The main ingredient in the most delicious pulled pork is TIME. It’s not much “hands on” time, so it’s a great fit for hanging out. However, if you want truly classic pulled pork, you need to start it the day before you plan on eating it.
There are more rub recipes and brine recipes than one can shake a stick at. However, a well smoked Boston Butt needs nothing besides salt and pepper. The pink ring of meat (called the “smoke ring”) under the “bark” (the crispy, dark out layer) is available to for both indoor and outdoor cooking methods. The flavor and texture are a function of the cooking method.
Here are some options for making classic pulled pork regardless of your cooking circumstances.
I DON’T HAVE A SMOKER, BUT BY GOLLY, I AM GETTING ONE
Smokers range in price from $131 at Walmart to largest Big Green Egg at $4,000.
One of the best reviewed smokers is the Pit Barrel Cooker at $299 (which is a value for smokers), but it’s a little late to get it for this weekend as you have to order it http://www.pitbarrelcooker.com/shop/ .
If you are determined to buy one today, try this one. It’s also $299 and is in stock in Birmingham at Home Depot and Lowes.
Electric smokers provide meh results, so don’t waste your time.
A note on wood…
In terms of getting that great smoked flavor, follow the instructions on your smoker and use good woods. We have hickory in abundance if you are near the woods and it is the classic. Applewood, peachwood and pecan impart lighter, almost sweet smoke flavor. My dad, who is our family pitmaster, does a mix of woods. He uses mainly hickory with mix of whatever he happened to trim that week from the fruit trees which provides a spectacular result. Wood chips can be purchased at hardware stores and grocery stores around town.
I HAVE A KETTLE GRILL
Here is a technique for using a classic kettle grill for smoking. It involves using a ring of charcoal to heat the meat indirectly. Let me know how it goes.
I HAVE AN OVEN
You can get the pulled pork smoke ring in your home oven by adding nitrites ( in the form of celery )plus letting the meat dry in your fridge uncovered, overnight, to promote the formation of a crust.
- Puree 2 stalks of celery, 1 TB molasses (optional) 1 TB Salt, 2 teaspoons pepper and 2 teaspoons liquid smoke (or powdered hickory smoke flavor). You can also add a few clove of garlic if you like.
- Rub the meat with the celery puree
- Place in a large non reactive pan or dutch oven over night uncovered (this helps dry the surface and promote a crust)
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Cook for 7--9 hours, uncovered, until the meat shreds easily. The internal temperature should be about 203 degrees. It is safe earlier, but this temp gives the best shred. If you want to eat this for lunch, you may need to start it the night before in order to have enough time. If it isn't shredding, cook it some more. If you have run out of time and the meat has an internal temp above 145 degrees, just slice it. Sliced pork is still delicious.
This method provides a crust and a smoke ring. It isn’t as deep a flavor as a classic smoked pulled pork, but still delicious.
I HAVE A SLOW COOKER
A slow cooker will not give you a crust, but it does make tender, easily shredded pulled pork. Some recipes suggest searing the meat before you cook it, but I have found that it the amount of flavor it provides relatively to the amount of work means I never bother. The value in slow cooker pulled pork is that it is easy.
The instructions are simple… place your pork butt in the slow cooker and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-6 hours on high or 10-12 hours on low.
The slow cooker method does not provide the smokey crust that the other methods do. However, it is dead easy and if you cover it with your favorite BBQ sauce, it is still very delicious. Slow cooker pulled pork still has the advantage of being cheap, easy to feed a crowd and tasty.
I DON’T COOK AT ALL
You are in luck! In Alabama, we are blessed with an abundance of talented pitmasters at restaurants and bbq joints all across our state. All of them sell meat by the pound. So swing by Miss Myra’s or Saw’s or Jim n Nick’s or Dreamland or Full Moon or any number of great places on the way to the lake or the river.