Jess Pryles

How to make Classic Barbecue Pulled Pork

pulled pork
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Smoked low and slow until pull-apart tender, classic barbecue pulled pork is cheap, easy and delicious.

Generally when people talk about pulled pork, they’re talking smoked meats. Barbecue – that’s the Southern way, not direct grilling but slow cooking in a wood-fired pit. To be fair, pulled pork can be made in an oven, slow cooker or even braised on the stovetop, but it’s only barbecued if you actually barbecue it! And it tastes SO much better with a little kiss of smoke, too.

To make pulled pork, you start with a pork shoulder or butt. One of the most hilarious names in cooking, the butt is actually named after the large wooden barrels they were packed in for shipping back in the day. Rest assured, it’s most definitely from the front end of the pig. The shoulder cuts are tough if not cooked right, but when treated to some heat over time, they turn wonderfully tender. Tougher cuts generally have more flavor than their delicate counterparts, so it’s a win-win.

I cook my pulled pork in a traditional offset smoker, but the method is the same no matter which type of smoker you use. (if you want to learn more about smoker types, you can check out this handy video). Unlike brisket (where the two halves/muscle components are very different) any part of the pork butt is great for smoking, so if you prefer to buy a smaller 2-3lb piece it’ll work just as well and cook even faster.

I use Hardcore Carnivore: RED as my seasoning. I designed it specifically for white meats like pork & chicken, and it has a pretty incredible color that’s perfect for pulled pork. To boost the moisture, I create a basic vinegar dressing to toss the meat in once pulled. It helps add a little sweetness, brightness from acidity and coats each piece to stop it drying out, too.

As with all smoking – you are cooking to temperature, not time. It’s impossible to answer the question “how long will it take?” because there are so many variables. Weather, cooking apparatus, meat size, meat quality and fuel type all play a part in the timing of your cook. I take my pulled pork to at least 195f, usually 200f. Competition guys will usually finish theirs a little lower, so they can slice and have larger chunks for presentation.

The most reliable way to know when it’s ready is to utilize feel – is the meat probe tender (meaning, can you push a probe through with no resistance)? It’s a great idea to probe multiple parts of the muscle, because there will be areas that are super soft, but other internal muscles that are a little more stubborn. Be patient and hang in there until there is no resistance anywhere in the meat. I use the Thermoworks Smoke unit to monitor the internal temperatures of my meat in the pit – I’ve used others before, and I must tell you I am so impressed with this unit. It works straight out of the box, and is precise to a fraction of a degree.

Truly, mastering pulled pork is easy. The actual tough part is seeing how much of it you can fit in a sandwich!

Recipe after the pics:

rubbed pork butt with Hardcore Carnivore Red

pork butt with bark

pork butt dipping sauce

pulled pork pieces

pulled pork sandwich

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How to make Classic Barbecue Pulled Pork

Meat notes: pork butts, collars, scotches and shoulders are all roughly from the same area. Choose boneless cut for a faster cook. Remember, the cut will shrink at least 30% in size during cooking, so take that into account when working out portions (but it never hurts to have leftovers!).

Ingredients

  • 1 x 8-10lb pork butt
  • Kosher salt
  • Hardcore Carnivore: RED rub
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • For the vinegar dressing:
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp Hardcore Carnivore: RED rub
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Heat a smoker to run at 250f.

  2. Pat the pork butt down with paper towel, then sprinkle liberally with salt. Next, sprinkle generously with Hardcore Carnivore: RED, making sure all the sides are coated. Leave the butt to sit about 20 minutes, so the meat "sweats" a little and turns the rub to a paste.

  3. Place the butt into the smoker, insert a probe to monitor temperature. Place the cider vinegar and water into a spray bottle, and spritz the butt down every hour or so. This will help with the creation of the smoke ring, and keep humidity in the cooking chamber.

  4. After 5 hours of cooking, once a deep bark has developed, wrap the butt tightly in foil, and return to the smoker to continue cooking until it reaches an internal temperature of 195f. If your bark is not as dark as you would like, continue to cook for up to another hour before foiling.

  5. Once the internal temperature is at 195f, remove the pork butt and place into a cooler (without ice!) for an hour to rest. Technically, this isn't a true rest as much as a hold, since the cooler holds so much heat, but the results are great.

  6. While the meat is resting, combine all the dressing ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat, and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.

  7. After the meat has rested, place onto a large tray or board, and pull it using heatproof gloves. Alternatively, you may like to use forks or specialty equipment like "bear paws" since it will still be very hot in the middle.

  8. Drizzle the dressing over the meat, and toss to ensure all the pieces are well coated. Enjoy immediately or pile high into a bun with some sauce for a pulled pork sandwich.

By Jess Pryles

Jess Pryles is a full fledged Hardcore Carnivore. She’s a cook, writer, and TV personality specializing in red meat, with penchant for grilling and bourbon. She's also a respected authority on Texas & competition style barbecue. Born in Australia, she now resides in Austin, Texas.

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