Pulled Pork

So I wanted to talk today about what David and I refer to as “The Burrito Effect”.  This phrase came about somewhere around the middle of 1983. But first I’d like to talk a little bit about food that is disappointing.  You know, food where you are expecting one thing, maybe because of a picture or description and it turns out completely different than what you thought, and all you can say is… “well, that’s not what I expected”.  Or how about when you go to a really nice restaurant? You’ve saved up for months because you have heard it’s really good, but a little pricey. When you look at the menu you aren’t shocked by the prices but you definitely resign yourself to the fact that you will only be able to come back on really special occasions (like leap year). You give the waiter your order, and eagerly await the food.  After you’re finished and your excitement has waned, you’re left with the bill and you think to yourself, “hmm, I'm not sure it was worth that amount of money.”  Have you ever had a time when you heard from a friend or two just how good something was, so you went out of your way to try it, only to find, for you, it doesn’t actually live up to the hype?  I'll bet all of these things have happened to most of us at some point in the past. I have already talked in a previous post on how I made a cake that looked so good on TV but turned out to be rather boring and altogether nothing special. Then there were the times I have made recipes with long lists of spices and herbs that made me think the food should have been bursting with flavor but the end result didn’t quite meet expectations somehow.  It was almost as if there were too many flavors competing for attention and the result was a little lackluster.  

Each time David and I go to the local Costco we stop by the food court and buy a polish dog and soda.  It’s a cheap meal and while it’s not four-star restaurant quality you don’t expect it to be either. I mean really, it outside of a Costco, what can you expect. It’s a polish dog and soda that’s it, nothing fancy, and nothing to write home about, nothing to actually give a second thought to.  But the polish dog, in fact, is actually quite tasty and for $1.50… well, you can’t beat that. So, during a recent visit to Costco, we stopped by the food court as usual but we found that the polish dogs on the menu had been eliminated and we had to get a regular hot dog instead.  As we sat down and started eating we immediately realized that, to us, a regular hot dog was nowhere nearly as good as the polish dog and ultimately our lunch was rather disappointing.  

So let’s get back to “The Burrito Effect”.  Back in the middle of 1983 David and I used to go to this little burrito place down on the main street of town. We liked going there for two reasons; one was that they had a tabletop Pac Man machine in the corner of the restaurant. Back then a tabletop version was rare, not only was it a table, it was a game, wow, what a technological feat! And that's not all... yes, two people could play since there were controls on each side of the table… again... wow!  The second reason we liked going there was because the burritos were fantastic. We didn’t go there every day, but we did go enough that we could have a small fortune now if we had only invested those quarters we put into the Pac Man machine into an IRA more than thirty years ago. Anyway, for some reason, probably because we got too busy at work or we just got tired of burritos, we started eating at the local Der Weinerschnitzel (now just known as Weinerschnitzel), when they started selling burgers (actually the latter is the real reason!).

Let me just side track myself for a minute and tell you how excited we were when Weinerschnitzel added burgers to their menu. I am a huge fan of the chili cheese dogs there, but the burger addition elevated this little fast food hot dog place to new heights. Well, it was elevated to burger joint heights, but back then that was a big deal. The best thing about the Weinerschnitzel was that at the side of this particular location was a little lawn area and you could go get your food then sit on the lawn and eat.  Hey, it was the closest thing to a park the town had at that point so we took what we could get. But I digress… so where was I, oh yeah, burgers… so for a while we were eating at Weinerschnitzel and not the burrito place. We never really forgot about the burrito place though. In fact we would pass by it every day on the way to work, early in the morning, and every day as we drove by I would look over at the restaurant and would read - out loud - the sign that hung in the door… “The Store is Cerrado”.  Then at some point I started to read the sign when we passed by on the way home when it was open… again out loud “The Store Is Abierto”.  Day after day, “The Store is Cerrado” on the way to work… “The Store is Abierto” on the way home from work.  This went on day after day, trip after trip until the one day David had just about all of this he could take, and in order to keep the peace (and to not give him an embolism) I promised him that I would never utter those words again in my entire life.

