I have called my mother literally 17 million times asking for the same pulled pork recipe, and without fail I always not only forget it but also consciously adjust aspects to fit my needs at the time. So instead of pork shoulder or butt, I’ll use a tenderloin. And instead of cooking for 6-8 hours in a slow cooker, I’ll simmer it for 3 hours on the stove. The result is always something vaguely resembling pulled pork but with an asterisk. Well, enough is enough: it was time to prepare [as close to] traditional [as I could muster] pulled pork!
I can never recall which side of North Carolina uses the whole hog while the other uses only the shoulder. The butcher had a shoulder, so I went with that. I asked him for a smaller piece, but apparently this was already “half a shoulder.” I wondered what exactly he meant. Was it one of the pig’s four shoulders cut in half, or is a “shoulder” considered half of the pig? I’m not sure, but probably the former. It still looked plenty big for our two person dinner! Nevertheless it was like $10 and seemed like a good enough deal.
So once again I called up the family matriarch and asked for the recipe. Here are the steps, including where it broke down for me in parenthesis:
Untie the pork if tied and rub all over with your favorite rub (already I’m breaking out the parenthesis, because naturally I was douchey enough to make my own rub: 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon smoked salt (the only smoky thing I had), pinch of habenero garlic pepper (a random Christmas gift), 1/2 tablespoon of cumin, 1/2 tablespoon paprika, 1/2 tablespoon cayenne, 1/2 tablespoon of crushed herb de provence or similar mixed herb blend, and kosher salt and ground pepper to taste). Don’t discard any skin or fat; those will render.
Roughly chop a large onion and scatter half on the bottom of a large dutch oven. Place the shoulder skin-side down on top of the onions and then sprinkle the remaining onions. Pour about a can of your favorite soda over the pork. If some onions fall, just place them back on the meat. You’re looking for acidity (carbonic acid if you’re curious) and not necessarily flavor, according to the matriarch, and even diet (I used Diet Mountain Dew…don’t judge me) works fine because you’ve already loaded it with the brown sugar in the rub.
Cover and place over the lowest possible heat on your stove. My shitty, shitty gas stove (literally it is the cheapest, smallest gas stove a New York landlord can buy) likes to turn itself off and scare us with an imminent gas explosion, so I had to keep mine cooking at a temperature higher than I had hoped. Every hour, rotate the meat and replace any fallen onions. Your meat’s done when it falls off the bone, somewhere after the 4th but before the 8th hour. If you have no bone, well…um, imagine what it would look like with a bone. You should be able to easily pull off a hunk of meat with no effort.
At this point you can either shred the meat on a serving tray and mix in bbq sauce (I like Bone Suckin’ Sauce, which is from NC) or keep that on the side. If you’re going to preserve for another night as I did, just place the shredded meat in a plastic container and cover with the liquid. When you reheat it, simply slow cook it in the liquid and drain off just before serving.
By the way, I realized that I never mention any of the utensils I use. Here are some of my favorites, all of which I’ve had for years and were in handy for this recipe:
Wait, what, no Le Creuset shout-out? You bet your sweet ass I don’t buy that overpriced crap. Some of these have gone up in price since I originally acquired them, but overall they are good deals. And on that topic, if anyone knows of a really good slow cooker/rice cooker combination, I would be interested. Anyone who’s see the kitchen knows I am one device away from appearing on Hoarders, so combos are always preferred.
P.S. Those sides were just some sautéed summer squashes and a can of vegetarian baked beans.