Surprise, a new post! Sorry it’s been a while. The past month and a half have been so busy. Work was busy and busy playing nurse-mom to one of the dogs who is on her 3rd week of recovery from surgery. Playing nurse-mom for 3 weeks isn’t as bad as trying to get her to relax and taking it easy. I just don’t think the word “easy” is part of the Corgi’s vocabulary. So to make up for not posting in a while, this is going to be a rather long post, sorry. Well, smoking meat is a long process anyway.
I’ve been playing around with various vinegar-ketchup style BBQ sauce (the YLDS version is here) and for the past week, I’ve had smoked butt on the brain. No, no, not “Ass on fire, ass on fire. Put it out, put it out.” Sorry, that was sad rendition of ”House on Fire“. I’m talking about pork butt, no, not my butt but rather a Boston Butt or pork shoulder. I don’t have a smoker nor a charcoal grill. So I’ve been doing a lot of digging around to see how best to utilize the gas grill to get somewhat acceptable smoked meat. I finally decided on the zen path of Meathead’s, aka Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn, Perfect Pulled Pork (recipe and much more can be found here). Due to respect for copyrights, please go to Craig’s sight for the recipes. I will note below what I’ve done different from his recipes.
Meathead doesn’t believe in brining. I, however, am deadly afraid of dried pork, or any kind of meat for that matter. I’ve tried many smoked pulled pork sandwiches from various BBQ places in San Diego and most, except one, were too dry for my liking. I just feel that a good pulled pork should be able to stand on it’s own and not depend on a BBQ sauce to add moisture back into the meat. I don’t think there’s an official name for the fear of dry meat so I’m making one up, siccuscarnphobia. So having siccuscarnphobia and this being the first time I’ll be going through all the effort of smoking a large pork shoulder on a gas grill, I wanted to minimize dryness by brining first.
The brining solution I used is as follows, which was plenty to completely cover the 5.5 lb pork shoulder:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 quarts cold water
3 tablespoon of Memphis Dust Rub (modified)
Add the salt to the water and keep stirring until all the salt has dissolved. Add brown sugar and rub mixture, stirring well to combine. You could use lukewarm water to help to dissolve the salt faster. Just chill the brining solution until cold.
I put the pork shoulder into a large vacuum seal bag but you can use any large, food safe bag or container that will allow the brine mixer to completely cover the shoulder. Let the meat marinade for at least 8 hours. I went 12 hours on this one, which I thought was ideal.
Let me just pause right here to talk about the Memphis Dust Rub. Best rub I’ve tasted. I’m a huge fan of sweet and spicy combos and this rub fits the bill. The only modification I made is the paprika. I added 1/4 cup of smoked paprika in addition to a 1/2 cup of Hungarian sweet paprika. I thought the smoked paprika gave the rub a nice tinge of kick.
Remove the pork shoulder and patted dry. Then liberally rubbed the modified Memphis Dust Rub all over the shoulder, getting into all the meat folds. I let it sit to come to room temperature and to let the rub meld into the meat. From there on, I followed Meathead’s instructions for smoking the shoulder. I had thought about letting the shoulder sit another night in the fridge with the rub on but decided against it. The stomach was grumbling and it wanted pulled pork for dinner!
I used hickory wood chips since that was all that was available when I was at the store. I used an aluminum foil cake pan to hold all the wood chips. I have a cast iron smoker box for a gas grill but it’s pretty tiny and I wanted to be able to add chips easily (the smoker box has a heavy lid). Worked out just great and easy clean up! Turned on all 3 burners and set the pan with chips to one side. About 20 minutes later, the chips were smoking and ready to for the shoulder.
I turned off two of the burners, keeping the one below the chips on. Set the shoulder on one of the other burners. I stuck a digital thermometer into the center of the shoulder to monitor the internal temperature. The toughest part was keeping the temperature at 225 degrees F. The rule is 1.5 to 2 hours per pound of meat. So that would put me somewhere around 6:00 – 7:00 pm for the 5.5 lb shoulder. Perfect. At least in theory.
