Saturday, July 26, 2014

10 Tips for Perfect Smoked Pulled Pork

I love to cook my Smoked Pulled Pork with Ancho Chili and Peppercorn Rub and Apple Vinegar Mop Sauce recipe on our Weber Smokey Mountain 18" "Bullet". Here are 10 tips for a perfect pulled pork that is a must read and before you get started. You'll feel like a pro no matter what brand of smoker you use. 

Pork Shoulder on a Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker Grill (Lexi Van de Walle)
1. Plan ahead. When guests are expected, time (and temperature) management is critical. Start cooking the night before if you can -- pulled pork reheats well and, if stored properly, is just as good the next day. Calculate the weight and cooking time and then add 50% more time to leave plenty of room for expected errors (after all you're working with fire). The first time I made an 8-pound pork shoulder it didn't reach the 195-205 degree range (the temp for a perfect "fall off the bone" ready to pull pork) for nearly 16 hours. At 2 hours per pound cooking time that's 4 hours longer than the "typical" time that most pulled pork recipes call for (1-1/2 hours per pound) when cooked at 225 degrees.

2. Bring the meat to room temperature. If you can, take the roast out of the fridge at least an hour (two is better) before getting the fire started to allow the large piece of meat to get to room temperature. One time I waited until morning to fire up the grill, and then overslept. I estimate that throwing  a "just out of the fridge" cold pork on the grill adds an hour to the cooking time,  as even on a 225 degree grill, it takes a bit of time to get the meat's internal temperature from 36 degrees, which is what my refrigerator is set at,  to the preferable room temperature of 70 degrees.

3. Invest in a good thermometer. I have a
combo oven and meat thermometer with bells and alarms helped me to maintain the low and slow heat. This little tool saves hours of angst and worry and needless trips from the couch to the backyard.  

4. Stay close to home. Plan on spending the day (and possibly overnight) tending to the smoker. I learned this the hard way some years ago when I went out for a few hours while the pork was on the grill. Huge mistake -- even though I'd put on plenty of coals and secured the lid tight, when I got back home the coals had fizzled out. Reigniting the fire, and getting the meat temperature back up to where it was before the fire went out consumes time.

5. Have lots of charcoal and wood chips, use your water pan, and adjust the vents for more or less heat. I use about 10 pounds of untreated (i.e. steer clear of coals that have added accelerant, etc.)  lump charcoal. A Weber Chimney Starter and three sheets of newspaper gets the grill going in a synch.  I started with slightly more than half a chimney of coals, or roughly 3 quarts of lump coal, and fed the fire hourly with fresh lumps, being careful to adjust the top and bottom vents as needed to maintain 225 degree temperature. Wood chips are what creates the smokey flavor -- I like hickory for pulled pork. When it's time to add water to the smoker's water pan -- this keeps the temperature of the smoker at a stable 225 degrees and adds moisture to the meat -- use boiling water from a kettle or pot. Be careful not to spill the water on the coals or over- fill the pan.
Ancho Chilies (Lexi Van de Walle)
Spice Grinder and Peppercorns (Lexi Van de Walle)
6. Rub it.  Sauce it. When it comes to rubs and sauces, there are as many opinions as there are pit masters. For a fatty cut of meat such as the pork shoulder butt roast, most of the flavor is in the meat. I like to kick it up a bit -- I used dried ancho chilies  and freshly cracked black pepper and rubbed a very generous amount of the  spices on the roast the night before. After several hours of cooking, using a mop baster or other type of brush, baste the pork roast hourly with a traditional Carolinas vinegar- and mustard- based "mop sauce", a thin sauce that helps keep the roast super moist.

7. Have patience. By definition, the cooking method for a smoker is "low" and "slow". Think 12-16 hours on the grill depending on the size of the roast and your grill's average temperature. A word of caution, when the internal temperature of the pork hits160 degrees it will seem like forever for the thermometer to start creeping up again to reach the 165-170 degree range. When I researched the issue, I discovered that 160 degrees is the point at which the fat (which there is a lot of in a pork shoulder) begins to render and It takes a while (what feels like forever) to get all the fat to render and the internal temperature to move past 160 degrees.  You may experience another long period at about 185 degrees when the connective tissue begins to break down. Use the thermometer throughout, but when it's at the 195-205 range, there's no better way to test the meats readiness than to pull away the meat from the bone to make sure it's "pull ready" before taking the cooked pork off of the smoker.

8. Invest in a large Colman cooler (I have one large enough for 64 cans of soda). Once the roast hits the desired internal temperature of 195-205 degrees, you want to let the meat rest for at least an hour tented under aluminum or, if you have one, inside a cooler. A caterer's best friend, the cooler method allows the meat to retain its juices and cool down very slowly for above average pulling.
Keeping the temperature low, a long cooking time, and allowing the meat to reach an internal temperature of 195-205 degrees and to rest at least an hour (up to 8 hours) will ensure the meat is moist and shreds easily. When you wrap the meat in aluminum foil, the meat stays warm for up to 8 hours in the Colman cooler or until you're ready to pull the pork -- be sure to add the juices that run off onto the foil to the bowl of freshly pulled pork. 

