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Home barbecue 101: Pulled pork

DSCN0509I’m probably going to wake up one morning to find a briquette thrown through my bedroom window for this, but I’m going to let you all in on a little secret that most backyard chefs don’t want you to know: Making your own barbecue is easy.

While my friends chow down on a rack of my freshly smoked ribs, they assume that it is mere modesty that leads me to dismiss their compliments and tell them it wasn’t difficult. Of course, I don’t really try that hard to convince them of this, because I’m a fan of any degree of affirmation directed my way. But the fact of the matter is, as long as you follow a few simple steps, avoid shortcuts, and give your meat the love that it deserves, you will likely turn out better ‘que than most restaurants in town. And if you happen to have a bevy of famished beer drinking dinner guests hovering around your table, you will look like a hero.

I recently posted on my new favorite toy, the BGE. And while having a ceramic smoker at my disposal will surely make things easier when I properly break her in with a 10lbs hunk of pork shoulder, it is a wholly unnecessary piece of equipment for making great barbecue. Many people can’t justify spending that kind of money on a grill. Lord knows I didn’t, I had to hold out until I got mine as a gift. But if you have a charcoal grill, then you have nearly everything that you need to make blue-ribbon barbecue at home.

With the 4th of July, the biggest barbecuing day of the year, on the horizon, now seems like a good time to demystify home smoked ‘que. If you have never tried making your own BBQ, follow these steps and give it a shot. You just might surprise yourself.

For the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on how to smoke a pork butt, as the high fat content gives it the highest margin for error. But before you start doing any prep work, there are a few ground rules that we should cover for the barbecue novice:

1 – Plan ahead

The single most important ingredient in making good barbecue is TIME. You’d better have all of your supplies at least 24 hours in advance, especially if you plan to brine. Even if you aren’t brining – a step that I often skip, especially with pork butts because I think it is a waste of time – you should plan on having your rub on there for at least 12 hours. Make a day of the cooking – Get up early, have a few friends over, keep a few cocktails handy, and wait for the magic to happen.

2 – Use a rub

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic/onion powder, maybe some brown sugar, and you are good to go. Wing it a little. If you like heat, throw some cayenne in the mix if you want. And there are plenty of pre-mixed BBQ rubs on the market that work great and will save you some time. Whatever you do, don’t forget the rub, as this is what transforms into the crunchy, delicious bark.

3 – Don’t use foil (unless you absolutely have to)

Foil is cheating, and it comes with a high price. I have resorted to wrapping a pork butt in foil to expedite the cooking process before, but only because I was on pace to have dinner ready at 11 PM if I didn’t hurry things along. Wrapping in foil cooks the meat faster, but causes the bark that you have worked so hard for to lose its crunch. See rule # 1 and don’t put yourself in the position to have to resort to this. It will still be good, but it won’t be great.

4 – Cook by temperature, not by time

Once you have a little more experience under your belt, you can cook by feel without using a thermometer. Until you really know what you are doing, a probe thermometer – preferably a remote so that you aren’t stuck standing by the grill for 12 hours straight – reduces your margin for error significantly. If you pull a pork butt at 190/195 degrees, dry meat shouldn’t be a concern.

5 – If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’

While I wish I could claim responsibility for this pearl of wisdom, this rule has been around a lot longer than I have, and it should probably be rule #1. You want your smoker/grill running between 200-225 degrees for the duration of the process, and the more time that you spend opening the lid and poking at the meat, the less consistent that temperature will be. Patience, young Padawan. Good things come to those who wait.

6 – BBQ sauce plays second fiddle

Anyone that tells you that the BBQ sauce is the most important piece of the puzzle doesn’t know what they are talking about. Sorry sauce advocates, but it is the truth. The reason that cheap BBQ arrives swimming in sauce is because they are compensating for sub-par meat. A good sauce is unquestionably important, and one of the areas where you can really put your own stamp on your ‘que, but it should compliment, not overpower the meat. If the meat is properly smoked, it can stand on its own without a gallon of K.C. Masterpiece on top of it.

There are a lot of good BBQ recipes out there on the web, so feel free to poke around and find one that suits you. And don’t be afraid to make it your own – tweak the rub, use a different kind of wood, brine it in Dr. Pepper, or shoot that bad boy up with papaya juice if you want. That is half the fun of making your own BBQ. But if you actually made it this far down the post, also feel free to use my recipe that I’ll be doing on the 4th this year.

