Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pigging Out

OK, so if you've been paying attention (and I hope you have been) I've been slowly building towards my indoor pulled pork preparation. We've discussed BBQ sauce, slow cookers, and dry rubs and now we're going to put them all to use. I love pulled pork and never miss an opportunity to eat some whenever I go for BBQ. As I don't have a yard, a grill, or a smoker I've had to find other ways to make nearly authentic pulled pork and this is what I've come up with. As noted in my slow cooker blog I have upgraded to a Rival BBQ Pit which is even closer to authentic but for the sake of this blog we're just talking a regular crock pot

Pulled pork is one of the big three BBQ items along with ribs and brisket (as far as I'm concerned). I mostly associate great pulled pork with the Carolinas and the smoky, tangy taste it comes along with. Great pulled pork has a vinegary taste to it that is great accompanied by BBQ sauce but shouldn't be necessary. For this preparation we're going to rub, cook, then finish with a vinegar based sauce. The classic BBQ sauce we discussed here (getting saucy) is more a condiment to be used as much or as little as you like

Let's start with the cut of meat, pork butt. Now with a name like that you'd figure the cut is from the backside of the pig, right? I know I did the first time I saw a diner in New Bedford, MA advertising pork butt sandwiches. No, pork butt (or Boston butt as it's also known) is from the upper shoulder of the front leg of the pig. It's usually well marbled, relatively inexpensive, and a tough cut of meat that works best with long, slow cooking techniques. For cooking in a crock pot (which we will be) I prefer boneless but of late I've only been able to find cuts with the blade bone still in. It's not a big deal. If the cut has a LOT of exterior fat then trim some of it away. Most will melt away but as we're doing a slow simmer all the rendered fat will end up in the simmering liquid. I feel the best result is prepping the day before cooking so plan ahead

The hardest flavor to impart on your pork in a Crock is smoke. We did use smoked paprika in the rub and will use more in the finishing sauce but for that real smoky essence we're going to add a little liquid smoke to the simmering liquid. Liquid smoke is actually made from gathering condensed smoke so it's all natural, not artificial and can usually be found in just about any supermarket. A little goes a long way so be careful.



2-3 lbs pork butt (shoulder) well trimmed- I have a 6 quart Crock Pot so this is as big as I can get in it)

Rich O's Dry Rub (found here)
1 cup water

1 tsp liquid smoke

For the finishing sauce (I can't some up with a better name so that's the name I'm using)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Step 1-Take your pork that's been well trimmed and pat it dry with paper towel. Place it on a flexible cutting board (or anything that can catch the excess rub and that the pork won't stick to). Grab your dry rub and coat the entire butt in it. Really work it into the surface. You can wear gloves if you wish but if not as soon as you are done wash your hands thoroughly. Put the rubbed pork in a container with a lid that seals tight and let it sit overnight. Dump any rub that didn't stick as once it's touched raw meat it can't be used again

Step 2- Remove the pork from the container. You'll notice quite a bit of liquid has been pulled out of the meat. That's a good thing. Place the pork in the Crock Pot. Add the liquid smoke to the water. OK, here is the inexact part. Carefully start pouring the water around the pork. Depending on the size and shape of the pork butt AND the Crock Pot the whole cup may not be necessary. Pour in enough so the liquid comes no higher then 2" up the side of the pork. If you add too much liquid at the start the additional liquid drawn during the cooking phase could cause your Crock Pot to overflow like in the unfortunate corned beef incident of 2009. The pork butt I used in the accompanied video I only added about 1/2 cup. Put the lid on, set it to low and let it cook for 10-12 hours. Yes that's right, 10-12 hours. AND don't you dare remove that lid

Step 3- Some time in the course of 10-12 hours you want to prep the finishing sauce. This is easy peasy. Mix the brown sugar with the hot water and stir until it's dissolved. Add the cider vinegar, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and cayenne. The original recipe I used for this sauce was chokingly strong with vinegar so I've cut how much I use. If you prefer to switch out red pepper flake for cayenne you can do so. This sauce gives the pork a more authentic taste

Step 4- Remove the pork from the Crock Pot. This can be easier said then done as it will quite literally be falling apart. I use whatever I have to get it out from tongs to a slotted spoon to a fat skimmer. Because we're adding our own vinegar based sauce you can dump whatever liquid is left in the bottom of the Crock Pot. Now we pull. Some like to chop, others to shred with forks. I just throw on kitchen gloves and tear right in. If you do use your hands it's a good idea to let the meat cool down a bit. There is no method to the madness just grab big pieces and tear them up into smaller pieces. There really isn't anything more I can add to that

Step 5- Add the pulled pork back to the Crock Pot and set it to "keep warm" if you have that setting (you should). Add the vinegar based sauce from step 3 to the pork. Use a spoon or spatula to evenly coat all the pork. Leave it on warm until you're ready to eat. That's it

I like eating my pulled pork on burger rolls with a squirt of our ketchup based BBQ sauce. For a side I like a killer mac-n-cheese...but that's for another blog. As I am a solo act I end up with LOTS of leftovers which I like to use in a Cubano inspired sandwich or as an ingredient in a clearing out the icebox style fritatta...again, a story for another day. Have fun with one of my favorite dishes. No excuses!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


One of the surest ways to flavor meat is with a rub. While most people (myself included) associate rubs with BBQ dry rubs, almost any kind of flavor enhancer added to food prior to cooking can be considered a rub. In fact I can recall years after the fact the chef in the one and only kitchen I ever worked in using a mustard based "wet" rub on large roasts before cooking them. Rubs can be as complex or simple as you want and many a pit master will take the specifics of his or her rub to their grave before revealing the specifics of what's in there. I have a few I keep around based on what I'm cooking including a poultry "shake" for when I do fried chicken, a spicy rub for spicy turkey or chicken tenders and a base rub/sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder for just about everything else.

