This is my version of the classic slow-cooked pork dish that we’ve enjoyed many times when visiting Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. I’ve adapted it to work well on either a smoker or on a grill set up for indirect cooking.
This dish relies on achiote paste for a lot of its flavor. This blend of annatto seeds, Mexican oregano, garlic, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, and salt is available online or in the ethnic food section of larger grocery stores.
1 pork butt (shoulder roast), between 5-7 pounds
1 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime (2T)
Juice of 1 lemon (2-3T)
1/4 cup achiote paste
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup canola oil
1 dried ancho pepper, seeds and stem removed, or 1-2T ancho chile powder
1-2T Adobo powder (or 1T of kosher salt plus 1/2t each of cumin and garlic powder)
The first step is to create the recado – the marinade that the pork will soak in. To do this, combine everything except the pork and the achiote paste in a food processor and pulse until it forms a thin sauce. Pour this mixture into a sauce pan and add the achiote. Be careful as the achiote will stain clothing. Bring to simmer and stir until the achiote is combined. Cook on low until the sauce and has thickened a little – about the consistency of a pasta sauce. Adjust your seasonings. The taste should be earthy, with plenty of warmth from the pepper, and a nice bite of citrus.
Let the recado cool, and then put the butt in a big Ziploc bag and add the marinade. Seal the bag and turn to coat. Marinate overnight in the fridge.
Plan on a 12-14 hour cook at 225-250°F with indirect heat. I like to add some hickory or oak for smoke. You need to get the internal temperature of the butt up to 190°F, but you want to do it as slowly as is safely possible. The idea is to render out the fat and convert the nasty connective tissue to tenderness.
Remove the butt from the marinade (making sure to reserve the marinade in the fridge) and season it lightly with salt and pepper. Place the butt fat side up over a drip pan on the cooker and cook for 12-14 hours. Begin checking meat for doneness after about 10 hours. The temperature may reach 160°F and stay there for what seems like an interminable amount of time. This is the plateau stage, and it’s normal.
Once the meat has reached 190°F internal, wrap it in heavy-duty foil and let it rest in a warm oven for an hour. While it is resting, add 1/2 cup of orange juice to the remaining marinade bring to a boil for a least a minute, and then let cool.
After the butt has rested for an hour, unwrap it into a large baking pan, making sure to include any drippings. Shred using 2 forks, or better, a pair of bear paws. Pour in the cooled marinade and work it in. Try to get an even distribution of the crisp outside bark and the tender inside meat.
The meat can now be served any of a number of ways – inside tamales or enchiladas, by itself over rice and beans, or my favorite – on corn tortillas with a little chopped onion.