Again, I digress… Well, eventually there came a day where we decided that instead of burgers, we would go back to the “best burrito place”. It had been a while since we had been there, and since we had raved about how good the place was to our friends, it was only fitting that we went with a group of folks all eager to try the food. When we went in, the place was virtually unchanged, it still had the Pac Man game table in the corner and the menu seemed unchanged as well. When we got our food we sat down at the Pac Man Table, as always, and ate while we played just as we had done long before.  Despite the restaurant looking the same, the same Pac Man machine, the same menu, the burrito… well, it just wasn’t the same.  It was different somehow but we just couldn’t put our finger on how it was different. It simply wasn’t as fantastic as before. We actually thought that the place must have been sold to a new owner or that the cook had changed or that they had to cut quality because maybe profits were down. All we knew was that the best burrito we ate before was no longer the best burrito. Over the years, each and every time we would find some place that had the “best” of some food and we would return to that place some time later and it didn’t seem as good as before we would be reminded of the burrito place where this first happened. And thus was born “The Burrito Effect”. Basically, for any food that we find that the second time we eat it just doesn’t seem as good as the first time that’s the phrase we use.  

David: “Hey, let’s go to that place where we really liked the food”.

Me: “Sure, that place is great”.

After eating –

David: “How was your food”?

Me: “Eh, burrito effect”.

David: “That’s what I thought”.

Me: “I’ll bet they changed owners”.

I have to say that I have never had “The Burrito Effect” when it comes to pulled pork. There is this great barbeque place about 45 minutes from where we live that we have eaten at several times, each and every time just as good as the last. I am sure there are plenty of really good barbeque places around and if you have one near you, go, and go often. I have to say that a pulled pork sandwich is in my top three of all time favorite sandwiches, and yes I will admit there are about six or seven sandwiches that I rank in my all time top three, but this is most definitely one of them. Usually the only time I ate pulled pork though was when we went out to eat because it always seemed to be just too much of a bother to make at home. Honestly, since it’s just David and me, I never thought it made sense to roast a five pound pork butt, it just seemed a little too much.  But there are occasions that having a good pulled pork recipe can come in handy; how about the Superbowl when you have a big crowd coming, or how about on the Forth of July when you might have friends over to celebrate, or what about Sunday, that’s a good day too. Because truth is you don’t really need a special event to have pulled pork and you don’t need a giant crowd. You can always freeze the left overs for another day. I guess what I am trying to say is, if you’re like me, and you like pulled pork, find any reason to make it at home. There are so many recipes on the web and in cookbooks it would be hard to not find something you like. And if you think it’s hard to make, put that thought out of your mind right now. 

There are three basic steps to making pulled pork, brining the pork, dry rubbing the pork, and cooking the pork, that’s really all there is to it. Does it take time to make, yes – most certainly. Is it worth the effort, absolutely! You are going to need a 2-gallon zip lock bag to brine the pork in and of course you’ll need a roasting pan that the pork fits in without touching the sides of the pan and that is at least 3 inches deep (yes, one of those disposable aluminum pans you get at the grocery store will work just fine). You also need to have a meat thermometer (a probe thermometer is great) to take the temperature of the meat. And, maybe most importantly you need to remember that (at least for this version) you need to start several days before you want to eat as there is an overnight brining, it can take 12 or more hours to cook (depending on the size of your pork butt) and you need to let it rest for at least 2 hours before shredding and serving. I usually estimate it takes at least 1½ to 2 hours per pound to cook. So do the math ahead of time! You can of course make this in advance then reheat it in a semi-low oven on the day you wish to serve. This recipe will definitely test your time management skills, whee, what fun! Prepare thyself I say… for a very long (but well worth it) wait.

So here is how I make mine:

Ingredients:

  • 1 (6-7 pound) whole Boston Butt or pork shoulder, bone-in and preferably with a good layer of fat on the bottom.

