Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork

As Gill mentioned in a previous post, last weekend we went to our friend Claire’s place to put on a barbecue. It had been too long since we had done so, and Claire was kind enough to indulge us.

The recipe I’ve been using for a few years is one I found in ReadyMade Magazine, which unfortunately shut down in 2011. The article was called “How I Learned to Cook Southern-Style Barbecue on my Fire Escape” and was written by food writer, JJ Goode. Mr. Goode’s recipe is adapted from Adam Perry Lang’s book Serious Barbecue (he also happens to do the writing in that book) and is so freakin’ good that I’ve been carting the torn-out, dog-eared article around the world for the last five years.

Despite having made this dish on many occasions before, there were a few firsts this time around. For one, a whole pork shoulder (bone-in) was fairly easy to find here in Barcelona. Our local market here has a number of stands specializing in meat, and I simply walked around until I found the one that only had pork products (I’m not kidding, no other animal was represented under the glass at this place). A whole shoulder was something I had to request and pick up the next day, and 4-5 kilos worth of meat was only about €16.

Second, this was my first attempt at the low-tech version of this recipe. In the past I’ve had a digital meat thermometer as well as a grill with a temperature gauge. These tools obviously make maintaing a grill temp of 250°F and achieving an internal meat temperature of 193°F MUCH easier. This time around, I did not have these things, and the results were still as good as always, so clearly, they are nice to have, but not a requirement.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how to recreate this heavenly pulled pork (you can click through the images above), but I will note a few things that I’ve figured out over the years. I am by no means an expert, but maybe these are useful to you:

  1. Patience and planning are more important than any other skill when it comes to low and slow BBQ. Leave time for salting the meat and leave time for the mustard to tenderize the meat. Above all, you simply cannot rush magic of slow smoking, so grab a book, take a nap and be patient.
  2. Many recipes (including the one I’ve been carting around all these years) call for injecting the meat with various liquids (like apple cider) to keep it moist while it’s cooking. They are nice to do, but by no means required.
  3. The key to slowly cooking the meat is indirect heat, meaning, position the coals so they are never directly below the pork shoulder.
  4. Place an aluminum pan of water inside the grill and make sure it stays full. This water evaporates and the humid heat keeps the pork shoulder from drying out.
  5. Every time you open the grill, you lose precious heat. Remember, with a target temperature of 250°F, you don’t have much to begin with. Open it only when necessary (like adding coals, or water to your pan) but otherwise, let it be. Resist the temptation to gaze longingly at the succulent meat; there will be time for that later.
  6. When the meat is done you should not need a knife at all. You should be able to effortlessly pull out the bones and a couple of forks should be enough to pull the meat apart. If this is not happening, that meat needs to go back on the grill (probably for a few more hours).
  7. Save the bones from the pork shoulder for use in soups, gumbos, red beans and rice, etc. A couple of hours stewing with one of these bones gives virtually anything an amazing smokiness you can only get from the grill. Freeze the bones until you’re ready to use them.
  8. Make your own BBQ sauce. You just spent 6-9 hours cooking the most amazing meat, and you’re going to put nasty, sugar-filled, store-bought sauce on it? Please. Do not do this.

Happy grilling!

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