Pulled pork is a perennially popular pig dish but only BBQ expert NIK GRIMMETT can tell you how to get it tasting like it should.
Discussions recently around supply chain issues and food shortages have hit in different ways, and the barbeque industry is not immune from these pressures. Just coming out of “ribageddon”, where many internationally sourced pork product (including St. Louis-style ribs from the United States) were unavailable in New Zealand, people looked more locally for meat and found it in some of our small-source suppliers.
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Pork, being one of those popular meats, now has several free-farmed and unique Heritage options from Kurobuta Berkshire pigs in Canterbury to Devon Large Black and Berkshire pigs in Levin. Filling the demand for quality, these farms have come through in spades, producing amazing hams, ribs, and other cuts to satisfy even the pickiest of consumers (such as my fiancée).
A staple in many BBQ restaurants, and an easy favourite on summer plates is pulled pork. It is so versatile, and you’ll find dishes of pulled pork in many American cuisines. There are several amazing Mexican recipes, including conchinita pibil and carnitas.
The meat used for pulled pork is from the pork shoulder, which is also known under several different names, including the blade shoulder, butt (or Boston butt or even Boston-style shoulder), and picnic. In fact, the butt and picnic make up a full pork shoulder and part of the arm of the pig. The butt is also where you’d get the best meat for shoulder roasts, coppa, and carnitas. A full butt will normally weigh around 6kg, including collar bones, but you can find much smaller cut pieces in your butcher, supermarket or online to suit the number of people you’re catering for.
Preparing the pork
No matter what size your meat, make sure it has a decent layer of fat on one side and has been trimmed of skin. If you want, use any leftover skin for crackling – makes a great contrast in texture. Wash the pork thoroughly with cold water, and then pat it dry with paper towels – this makes sure you have nice, clean surfaces to work with. Coat generously with Dijon mustard and a solid pork rub (such as the Green Mountain Grill’s Pork rub) and make sure you have covered all the areas of the roast – this helps get that nice bark on the meat. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own rub! Wrap and put into the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to start getting into the meat.
This cook is going to be a long one, be sure of that. The Green Mountain Grill Daniel Boone Prime (or now known as the GMG Ledge) is my go-to for this length of cook, be it for brisket or pork, because the temperature is controlled without serious fluctuations and you can step away from it without worrying that the fire is going to die off. Pairing this with the GMG Premium Texas Blend hardwood pellets, the smoke profile will be stronger than using the Apple Blend or Fruitwood, but you can use any of those for pork.
Get the temperature of the BBQ to about 245°F and put your pork on the grill fat side up. Make sure you have a temperature probe in the thickest part of the meat, but ensure that it’s not touching any bone. Close your grill and let the smoke work it’s magic.
Time to sort out a spritz for the meat. This is a liquid that is used to keep the meat moist and add some extra flavour through your cook. I recommend a fruit juice (apple is great, pineapple does wonders, whatever suits your tastes) and something like a cider vinegar or I’ve been known to just use apple cider. Mix these up in equal parts with a little olive oil to help stick the spritz to the meat and put this into a spray bottle. Every hour use this to coat the meat but not flood it – there shouldn’t be any pools of water sitting on the surface.
Check the temperature of the pork throughout the cook, not only with the probe that you have in the pork but also with a spare if you have one. The aim is for the IT (internal temperature) to reach 170°F (76.6°C). This ensures you’re checking for hotspots and whether you may need to turn the pork around to adjust the side the main heat source is directed at.
Once the IT reaches 170°F (which for this 6kg Boston butt took about 9 hours) spritz the meat one more time before wrapping it in tinfoil. Keep it tight as this will help finish off the last of the cook and bring the IT up to its final temperature of 195°F (87.8°C). Place the temperature probe in the same spot of the meat and get it back on the BBQ.
Once the temperature has reached 190°F it’s time to pull the pork out. Resting this is vital as the meat has been cooking for anywhere up to 12 hours, and it needs to relax. This helps absorb the juices back in, and with that, the flavours. After half an hour, unwrap the tinfoil and transfer your cooked pork to a tray or dish to keep the juices and meat in as you pull it.
No matter what you’re using – a fork, pulling claws, or your hands – the meat should shred away effortlessly. Make sure to remove the bones, including the collar (if you’re using a whole butt) and the blade, as you don’t want any nasty surprises! Do a final mix to mop up the juices and taste the fruits of your labour!
For the finishing, many people do different things:
– If you’re doing burgers, throw in some BBQ sauce to taste and mix it up
– Go plain or add some seasonings for tacos
– Replace beef mince for some incredible nachos
– Anything you wish!