork is 40 degrees as well. Now imagine putting that cold piece of meat in a 450 degree oven – it’s going to take a long time to get your meat up to the temperature needed. In addition, you could have uneven cooking as the outside becomes very done while the middle is still somewhat cool due to the heat having the penetrate such a large hunk of meat. (Just think of the last time you microwaved a Hot Pocket and had the outside be warm but the inside was still a frozen, congealed mess. Gross!)
Also, we’ll be using two different temperatures during the cooking process: 450 for 30 minutes and then 325 for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Why? More science! Basically, at the higher temperatures the outside of the meat will get a nice crust and replaces the need for having to sear the meat in a stovetop pan. Then, we’ll drop down the temp to allow the meat to cook at a more peaceful pace. This has the added benefit of letting the fat render down to juicy goodness and allow all the connective tissue to dissolve and make a tasty, delicious pot of pulled pork. The best part of all of this is that you really have to do nothing during the cooking process except turn the dial on your oven. What does this all look like when it’s done? I’m glad you asked, here it is:
When it comes to plating, I like to keep it simple. Just use some tongs, remove the bone (it should slide right out) and shred your pork into manageable sized pieces. Shredding the pork could not be easier, just take your tongs and act like you are tossing a salad, if cooked right it should “tear” apart quite easily. I went ahead and make a side of green beans and mushrooms, here is the final product:
Lessons Learned: Or What I’d Do Differently Next Time
Overall, I’d give my dish a B+. What could I have done differently? First off, I would have created more holes in the meat for the marinade to get in to. Instead, of just scoring one side, I would take a fillet knife and stab a bunch of holes all the way through the meat. The outer half was amazing while the insides lacked a little bit of flavor and I think that some deeper holes in the meat would have solved this problem. The second thing I would do is cooked the pork about 15 minutes less; 2 1/2 hours at 325 would have been plenty. The final thing I would do is shred the meat in a separate dish than the one I cooked it in. You want to be careful when using metal tongs in a ceramic cooking vessel so I didn’t do a superb job of shredding and mixing up the meat as well as I should have. Next time I’ll transfer the completed pig to a plastic bowl and shred away.
I’m really happy with how my first post for my blog turned out. I know I can work on my food photography some and get some fancier place settings so it all looks even better. Other than that, I really had a lot of fun during this process – and really – isn’t that the main point?
Finally, I ended up with a couple of pounds worth of leftovers after this dish. Here are some ideas on how to enjoy those:
- Make into pulled pork sandwiches for lunches
- Heat up and enjoy as a snack
- Make a pulled pork egg scramble (my personal favorite)
- Eat cold as a midnight snack (not that I did this or anything like that)
In case you are wondering, here is the full recipe for when you want to make this great dish:
- 3 - 4 tablespoons of fresh herbs (I recommend thyme and rosemary although sage is fine as well).
- A few pinches of salt
- A few squirts of dijon mustard
- Lots of pepper
- 4 or so cloves of garlic
- Olive Oil (enough to make a paste out of the marinade ingredients)
- 4-5 pounds of Pork Shoulder
- Chop up all your marinade ingredients
- Mix together with salt and pepper
- Make a paste with olive oil to smother your pork butt
- Score or stab your pork butt to create more room for the marinade
- Leave pork out 45 minutes before cooking
- Preheat Oven to 450 degrees
- Cook uncovered for 30 minutes
- Drop heat down to 325 and cover your vessel
- Cook covered for another 2½ hours
- The meat should easily pull or flake apart, if not return for another 15 minutes
- Eat and Enjoy