DSCN0501-2Recipe: BBQ Pulled Pork w/ Vinegar Mustard BBQ Sauce

Ingredients:

6-10lbs bone-in Boston Butt. (I used 10lbs)

1.5-2 cups of dry rub (1 1/4 cup of John Henry’s Texas pig rub with about 1/4 cup of brown sugar added works well as a store-bought option)

Hickory wood chips

Charcoal

Hamburger buns

For injection:

1 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons Worcestershire

For Mustard Sauce:

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar

1 1/4 cups mustard

3/4 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 tablespoon hot sauce

2 cloves garlic, chopped

You need at least 12 hours before this goes into the smoker, and you need to plan for at least 10-12 hours in the smoker after that. If you have the time, you can do this for 16-24 hours at the low end of the temperature spectrum, and it should come out wonderfully.

First order of business? Rub and inject.

Spread your dry rub all over pork, covering every nook and cranny. I’m pretty liberal with my rub, so you can probably get away with less than this recipe calls for, but I like to get as much rub on as possible to maximize the bark.

Mix the apple juice, Worcestershire, salt, sugar, and pepper in a bowl. Fill the syringe with the marinade and inject it into the meat.

Make sure to hit all of the major areas of the pork, pushing the plunger as you withdraw the syringe. Don’t just shove the syringe in, shoot it all in one spot, and create a single pocket of liquid that will quickly seep back out of the meat.

Refrigerate overnight, at least 12 hours.

30 minutes before putting into the smoker, remove from the fridge and set on the counter.

Prep your grill/smoker. You want the temperature to be between 200-225 degrees, depending on how much time you have. I hovered closer to the 225 end of things and it took 10.5 hours for a 10lbs butt. I’m not getting into an argument about which EXACT temperature is best, but the general rule of thumb is the lower and slower you can go, the better. What is most important is the internal temperature of the meat (190-195 degrees).

If you are working with a regular charcoal grill set up for indirect heat (banked coals) you will want to rotate the meat after a couple of hours. Otherwise, one side will be a little dry.

When the meat reaches at least 190 degrees, remove from the heat and place in a foil-lined cooler. Notice I didn’t say wrap it in foil, I said a foil lined cooler. Please see Rule # 3 about mushifying the precious bark.

DSCN0517While the meat cools, mix the ingredients for the mustard vinegar sauce and simmer in a saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. I also recommend buttering and toasting your buns.

Once the meat has rested for at least 20 minutes, pull the pork and serve. And make sure to tell everyone how hard it was to pull off.

-By Jon Watson, Food & More blog

33 comments Add your comment

Kirk

June 24th, 2011
7:08 am

http://www.smoking-meat.com

This site covers just about anything anyone would possibly want to know about smoking meat.

ByteMe

June 24th, 2011
7:11 am

If you don’t have a smoker and still want to make great pulled pork, you can use that crock-pot that you have sitting in your cabinet. Get a 4 lb or so pork butt, rinse it, dry it, and rub with your dry rub. Spray inside of crock-pot with PAM or canola oil. Put the pork into the crock-pot fat-side up. Put about 1 cup of chopped onion on top of the pork. Add a little smoke flavor to the pot if you want (I don’t; my sauce already has it) Close the lid and turn it on low heat for 8 1/2 hours. Take it out and let it sit about 30 minutes before you start pulling it apart so that you don’t melt off your fingerprints. Yum!

If you have room and want to smoke more than the little BGE, go over to Bass Pro shops and take a look at the Masterbilt XL smoker they sell for less than $200. I got one back in April and it’s quite good for low-fuss smoking of lots of meat. It’s propane, not charcoal, so it’s easier to control the temperature.

Get a good remote thermometer if you don’t want to sit around monitoring meat and smoker temperatures! We got one from Maverick (the ET-732) and love it.

Zeus

June 24th, 2011
7:22 am

Any tips on keeping the fire going and still keep the temp low when using charcoal? Add coals, sure, but how? Do you remove the grill grate to do it?

Carla Roqs

June 24th, 2011
8:09 am

jon, oh my gosh, that looks delish. there is no place like home, there is no place like home, there is no…

Coffee

June 24th, 2011
8:16 am

You said “follow a few simple steps, avoid shortcuts” and I think that is the problem. Most folks take shortcuts. They do it for all sorts of reasons. Rationalizing the reason being they get a better end result. But you can not. Slow and low is the only way it can be done.

Hungry Gringo

June 24th, 2011
8:40 am

Delicious… but where does one BUY a nice Boston Butt? I’m assuming there’s a better choice than my local Kroger (especially since my local Kroger is the Murder Kroger).

