Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Make Genuine NC Pulled Pork BBQ

pulled pork BBQ
Making genuine North Carolina pulled pork barbecue is a dying art. Even if they know how to do it, few people nowadays take the time, or have the time, to tend to a smoker or BBQ pit -- and sadly, few barbecue restaurants actually smoke their pork anymore, either because of the time and labor involved or because of local ordinances effectively banning commercial BBQ pits.

While smoking a whole hog is indeed a huge production, smoking a pork shoulder or butt (aka Boston butt) is certainly doable for most people and well worth the time and effort. If you've always wanted to make real North Carolina barbecue that's fork-tender and succulent with a seductive smokiness that complements the natural meaty flavors in the pork, read on.

First, the good news: It's actually not hard to make perfectly edible and even tasty NC barbeque that's smoked, not baked or slow-cooked in a crock pot. The "bad" news is that it takes practice to achieve that blissful balance of spice, smoke, crunchy bark, juicily tender flesh and the pink halo of a smoke ring. But there are worse ways to spend your time than making and eating barbecue.

As with baking, variables like the weather (temperature and humidity) need to be taken into account when using a smoker, and wind can also be a factor, hence the need for practice. Greg has spent years honing his barbecue-making skills and practicing the art of turning a pork butt into real North Carolina BBQ. Here is his tried-and-true method, which has won him many friends, earned him the respect and envy of pros, and even seduced vegetarians into sneaking a bite and proclaiming it GOOD.

Onward Grill Pro 39470 Chimney Style Charcoal Starter
Chimney Charcoal Starter
To make authentic pulled pork barbecue, you'll need a smoker with a temperature gauge built in (or a separate smoker thermometer), one or two chimney-style charcoal starters (to make life easier), real charcoal (not "quick start" because you don't want any fuel flavor), wood chips or chunks (Greg recommends oak because mesquite and hickory are too strong while fruit woods are too mild), and a Boston butt, aka pork butt.  Unless you are very experienced, you should also use a meat thermometer to ensure that the pork reaches an internal temperature of 180°F.

Fill two charcoal chimneys with charcoal and light the coals (Greg uses crumpled newspaper as fuel). When the coals are red, dump them into the smoker and add a few chunks of oak (or a couple of handfuls of chips) to your smoker. Burn until the wood burns down to coals and no flame is present. Adjust the smoker vents so that the temperature gauge hits and maintains at 250°F. This is where science and art intersect, because you likely will need to monitor and adjust the vents from time to time  to maintain the correct temperature for the entire cooking time. And there is no set amount of cooking time: As Greg likes to say, "it's done when it's done." There is no rushing good barbecue, and depending on the size of the pork butt and outdoor conditions (temperature, wind & humidity), it may take a few hours or all day--or even overnight and through the next day if you are smoking a whole hog in the middle of winter. But if you insist on additional information, when Greg made barbecue this weekend he used a 2 1/2 lb. very lean pork butt from a local farm (conventionally-raised pork will be fattier), and it took about 6 hours to smoke.

how to smoke a pork butt
Rubbed & on the smoker
While the wood is burning down, completely rub the Boston butt with your choice of BBQ rub or seasoning, covering it liberally. Once the smoker hits 250°F, place the butt on the smoker rack, fat side down. Some people place it fat side up, but Greg swears there's really no discernible difference in taste and you don't really need the fat dripping down into the meat if you know what you're doing.

Once the butt is on the smoker, leave it alone BUT periodically check the temperature of the smoker to make sure it remains at 250°F. Depending on whether the temperature fluctuates up or down before the butt is done, you may need to adjust the vents and/or add a little more charcoal (make sure you light it first and wait until the coals are glowing before adding to the smoker, or else you'll introduce unpleasantly harsh flavors).

The pork butt is done when you can stick a metal fork in it and twist without much effort BUT the meat is not falling apart. When the pork is fork-tender the internal temperature of the pork will have hit 180°F. When the butt looks like the photo below, you can test for doneness:

smoked Boston butt

"Fork-tender" is before "fall off the bone" tender, with the latter being overcooked and probably dry. The photo below shows Greg using the fork test to determine that the pork is done and ready to be removed from the smoker: 

smoked pork butt barbecue

When it's done, transfer the butt onto a platter or tray and let it rest 15 minutes. You can see where Greg used the fork test:

recipe for North Carolina barbecue
Smoked Boston butt resting before pulling
After the pork has rested, use two forks or your hands to pull the pork. Greg likes to use two forks:

smoked pulled pork BBQ

At this point, you can either transfer the pork into a bowl or pan for saucing, or serve it "unsauced" on plates or buns with a bottle of genuine North Carolina barbecue sauce handy so that diners can add sauce to add to taste. Good side dishes to serve include slaw and hush puppies, as well as collards or other greens, baked beans or seasoned green beans.

Zestfully yours,

PS: If you're looking for real North Carolina BBQ sauce for your pulled pork barbecue, you'll find some of the best on our NC Products page, including eastern-style (vinegar) Wells Hog Heaven BBQ Sauce, spicy-hot eastern style Scott's BBQ Sauce, Piedmont or Lexington style (vinegar-tomato) Jim's Own BBQ Sauce, and western-style (more tomato plus vinegar) Bone Suckin' Sauce.

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