Pulled Pork

Making Pulled Pork with Meat from Rattray’s Butchers

We’ve had our ProQ smoker for two years now, and we’re delighted with it (review here).
Rainy weekends this summer have stopped us using it as much as we like, so when last weekend was sunny we took our chance and made pulled pork.

Americans make this with a cut called Boston Butt – a giant lump of pork shoulder with the bone still in – but these are very hard to get in the UK.
But the advantage of having an excellent local butcher like Rattrays is that you can ask them to make a joint how you’d like it.

We gave the butchers a few days notice that we needed the neck end of a pork shoulder, and we wanted the bone left in to conduct heat and hold it all together.
When we came to collect it, we were glad they hadn’t already finished as we were keen to see what went on.
These two friendly chaps immediately set about chopping our joint.
01-rattray-butchersThey pointed out where they’d be cutting, and the approx weight.
We wanted around 4kg – it came in at 4.5kg and cost £21.
As it ended up making 14 generous portions, this seems very good value.
02-bone-in-pork-shoulderWe agreed to keep the skin on, otherwise it would all fall apart, but they scored it to let the smoke and the rub penetrate the meat.
It came out pleasingly similar to an American joint, and much cheaper than if bought from specialist retailers online.

two-buttsThey look pretty similar, don’t they?

For the cooking, we put ourselves, as ever, into the hands of the Hang Fire Girls, who were one of the first places we reviewed when they were in Splott, and whose excellent cookbook is a great introduction to low and slow cooking.
(The recipe we made is online here.)

We wanted the meat to be ready for Sunday lunch, and a big joint like this needs a good 18-23 hours to reach the temperature where the meat will just fall apart.
If you try to hurry things with a temperature much above 225F the meat will go tough, so for an 18 hour cook to be ready for lunch we knew this meant cooking overnight!

We put the rub on four hours before smoking, and then set up our ProQ smoker like this (but with the pork, not this older photo of the chicken)
BBQ4-1 StackerI put A LOT of restaurant quality charcoal in the bottom – it’s really worth making the effort to get good charcoal.
I then lit the chimney around 8pm –
BBQ1 - Chimneyand added this to the charcoal and wood chips already in there (this is known as the Minion Method).
I added 3 kettles of boiling water, put the meat on, and left it for a few hours with the air vents all half open.
(Top tip – our visitors had a copy of the Daily Mail, and this burned much better than our usual Guardian. It must be all the anger in it.)

Around 11pm I added more boiling water and more coal, and went to bed.
The smoker was running around 240F – hotter than the 225F required, but I figured it was running overnight so it would cool down a bit.
Maybe I should have closed the vents a bit more, but I was worried about the fire going out.
If pork sits at the wrong temp for too long it is very dangerous, and I wanted our guests to avoid hospital, so I erred on the side of caution.

I tend to wake up for a few minutes around 5am most nights, so I got up for a look how things were doing.
Smoker was 225F, with plenty of glowing coal, but I still stocked her up with more charcoal and water.
I gave the (already edible-looking) meat its first baste, and went back to bed relieved. (I think it would have run fine to 7am or later.)

Back up at 9am,  temperature was holding at 225F so I only added a little more charcoal and water, and basted hourly with a vinegar and chilli-based North Carolina sauce.
Meat thermometer showed an internal temp of 190F, and I wanted 203F, which is when all the connective tissues and fat will have broken down.

203F came bang on schedule at 11.45, so we whipped it out of the smoker and into a big roasting tray.
06-skinThe skin had gone very dark, but we wouldn’t be eating that anyway.
Spinning it over showed us the meat had a lovely crust of bark from the basting with the sauce.
04-cooked-porkThe joint was so soft, it started to fall apart just from being moved.
I basted a final time, and tightly covered it in tinfoil to let it rest for 40 minutes.

Once rested, it pulled apart very easily with two forks, and fell away from the skin too.
05-pulled-porkI made sure the outer barkier parts were mixed in too.

The texture of the meat was perfect – soft and juicy.
I was only disappointed that it wasn’t very smoky.
I used lots of strong mesquite chips, and there was a plume of smoke all the time. The outer parts were smokier, and the flavour become a stronger over the next few days, but it wasn’t noticeable on day one.

The North Carolina sauce was a bit aggressive – I like vinegar and chilli, but some found their mouths a little stripped.
The Hang Fire South Carolina sauce – less vinegar, more mild mustard – was much tastier.

I will definitely be doing this again.
It’s a great-value way to feed a lot of people, I enjoyed the experience of overnight cooking and the meat is a proper pulled pork.
The best way to eat it is in big buns with the S Carolina sauce and homemade coleslaw.
Planning is the key. I’d seen on the Wednesday that the weekend was going to be warm and with only light wind – perfect for overnighting.
I would be wary doing this if I thought it was going to be too windy, and definitely not if  knew it was going to rain.

I wonder if I’m doing one of these for Christmas?


 

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