Pulled Pork asks for dedication, …
… patience and proper preparation. It might be part of why we chose pulled pork to become our first blog post. It represents multiple approaches and allows to experiment with what we love about cooking. Well, it might also just be a way of thinking or reflection on things. We have just happened to think pulled pork when we parted from traditional ways to end the year and transition to the one on the radar. Anyway, for anyone deciding to get serious we would advise to go for quite a big piece of at least about 3kg. And this is right where the planning and the excitement starts. Who will I invite and what will happen with all this meat? To decide about whether you will handle this on your own or who to invite is your first step. Seeing this big piece of pork on your cutting board you instantly feel as if you are about to either prepare a feast for days, or up to hitting a crowd. The crowds is my preferred option, meanwhile in lockdown your ‘feasty braai’ can cater to yourself for quite a while as pulled pork is very versatile when it comes to dishing up.
… Why and how am I going to face this
Are you just simply loving food, creating great dishes within the outskirts of your home kitchen, a semi or full on professional setup or is the whole story about BBQ. Cooking on open fire, your newly acquired gas grill or as we call it in South Africa – Braai? No matter what the answer to this question is, you have one thing to assure. You’ll need some kind of technology or lifelong acquired experience to monitor your heat in the cooking chamber as well as for the core temperature of your pork shoulder. Manual temperature sensors will work, but going digital will make your life a lot easier for sure. We have not nailed all of the decisions we made, but we have successfully built our own detachable brick smoker to tackle the job, are now fully hooked on further experiment, improving our built and have had the best time ever ending the year with a great feast. We strongly advise to consider heat as your absolute key in this story. 2nd to that we have put the meat…
What decisions have to be made before seeing your butcher …
You are up for a multiple day and hour job and you are dealing with one main Protagonist. In other words you have to play on a big stage and you want the best of the best to be acting in your favor. So be sure to get the cast right! Don’t save by buying cheap meat. On the other hand go for pieces that will provide just the right fat content for that juicy tender end result. People Commonly tend to agree and settle for Pork shoulder. You are looking for intramuscular fat and marbling. Adding extra flavor by going for a cut on the bone. And finally, will I leave the skin off or leave it on? We personally like to take it off as it is one of the best things on a pork roast, but doesn’t materialize whilst smoking the pork – the crispy crunchy crust. Therefore we use the skin to make a side with ‘crackling spiced pork skin’. If you leave it on make sure to slice it as you want your rub to flavor to the meat.
… When do I get the Rub on and how to choose what kind
Generally speaking time will play in your cards. The longer you give the meat to absorb all your flavors the more aroma you will get. At the end it is about preference as the acidity, spice and salt will all have an effect on the meat. But as preference comes with experience go for a day in advance of your cooking day and choose a well established Rub for the start, but we strongly advise to begin the search of finding your own recipe once you are ready to experiment. You can mix your own to preference or order and buy a wide range of spice mixes. One of the most famous is called ‘Magic Dust’ which is the signature spice mix by Mike Mills, Owner of the 17th Street Bar & Grill.
… Hickory, cherry, oak and whatever you choose next
This step will be relevant before or after your next step whether you’ll inject marinade via a syringe or not. Is is your choice of wood to give the smoke some kind of flavor. How long will you add wood chips to the cooking chamber and how often. You can use chips soaked in water for roughly 30 minutes, or use bigger chunks of wood to lay over your coals. The frequency should be roughly every hour for the first 3 hours as an possible benchmark.
What marinade and sauce will complement my Rub …
We’ve been already speaking about your main act being the meat and here comes yet another chance to enhance the flavors and character you want your pork to dance with. The marinade can be added to the pork to rest with prior to serving, but is often already partly injected prior to the cook. Traditionally speaking you are going for a more sweeter or more acidic outcome. The most common choices are to go for a sauce using ketchup or BBQ sauce as main ingredients. It is probably your safest bet and more or less adding to your chances of success. We have been very much attracted to the apple juice which is a very common ingredient for the marinade. Although we do believe it is the more advanced way to operate.
… What do I get out of ‘mopping’
Talking pulled pork the question of whether ‘mopping’ is appropropriate or not is controversial and surely gets some discussions going. It all evolves around the topic of the burn chamber needing to provide a very constant humidity and heat level. Disturbance in this system is regarded as highly inappropriate, whilst the positive effect of mopping, spraying the meat with marinade, oil or any other secret ingredient throughout the cooking process remains well established within the decision making process. We have opted on the fact the crust on the meat created by the slow cooking process itself is benefitting our result in just the right manner and rather wanting to learn about the perfect heat supply, ventilation and humidity the cook demands. Some believe opening the cooking chamber will add extra time of as much as 30 minutes towards the total cooking time. As we already stated we are fans of excellent heat, whilst at the same time we feel we might be loosing out on not testing it out… Well, let’s hope for plentiful opportunity to braai in the future to experiment further as well as advice for everyone in the comment boxes.
And finally, what happens whilst cooking – don’t panic during the plateau phase …
You will be following your cooking process whilst going through all sorts of mindsets reaching from relaxed as far as fearful and doubt of success. I personally believe it is absolutely reasonable to feel a bit of anxiety trying to pull this process off unless you are constantly used to braaing pulled pork and have been through the process endless times. But I guess most of us haven’t mastered it to the max and are still in the process of finding the secret recipe for themselves. You’ll be spending your day cooking and you should enjoy it. We have done that and spend a beautiful day ending 2020 with this braai as you might get from the pictures. Ok, but how to avoid panic? Know about the different phases of the cook. Your porks core temperature will slowly rise towards 60 degrees during roughly 4 hours before it will hit the first plateau phase. During this phase the temperature will stay at 65 to 70 degrees for couple of hours and your pork will need this time. Stay patient, don’t panic and never raise the temperature during this phase. Once you hit 75 degrees you can decide if you will be mopping the pork or not. At 78 to 82 degrees you will hit another 2nd plateau stay calm again and keep the temperature at a constant 110 degrees. You will only be through the job once you hit 90 degrees which will hopefully be after 8 to 10 hours. Unfortunately the time is not always constant and I have experienced times where I have not been through after 12 hours, took the meat off and wished I hadn’t. Only after that I read about times between 10 to 20 hours. If you are having guests for dinner, you should make sure to have a backup plan or snacks to serve until the cook is through.
… Hitting 90 degrees. Time to let the pork rest a bit
You are finally through the cook. After taking your pulled pork off the grit, wrap it in backing paper and let it rest for about 30 minutes. During this time the juices of the meat will even out through the meat again and you have time to prepare serving. Consider putting the meat inside a thermal box to prevent the meat from loosing too much heat.
Pulling the pork and mixing it with the juice …
Hungry? If not you have been eating throughout the day and you are missing out on the pulled pork now. Make sure you save some for the next day and mix parts of the crust with the juice and the meat. You can either use standard forks or buy special claw forks for pulling pork. Once you have blended everything together enjoy what you have been producing for the last days! You have well earned it.
… Since we where only 2 we have been enjoying pulled pork for 3 days
The pork will taste delicious the next day as well therefore no worries if you have snacked too much whilst braai’ng. On New Years eve we had stick bread from the fire with the pulled pork, roasted some onion and tomatoes and made some coleslaw which we also used the other days. On the 2nd day we prepared some crackling chips from the porks skin and made a Burger from the pulled pork whilst the 3rd day we had Burritos with chili sauce avocado, feta and melted cheese. All in all a very easy going start into the new year regarding prep time for dinner and a proper feast for the 31st. Anytime very welcome again. We wish you all a very successful 2021 and keep engaging in true passion.
Your #muizenberglovestories team.