At about 1 pm, the internal temperature was only around 114 degrees F. I’ve read “the stall” can happen anywhere from 140 – 160 degrees, with a possible 2nd stall around 180 degrees. I wasn’t worried about the second stall since I was going to pull it at 180 anyway. But who would have thunk I hit the stall it at about 125 degrees. It lingered and lingered, maybe inching up a degree every 15-20 minutes. I have to admit, I was starting to get a little antzy because at that rate, we weren’t going to eat until 9:00 pm. It didn’t break out of it until 5 pm and even then, it was still very slow. At about 6:00 pm, the internal temp was only around 147 degrees, still only inching a few degrees every 15 minutes. Yikes. Well, since the Mister didn’t want frozen Tostinos for dinner, we decided to just go out to eat. But what to do with the shoulder???
Since I was out of hickory chips by then and getting a bit tired of monitoring the temperature, I decided to let the oven finish the cooking. I preheated the oven to 225, dug out the oven probe, removed the shoulder from the grill an onto an aluminum baking pan. Once the oven was to temp, I stuck the probe into the shoulder, plugged it into the oven socket and set the temp to 180 degrees. Then off to dinner we went.
To make a long post longer, it took another 3 hours of cooking time to finally get to 180 degrees. Wow. I shut off the oven and let the shoulder rest. I didn’t shred it until the next day, which was a little harder than if the meat was still warm/hot. But in the end, it was worth every bit of effort.
Postscript: I’ve been thinking about the reason(s) why my stall time and stall temperature were longer than typical and I think it might have to do with the brining. Maybe the quality of the pork shoulder had something to do with it also but the brining makes much more sense. Salt will affect cooking time and even temperature. So if you do decide to brine, just keep that in mind.
Here’s a shot of it when I pulled it out of the oven. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I tied the shoulder before smoking (a poor effort at that) but it really didn’t need it.
Here’s a shot of the inside. The meat was so moist and juicy. Thank goodness! And the bark turned out pretty good.
Although the ends of the shoulder looked a bit dry to me at first, but it was very tender and not dry at all, except for the bark area. The meat could have been a bit more smoky for my taste and was a bit surprised how mild it was. It was there but I smelled more like smoke than the shoulder did. But overall, I thought it turned out really well considering. And talk about the flavor! A good balance between sweet and spicy. Delicious!
You think this would be the end of the post but you would be wrong. I have to talk a little about the BBQ sauce now. Don’t get me wrong. This shoulder can stand on its own without any sauce but we lika da sauce, what can I say. I didn’t go with the YLDS BBQ since I wanted to try another recipe for this meal. What I ended up with was different than what I started with.
As the shoulder was smoking, I was working on the BBQ sauce. I decided to try a cider vinegar bbq sauce but once I made it, I thought the vinegary taste would overpower pulled pork. It had a great kick and taste, especially from the chipotle pepper but didn’t feel it would work well with the rub. I’ve had plenty of pork sandwiches where the sauce just completely covered the flavor of the pork. I decided to adjust the recipe by adding Memphis Dust Rub to it. I did mention that I love this rub, right? So here’s what I think is the perfect BBQ sauce to go with this beautiful pulled pork. The recipe will make about 1.5 cups of sauce. Good for a 5.5 lb pulled pork.
Ingredients for BBQ Sauce:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 whole chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
3 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
8 oz of tomato sauce without salt
Dash of Worcestershire sauce, about 1/2 tablespoon
A pinch of salt, about 1/8 teaspoon
1/2 cup Memphis Dust Rub
Add all the ingredients except the rub into a blender or food processor. Puree everything together until smooth. Put sauce in a sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add Memphis Dust Rub, stirring in well and simmer for another 10 minutes.
The cole slaw served with the pork sandwich is also Meatball’s recipe. The recipe for this delicious creamy slaw that went well with the sandwich can be found here. I chose to go with the thinly chopped version.
The overall combination of everything was the best pulled pork sandwich either of us had ever had. We’ve enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich at a famous San Diego BBQ restaurant but we both emphatically agreed that this version was way better. I would certainly go through the effort again. Although next time I might just smoke the dickens out of it on the grill for a few hours and then finish off in the oven since I think the oven did a much better job at controlling the temperature than I did.