Moist, smoky, tender, slow-cooked pork, brined overnight, and rubbed with the perfect blend of spices before cooking; then shredded and mixed with the tasty cooking juices for maximum flavour...
This has a nice, subtle kick to the pork from the spice rub, and a delicious flavour and moistness from the brining. Slow cooking renders it tender, then shred and serve warm in a soft bun, with my Smoky Barbecue Sauce, and a generous scoop of my Southern-Style Slaw for the full flavour experience.
Across America, pulled pork is cooked and served in a number of ways, with and without rubs and brines, and with various different sauces - including vinegar and mustard-based sauces as well as tomato-based barbecue sauces depending on the region. I've gone with the latter, as I think it's more universally popular, and also a more versatile sauce if you're going to make it yourself (plus you can always buy a classic barbecue sauce if you don't want to make your own). I've brined the pork to increase moistness and flavour (you can skip this part if you'd rather), and used a rub for flavour as well ('Tripple D' style!) - especially for those who don't want to mix in a barbecue (or other sauce) to the pork, as this gives it bags of flavour. The smoking part of this at the end is not essential, it just gives it an added flavour dimension, akin to the pulled pork you'd find in diners the states, which would be cooked long and low in hot smokers - you could use 'liquid smoke' or smoked paprika instead. You can also cook pulled pork in a slow cooker. My suggestion is to start brining it the night before, take it out in the morning, and get it into the oven mid-morning to eat for dinner early evening. Even better the next day, after being shredded and mixed with its own juices, if you're going to be really organised - re-heats really well, and freezes and re-heats well too.
Calories approximately 100 per 50g serving (enough for one bun/roll/cob - see notes for calculation, and photo at the bottom), makes approximately 25 servings of this size, freezes/chills and re-heats very well.
2.1kg pork shoulder (Boston butt is the cut of choice in the states; I used a boneless cut, due to availability - if you use bone-in - preferable for flavour and moistness - increase the weight accordingly)
For the brine
1 litre water
35g black treacle/molasses
55g fine sea salt
1/2 tsp each of fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds
For the rub
1 tbsp each onion and garlic granules/powder (not salt)
1 tbsp each paprika, cumin seeds, chilli powder, coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp each fennel seeds and black peppercorns
2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
Barbecue sauce, if desired, to taste
Large resealable bag, to brine meat in.
Spice grinder (I love my little electric spice grinder - cheap as chips and does the job perfectly! This is the one I use to make short work of whole spices and peppercorns - powdered within a minute or two, usually) or use a pestle and mortar.
Food standard plastic gloves, to apply rub (so it doesn't all stick to your hands instead of the meat) - disposable are fine.
Meat thermometer - a digital probe is best (you can pick one up for around £5.50 from Amazon at the cheapest,such as this one, or push out the boat and go for one around £13, which you can insert a probe into the meat before putting in the oven, with the body of the thermometer outside the oven, and an alarm which goes off when your meat reaches the desired temperature, such as this one,which will be invaluable to you in the future, when cooking roast meats and similar, for perfectly cooked meat, of course!).
Optional cold smoke generator, for the final smoky flavouring (e.g. a ProQ Cold Smoke Generator for around £35 - I love mine!), and a lidded barbecue to smoke it in, or smoker (I have an Eco smoker, which I use to smoke salmon, cheese, garlic, meat and all sorts of things - you can get them on their own for just over £30, or as part of a kit for around £65 including the ProQ smoke generator, a book, and some smoke dust).
Firstly lightly toast the seeds for the brine in a dry, frying pan for about 20 seconds or so, until fragrant, then very lightly crush briefly in a pestle and mortar - you just want to bruise them, not grind to a powder. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, for the brine, and add the seeds. If you used hot or warm water for the brine, allow to cool before using.
With the pork, because it's being cooked low and slow, I tend to remove the skin and the majority of fat from the top, just leaving a thin layer to keep it moist (see the photo of the pork below, after brining, to see how much I left on), because it's not going to puff up into crackling with this kind of cooking, or be particularly pleasant to eat - you're better to remove it, and reserve it for something else (like, making perfect crackling to go with your roast dinner, or as a snack?! You can freeze it until you need it).
