Sunday, July 1, 2007

South Carolina Pulled Pork

Carolina Barbecue

We've been over this before. Keep the cloyingly sweet tomato sauce, thanks very much. Barbecue is all about hickory (or whatever wood you prefer; mesquite would be more traditional for Texas barbecue, though I used to get apple wood back in Indiana, and that was really good). And Kansas City barbecue? It's an abomination. In my not so humble and extremely partisan opinion, the best barbecue is to be found in the Carolinas and Georgia, where they don't sop it in heavy sauce.

So I'm doing Carolina pulled pork–the way I like it, spicy hot. Barbecue in the Carolinas isn't as minimal as it is in Georgia, and this is a good introduction to what barbecue is all about for those who think they can toss meat in the oven and sop it with some godawful crap they bought at the store and call it barbecue. There's sauce, which you use to baste the pork as it's smoking, then reduce and add just enough to moisten the pork.

You can, of course, use this recipe to barbecue ribs or chicken. To barbecue chicken, either buy chickens split in halves (I haven't seen any here). Or split chickens in half through the breastbone and backbone yourself. Or just split chickens through the breastbone, flip them over, and flatten them by pressing down on the breastbone and breaking it, Chinese style.

See here for sauce variations.

1 5-6 lb. pork shoulder (or boston butt) roast, or spare ribs (you're a fool if you buy baby back ribs) or 2 chickens, halved

If you're doing pulled pork and the roast comes in one of those net things like they do here, cut it off. Those are there only so when it's done, you can cut it into nice slices. Also, since it holds the roast together, cutting it off will help the smoke and flavor get into the roast better. Cut the damned thing off. Also, yes, you can use pork loin, but it's not as good. Fresh ham is great, if you can find it, but a shoulder (boston butt) is the best for pulled pork. And baby back ribs? Why? They have comparatively no meat on them; they're just fashionable because they're small, and because they're fashionable, they're ridiculously expensive. Get spare ribs.

Mix all rub ingredients. Coat the meat with the rub — and I don't mean sprinkle it on. I mean press it into the meat, one side at a time, leaving not the tiniest bit unexposed (it tends to be a messy process, but it's easy to clean up), and keep pressing the dry rub into the meat until there is none left. Cover the meat with plastic wrap, place on a plate, and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours. (For simplicity's sake, I'm going to proceed as if you're barbecuing a pork roast for pulled pork. Substitute as appropriate in the directions.)

You're going to cold smoke the pork. You'll start the fire on one side of your grill, and cook the meat on the other side, not above the flame. You'll need your favorite charcoal to start the fire, and enough wood chunks (hickory is traditional, but use your favorite — and chunks, not chips) to burn five or six hours — figure about an hour or a little over per pound. Buy one of the big bags.

Start the fire and let the coals burn down to white ash. Soak a bunch of wood chunks in water. When the coals are almost ready, drain the chunks thoroughly (be careful to drain them really thoroughly, or you'll put out the fire).

On the other side of the grill, put an aluminum pie pan below the grill to catch juices, and add a cup of water, beer, or apple cider (the primary purpose is to keep the roast moist, but it also can add a subtle flavor). Unwrap the pork (do I really need to say that?) and place it on the grill above the pie pan. Place the soaked chunks on top of the coals and immediately close the cover of the grill.

Adjust the vents or the height of the grills (or however your grill works) to keep the inside temperature between 200 and 250. Check the temperature and the fire every 30 minutes. Keep chunks soaking, and when you add more chunks, add half soaked and half unsoaked chunks (so the moisture doesn't kill the fire before the roast is done). Add more chunks as needed to keep the fire hot and smoking, and turn the roast every hour.

Two hours before the meat will be done (approximate this — an hour or so per pound), mix the sauce ingredients–adding the adobo from the chipotles (it's got a great smoky flavor). Baste the roast with the sauce, turn it, and baste it again. Repeat every 30 minutes until the roast registers 185 on a meat thermometer. Remove the roast, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better).

Bring the remaining sauce to a boil, then reduce it by about half. With forks, pull the meat apart and put it in a bowl. Mix in just enough of the sauce to moisten it (serve the rest on the side so people can add more if they want), and serve with cole slaw, fried corn, and fried cinnamon apples.

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