Happy 2019! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are refreshed and ready to get back to normal. I am dragging my feet about the whole thing, but keep reminding myself that this is only a three day work-week. Thank goodness.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the last couple of months have left me a little sick of sugary baked goods—not enough to quit making them or anything, but I need a little break. This is a yearly pattern so predictable that I’ve organized my blogging calendar around it. January on E2 Bakes means lots of savory dishes, including many weeknight meals. There may be a dessert or two as well, but that remains to be seen.The first recipe of the year is one of my favorites: Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork. I started making it about four years ago and haven’t looked back.I realize that you probably already have a pulled pork recipe that you love. Slow cooker pulled pork became ridiculously popular in the 2000s—one quick google search of those four words will yield approximately a gazillion variations on putting a pork shoulder in a slow cooker and letting it cook for 8 hours or so before being shredded/pulled, combined with barbecue sauce, and served on hamburger buns.But, um, unpopular opinion: I don’t like slow cooker pulled pork. I’m sure yours is great (!)—not trying to yuck your yum—it’s just not for me. You see, every slow cooker pulled pork I’ve ever had has been soft, mushy, stringy, too wet, too saucy, bland, or some combination thereof. I have eaten it when it’s been offered because when other people cook for me I eat what they make, but I just don’t like it. I can’t help it. Every time I eat slow cooker pulled pork, I wish it were more moist and less wet (if that makes sense) and had a simpler, pork-ier flavor. Oh, and crispy bits. You simply can’t get crispy bits with a cooking method that doesn’t allow air circulation…but you can in an oven.When I found Cara Nicoletti’s pulled pork recipe a few years ago, I felt the need to make it immediately and then many times since. It was pretty perfect already, but I’ve made some adjustments over time to suit my own preferences and now…well, I make the pulled pork I want to eat.This stuff is moist and meaty and not at all stringy or watery. It has an unabashedly porky, slightly salty flavor—perfect piled high on a roll with some crunchy vegetables and a drizzle of barbecue sauce (I go for a mustard-based sauce). It freezes like a dream. Oh, and it has plenty of crispy bits.Making pulled pork in your oven is not as easy as just throwing a pork shoulder in there and calling it a day. It takes time and lots of it—this is a weekend project for sure—but only about 60-90 minutes of it requires your immediate attention. Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork is coated in a mixture of Kosher salt, sugar and black pepper before chilling uncovered in the refrigerator for 12-48 hours. This is called a dry brine, and it’s magical: all the flavor of a traditional brine, but without the big vat of liquid taking up space in your fridge.After the brining time, the pork is rinsed and dried before being roasted at a low temperature for 6-7 hours. I like to throw some apple cider vinegar in the roasting dish—it adds moisture and flavor over the long cook time.After the slow roast, the heat goes way up to crisp the skin. One short rest later, those cracklings are chopped and mixed with the finished pulled pork. Then it’s time for sandwiches. And picking at the leftovers every time you pass the fridge.Seriously, good luck not eating it all.
Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork
adapted from Cara Nicoletti
makes 12-16 servings
1 6-7 pound bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup apple cider vinegar
barbecue sauce (I use a mustard-based sauce)
pickles, onions, cabbage/slaw
Read recipe completely before beginning. This is a multi-day process, but requires minimal hands-on time.
A day or two before:
Remove pork shoulder from any packaging and place on a large cutting board. Dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.
Use a large, very sharp (the sharper, the better) chef’s knife to slice a crosshatch pattern into the skin side of the shoulder. Do not slice into the meat.
In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together Kosher salt, granulated sugar, and black pepper. Use your clean hands to apply mixture to the entire surface of the meat. Place in a large pot or roasting dish (I use my dutch oven), skin-side-up.
Place pork shoulder, in its dish, into the refrigerator. Leave uncovered for at least 12 hours or up to 48.
The day you want to eat pulled pork:
Line a large cutting board with a clean kitchen towel or couple of layers of paper towels.
Remove pork shoulder, in its dish, from the refrigerator. Some liquid may have accumulated.
Lift pork out of its dish. Rinse well in cold water—there may still be some specks of black pepper, even after a few minutes. Place pork on prepared cutting board. Dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Let sit a room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 275F. Place pork skin-side-up in a clean, dry oven-safe pot or roasting dish (I wash and reuse my dutch oven). Pour apple cider vinegar into the dish. Roast pork for 6-7 hours, about an hour per pound. The internal temperature (not taken near the bone) should be 180F. Some liquid may have accumulated.
Turn oven heat up to 500F. Let pork cook, rotating every 5 minutes, until crosshatched skin is dark golden and crispy. Remove from oven.
Let pork sit a room temperature for 20-30 minutes before slicing off the skin/cracklings. Give it a rough chop and aside.
Remove meat from the bone, discarding any excess fat. Place meat in a large heatproof mixing bowl and toss with cracklings.
Serve on rolls with barbecue sauce and other toppings, if desired.
Leftover pork may be frozen in freezer bags for up to 3 months. Bone may also be frozen for use in stock or soup.