It’s hard imagine a pub/festival/café/market menu without pulled pork appearing somewhere. Whether served on its own, drowning in (often sadly generic) BBQ sauce, piled on a burger, folded into a pasty (yes really), or chucked onto a pizza, the true wonder of this stalwart of American BBQ has become a sadly abused dish that deserves a bit of attention and re-vitalisation. I am in no way trying to re-invent this truly wondrous piece of cooking, merely trying to show how bringing it back to basics can elevate it to its deserved place atop the meaty heights of glory. And the best thing is that you can do this recipe at home in your oven (although arguably it would be even better if you did it in a smoker) with minimum fuss. It really is a case of having faith in the low and slow school of cooking and just leaving it alone until it is done – that can be anything from 8-18 hours depending on oven temperature and how big the piece of pork is. I would highly recommend getting a meat thermometer for this and, if you can, get one with a remote probe that you can leave in the oven and thus preventing the need to keep getting the pork out to check. This recipe is pretty much as laid out by the excellent Felicity Cloake and all I’ve done is lowered the temperature slightly and tweaked the rub.
I would highly advocate using bone-in shoulder of pork for this with the rind still on. The bone will add flavour and the rind and fat will help keep the meat lubricated as it cooks and slowly breaks down into melting, tender piggy joy. Once shredded the pork also needs to sit for a while (preferably overnight) in the fridge with the juices so make sure you plan ahead for the time. This version of the recipe will easily feed 20 people – if you are using a smaller piece of shoulder then simply reduce the rub quantities and cooking time (a 2kg piece should be done after 6-8 hours) and keep an eye on that internal temperature….
- 1 whole shoulder of pork, bone-in and with rind still on – weighing about 6.5kg
- 6 tbsp fine sea salt
- 6 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 3 tbsp smoked paprika or ground chiplotle
- 2 tbsp ground black pepper
- Soft white rolls, BBQ sauce, coleslaw – to serve
- Preheat your oven to 220c/Gas Mark 7.
- Score the rind with a sharp blade (or get your butcher to do it for you) so the rub can wiggle its way through – a criss-cross or just lines, it’s up to you.
- Mix together the salt, sugar, paprika, and black pepper and rub about half of it on to the pork. Really work it in and cover the whole shoulder with it.
- Put the pork in a roasting tin (you will need a big one) and place in the oven, letting it sizzle and crackle for 30-40 mins.
- Take the pork out and turn the oven down to 110c/Gas Mark ¼, stick in your remote thermometer (if you have one) and cover the vast slab of pig with a tent of foil to keep the moisture in. Don’t wrap it tightly as you want the humid air to circulate a bit. Put the pork back in your low oven and leave well alone for anything from 12 to 18 hours. The pork is ready for pulling when the internal temp is between 85 and 89 centigrade – be patient! The wait is worth it. If you haven’t got a remote thermometer, check the pork after 8 or so hours and keep cooking as needed – try to keep taking it out of the oven to check the temperature down to a minimum as it will only slow things down.
- When your thermometer reaches the longed for temperature (your kitchen and probably entire house will probably be full of porky aroma), take the pork out, remove the tent of foil and then turn the oven back up to 200c/Gas Mark 6.
- Drain off the juices (there will be a lot) into a jug or bowl and set aside. Put the meat back in for 10 mins or so to firm it slightly then remove and leave to rest, covered again with a tent of foil, for half an hour. It should practically escaping from the bone by this time.
- Using a couple of sturdy forks, shred the pork into ribbons and chunks, skin and all. The bones should slide out clean but give them a scrape if reluctant meat is clinging to them. Once you have shredded the meat, mix in the rest of the rub and then return the juices to the meat and stir it all together. It will smell epic.
- Leave to cool then cover and place in the fridge to mingle and mix – overnight if you can.
- When you are ready to eat, remove from the fridge and reheat in a moderate oven. If you are serving this as part of a buffet or party, you can always leave the pork in a slow cooker to keep warm.
- Grab a bun and slice it in half, put a goodly dollop of your favourite coleslaw on the bottom, pile a huge mound of sticky, glorious pork on top, squirt on some quality sauce, and put the top on. Eat instantly and expect to be liberally covered juice and sauce. Then sneakily reach for another bun and repeat. You know it makes sense!