Easy Pulled Pork Sandwich – In the Spirit of North Carolina
Cue is the great sacrament of our people. No transubstantiation required. It are what we are.” –North Carolinians
North Carolina BBQ is serious cuisine with well-guarded secrets and highly debated, detailed methods. The proper, authentic method means the whole pig, flavorful rubs, getting the wood to the perfect temperature, keeping the wood at the perfect temperature, gradually adding more ashed-over wood, spritzing down flare-ups, slowly cooking with indirect heat for hours and hours until the pork is so tender, it falls off the bone as the fork comes into proximity. Real North Carolina ‘cue is the South’s magnum opus.
Obviously, ‘cueing a whole hog isn’t a beginner’s project, heck, it’s not even something a chef just whips out. But, there is a much easier way to get really tender, juicy, smoky pulled pork with an old-timey Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce. Shortcutting the method may sound kind of blasphemous, but think of it as a jumping-off point. Start small, and work your way up to larger cuts of pork and more time in the great outdoors. Soon, you’ll be staying up all night babysitting a whole hog on a slow fire, spritzing down the flames with a juice-filled spray bottle. Sounds like a pretty cool goal.
The method: rub it, smoke it, braise it and pull it – that’s it. And, if the rubbing and smoking are done the first day, then braising and pulling it the next; not only do the tasks seem more manageable, but, the rub and smoke more fully permeate the meat.
Step 1: Rub It
I rub a Boston butt/pork shoulder (4 6-ounce pieces) with the same spice mix as fried chicken – it’s a great all-purpose rub. Made in a larger batch and kept on hand, this mixture can be rubbed on any meat, fish, vegetables and popcorn.
Sprinkle pork with kosher salt and spice mixture; rub in well. Set aside at room temperature while lighting the smoker.
Step 2: Smoke It
Any type of smoker will work; just keep in mind, this project needs 45 minutes to an hour of strong, billowy smoke.
An electric smoker is simple: fill the wood chip bowl and plug it in — it’s ready to go in about 10 minutes. Place pork butt on designated racks, lower into smoker, cover and let it smoke for 45-60 minutes. Place meat on parchment-lined sheetpan (ready for oven), cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Baggies also work really well and don’t take as much fridge space.)
Side Note: The type of wood chip is a matter of preference. Mesquite, apple, & cherry woods are not as strong as hickory or oak.
Optional Step 2.5: Grill It
Charcoal grilling the pork isn’t absolutely necessary, but it adds a beautiful caramelized crust and another really great flavor layer, making the finished dish more complex and authentic. Now, it does add on time and the cost of charcoal, but if the charcoal is lit about the time the pork goes into the smoker, it’s an easy transfer (if the grill is next to the smoker). Plus, leftover charcoal heat can be used for that evening’s dinner.
Step 3: Braise It
Place pork in a baking dish, pour in 1/2 to an inch of water, cover tightly with foil, and place in a 290° oven for 3 to 6 hours, or until the meat easily falls apart when forked. Check the water occasionally, adding more as necessary to maintain the level.
Step 4: Pull It
When pork is extremely tender, remove foil, drain excess liquid (reserving it) and let cool enough to handle. Shred pork, discarding fat, and place in a bowl. Toss with Dennis Roger’s Holy Grub Sauce and some of the reserved braising liquid to keep the meat moist. Serve with buttered buns and cabbage slaw.
This shortcut still takes a fair amount of time, but it requires very little attention, and the result is a very tasty pulled pork sandwich.
Barbeque is a subject of intense interest and loyalties in North Carolina, a subject about which everyone thinks they’re right and that everyone else wouldn’t know a decent plate of ‘cue from a cue ball.” – Dennis Roger
Dennis Roger’s Holy Grub Sauce
Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbeque
1/2 gallon cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar or molasses
1.5 Tablespoons crushed red pepper
1 Tablespoon cayenne
1/8 cup kosher salt
Mix and let stand for at least 4 hours.