Every week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook helps us learn more about our favorite cuts — and introduce you to some new ones, too. Read on, study, then take it back to your nearest butcher.
Today: We show you how to make classic homemade pulled pork, without the need for a Southern smokehouse.
Pork shoulder is no secret, especially to barbecue fanatics – so let’s talk about why you should cook it at home. Although we have shredded pork in sticky Kansas City-style barbecue sauce any day of the week (and we mean any day), it’s so easy to make it in a slow cooker, an instant pot or a dutch oven at home, so why wouldn’t you? But first, the basics:
If you want to make pulled pork at home, look for pork butt or pork shoulder at the grocery store. They are nearly identical cuts of pork and both lend themselves quite well to pulled pork recipes. You’ll find bone-in and bone-in cuts available, and each has its pros and cons: boneless means faster cooking and a more consistent shredding experience, while bone-in pork will help prevent the pork from drying out.
Pork shoulder obviously comes from pork shoulder muscles. This area of the animal works hard, which means that the muscles receive a lot of blood and are therefore full of flavor. However, this also means that, if not cooked properly, the pork shoulder can be relatively tough – it’s a cut that benefits from slow, slow cooking. So you can throw it on the grill or in the oven, forget about it for hours, then take it out and wow all your guests with pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork macaroni and cheese, or natural pulled pork.
If great flavor and minimal fuss aren’t enough, pork shoulder is also much cheaper per pound than pork loin, and a big cut can easily feed a crowd (with enough for leftovers). On average, a four-pound cut of boneless pork shoulder should cost around $20 and yield portions for at least half a dozen guests, which is why pulled pork is so often the main event at parties. of the Super Bowl. Let’s learn a little more about one of the barbecue’s favorite meats.
The pork shoulder is usually separated into two primary cuts: the picnic and the butt (also known as the Boston butt). The latter’s name derives from the method of packing and shipping pork in pre-revolutionary New England, where less prized cuts like the shoulder were packed in barrels called “butts.” The name stuck and now we’re all confused, but at least we don’t need to barrel our meat anymore. Cooks generally prefer ass to the picnic, as it is slightly meatier and more tender. In my opinion, both work wonders for slow cooking – give them a try and see what you think.
When buying your pork shoulder at the market, see if you can get a cut that still has the skin and bone attached. These, along with the thick layer of fat under the skin, help keep the meat moist during long hours of cooking – and add extra flavor to boot. If you buy fresh, well-raised pork, you only need to add a few ingredients to it before putting it in the oven or on the grill. I usually rub mine with a simple mixture of sugar and salt, let it sit for a few days in the fridge, then add some black pepper before roasting it. If you’re looking for that quintessential dripping pulled pork, toss your own with homemade barbecue sauce once it’s pulled.
Here’s how to make tender pulled pork in your oven:
Using a sharp knife, cut the skin off your pork shoulder in crosshatches, leaving about an inch of space between the cuts. Be sure to slice through the layer of fat under the skin, but not into the meat itself. Whisk some sugar and salt together and rub the mixture all over the pork shoulder. Let the meat rest in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 24 hours and up to 72 hours. Before cooking, rub black pepper all over the pork shoulder and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.
Cook the pork shoulder in a 275°F oven, or on the grill over indirect heat, until the internal temperature reaches 180°F to 190°F — about 6 hours. The meat should be very tender and come off the bone easily. Once the shoulder is cooked, raise the heat in your oven to 500°F and cook the pork for about 15 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Remove the pork shoulder and let it rest for 20 minutes, then shred the meat from the bone with two forks. If you’re feeling indulgent, remove the cracked skin, coarsely chop it, and toss it with your pulled pork. Season the meat to taste, then pile it on soft, sweet bread. Barbecue sauce and coleslaw are optional, but encouraged.
To make pulled pork in a slow cooker, follow the same steps for scoring the big cap and marinating the meat in a dry marinade. But instead of baking it in the oven, place it in a large slow cooker and cook on low for eight hours or on high for four hours. I like to add about a cup of BBQ sauce (bottled or homemade) to the pan while cooking the pork, but you don’t need more than that, at least at first. Covering the slow cooker with a lid will cause the pork to steam and create condensation, forming a looser sauce that will thin out a lot of barbecue sauce. So instead, toss the pork with the sauce after shredding the meat for the perfect sticky, sassy, sloppy mess.
Crispy Pulled Pork Shoulder
1 (5 to 6 pounds) pork shoulder, with bone and skin
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
BBQ sauce (optional)
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.