Some food, some drink.
For those that don’t speak “Pit-master”: How to cook competition-style BBQ pork butt.
When I asked my BBQ confidant for his best recipe for barbeque pulled pork, what I got was a loose collection of ideas and recipes that give no consideration to relative proportion. Now, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but we all know a home barbeque enthusiast doesn't need to keep a pound of butt rub and gallons of injection brine on hand. To show my appreciation for being handed a great method, I've taken the time to straighten out the collection of recipes and techniques graciously given to me. If you already understand how your cooker works, then what's outlined here is a turn-key experience for a very solid Boston Butt BBQ.
I love the pageantry and the spectacle of big barbeque; however when you live in a family of four (and half that population is under the age of eight), sensible portions are the norm; so you seldom get to cook those big ol' hunks of meat (I reckon this may be in-step with the reason that I can't get myself enough turkey when Thanksgiving rolls around). Just recently, my wife's youngest brother tied the knot; and thusly, it just wouldn't have been right if we didn't throw him a bachelor party. Now, this probably isn't the type of party that y'all are thinking it is; the way this outfit throws a bachelor party is more family-friendly; just so long as all the family attending is of legal drinking age and doesn't mind the significant amount of swearing proportionate to the number of hours transpired past midnight. Liquor and beer are consumed; and to offset that, you gotta put food in people's stomachs.
For this event I had the opportunity to smoke not one, but two(!) pork shoulders. We're talking over twenty pounds of meat here! As a first-timer with this proportion of pig, I knew I couldn't jackass around with the recipe (much). I needed something tried and tested. Lucky for me, my long time friend and barbeque brother-in-arms, Brant Kelsey was in possession of such a recipe. Brant knows good 'cue. In addition to the exploits that occur under his own Big Green Egg, he's also judged at competition. Because he's been on both sides of the plate, his recommendation as to the contents between the covers of Smokin' with Myron Mixon resonates with yours truly; however the recipes and techniques as delivered to me we more like grandiose suggestions. Much of what was outlined assumed that you'd be smoking Boston butt in perpetuity, and ingredient lists paid no attention to ratio or proportion. Well, if someone's gonna give me a good recipe, the least I can do is return it in better working order; and so all the while I was making this barbeque, I was also measuring and taking good notes.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
The Brine Injection
The Vinegar Sauce
"Bark Cheater" Glaze
*The Day Before*
For the Rub -
Combine all of the ingredients listed into a sealable container or zip-top bag and shake it up good.
For the Injection -
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring just to a boil over medium heat, while stirring occasionally. At the point of boilage with everything dissolved, remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and store in the fridge until ready to use (Don't inject your butt with hot brine).
For the Sauce -
Dissolve the salt, rub, and demerara sugar into the cider vinegar in a smmall saucepan over medium heat. When dissolved, kill the heat and whisk in the ketchup and hot sauce.
For the Glaze -
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and buzz until well-integrated (about a minute or two). Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To Prep the Pork -
In the evening before you hit the hay, place the pork in a deep disposable aluminum pan fat-side up. Using a BBQ injector, inject about 3/4 of an ounce (20 ml) of COLD brine into the pig in a one-inch grid pattern (don't sweat it if you don't use it all). Cover and let sit in the fridge at least 8 hours.
*The Day of Reckoning*
Set your grill for 200F indirect heat according to your manufacturer's directions. You'll need a full load of fuel, and a 50/50 blend of apple and hickory smoke wood.
Drain the excess brine from the roast and completely cover with the remaining BBQ rub (remember, you used some for that sauce). Stick the pig with a probe thermometer in a meaty part away from any bone and put 'er on the grill fat-side up to smoke.
When the meat hits a temperature of 150F, remove it from the grill to your aluminum pan still fat-side up (you did clean the pan right?) and add 3 oz of cheap-o beer (about a quarter of a can). Cover the pan with foil and put back on the grill. Raise the grill temperature to 275F (or even 300F) and cook until the meat reaches a temperature of about 202F. CAREFULLY drain off the cooking liquid and fat, and flip the roast over in the pan, placing the fat on the bottom. Baste all but the the fat (now on the bottom) with the glaze and place the panned pig back on the grill uncovered. Kill the heat and let the pork mellow in the now cooling grill for about an hour. After an hour's time, CAREFULLY remove the meat from the pan and immediately pull or chop.
- Fish sauce?! I know, right? Well, the recipe as given to me of calls for MSG, and as I really didn't want to risk giving an MSG-sensitive guest a migraine (that's what the booze is for), I went looking in my pantry for a more natural source of glutamates (a.k.a. umami). Fish sauce comes in a pretty big bottle, but don't let the proportions fool ya; a little goes a loooooong way.
- The biggest x-factor in this recipe is the barbeque grill itself. I use a lump charcoal-fueled kamado-style cooker, but something pellet fed like a Traeger would work fine too. Hell, if you could care less about the smoke you could even do it in your oven (BBQ blasphemy for sure). Whatever your heat source, just make sure it's indirect.
- The recipe as reinterpreted here makes enough for a 10-12 pound pork shoulder. I've tried to factor in a little extra into everything that's listed here, as a little overrun is better than coming up short.
- If that rub looks familiar to you, it's because it's the exact same stuff I use on my ribs. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
- Flipping that finished butt to apply the glaze is gonna be a pain in the ass any way you look at it. After draining out the excess liquid, I took it outside and flipped the whole mess onto a half sheet pan. To get it back in the pan, I donned my silicone oven mitts (and don't sweat it if it falls apart a bit).
- On the topic of disposable aluminum pans, the deeper the better. Your meat is going to give off a lot of liquid as it cooks, and you're rendering off a lot of fat to boot.
- Pulled pork reheats fantastically, so save yourself the stress and do it all ahead. To reheat, dump your meat into a crock pot and shower it with a little beer or water. Cover and cook on high for an hour or two or until heated thoroughly.
Prior to this experience, the most BBQ I'd done at a go was a modest beef brisket; so I gotta admit, I was a bit nervous as to how all this meat was gonna turn out. To ruin 20+ pounds of pig barbeque is enough to make even a tough guy shed crocodile tears. In the end however, I gotta say that this recipe tastes exactly like you expect pulled pork to taste: Slightly sweet, properly seasoned and generously perfumed with plenty of smoke. I don't mind vinegar sauces, and I know some people can't stand 'em. Whatever your stance, you gotta try just a squirt or two over this pulled pork. It totally works; so well in fact that you might even have forgotten that you sauced it in the first place.
Will I do this recipe again? Well, aside from the fact that I made plenty of excess injection and glaze in the effort to get the proportions right, I'd still do it again. I'm no pit-pro, but this is a recipe that kinda makes you feel like one when the eatin's done.