I was having a get together for people I work with on Friday night. The usual discussion came up about the food. Should it be a pot luck, ordering in pizza, or as one person requests over and over, my chicken fajitas which she asks me to make every time?
Someone suggested pulled pork and we went with that. I have cooked pork butts a few times and have come to realize that less is more. Not less pork but less fuss. It is, as usual a method and not a recipe.
Follow along. The key to tender fall apart pork is the cut of meat, cooking time and internal meat temperature. All the goodies in the world that you add to the pan will do little more than smell good as it will barely penetrate the meat.
Lets start with the cut of meat. Do not use pork loins. They are too lean and are not meant for this sort of cooking. You need pork butt which is actually pork shoulder. It has quite a lot of fat in it which is key to your long cooking time. If you only have a tiny one from your grocer it will not need to cook as long but due to the high fat content you will end up with very little meat and would be better off buying it precooked from a good vendor.
If you do not get your pork to an internal temperature of between 190 – 200 degrees the collagen in the meat will hold tight and you will have stringy, tough pork.
The pork butt will reach about 150 degrees at some point and then it will stop climbing in temperature for quite a while as the internal moisture makes it way out of the meat and to the surface. This is known as “the stall”. The temperature stalls for quite some time and cannot be predicted which is why you have to make sure you are cooking it long enough to get past the stall and into the sweet spot of an internal temperature of 190 – 200 degrees.
So what do I put on my meat and in the pan? Any mixture of herbs and spices that you like can be used. I mixed together chili spice, cumin, fennel, pepper and cinnamon. Don’t put too much cinnamon though as it does tend to overpower all the other spices. It is a great ingredient for the aroma and you can smell it more than taste it in the meat.
Sprinkle your meat with a bit of olive oil and rub in your mix of herbs and spices on all sides. I use latex gloves for this step just because of the semi permanent aroma and reddish tinge that will follow you around all day if you don’t.
Put the meat in a big roasting pan, cover tightly with some heavy duty tin foil and put it in a 300 degree oven. Now go on vacation, or to work or back to bed. Leave this undisturbed for about 8 hours. Longer is fine if you oversleep.
You will take it out and let it rest for about half an hour and then uncover it. It will almost shred itself. Throw out all the fat and you will be left with the tender, juicy pork which you will PULL APART. Voila, you will have PULLED PORK. Who knew it was so easy.
Serve this up on soft buns with whatever kind of sauce you like. Barbeque, mustard, maybe a cider vinegar squirt. Top with a scoop of coleslaw and dig in.