The first time somebody suggested that I make my own pulled pork, I thought they were crazy. Smoke an 8 pound pork butt? No way--not me. How in the world would I get a monstrously huge slab o' meat to cook all the way through low and slow? What about that big old bone on the inside? How would I shred up that much meat?
The task seemed completely daunting, and I was not up to it. For super bowl that year, I bought a bag of pre-smoked, pre-shredded pulled pork from a restaurant supply store. The taste was okay, but the texture was not. To say it looked like cat food would be generous. I served it, but I wasn't happy about it, and vowed that I would make my own.
Let me give you a spoiler alert: Making pulled pork is just about the easiest thing you can do, but there are definitely pitfalls that need to be looked out for.
The first time I made pulled pork, I did one 8-pound pork butt. I smoked it in a foil pan, then covered the pan and finished it in the oven. The result was great--fully cooked steamy, smoky pork that was fork tender and shredded just by looking at it. The main thing I learned from making that first 8-pounder was that I could make 15 lbs at the same time, just as easily. I also learned that with proper fire tending, I could finish braising the meat on the BBQ instead of using the oven.
Okay, enough talk--make with the pictures.
First off, I got a couple of pork butts from a local restaurant supply store. These ones come in two packs, so I just looked for one that was between 15 and 16 pounds. It doesn't really matter if you get bone-in or boneless--the bone will slip out effortlessly when the pork butts are cooked. These happen to be boneless. Also, buy a deep full size foil chafing pan. The half size pans are fine for 1 pork butt, but the full size pans can hold two, and when folded properly, can fit onto a 22.5 inch Weber kettle. Dry off the meat when it comes out of the shrink wrap, and apply a rub. Refrigerate the meat for a day. My rub is heavy on paprika, chili powder, and cayenne, with bunch of other things thrown in for good measure.
I heat 3/4 of a can of charcoal in a chimney and strategically put a layer of 20 unlit coals below the lit coal.
I use my coal baskets to make a wall for the lit coal to rest against.
Here's where we are after three hours--a nice bark had formed (an outer crust) and the fat is starting the render. At this point I cover the pan with foil, and add some hardwood charcoal to the fire. This point is critical--if you don't seal the pan with foil, the meat will not braise properly, and it won't be fully cooked in the next step. It's a little tricky sealing the pan, but do yourself a favor and get a restaurant sized box of foil and use two big sheets of it. Also, you'll be working right in front of the live flames, so BE CAREFUL. To insure the meat can't poke through the foil, I add a layer of parchment paper between the meat and the foil.
The pan is sealed, and hardwood coal is lit.
Another angle on that fiery goodness. Cover the grill and let it go another 2 and a half hours. The heat can be between 275 and 325 degrees, and for this braising step, I prefer the heat to be closer to 325.
Take the foil pan off the grill, and let it sit for an hour. After that is the big reveal--TADA! The fat has rendered, the bone (if it's in there) is ready to slide out, and big sections of muscle are going to just fall away.
Put big sections of meat into a bowl, and then go at it with either forks, poultry shears, or some bear claws.
After not much work, here's what you've got--a whole mess of pulled pork. An 8-pound pork butt will cook down to about 4 and a half pounds of delicious meat. I bag the leftovers by the 1/2 pound in ziploc sandwich bags, and make sure to add about 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat back into the bag. Leftovers are perfect for pulled pork sandwiches, carnitas tacos or tortas, nachos, or whatever. A half pound makes 8 street tacos (4" size) or two generous pulled pork sandwiches. Enjoy!
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