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Saturday, September 30

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Since visiting Texas a few months ago, I've found myself drawn by imagined scents of pulled pork. It's just one of those dishes that strikes me as comfort food. And considering how I have an intense dislike for sloppy joes, I find it a bit odd that I have such a newly discovered love for this dish. A dish which I don't think I'd had until about six years ago.

Now you may be thinking that in order to make true pulled pork, you've got to have the 10-12 hours required to sit by a grill or smoker so you can slowly roast and frequently turn a pork loin. And you'd be right. But I don't have the patience or appetite to wait that long for dinner. So I used a combination of a grill-top smoking technique and a long, slow simmer in a crockpot to give me the texture I needed for my dish.

The first step is to brine the pork. Just because we will be shredding the meat and dumping sauce on it, doesn't mean that we don't want juicy meat to begin with. A simple brine is the easiest way to create that.

Once the meat is brined, you can slow cook it on the grill. Make a pile of coals on one side of the grill, and place the meat on the opposite side of the grill so that it cooks via indirect heat; let it sit for about three hours, through several coal additions. If you have a stovetop smoker, it will take about 2-1/2 to 3 hours for your roast to finish cooking over a low flame.

If you lack both of the above, you can slow-roast the loin in your oven. This will be the least flavorful, but also the easiest. And if your sauce is flavorful enough you may not notice the meat wasn't smoked. Because really, the sauce is where it's at.

Making your own barbecue sauce is not hard. I pored over more than a hundred recipes for barbecue sauce to pick out the frequent ingredients so I could expand from there. What I came up with were: tomato sauce, tomato paste, molasses (or honey), onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Together these don't sound very good, but when you combine a few more things and let it cook on low to thicken up, you'll be amazed at how rich the flavors can be.

The necessary condiments for a pulled pork sandwich are pickles (sweet or dill, but I prefer sweet) and a dollop of cole slaw. I admit to passing on the cole slaw but can understand why it would be a tasty addition. And if you're going to make your own sauce, why not make your own sweet pickles to go with it?

Barbecue Sauce*
1 large yellow onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 26-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
1/4 cup of dark molasses
1 cup of mango juice (or nectar)
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
1/2 can of dark beer
1/2 can of coke (or other soda with carmel coloring)
2 tablespoons of Worchestershire sauce
1 pinch of cayenne powder (or 1 large pinch of red chili pepper flakes)
1/4 cup of cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of coriander
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of dried mustard powder
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

In a large pan over medium-high heat, combine the onion, garlic, salt and olive oil. Stir continuously until the onion turns translucent. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and let it cook slowly for 10-15 minutes while stirring occasionally. The onions should start to caramelize, which means they should turn a light brown. Once that happens, add in the remaining ingredients and reduce the heat to low. Stir, cover, and let everything cook for 30 minutes before tasting to see how you need to adjust spices and flavorings. Let it simmer while covered for another hour to an hour and a half. Taste again before storing or using a little salt to make sure the flavors are balanced. This should make at least a quart of barbecue sauce. It will store in the refrigerator for several weeks.

*Note: this was approximately what I put in my sauce, but don't feel like this is a strict recipe. Feel free to replace or remove ingredients as you see fit in order to develop a recipe that matches your personal preferences.

Pulled Pork
1 quart of warm water
1/2 cup of salt
1/2 cup of sugar
1 3-4 pound pork roast
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of parika
1/2 tablespoon of dry mustard
1/2 tablespoon of ground ginger

Place a quart of warm water into a container large enough to hold two quarts of liquid and the roast. In a bowl combine the warm water, salt and sugar and stir until it is dissolved, then pour into the container. Add the roast and cover with ice cubes. Place it in the refrigerator and let it sit in the brine, with an occasional stir or slosh for 12 hours. Remove the pork from the water and pat it dry. Place it on a plate. Combine the remaining ingredients and sprinkle it over the roast evenly. Let it sit at room temperature for an hour before cooking.

If grilling: Fill a chimney starter half full of charcoal and light it. Once the coals have turned red, dump them onto one side of the grill grate. Place the roast on the end of the grate farthest from the coals. This will cause the roast to cook slowly and will prevent flare-ups from grease dripping onto the coals. Every 15-20 minutes, add another briquette or two to the pile of coals to keep the heat going. It should take about 2-3 hours for the roast to cook and a probe thermometer will tell you when the roast reaches 160° F and is ready to be removed from the grill.

If smoking on the stove-top: Place a tablespoon of wood chips in a pile along the center of the pan. Place the drip pan (that has been covered with aluminum foil for easier cleanup) on top of the chips and place the rack on top of that. Place the roast with the fat side up over the center of the pan and put the lid on it. Cover it with a lid and cook it until a temperature probe reads 160°. This should also take about 2 1/2 hours.

If cooking in the oven: Preheat the oven to 325°. Place the pork in a shallow roasting pan in the center of the oven. Cook for 50 to 55 minutes.

Once it has cooled to the touch, you're ready to begin shredding or pulling the pork. The traditional method involves scraping a fork over a cut side of the roast to pull away bits of meat. Since I'm impatient, I cut off a chunk and tear it apart with my fingers. This will take a while, so make sure you've got something to keep yourself entertained. After about 30-40 minutes you should have a big pile of pulled or torn pork bits. Place them in a crock-pot or a large pot over low heat on the stove. Cover the pork with barbecue sauce and stir until it is coated evenly. You don't want to add so much sauce that it is drippy, but you want there to be no bit of meat that isn't sauced. Let it warm up, which should take about 15 minutes if you're cooking in a pot on the stove, and about 2 hours in a crockpot set to low or an hour in a crockpot set to high. It will actually be warm in much less time, but I've found that cooking it on low for at least this long truly gets the pork to be even more tender and more flavorful.

Pile a large dollop of pork on a bun (or a potato roll, my personal favorite) add a few slices of sweet pickle and a dollop of coleslaw. Add the top bun, squish, and eat. I prefer to drink a Dr. Pepper while eating this, but an ice cold beer would taste mighty nice as well. Freeze any leftovers because they'll keep for about three months. This will make enough to serve at least 10 people so plan for lots of leftovers or lots of friends.

Now that I've had my summertime craving satiated, I can turn my attention to healthier pursuits like vegetables and fresh fruits. But visions of pulled pork have been weighing on my mind for a few months and I knew I had to slay that food beast before I found myself eating in my sleep.

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Charlene / July 2, 2007 8:54 AM

I have a gas grill. Please recommend an adaptation to your charcoal grilling method. Thank you.

shechemist / July 2, 2007 9:43 AM

We are smoking a pork shoulder as I type. We are smoking it in a clay pot smoker that my husband put together after watching a Good Eat's eppisode.

Cinnamon / July 2, 2007 9:58 AM

Charlene, I have to admit I've never cooked off a gas grill so I'm not an expert. But I found a link here that might help. Sorry for the oversight.

And shechemist, wow! I remember that episode. Kudos to you.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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