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Pulled Pork Technique

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Pulled pork, also called pulled pig or sometimes just plain barbecue, is slow-cooked pork roast that is shredded, seasoned, and then served on a hamburger bun (or sliced white bread) with just enough of your favorite barbecue sauce, a couple of dill pickle chips, and a topping of coleslaw.

My goal when making pulled pork is to have tender meat, not tough, and moist but not too fatty.  Most barbecue joints use a special smoker.  I wanted to adapt the technique for the grill.  I also set out to reduce the hands-on cooking time, which in some recipes can stretch to eight hours of constant fire tending.

There are two pork roasts commonly associated with pulled pork sandwiches: the shoulder roast and the fresh ham.  In their whole state, both are massive roasts, anywhere from 14 to 20 pound.   Because they are so large, most butchers and supermarket meat departments cut both the front and back leg roasts into more manageable sizes.  The part of the front leg containing the shoulder blade is usually sold as either a pork shoulder roast or a Boston butt and runs from six to eight pounds.  The meat from the upper portion of the front leg is marketed as a picnic roast and runs about the same size.  The meat from the rear leg is often segmented into three or four separate boneless roasts called a fresh ham or boneless fresh ham roast.

For barbecue, I find it best to choose a cut of meat with a fair amount of fat, which helps keep the meat moist and succulent during long cooking and adds considerably to the flavor.  For this reason, I think the pork shoulder roast, or Boston butt, is the best choice.  I found that picnic roasts and fresh hams also produce excellent results, but they are my second choice.

My technique is to use a moderate amount of charcoal (about 2-1/2 quarts, or 40 coals), cooking the pork roast for three hours on the grill and adding about eight coals every hour or so to maintain an average temperature of 275oF.  I then finish the roast in a 3250F oven for two hours.  This method produces the same results as the traditional barbecue method but in considerably less time and with nine fewer additions of charcoal.

I find it helpful to let the finished roast rest wrapped in foil in a sealed paper bag for an hour to allow the meat to reabsorb the flavorful juices.  In addition, the sealed bag produces a steaming effect that helps break down any remaining tough collagen.  The result is a much more savory and succulent roast.  Don’t omit this step; it’s the difference between good pulled pork and great pulled pork.

As with most barbecue, the pork roast benefits from being rubbed with a ground spice mixture.  However, because the roast is so thick, I find it best to let the rubbed roast “marinate” in the refrigerator for at least three hours and preferably overnight.  The salt in the rub is slowly absorbed by the meat and carries some of the spices with it.  The result is a more evenly flavored piece of meat.

Click HERE for my Barbecued Pulled Pork on a Charcoal Grill recipe.


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