The Great Pulled Pork Experiment

So a few days ago, I became embroiled in a very intense discussion about barbecue, pulled pork, and barbecue sauce on Facebook with a group of relative strangers. The discussion originated with a status about Alabama’s “white” barbecue sauce — specifically, how it isn’t a barbecue sauce. Which is the absolute truth — mayo mixed with spices does not a barbecue sauce make. Yes, even if you destroy perfectly good pulled pork with it.

Anyway, this poor English bloke came into the conversation and ragged on American barbecue, saying, “You Yanks pour four gallons of sugar on something and call it good!” Now, we Southerners may argue about mustard versus vinegar versus tomato barbecue sauces, but we will form a united front against anyone who tries to say shit about barbecue. Anyway, it evolved into a conversation wherein we waxed poetic about a smoky pork butt, lusted over the tang of a good sauce, and sighed while thinking about appropriate side dishes.

All this talk gave me a hankering for some smoked butt coated in barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, I am currently situated in Florida, which means there isn’t barbecue worth a damn around here. We have Sonny’s, which is a BBQ chain, but saying Sonny’s barbecue is good is like saying Mickey D’s makes a great burger. Sonny’s is adequate, but it isn’t Carolina ‘cue. I ended up trying some barbecue from a food truck parked outside of a gas station. It was adequate, but it didn’t sate the hunger. For one thing, the damn pork was chopped, not pulled.

Now, any good Southerner knows the best pulled pork comes from pork butts slowly smoked over the course of a day after spending a night in the fridge generously covered in a brown sugar dry rub. Problem is, I don’t own a smoker, and they are pretty costly to buy. You can make your own, but they require more skill and space than I have. So I wondered — is there a half-decent substitute? To Professor Google!

I found a whole forum thread dedicated to the subject. The OP is a poor soul trapped in the UK where they do not ~do~ smoked pork. He was wondering, like me, if there was a way to make a suitable replica with something else, perhaps a slow cooker or dutch oven? The forum members were sympathetic to his plight, and they offered all sorts of advice for how they thought he might be able to go about it. Armed with this knowledge from a legion of barbecue connoisseurs (I knew they were, for they understood the Carolina sauce rivalry), I decided I would try to make my own slow-cooked pulled pork that would replicate smoked butt as closely as possible.

Below you will find the process and results of my experiment. Keep in mind this was my first time making it, so there is probably room for improvement. In parentheses I note some changes I may consider in the future — you can try them now, or you can use my tested recipe. Also, I am a “bit of this, bit of that” sort of cook. These amounts are rough estimates. Finally, feel free to experiment! That’s exactly what I did, after all!

Ingredients

Dry Rub

1 cup light brown sugar (will try dark in the future)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

(Considering changing the ginger and nutmeg to 1 teaspoon of allspice, and adding ground sage)

Slow Cooker Bath

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic (1 clove)

1 teaspoon “Liquid Smoke” in hickory flavor (I would probably double this next time)

And the other stuff…

1.75 pound boneless pork shoulder roast (store didn’t have any butts!)

1/4 of a large vidalia onion, minced

1 teaspoon liquid smoke (Probably will double next time)

Apple cider vinegar

Instructions

1. Take the pork out of its package and rinse it well with cool water. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside on plastic cutting board. Pour a small amount of apple cider vinegar over the pork, just enough to wet it. You don’t want it running everywhere or to drench the pork.

2. Combine ingredients for the dry rub in a small bowl. Generously coat the pork with the dry rub on all sides. I ended up only using about half the rub on my roast, so you can save the other half for the next time you make this! Put it in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Dry rub ingredients

Dry rub all mixed together. Mmmm.

3. The next day about 6 hours before dinner, remove the pork from the refrigerator. Add the ingredients for the slower cooker bath to the slow cooker, then place the pork in it. Cook the pork on high for 4 hours. (I think it may have been better off cooked on low for six hours — I am going to try this next time.)

Pork shoulder coated in dry rub

The pork shoulder after being kept in the ‘fridge all night.

4. After 4 hours, remove pork from slow cooker. Using two forks, shred the pork. It should fall right apart. Add the vidalia onion and additional teaspoon of Liquid Smoke to the slow cooker, then add back in the pork. Mix it well then cover and cook for another 30 minutes on high.

Cooked pork shoulder

After four hours in the slow cooker, this is what your shoulder will look like.

Shredded pork

Look how easily the pork shreds!

5. After 30 minutes, turn off the slow cooker. Drain the pork in a colander. Serve with your preferred sauce. I personally recommend the Jack Daniel’s original barbecue sauce. It is an authentic-tasting western Carolina type of sauce (despite it saying it’s a traditional Memphis sauce). But if you’re a Carolina Gold or Eastern Vinegar person, I won’t hold it against you. I guess.

Below is a photo of the finished product. In the background you may notice a pile of baked beans. Those, my dears, are the best damned baked beans ever. Recipe is to come…

Finished pulled pork

A fine southern meal.

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