Over the last few years, I have prepared pulled pork a couple of times each summer. It is always a crowd pleaser.
With pulled pork being made and voraciously loved all over North America, some very strongly held opinions regarding its preparation have been formed: NEVER brine your meat, ALWAYS brine your meat, brine for a few hours, brine for days……… Being a but if a relative newbie to making pulled pork, I am experimenting and making adjustments each time I make it – sometimes to try something new, sometimes to try to fix a problem that occurred in the past….
This time the pork will be brined dried, coated with a dry rub, smoked and finally shredded and mixed with, what I am affectionately calling, Kitchen Sink Barbecue Sauce.
Take 2 L of water, add sugar, molasses and any other spices (e.g. some of your dry rub) that you want to add and heat until the salt is dissolved.
In a separate container, add apple juice and some ice. Add the warm brine liquid and top up with cold water/ice until you have around 8 litres. Place in refrigerator to cool.
Prepare the pork butt. Remove the skin leaving behind a nice layer of fat that will render and help marinate the meat during smoking. If the fat layer is very think, you can remove a slab some of it and freeze it to add to sausages or meatballs in the future.The skin can be left on top but because I had trouble with it burning the last time I made pulled pork, I will only add it for the last hour or two.
The meat is pricked with a tenderizer to help the brine infuse through the meat. An injector is then used to inject brine throughout the pork meat. (Both the meat and the brine must be cold!!)
The pork butt is then submerged in the brine and placed in the refrigerator for 24 – 36 hours. The pork was injected a further 2 times during the brining time. Note: Different brines have different salt concentrations. It takes longer for a weaker solution to give the same diffusion of salt into the meat. Be careful with making things too salty or leaving them in the brine too long – the meat will begin to cure and become salty and tough.
Make your dry rub. See recipe below. The pork is removed from the brine, rinsed and dried with paper towels. After placing in the refrigerator for a few hours, a dry rub is applied and the pork is placed back in the fridge.
The barbecue is prepared and another coat of dry rub added. The pork is placed in the smoker. I elected to use a pan below filled with a little water. I used a low barbecue heat (230 – 250F) initially (but because it took such a long time and I was on a deadline, I eventually had to crank up the heat to 300F). Meat thermometers were inserted and the pork was cooked to a temperature of 190 – 194 F. I know that sounds really high but you need to reach that temperature for the collagen to break down to give you succulent pork. For some reason, the meat seems to plateau somewhere around 160F but eventually starts rising again. The skin can be left on top but because I had trouble with it burning the last time I made pulled pork, I only added it for the last hour or two.
Remove when target temperature (190-194F) is reached. Leave to sit for 20 – 3o minutes. When cool enough to handle, break the pork into pieces and remove and fat, gristle, etc.
Add barbecue sauce. You want enough to hold the meat together but not enough to make it soggy. Your guests can always add more of their own. I serve it with soft hamburger style buns, barbecue sauce, hot sauce and coleslaw to slather on the top. It’s a hit everytime! (Apologies – I was making this for a street party and was late so I wasn’t able to get a picture of the finished sandwich. Will upload one next year.)
Molasses Brine Recipe
- 600 g kosher salt
- 400 g molasses
- 3L apple juice
- ~5L Ice and water (to make 8L total brine)
- 15 mL (1 Tbsp) Dry spice rub (optional)
- Add salt, molasses and optional dry rub to ~2L of water. Heat until the salt has dissolved.
- Add heated salt solution to a large bowl containing ice and apple juice.
- Add water to bring solution up to a volume of 8L.
- Chill brine prior to use.
Pulled Pork Dry Rub Recipe
Note: I don’t follow a recipe when I make pulled pork rub. I simply throw together a variety of spice until I am happy with how the rub smells (and tastes). Below is an approximation of the tube that I used for this particular pulled pork.
- 3 T/45 mL Smoked Paprika
- 3 T/45 mL Sweet Spanish Paprika
- 1 T/15 mL Hot Spanish Paprika
- 1 1/2 t/7.5 mL Chipotle powder
- 1/2 t/2.5 mL Cayenne
- 1 T /15 mL Onion Powder
- 1 1/2 T/22.5 mL Garlic Powder
- 1 1/2 t/7.5 mL Roasted Garlic Powder
- 1 T/15 mL Ground Dried Orange Rind
- 1 T/15 mL Dark Brown Sugar (I tend to be on the light side with sugar – I had the sugars burn when I added too much previously).
- 1 1/2 T/22.5 mL Black Pepper
- 1 t/5 mL Salt
- Mix ingredients and use.
Prep Time: ~ 48 hours
Cooking Time: Variable!! ~ 6 – 18 hours depending on cooking temperature
- 5 – 8 pound pork butt (pork should, preferably bone in)
- Molasses Brine (optional)
- Dry Rub
- Barbecue Sauce
- Wood chips/chunks – I used apple and oak this time
- Meat tenderizer
- Meat thermometer
- Prepare Molasses Brine if using
- Remove skin and trim any excess fat from pork butt.
- The skin can be added back to the pork when in the smoker or used for another purpose.
- Leave a good cap of fat to baste the pork during the long cooking process. Excess pork fat can be saved for another use (e.g. sausages, pate, rillettes….).
- Tenderize meat and inject with cooled brine mixture.
- Place pork in brine and leave for 24 – 36 hours. The pork can be injected daily if you wish.
- Remove pork and pat dry. Add a layer of dry rub and place in refrigerator overnight.
- Apply another layer of dry rub before placing into prepared smoker. The temperature should be between 250 and 300 F (120 – 150 C). When I have lots of time, I use the lower temperature but this has resulted in cooking times approaching 18 hours.
- The pulled pork is ready when it reaches a temperature of 190 – 194 F (87.8 – 90 C) internally. If you do not have a thermometer, the pork is ready when you can easily remove the shoulder bones. The outside will look quite black – this (usually) does not mean that it will taste burned.
- Let pork sit for ~20 minutes.
- When just cool enough to handle, break into chunks removing and fat, gristle and any other inedible bits.
- Add enough barbecue sauce to hold the pork together.
- Serve on hamburger buns with coleslaw and additional barbecue sauce.