I volunteered (at least that’s what they told me I did) to do pulled pork for a crowd of 120 at a graduation party. As the date approached, I had the following thoughts:
- How much pig? Rub? Sauce?
- How long will it take to cook?
- How am I going to store and serve it?
- Are you nuts?!!!
How Much Pig & Fixin’s?
Many thanks to Celtic Wolf and the rest of the gang at the Big Green Egg Forum for helping me figure out the quantities.
The first thing I had to figure out was how many pulled pork sandwiches we’d be serving. The host estimated 120 people (50/50 men and women), and she wanted to serve smaller slider-style buns. It’s an afternoon event, there’s plenty of other food, and this isn’t going to be anybody’s main meal of the day.
I figured we’d need 180 sandwiches, as about half the folks will probably take 2. At 3 ounces of meat per sandwich, that meant 33.75 pounds of finished product. Since you lose about 40% of the product in cooking, that meant I needed to start with roughly 58 pounds of raw pork butt. At about 8 pounds a piece, that meant 7 butts, but I did 8 just in case.
For rub, I figured 2 ounces of rub per butt, so I just went ahead and ordered a 2 pound bag of Dizzy Pig Dizzy Dust. We go though a ton of anyway, so I might as well get the bulk price.
For sauce, I gave Sticky Pig a try. At 1-2 tablespoons per sandwich, I ordered 2 quarts of their regular, 1 pint of mustard, and 1 pint of jalapeño. I also made up 1 quart of finishing sauce to use while pulling the pig.
The conventional way to do pulled pork is low ‘n’ slow – 250°F for 16-20 hours until the meat hits 210°F internal and starts to fall apart. This is how I’ve usually done my butts and have gotten great results. However, due to scheduling and logistics, I knew in advance that I wasn’t going to have time to do the butts this way.
I experimented in reducing cooking times by cutting the butts in half. That worked well, but 2 halves take up more room than 1 butt. With 4 butts at a time going on the Big Green Egg, I just didn’t have the room.
Sources on the BGE Forum (who shall remain anonymous) suggested cooking the butts at much higher temp and then finishing them in foil – basically roasting and then braising to shorten the total cooking time. Based on their suggestions, I came up with a method that not only cut my cooking times by two-thirds, but also gave me more control over when things had to be done.
The BGE will hold 4 butts at a time, so I cooked 2 batches. Here’s one batch all seasoned up with rub.
I set up for a 5 hour indirect cook at 350°F. This meant filling the firebox with lump and using a plate setter and drip pan to diffuse the heat. When the cooker was up to temp, I added some chucks of pecan wood for smoke.
I put the 4 butts on, using an extended grid to give me some room and made sure to leave some space between them on the grate so they didn’t act like one big piece of meat.
I cooked them for about 4 hours at 350°F, until the butts had developed a nice dark bark on the outside and hit 160°F on the inside.
I removed the butts from the BGE and loaded them all up into a large roasting pan. I added 2 cups of apple juice, and sealed the pan with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
The pan full of butts went into the oven set at 250°F. I baked them for a little over 2 hours, until their internal temperature hit 210°F. I removed the pan from the oven and let them cool for another hour.
After they had cooled a bit, my dear wife helped me pull the pork using a pair of bear paws to remove all the remaining inedible bits and separate the meat into tasty morsels. I added a little finishing sauce mixed with pan drippings as we were working with the meat to help keep it moist.
We portioned the pulled pork off into 4 large zip-top bags and put them in the freezer. The morning of the big event, we loaded 3 of the 4 bags into a portable roaster set to 250°F and let it thaw and come to serving temp.
The party went off without a hitch and the pulled pork was a big hit. It was fun (and a little embarrassing) to have folks hunt me down to tell me how good it was. Obviously cooking the butts hot and fast and then braising them in the oven didn’t do much (if anything) to harm the taste.
We went through about two-thirds of the pulled pork. I think that was mostly due to this being an afternoon event, so most folks had already eaten lunch. The remainder went into our host’s freezer so she won’t have to worry about cooking for a while. If I had to do it again (and it looks like I will in 3 years when the younger brother graduates), I’d do the same amount just because it’s better to have too much than too little and you can always find a home for the leftovers.
The Sticky Pig sauces were VERY tasty – they used 1 quart of the regular, almost a 1 pint of jalapeño, and just about 1/4 of the mustard. I’ll be ordering more of this sauce soon.
Plan on feeding the crew – there were a dozen of us there early to set up the food and tent. Of course everybody had to sample the pork and have a sandwich or 2 before the festivities started.
Not everybody takes a bun –
Smaller is better – I would go with 2 roasters for serving next time as it’s hard to keep the meat evenly hot in one fully-loaded one. I did a lot of stirring to keep things from burning or drying out. Next time I’ll split the load and start one about 2 hours before the other so I don’t have so much meat sitting out for so long.
Pack extra finishing sauce – some of the meat started to dry out and I moistened it with a little diluted barbecue sauce. I’d bring more finishing sauce next time to do that job.
Spaghetti tongs – these were the best tools for letting guests serve themselves.
Was I Nuts?
Yes and no – it was a bit of work, but the payoff of seeing happy people digging into piles of pig was well worth it.
That being said, this is NOT the start of my catering career. I admire the pitmasters who do this for 500 people on a weekend, but I just couldn’t do that. It’d be like the days when I worked in photography and got so sick and tired of it that I didn’t do any personal work anymore. It’s a great hobby, but I sure don’t ever want it to become a job.