Up until moving from the Chicago area to North Carolina, barbecue was a word used to define anything that was made on the grill. After living in the south for 15 years, barbecue isn’t WHAT is done, it is what is eaten. It’s what results from cooking a piece of meat long and low.
Cook’s Illustrated has included the Barbecued Pulled Pork on a Charcoal Grill in their magazine as one of the perfect American Classics. This is a very hard review to do, because Mr. A. Cort Sinnes’ works hard to at his explanation and attempt to make the “ultimate” pulled pork, but as someone who’s lived in North Carolina for a long time now, there are several problems. The first is that he’s a native of California and, with the exception of a brief stint in the Midwest, has lived there all his life. Only living in the south (and specifically North Carolina) can give one a true appreciation for what barbecue means down here. Second, he “adapted” the method of cooking barbecue to the point of taking it out of the grill. And finally, he suggests that pulled pork can be made with ham. Even more not good.
Because Mr. Sinnes had veered away from true barbecue it was necessary to try this recipe and see how it turned out. The method included a few hours of grilling at a moderately low temperature, then transferring the pork butt to the oven at a higher temperature for a couple of hours, then finishing it off by letting it sit in a paper bag for an hour.
Before all that, however, there is a Spicy Chili Rub that is applied to the pork butt* several days before smoking. It’s a toss-up as to whether a rub needs to be applied, but this is a good one and worth the time to do so. This recipe includes the same as many others; black, white and cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, oregano, paprika, salt , sugar.
Anyhow, back to my shame. When I took the pork butt out of the bag, it was perfect. The meat was just about falling off the bone, the outside was crispy and a little blackened and the inside had that quarter-inch of pink, showing that it had been well smoked. I was thrilled and took to tearing it into shreds with relish. As I picked the pig (hence the name), little tidbits just happened to make their way to my mouth (and my husband’s) and yes, it was very good.
During the time that the the pork butt is sitting in its paper bag is the perfect chance to make the Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Sauce included with this recipe. It a pretty classic Eastern sauce; just about all vinegar with a kick. Some prefer the western Carolina sauce, which is just about the same as Eastern except there’s less vinegar and a bit of ketchup thrown in to balance it.
A Quick Barbecue Sauce is included in the magazine, but it is the thick kind that is usually used on ribs or chicken and since that is not at all consistent with North Carolina Pulled Pork, it wasn’t even attempted. Another direction that was ignored was to put the barbecue sauce directly on the meat. Instead, the sauce was put in a squeeze bottle and set next to the pulled pork so each person could add
All this to say, the pulled pork was tasty. Was it more moist and tender than if it had grilled the whole time? For us, no. The Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Sauce was right on (though it was very hot). The Quick Barbecue Sauce isn’t the right kind for pulled pork. The Spicy Chili Rub is an excellent rub if a rubbed is used. The dish is served improperly if the sauce is mixed in with the meat by anyone but the person who puts it on their plate.
This is good, very good. But no, this is not real pulled pork, not in preparation, not in cooking method and not in serving.
*The pork shoulder is split into two sections; the pork butt and the picnic. Using the whole shoulder is the ultimate way to do pulled pork since the flavors of the two meats blend well, but if only one is used, it should be the pork-butt instead of the picnic, which isn’t as tender or tasty.