Now when we're talking dry rub for BBQ (and we are) the rub needs to perform 3 primary tasks- 1) Drawing moisture from the meat. This moisture will form a saline solution with the herbs and spices that is then drawn back into the meat imparting flavor to the meat and partially tenderizing it 2) Enhance the flavor of the meat- I guess this goes without say 3) Carmelization- This will form the crust or bark that is so desirous in BBQ. So the way I see it every good rub needs at least salt (flavor and drawing moisture), sugar (flavor and carmelization), and herbs and spices (flavor). Getting the proportions right is really the key.

The base proportions of this rub are borrowed heavily from a few sources but mostly the Good Eats dry rub. The last "part" is exactly how I do mine (so no secrets there). The reason for parts versus exact measures is it makes it easy to make whatever volume is necessary as long as the proportions remain the same. In other words it doesn't matter if it's tablespoon, cups, mugs, or shoes. As long as the same size receptacle is used and you follow these proportions you can't go wrong.

The proportion is 8 parts light brown sugar, 3 parts kosher salt, 1 part chili powder and 1 part made up of additional herbs & spices. To make this simpler (I hope) I'm going to base this batch on 1/4 cups. So each part is one 1/4 measurement

Step 1- Add 8 1/4 cups light brown sugar to a lidded, air tight vessel. When you measure brown sugar make sure you pack it down to get the proper amount

Step 2- Add 3 1/4 cups of kosher salt. Avoid table salt. Most kosher salt has no additives and the flake shape tends to work better for drawing out moisture

Step 3- Add 1 1/4 cup chili powder- Chili powder is different then powdered chiles as it is a blend of ground chiles and other spices. I like making my own (future blog alert) or in a pinch one of the really good chili powders from Penzey's Spices. I like using a medium chili powder as opposed to hot as I will be adding some heat later

Step 4- Add 2 teaspoons each black pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder (not garlic salt), onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Add 1 teaspoon each turmeric (I like it more for color then anything) and cumin. That's 12 teaspoons or 1/4 cup (see how that works out)

Step 5- Seal the container and shake the hell out of this mix. The brown sugar may clump into little balls. I like to break them up but it's not the end of the world either way. I store mine in the same container but you can also transfer it to mason jars or whatever you have on hand. Properly sealed and stored this will last for quite some time

So what do we do with this rub? I used this on pork ribs, brisket and pork shoulder for an awesome pulled pork! How do we make this pulled pork in an apartment with no backyard? I let you know next time!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Slow Ride

With it being a holiday weekend I figured I'd slow it down (pun intended) a bit and talk a little about an essential kitchen tool; the Crock Pot or slow cooker. This little creation from the 70's, once the receptacle for keeping Swedish meatballs warm during parties, is a must for the busy cook, the beginner cook, or even the absolutely clueless cook. Most recipes involve dumping the ingredients in with some liquid then, to coin a phrase, set it and forget it. The actual cooking method would be considered a long simmer with constant temperatures between 175-200 degrees. The absolute key to success (and it's so hard to screw up that if you do I'll rap you upside the head with a tack hammer) is leave the lid on! The whole damned time! Don't let temptation get the best of you, just leave it on. This maintains the constant temperature and the steam creates condensation to add extra moisture to the dish. As with most low and slow cooking techniques one of the great advantages is you can use tougher, cheaper cuts of meat and they come out fall off the bone tender.

So, what do I make in my Crock Pot? My staples are chili, beef short ribs, baby back ribs, beef stew, pot roast, a pretty decent chicken vindaloo (seriously) and most of all pulled pork. When I started using my Crock Pot I just bought the McCormick seasoning packs and dumped them in but I slowly adapted my own rubs, spice mixes and sauces to make for a better end product. What I really love is being able to dump everything into the pot in the morning and having a finished product when I get home from work. Plus from a timing standpoint you can devote more time to the side dish as the main course is basically done

I recently purchased a variation of the slow cooker in the Rival BBQ Pit. One of my true loves is BBQ but as I have no yard that means no grill, no smoker, no authentic BBQ. You can come close with brisket and pulled pork with a Crock Pot but you get no bark and no smokey flavor. I had been searching one of these out forever and recently found out they are exclusively on QVC (or HSN or one of those places). I've had mine about 4 months now and I love it. The higher dome gives the cooking more convection and is not reliant on moist heat like a traditional slow cooker. It's bigger then I expected which is good and bad as you can cook a lot at once but storage is a bit of a bitch. I've done baby backs, pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked wings and brisket so far and all have been killer. One nice feature is you can add smokey essence with hard wood chips (as I don't have a hood that vents outside I soak them in water so I don't die of inhalation) on the bottom of the cooker. I'm not recommending this for beginners but if you love good Q and have no backyard options the BBQ Pit is awesome

Slow Cookers are short money so go get one right now!!. I have a 4 quart and a 1 quart. 6-8 quart might be a little big for cooking for 1 or 2 people but whatever works for you. My recipe for pulled pork will follow shortly.