For the Dry Rub:

  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon ground pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For The Brine:

  • 8 cups cold water

  • ½ cup kosher salt

  • ½ cup brown sugar

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 3 tablespoondry rub mix (see above)

Optional vinegar sauce:

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

  • ½ cup white vinegar

  • ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar

  • ¾ teaspoon chili powder

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions:

To make the Dry Rub:

Simply mix all the dry rub ingredients together in a bowl until they are well combined and then store in a lidded container (or a zip lock bag) until you’re ready to use.

Now to Brine the Pork:

Pour the cold water into a large bowl and stir in the salt, the sugar, the bay leaves and the 3 tablespoons of dry rub until everything is dissolved and the mixture is well combined.

Take the pork shoulder and give it a good rinse with cold water, and then place it into a 2-gallon zip-lock bag.

Pour in the brine mixture and seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Place the bag into a container (just in case the bag leaks) and stash the whole thing in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.

Make the Vinegar Sauce – optional

Combine all the vinegar sauce ingredients together. Store in a lidded container or jar and set aside until ready to use – shake well again before using.

Pre-Pulled Pork, ready for the oven

When ready to cook the pork:

Preheat the oven to 225°F with the oven rack in the center position. You may need to remove any racks above the center rack so the pork is sure to fit!

Remove your pork from the brine solution and pat it dry with paper towels then place the pork into your roasting pan.

Take about 2 tablespoons of your dry rub mix and put that into a separate container to save for later. 

Using the remaining dry rub, sprinkle it onto all sides of the pork and rub it into the meat with your hands. You want to get the meat well covered with the dry rub making sure that it is coated everywhere.  It also helps if you have a pair of latex gloves so the rub sticks to the meat rather than clumping up on your hands.  

With the pork covered in dry rub and resting in the pan with the fat side up you’re ready to cook. 

If you have a probe thermometer there will be no better time to use it. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat and set the temperature for 200°F.

Place it in the oven uncovered. 

If you don’t have a probe thermometer let the pork cook for at least 1½ hours per pound of pork (a 6 pound roast will cook for at about 9 hours) then start to monitor the temperature. 

When the center of the roast reaches 200°F turn the oven off. If there is no juice in the bottom of the pan (or only very little juice) cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and let the roast sit in the oven for 2 hours before removing it. 

After two hours go ahead and remove the roast from the oven and transfer it to a clean plate.

Remove as much of the fat from the pan as you can with a spoon or fat separator and pour the remaining juices that have collected into a large measuring cup or bowl and set that aside for the time being, we’ll come back to that later.

Now, cut off and toss out that layer of fat from the top of the roast, then use two forks to shred the meat, removing and discarding the bone. I usually just put the meat back into the pan I baked it in and shred it in there to keep everything nice and tidy.

Next, grab that bowl of juice we saved earlier, give it a good stir and pour in just enough of it to wet the meat slightly.

Sprinkle those two tablespoons of dry rub mixture you saved earlier over the meat next, and toss everything together gently so the dry rub dissolves and coats the meat. Add more juices (little by little) if the meat is too dry to absorb the rub.

Finally, Drizzle a little vinegar sauce over the meat and serve (if using). The remaining sauce can be put in a bowl (or a squeeze bottle) for folks to “dress” their pork as they see fit.

To Reheat:

If you have made this in advance of serving, simply add a little water to the bottom of the pan with your pulled pork and tightly cover with aluminum foil. Heat in a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes or until heated through. 

Just a final comment on this… I know you have been up since four in the morning… 

If you’re looking for a saucier pulled pork that is more barbecue sauce based, you can eliminate the vinegar sauce and while shredding the pork simply mix in (to taste) your favorite barbecue sauce instead. If your serving a crowd with different tastes, fill one squeeze bottle with vinegar sauce and another with barbecue sauce and allow your quests to dress the pork the way they like. And since it's summer... grill up some corn, serve with some coleslaw and call it a day!

Riley, was desperately hoping for some pulled pork today.