Shredding Pulled Pork Using the Finger Method (Lexi Van de Walle)
9. Pull the pork before refrigerating. Two fork tines or clean fingers are the best way to "pull" or, more accurately, shred the pork. You'll want to make sure you run the fork tines or pull the meat in the same direction as the grain of the pork and that the shredded pieces are small enough to bite into easily. Store the shredded meat in tightly sealed plastic bags, being sure to push the air out before sealing, and refrigerate. To reheat pulled pork add a little water mixed with apple cider vinegar, apple juice or leftover mop sauce and reheat either in a large pot on the stove over very low heat, in a crockpot/slow cooker, or in a covered aluminum pan on the grill or in a 250 degree oven. The important thing is to keep the meat moist -- after all that work the last thing you want is dried out meat -- and serve as soon as it's hot.  If you have a vacuum sealer,  heat the packets of meat in boiling water for several minutes -- this method is guaranteed to keep the meat moist. Never use the microwave. Ever. It ruins the texture.

Large bowl of pulled pork (Lexi Van de Walle)
10. Keep the fixins' simple (and light). Pulled pork is best served on traditional hamburger buns and with sides such as low- mayo coleslaw, lettuce or kale salad with a simple vinaigrette, corn on the cob and, if you must, some pickles. Don't  -- repeat -- don't try and get fancy with the bread -- skip panini and focaccia breads --  or serve heavy side dishes such as mac and cheese or baked beans -- the pork is plenty rich and showcases beautifully on a plain old hamburger roll. Watermelon or homemade fruit sorbet for dessert. Skip the wine -- pulled pork goes best with cold beer or a good old fashioned fully sugared Coca-Cola over ice. 

You don't want to let cooking a pork shoulder (aka "butt" roast) be a pain in the "you know what" -- use these tips and you'll be an instant pro. 

Smoked Pulled Pork with Ancho Chili and Peppercorn Rub

+ Carolina "Mop Sauce" It's really hard to mess up a smoked pulled pork that's cooked on low heat all day. The spice rub adds a nice kick, which goes well with the tangy moisture that the mop sauce basting liquid provides, although a fatty slab of pork and time and patience are the most important ingredients for a good old fashioned Carolina pulled pork recipe.This pulled pork is falling off the bone, moist and super tasty.

One 7-9 pound Pork Shoulder Butt Roast, untrimmed
Dry Rub - see below
Mop Sauce -- see below 

20 "Plain old" hamburger or slider buns

Bag of Hickory Wood Chunks or Wood Chips
15-20 pounds of Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Basting mop
Oven Thermometer
Meat Thermometer

Dry Rub:
In a spice mill or coffee grinder, pulverize the chilis and the peppercorns separately into a powder and blend the two powders together to make the rub:
3 ancho chilis, seeds and stems removed
3 tablespoons black peppercorns

Mop Sauce:

In a large container, mix together all the ingredients. Wisk until smooth. 
1-1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons of dry mustard 
2 teaspoons of paprika
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder

Preparing the Meat: 
Several hours before cooking, wash and dry the pork shoulder butt roast with paper towels and generously rub the dry rub onto all sides of the meat and refrigerate. One to two hours before cooking, remove the roast from the refrigerator and set it on the kitchen counter to warm up to room temperature. 

Start your fire according to manufacture's instructions, add water to the water pan, if desired, and preheat the smoker to the desired 225 degrees. When the temperature is stable, add a generous handful of wood chips and get the meat and the thermometers ready for the grill. Place meat on the top grill rack and close the lid tightly.  The temperature may drop slightly due to the room temperature pork -- monitor and adjust firebox vent and top vent as needed to bring the temperature back up to 225 degrees. If the temperature begins to drop below 225 degrees, add more coals as outlined in your grill manufacturer's instructions. 

After several hours of cooking, when the outside of the meat has been sufficiently "smoked" and using a basting mop, baste the pork shoulder hourly with the Carolina vinegar and mustard mop sauce. Continue to add coals and adjust the vents as needed to maintain 225 temperature. When the pork reaches 195-205 degrees, depending on your preference for doneness, remove the pork from the grill. 

If using a cooler, follow directions in tip 8 above. To pull the pork and reheat,  tip 9 details how to shred the meat and reheat. Put 3-4 ounces of pulled pork on a hamburger bun or slightly less meat for slider rolls. Serves 12-24 

Very Cute Weber Smokey Mountain 18" Bullet Smoker Grill (Lexi Van de Walle)

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