Pulled Pork

With a neighborhood party coming up, I decided to make a big batch of pulled pork. It’s one of my favorite dishes to make for a crowd. Everyone likes it and it’s one of those dishes that really benefits from being made in quantity. Also, it epitomizes a lot of what barbecue is about – the art of taking a tough cut of meat on a long journey over a low flame in order to turn it into that tasty tenderness that we all love.

  • 2 pork butts (pork shoulder roasts), about 18 pounds total
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup of your favorite barbecue rub (this batch used Dizzy Pig Dizzy Dust)
  • 1 cup of your favorite finishing sauce (I used this Lexington-style sauce)

Pork butts take about 2 hours per pound to cook at 225°F, so this is really a job for a smoker or ceramic cooker. I like to do this as an overnight cook, so right after dinner I set up my Big Green Egg with a more-than-full firebox of lump charcoal. Once the temp got up to about 350°F, I adjusted the vents,  inserted the ceramic platesetter to give me indirect heat, and added a drip pan full of water to catch the fat as it rendered off.

While the temp on the BGE stabilized, I prepped the butts by removing most of the excess fat from them. Then I combined the  apple juice, cider vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and injected the mixture into the butts every couple of inches, making sure to hit all sides. I like the Steve Raichlen injector, it’s sturdy and easy to clean.

I dusted the butts heavily with barbecue rub, making sure to work the rub in with my hands to ensure a good coating. Then wrapped them in plastic wrap and refrigerated them until we were ready to cook.

Once the BGE  temperature had stabilized at 225°F, I added several chunks of hickory and guava for smoke and then loaded the butts on the cooking grate fat side up.

Now the wait – in order for the butts to become tender, the tough collagen separating the muscle groups needs to melt into gelatin. This process doesn’t even start happening until the internal temp of the meat is 160°F. With a pair of nine-pound butts, it could take a good eight hours just to get to that point. So other than checking the temperature remotely via my handy-dandy Maverick ET-73 thermometer, and occasionally adjusting the vents to maintain a steady 225°F, I left them alone all night.

After 15 hours at 225°F, these butts hit 190°F internal. Thick, dark bark on the outside, pink piggy flesh peeking out from the inside. Are they done yet? No – I find the ideal temp for pulling pork is closer to 210°F, so I moved these to a pan, tented them loosely with foil, and let them sit on the cooker another hour or so until they hit 210°F.

Then I took the butts off the Egg and let them rest for about 30 minutes. When they had cooled a little, I pulled the meat apart using a pair of bear paws to separate the fibers. The idea is to remove all the remaining inedible bits, break the meat down into bite-sized pieces, and ensure an even distribution of the chewy bark.

Once the meat was pulled, I added about half the Lexignton finishing sauce to help add moisture and meld the flavors a little more.