Normally when I’m doing pulled pork I use Boston butt, but when we ordered our pig, I made sure ask for the picnic as well. Contrary to their names, these cuts come from the front leg of the pig. The butt is the shoulder and the picnic is the foreleg.
Because these cuts do the hard work of moving the pig around, they have big bones running through them and are full of connective tissue, fat, and multiple muscle groups. Doesn’t sound like anything that anybody in their right mind would want to eat, right? But that’s the joy of barbecue – taking something cheap and chewy and turning it into something tender and tasty.
I had a request from some friends to cook for a small party, so I went with 2 butts (on the right) and 2 picnics. I seasoned them with a healthy dusting of Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy Dust.
Normally when I do pulled pork it’s low ‘n’ slow – 225°F for 16-20 hours until the meat hits 210°F internal and starts to fall apart. But I’ve also had good luck cooking the butts at a higher temp and then finishing them in foil. Due to weather and logistics, I decided to go the hot and fast route this time. I set the Big Green Egg up for an 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 apple wood for smoke.
I put the butts on the bottom grate and the picnics on top of the extended grid and let them cook for 5 hours at 350°F, until they had developed a nice dark bark on the outside and had hit 160°F on the inside.
At this point the meat was done, but it was nowhere near tender. To get to tender I needed to break down all of that connective tissue into melty collagen. That’s where the foil comes in.
To braise the meat, I removed it from the BGE and put it into a large roasting pan. I added 2 cups of apple juice, sealed the pan with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and loaded it into the oven set at 250°F.
I baked the meat for 3 hours, until the internal temperature of the biggest butt hit 210°F. I removed the pan from the oven and let them cool for an hour. When I removed the foil the meat was so tender I could barely get it out of the pan.
I set the first hunk o’ pig in the middle of a large jelly roll pan and started to pull it apart using a pair of bear paws. As I do more of these multi-butt cooks, I’ve started to refine my pulling technique a bit. The first pass with the paws was just to remove the bones and any large pieces of fat, and to start to separate the muscle groups.
Then I set up a second pan and started working by hand to to remove all the inedible bits and move just the meat into the second pan. As I did this I started to open up the muscles and separate the meat fibers.
When all the butts and picnics were done (I kept them separate for pulling so that I could compare the difference between the two cuts) I put the meat into a large roaster with a bit of finishing sauce mixed with pan drippings and went through it one more time with the paws to finely shred the meat.
I saved a bit of the picnic for me (testing purposes, of course) and sent the rest on with our friends. They reported that the reunion went well and everybody liked the pork.
The picnic was good, though a little drier than I would have liked. It had good smoke flavor with a decent amount of smoky, chewy bark. The picnic meat was noticeably different from the butt – darker with more and thicker stands of meat. It didn’t pull as finely as the butt, but seemed moister. I’d definitely try it again, although next time I’d like to try a picnic shoulder (a whole shoulder with the butt and picnic still attached to each other) and do it low n’ slow.