Remove any string tying the pork, if you have not already, then put the pork into a medium to large
re-sealable food bag, as above (or container which is small/big enough for the pork to be covered in the brine) and refrigerate for 10-12 hours (e.g. overnight - don't leave longer, or it may become too salty - you can remove and pat-dry, and leave the pork after this until ready to cook). Once it has finished brining, remove and rinse, washing off any seeds, then pat dry.
The next part is going to very much depend on the accuracy of your oven temperature, and where you put the pork in the oven. Also, for example, if you're cooking with gas on a Sunday, you may find the gas pressure is slightly lower due to higher national usage, so your oven isn't hot as it is would be usually.
Option A: Using the oven to cook two things at once low and slow (5-8 hours) - If you want to take full advantage of having the oven on for a few hours, and cook two cuts of meat which are very cheap, but fantastic and tender when slow cooked, then you could put this in the oven at the same time as a slow braised dish, such as my American-Style Pot Roast Brisket of Beef (the beef above the pork) at the same time on Gas Mark 1 / 140C (120C Fan) / 275F for five hours, basting occasinally then check the internal temperature of the middle of the pork hasn't reached 93C / 200F yet (don't let the thermometer touch the bone) - if it has it should give quite easily and be ready to pull apart (but don't pull it apart just yet!). However, it's more likely that the internal temperature will be around 150-160F if it's been sitting on the bottom of the oven underneath something else cooking. Then move the pork up to the middle of the oven, and turn the oven up to Gas Mark 3 / 170C (150C Fan) / 325F and cook for a further 3 hours or so, basting occasionally or until the internal temperature has reached 93C / 200F and the pork is tender and ready to shred, (or keep it at the same temperature and cook for a couple of hours longer than this - possibly less, possibly more), until ready. Rest for an hour (if you're not smoking it) before pulling it.
Option B: 6 hours - You can also cook the pork at a higher temperature, for less overall time. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 3 / 170C (150C Fan) / 325F and place the pork in the middle of the oven for about four hours, basting occasionally, then turn the oven down to Gas Mark 2 / 150C (130C Fan) / 300F and cook for another couple of hours or so, until the pork is tender and ready to pull apart (the internal temperature will have reached 93C / 200F). Rest for an hour (if you're not smoking it) before pulling it.
With either option, depending on your oven and the quality of the pork you have used it may take longer than this, so it's worth cooking in advance in case it takes longer than you think (which is why I cooked mine the day before at the same time as the beef which we had for dinner that day - plus it tastes better the next day). Slow cooking until the internal temperature is 93C / 200F is the way to go to get your meat tender and shreddable, so a thermometer of some kind (preferably digital) really is your friend with this dish, although not completely essential, as you can also just by the texture of the meat. If you're not smoking your pork, skip past the next step to 'Pulling your pork'.
Smoking the pork
Optional, but I cold-smoked the pork for an hour after taking it out of the oven, using hickory wood dust (it only required one row of my ProQ smoker being filled up, for this amount of time), by putting the smoker in the bottom of my lidded kettle BBQ, and leaving it to get smoking with the lid on for 5 or 10 minutes, then putting in the whole tray of pork and juices on the rack, putting the lid back on (make sure any vents are closed or covered with foil to keep the smoke in) and leaving in there for one hour to smoke - which incidentally also then allows the pork to cool down to optimal 'pulling' temperature. Alternatively, you could throw some smoke dust onto the dying embers of a barbecue, and put the pork in there, high up, lid down and leave in to absorb some of the smoky flavours for 20 minutes to half an hour.
Pulling the pork
At this point, you can either taste, then add salt if necessary, to taste (if you've brined it, you might not need to); or you can mix in barbecue sauce to taste (my recipe for Smoky Barbecue Sauce is here) - personally I prefer to serve the barbecue sauce separately so people can help themselves and I really don't think with all the smokey, spicy flavours that this pork needs anything else mixed in with it, bar the juices. But that's just my taste!
Tastes fantastic warmed through the next day, served in a soft bun with barbecue sauce, and my Southern-style slaw...
Calorie count is approximate, based on a 2.1kg shoulder of pork with the top layer of skin and fat removed (290g, leaving 1.81kg at 170 calories per 100g) and 90ml fat (810 calories) discarded after cooking, along with the calories in the rub (250 calories in total, 3/4 used) an allowance for the treacle in the brine (51 calories), resulting in total calories of 2,506 for a cooked weight (with juices) of 1.25kg. This works out at 200 calories per 100g.