I digress. Tonight, as my own random pulled pork recipe is slowly cooking in my Le Creuset dutch oven IN my oven, filling my apartment with the most delicious smells, I got lost on pinterest and found a wide array of pulled pork recipes. Let me back up a touch, I have lived in several areas of the US, and each take their pulled pork seriously. To be clear, there's a lot of different methods to making pulled pork - you can roast it, smoke it, grill it partially then bake it, etc. I've had it almost every way there is. I like smoked and roasted in a crockpot or dutch oven, and then I like to put it on a really good bun (preferably toasted and slightly crispy...which RARELY happens in public, but always happens in my home).
- In South Carolina (born and raised), the BBQ is a mustard based sauce for the most part. I haven't really had any complaints with this style, but I have had a few experiences where I wanted to remove the sauce from the meat (blasphemy!), but overcame that by eating beans or drinking beer or both. And to be honest, this is my least favorite style of BBQ/pulled pork. Actually, my friend's mom and her husband make the BEST pulled pork I've ever had in my life - from Palm Key Catering. Lindsay has a variety of sauces that she makes, but they smoke the pork in a HUGE smoker they have and I am drooling just thinking about it.
- In North Carolina, the sauce is vinegar based. I lived in Charlotte, NC for a year before law school. I loved it because the firm I was working at loved BBQ too! We attended some conferences or had lunches of BBQ that were just divine. Same sides as most BBQ all over the county - beans and cole slaw. I am not a super huge fan of a lot of mayonnaise in anything except chicken salad. Just so you know, I just spelled mayonnaise incorrectly, that's how much I use it. Moving on. I really like the vinegar based because it wasn't so thick. This may be a double edged sword because you may feel that you can eat more than you should. Whatever, when has anyone in America really listened to "don't have a second helping" at least once in their life? I mean really.
- In Virginia, ya know, honestly, I don't know WHAT was happening. It wasn't something I really noticed at first, but then one word dominates the entire taste: Ketchup. I'm all for people making their own sauce and using ketchup, but I don't know, something about it says "cheater" - which might make an asshole, that's up to you.
- New Hampshire: I only had it a few times when I was in boarding school in New Hampshire, BUT, I recall it being smoked, and I don't remember using sauce. That may have just been my taste and aversion to BBQ sauce in high school, I am sure there's a style that I just haven't personally experienced, I just don't know what it is right now.
- Texas, well Texas BBQ is all about beef. There is pulled pork here, but a consistent "style" of pulled pork simply doesn't really exist as far as my research and experience has proven. There are pork ribs that are FABULOUS. Texas BBQ is all about the smoked awesomeness of a smoked brisket or other cuts of beef, and smoked chicken. It does not disappoint, minus the pulled pork style front.
To be honest, I don't know where my go-to ingredients put me on the East Coast/Texas map of "style," I've actually never tried to place it before tonight. Am I lost in this Lord of the Rings-esque Pork Wonderland? Perhaps. Let me tell you about why I like my pulled pork....
- First, I use a beer based sauce. Why is this better? I don't know, but it does seem to tenderize my meat and give my sauce a little something extra. I like to choose artisan beers that are made by people who give a shit about the ingredients - like cool fruits and organic veggies. My dad used to make his own beer when he lived in Seattle in the late 70s. I've never had it, but he has told me all about it. He put so much care and thought into making it, now you tell me why that wouldn't make any meat dish better?
------- Side bar - Now, if I had a grill or smoker, I would use that I reckon. However, the laws in Texas do not allow you to have a grill or smoker on your apartment porch. It's pretty dry here, and it's also considered a very serious fire hazard. I know my way around a smoker - this is what I made my for my family on Thanksgiving in 2012....Smoked Turkey - Thanksgiving - 2012
- Third, I use fresh veggies in my sauce. I think this gives it sense of freshness, and especially if you have the chance to stuff them into the pork...it just sinks into the flavor of the meat even more.
- Fouth, Apple Cider Vinegar v. Rice Wine Vinegar - this is a debate I have every time I choose to make pulled pork. Apple Cider Vinegar will add a hint of fruity sweetness to your dish. Rice Wine vinegar is less invasive on flavor, but still gets the job done. What is that job? It helps to thin out the sauce, and on some levels acts to help cut some of the other flavors in your sauce down a touch. You aren't trying to hurt anyone! haha.
- Lastly, fifth, I like to remove the pork from the sauce and pull it, and THEN reduce the liquid into the sauce. I usually add at least a cup of vinegar to the liquid at this point, because the whole thing has been cooking for at least 5-7 hrs at this point, it's going to be emitting strong flavors. ALSO, when reducing, this helps slightly accelerate the process, in my experience anyway. I like to reduce the sauce for about 30 minutes, let it cool a little and either remove some of it and put it in a food processor to deal with the chunkiness of the veggies in there OR use a handheld blender and just go to town in the pot. Blending anything that hot is a hazard, I am pretty impatient and usually risk it. I recommend you don't totally emanate my actions, as I have been burned and cleaned up a number of hot pulled pork sauce messes. (no one told you this was going let you come out totally clean... wink wink). The reducing also helps to really bring the flavors alive. And on another note, I don't like a loose sauce. Ya, it sounds kinda gross when I phrase it that way, doesn't it? I like my pulled pork to be treated with respect, with a nice thick, delicious sauce, and frankly, you should too.
The almost last thing I have to say is, my crock pots have turned on me. Sometimes I put too much in them and they boil over, what a mess. Sometimes they over cook what I am trying to do because, due to lack of research, I don't really know how hot the crock pot gets. I really love my dutch oven that my mom got me a few Christmas' ago. It NEVER fails and I really know how hot it is because it's in the oven. ALSO the dutch oven makes it MUCH easier to reduce the sauce because I can put it right on the stove and continue working.
This is really the last thing I have to say now: pulled pork is awesome. You can choose how you want to make it, you will develop your own tastes. I think it's important to know the regional styles of how certain dishes are cooked. I try to bring a little bit of everywhere I have been, to my kitchen where I am right now. So far, so good. Don't stop exploring your tastebuds.
This is partly what my pulled pork looks like tonight before it went in the oven: