Do I really think I have reached the pinnacle of pulled pork?
No. Pulled pork is the highest achievement of pitmasters everywhere. They spend lifetimes, generations, even, fine tuning. I'm not there.
But as backyard smoking goes, I'm pretty happy with my latest results. I've achieved a really, really good result without much fuss. And onions and potatoes go right into the smoker to cook alongside the pork. Have you ever smoked an onion?
For this method you need a genuine smoker, not a grill. It has to be able to generate smoke at 200-250 degrees F for hours. I am using the Weber Smoky Mountain. (More on smokers another day.)
It starts with the pork shoulder, also called a Boston Butt, and it might also be called the king of BBQ. With its mix of well-worked muscles, it's the perfect cut for slow-cook methods. For pulled pork, we're going all the way -- low and slow, all the way to 200 degrees internal, where collagen turns into gelatine, the fibers separate, fat mingles with meat, and the flavors bloom.
The essence of the method is:
- We're using a shoulder in the 5-6 pound range. (A full butt is 16 pounds.)
- Brine the shoulder overnight or use a syringe to inject it with a briny solution a few hours ahead.
- Apply a dry rub a few hours before (or even a few minutes before, it doesn't make a big difference). A dry rub is easy: 20% salt and the rest can be whatever you like, in any proportion you want: Ancho powder, garlic powder, herbs, paprika, cumin, coriander, mustard.
- Smoke the pork shoulder to 150°F internal; then wrapped in foil in a 300° oven until it reaches 200° inside.
- Onions take about 4-5 hours. Small potatoes and sweet potatoes take about 4 hours. But you can go way longer without a problem. At 200 degrees, overcooking is difficult.
Here's the smoker, smoking and ready to do its work:
Let's look at the pork. The outside crust, called the bark, is a flavorful melange of dry rub, smoke, and slow roasted pork fat. Here is what it looks like when it exits the smoker, prior to the braising step:
Some disassembly required. The classic way is to pull the meat apart with two forks:
Now, it's your turn.
6 pounds pork shoulder (boston butt)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup apple juice, or one 6.75 oz juice box
1/4 cup rub, see note
2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
Soak pork overnight (8-15 hours) in a brine or do an injection. Don't do both.
Prepare smoker to run at 200-250°F. While it stabilizes, prepare the ingredients.
To inject: Mix ingredients. Place pork in a pan that can catch the juices. Draw solution into syringe and inject in many places. For each injection site, insert needle and squeeze plunger as you withdraw the needle. Change angle and reinsert into the same injection site, in a different direction. Continue until syringe is empty and move on to a new injection site, distributing solution throughout the meat. Some fluid will leak out; use syringe to draw excess fluid and inject again.
Pat pork dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with a generous coating of rub on all sides, patting rub to help it stick.
Wash potatoes and pierce with a fork. (Otherwise, the potato may explode. Ask me how I know.)
Cut onions in half, through the root. Do not remove root or skin.
Place pork in the smoker, fat side up. Place potatoes and onions in the smoker. Place the onions cut side down.
Smoke for 4-5 hours to an internal temperature of 150°F. Remove from smoker, wrap in heavy duty foil. Place in a pan, then in a 300-degree oven for 2-3 hours more, to internal temperature of 200°. Test to see if pork is pull-apart tender. If not, give it another 30 minutes.
When you remove the meat from the smoker, check the vegetables and if they are tender, remove them.
When you remove the meat from the oven, put the onions and potatoes in the oven to warm up. Allow the meat to rest 1/2 hour, then pull apart using two forks.
Serve with warmed barbecue sauce if you want, or just the way it is.