Blog from the kitchen

Thoughts and words from the chefs upstairs in the kitchen at The Bookshelf.

September 03, 2013

The Skinny on Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is fairly common in most restaurants these days, but it's not always outstanding in flavour and texture. In this post we're going to look at a few things: What is it—what makes it "pulled," anyway? Why can it be so very different from place to place? How can you make it at home? And lastly, I'll tell you why you should come in and try ours.

This all starts with a pork shoulder, also sometimes called a "Boston butt." Why? Because misdirection, that's why. The name actually originates from the cut being commonly prepared and packed in Boston many years ago during the period of the revolutionary war and shipped out in barrels or casks called "butts" for some reason. As they do, old confusing terms tend to stick.

This cut is very tough and filled with collagen and fat which is broken down during the curing and cooking process to a wonderful texture and flavor. Typically the meat is cured and then slow-cooked. A dry or wet rub is used to coat the shoulder, tenderizing it and infusing it with flavours. In our case, we use a dry rub. Of what I cannot be specific, other than to say it consists of some lovely toasted herbs. This is one of the major reasons you can find such variance when  ordering this item from the menus of different restaurants. Different ingredients and styles of rub will greatly affect the final taste. And on top of that, it makes a big difference whether the meat is cooked with a sauce or if the sauce is added after. In our case it's cooked in the sauce. The closer you get to the American South, the more often the preparation involves smoking as a standard. Not everyone can use such equipment however, so around here it's OK to just use the oven or slow cooker. That being said, if you want to try a smoked version you'll want to look for places specifically stating BBQ in their name, or on the menu.

After curing, the shoulder is slow-cooked at a slightly lower-than-normal temperature, or in some cases smoked, for several hours. This blends the flavours and breaks down the fat and collagen we talked about. At the end of this process the meat shreds, or pulls, very easily from the bone. This is where the name comes from. In many recipes, like ours, the meat is worked apart and then mixed back through the sauce.

 After seasoning and containing, this is the delicious product that we pan fry with a totally separate Kentucky BBQ sauce before serving with spinach and coleslaw on a bun. You can get it with any side, but for true indulgence get sweet potato fries and a side aioli for dipping.

Our pulled pork is special because I've never seen a cure and sauce combination come together to create such a deep and awesome flavor. I've worked at plenty of places and prepared and eaten each one's pulled pork. Few compare to this one, and the ones that did, you can't get anymore. Our pulled pork is also made entirely in-house from an actual pork shoulder.

This is a great thing to make at home and store for many future meals. Play around with dry rubs and wet rubs, even coffee or beer cures! Google will find you a myriad of interesting recipes. The easiest way to cook it after your cure is with a slow cooker. Failing that you can use the oven, but don't leave it unattended. And if you have a smoker at home, well, let's be friends.

If you do make pulled pork at home, or come in for it, please tell us how it went in the comments or via Twitter.

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