Jon Watson

June 24th, 2011
9:23 am

@Zeus – Yes, it just depends on what kind of grill you have. Assuming that it is a Weber style, I just position the grate so that one of the gaps on the side is above the banked coals, and I would drop a few more briquettes through without removing the grate. However, if your setup won’t allow you to do that, then you will probably have to improvise. And yes, I use briquettes instead of lump for smoking b/c lump charcoal burns hotter and it is more finicky to control the temp.

@Coffee – Exactly.

@Hungry Gringo – I usually head to a butcher shop (New York Butcher Shop in Buckhead/Sandy Springs is a good one, but not in your ‘hood) Whole Foods, or Fresh Market. Yes, they are more expensive, but pork butt is a very cheap cut of meat, so spending $20 instead of $17 seems worth it to me.

@ByteMe – As long as you don’t call that crock-pot pork BBQ, we should be ok…

HIC

June 24th, 2011
10:40 am

Jon, Good article. I have a BGE, too. I think briquettes in the BGE is a sin. I’ve tried a couple of different brands of lump and I’m the most happy with Royal Oak in the red bag. I have no issues controlling the temp, either low and slow or hi temp cooks.

Carla Roqs

June 24th, 2011
10:45 am

Drew

June 24th, 2011
10:54 am

Briquettes?!?! Real BBQers use hardwood lump charcoal. Check out an Ace Workbench store for Wicked Good brand. Kingsford is krap.

Jon Watson

June 24th, 2011
11:06 am

@Drew – I appreciate your lump enthusiasm, and I agree with you in theory. However, if you are using a kettle style weber grill (which isn’t ideal for smoking) briquettes make thing easier BECAUSE they are inferior. They don’t burn as hot, and though you need to refresh them more frequently, it helps to keep the grill at the 200-225 range. Smoking on the Weber was the ONLY time I used them. Now, when I’m on the big green egg? Lump charcoal 110%

Jon Watson

June 24th, 2011
11:07 am

@Hic – You are 100% right. briquettes have no place in a Big Green Egg.

Drew

June 24th, 2011
11:20 am

Ok fair enough :-)

David

June 24th, 2011
11:27 am

For all you BGE Owners… How easy is it to add more charcoal? Do you have to remove the grate to do it or is there a gap or door or drawer? Their website is terrible and they are expensive. Just want to make sure I won’t get aggravated having to remove the grate with the meat on it to add more coals

Terry Tyson

June 24th, 2011
11:58 am

To those who worry about adding charcoal to a Big Green Egg during the cooking process. Don’t worry about it. A BGE running at 225 degrees will burn for about 20 hours if you start with a full load. Get a BGE if you don’t have one. You will love it.

Edward

June 24th, 2011
12:07 pm

I am so glad to see you say that the sauce is one of the least important aspects. To me, the meat should be able to stand on its own. In a really good BBQ joint, the meat should have loads of flavor and be juicy and delectable all on its own. The sauce should come on the side for “if you want it”.

PTC DAWG

June 24th, 2011
12:45 pm

My Weber Smoky Mountain will maintain 225-250 for 12 hours or so without it being touched. That said, I can do it on my Weber 22″ Kettle, but it takes a little more work. Get the grate that folds up on the side for adding more coals.

A top of the line Weber 22″ Kettle can be had for about $150, and in my opinion, you can’t get a better grill to get started on.

Randy

June 24th, 2011
1:10 pm

Jon, great article. I’ve had my BGE for a couple of years now and like HIC have never used regular charcoal. I use Royal Oak too and HEB has their own brand of lump that’s pretty good. I have done all kinds of meat but pork butt. Can’t wait to try it next!!

Bear

June 24th, 2011
4:35 pm

Some great advice here! Especially the “cook by temperature”. Too many people have been indoctrinated into the “cook for x hours per pound” mentality. Temperature is the ONLY way to know when it’s done.

Can I hope that your rib recipe is forthcoming? I’m just learning the ropes of my new BGE and ribs is high on my list (right after pizza!)

DB

June 24th, 2011
5:49 pm

Thanks for one of the best “how to” articles on BBQ I’ve seen. The injection method was news to me. I was doing it wrong. I did see a Food Network special on Memphis in May and one of the contestants said all competitors do wrap butts in foil. He specifically said to wrap them when they reach 125 degrees. I guess they take them out of the foil at some point before being done and put back on smoker to get the bark back crispy??

ppppp

June 24th, 2011
11:00 pm

I want to a BBQ class – That was the message. “Cook until it is done” – LOL

ppppp

June 24th, 2011
11:04 pm

DB I put my Boston Butts and ribs in foil to speed up the cooking process, as the meat will not take on any more smoke. I put the ribs back on the grill after foil to put on some sause. The Boston Butt I don’t I leave it in the foil and get internal temp to 190. I takeo off the Boston Butt and let it sit in the foil – to let it rest

DB

June 25th, 2011
8:27 am

Jon – how about a blog on how to cook a brisket?

