Hankering for some barbecue but lacking the proper facilities, I decided to instead make pulled pork butt. This painstakingly slow (but, oh, so simple) technique produces wonderfully flavorful and tender meat, perfect for piling on a toasted french baguette and eating as a sandwich.
Original recipes I considered were for mighty large crowds – feeding six or seven was considered a small number! Thankfully, recipes like this scale up and down pretty well, so I went to the butcher and bought the smallest pork butt I could find.
Let’s take a moment to be clear: pork butt is not the same as pork ass. The butt is actually the upper shoulder from the hog, a wonderfully well-marbled cut that works beautifully for “low and slow” cooking. That is, cooking at a relatively low heat and a relatively long time. Think Crock Pot and you’ve got the idea.
Unfortunately, the butcher did not have the bone-in butt, only boneless. I think cooking the butt with the bone in is nicer. There is more flavor and the bone serves as a conduit to direct heat into the center of the roast, reducing cooking time.
Pork in Thailand is significantly more flavorful than the bland “other white meat” that American animal factories produce. Nonetheless, it still benefits from an overnight bath in a brine, a solution of salt, sugar and spices dissolved in water.
The next day I rinsed the pork shoulder and patted it dry, covering it with a spice rub that contained cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and chili powder along with a bit of salt, brown sugar and black pepper. Searing the butt on all sides in my Dutch oven, I then added some cooking liquid (red wine, beef stock and onions), slapped a cover on it, and put it in my oven at 280 F / 145 C.
It took about five hours for my relatively small roast to reach an internal temperature of 220 F / 105 C. “220 degrees!?” you’ll exclaim, “But pork only has to be cooked to 160 and already it risks drying out.”
Roasts, which are filled with fat and connective tissues, will be very tough if you take them out of the oven at 160 F. However, if you keep on cooking (with liquid – remember we brined the butt overnight and also have some liquid in the pot), as the temperature passes 200 F the connective tissues and fat dissolve. This makes the meat so tender that it literally falls apart as you handle it. This also bastes the meat in the fat and juices from the dissolved connective tissues.
Taking the pot out of the oven, I let the butt sit in the covered pot until its internal temperature had reduced to 170 F / 76 C before putting the meat on the cutting board and shredding it with two forks.
As you can see, it pulled apart into very nice little shreds. This makes the perfect vehicle for various types of dressing. In the Carolinas, a vinegar-based dressing would be the flavor of choice. In the midwest and Texas, the dressing will be tomato based and sweeter. In this case, I used a combination of some of the leftover cooking liquid (the red wine giving it a more acidic note, similar to the vinegar-based dressing) and a little bit of KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce that was sitting in the fridge.
How to serve this pulled pork? I think it is best as a sandwich. Split and toast a length of a French roll or baguette, spread with mayonnaise, pile on the pork, add some roasted red peppers (and grilled onions, if you like), garnish with dill pickles, barbecue sauce and, if you like, mozzarella cheese. Then put the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp up nicely.
That’s good eating!