Typical Redneck

June 25th, 2011
6:34 pm

Jon, I agree with most of what you wrote, but the pork is perfect at 189 degrees.

Honest and Frank Discussion

June 26th, 2011
9:55 am

” You want your smoker/grill running between 200-225 degrees for the duration of the process,”

That’s a bit low there cowboy. The grill shouldn’t be at 200 degrees… ever. If you are smoking at 200 the meat will end up tough and with less flavor because you won’t effectively break down the connective tissue in the meat. 225 is a good rule of thumb to stick by. 215-235 is the window you want to aim for. High temperatures aren’t disastrous for ribs, but you should try to avoid spikes if you can.

On the BGE and removing coals, that’s its biggest downfall by far. You can go a long ways off a bunch of coals, but for a really big smoke I go with a weber smokey mountain. Doesn’t hold heat as well as the egg, but its just as easy to operate and you CAN easily mess with the coals and the smoke wood during cooking.

M915

June 26th, 2011
10:35 am

Can you say ‘HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE’.

hdhd

June 26th, 2011
10:46 am

You can get the so-called El Cheapo Brinkman for about $60 at Home Depot. With a little work, some modifications, and some patience, you can have restaurant-quality pulled pork at home for about half the price.

I love to fire up the smoker while I am out making my own beer (another hobby that is super easy to do at home).

My Two Cents

June 26th, 2011
10:49 am

Great article! I, too, own a BGE. My friends tell me I cook the best pork bbq they have ever eaten. You are right about advanced preparation. Once you learn the ropes of cooking on the BGE it is so easy. I cook mine overnight so that the meat has plenty of time to cook properly without rushing it. I also check on it every couple of hours to make sure there is no temperature stall in the cooking process. My recipe is an altered version of Tyler Florence’s Oven Cooked Pork sandwiches. It has a dry rub and a sauce very similar to the one used in this article. I put the rub on the butt and refrigerate for 24 hours. At that time I cook the sauce for about 30 minutes and refrigerate and reheat the next day to allow the flavors to meld. A Maverick thermometer is mandatory as well as the smoker is never opened during the cook. I create a pan out of heavy duty aluminum foil and add water or apple juice to maintain the moistness of the cook. When the meat is done I wrap it in foil, wrap it in towels, and place in a cooler until I have time to continue to work with it. This method is perfect for me and I still have the wonderful bark. After preparing your own nothing in the commercially prepared bbq world can touch it!.

Amateur

June 26th, 2011
10:59 am

Amazing article! I have a question that is along the lines of what Zeus asked about. Using a Weber and charcoal – when will I know to add more charcoal? Do I wait for the heat to start dying down before I throw some more on or what? I don’t really want to be constantly opening up the grill to chuck in more coals. Thanks!

Progress

June 26th, 2011
11:03 am

IMO charcoal should only be used to get the fire started. After that only soaked hardwood chunks or chips should be used. It’s also best if you have a smoker with a side box for the fire. This way you’re never cooking over direct heat and you can add wood to the fire without opening the section where the meat is smoking. This setup keeps temperatures around the meat more consistent since you never have to open the lid to the meat compartment until near the end when you begin to sauce it.

Southern Still Living

June 26th, 2011
11:38 am

I have a 42″ double firebox Brinkman, purchased at Sam’s, with removable grates on both sides. When in the offset cooking mode, I simply remove the grate from the fire side for adding my charcoal for the entire cooking session. Also, I never add cold coals. It’s simple enough to start a chimney of coals on the burner of my gas grill and get them to cooking temperature before adding. This cooker also has 2 doors to the fire boxes which will allow shoveling the hot coals through the open door with a metal trowel should you not care to open the lid. I’ve been using Jon’s method for years after many trial and effort miscues and always turn out the best “Q” , at least on my side of town.

jimbobcooter

June 26th, 2011
1:27 pm

Somehow, my bbq team has won multiple contests and state championships while wrapping all of our meat in aluminum foil at the appropriate time. I guess we don’t know what we’re doing :)

Cornfused

June 26th, 2011
1:45 pm

Could be the judges are from New York City. :) But I do agree with you as I do wrap certain things for the last hour in tin foil (beef brisket and pork ribs).