Pulled pork is a BBQ classic with its origins in the US. There is lots of “folklore” attached but in essence it is a very simple dish to cook. It needs to be cooked slowly, ideally over charcoal with a little dry wood to add some smokiness. It needs to be given plenty of time to cook as it will go through “the stall” where the temperature simply stops rising, perhaps for a few hours!! And then it needs to reach a temperature of around 93C – at which time it can be foiled, wrapped in towels and put in an insulated box (a cold box is ideal) for 3hrs or (much) more until you are ready to eat. The meat is then gently pulled apart, served with or without a BBQ sauce, traditionally in a bun with some slaw. Personally I prefer it simply as it is – unadorned.
The Americans refer to the cut as “Pork Butt” for reasons I am yet to fathom (my favourite suggestion can be found here). It is in fact from the front leg of the pig and is cut from the top of the shoulder, right through to the top of the leg. Ideally, leave the meat on the bone, it will slow the cooking a little but does add to the overall taste in the end. Ask the butcher to remove the skin as this is not the easiest of tasks – and if you fancy making some wonderful pork crackling – put it to one side till later. A cut such as this tends to come in at between 7-8KG and is never going to be cheap as you do need to go to a good butcher to get it cut properly, and you might be wise to ring ahead a few days before you need it as each pig only has 2!! The one used for this recipe weighed 8Kg
Some suggest brining the pork overnight before doing anything else with it. As yet this is not something I have tried – but here is some information if you want to explore this further. Click onto Brining pork for more info.
There are lots of rub recipes for this cut and probably almost as many as the people cooking them! The formula I used is based on a recipe shared with me by my friend Nic Williams but tamed just a little reducing the heat of the rub. My advice in general is to go a little cautiously with rubs when first starting – if too spicy there is nothing you can really do to tame it after the cooking – and if a little too mild for your taste there are things you can add at the end. Ideally add the rub at least 6 hours before you start cooking and better still overnight. The basic ingredients are shown in the recipe section. I have varied this a little for my pork rubs, halving the paprika and omitting the chili powder all together (though I have to admit I am a little “chilli sensitive”) – and then just to compensate add about a tsp of ground ginger.
Setting up the Big Green Egg
With a joint like this cooked long and slow I would allow at least 24 hours if cooking between 100-110C a little longer if the first part of the cooking is at around 90-95C and perhaps about 12-14 hours if cooked at 120C (the latter is a lot quicker and the meat will be nearly as moist). My preference is to do the first 8 hours or so at around 95C and then bring the temperature up to around 110C for the remainder of the cooking. This can be done on one fill of Restaurant Grade Charcoal. You will see that the charcoal level here is a little higher than the join between the firebox and the ceramic fire ring – the join between the 2 just being obscured by the charcoal.
Once up to temperature add some “dampened” wood chips or wood chunks of your choice – my favourite for this is cherry! Add the plate setter in the feet up position (in this photo it has been pre-wrapped with aluminium foil to protect from any drips). Then a roasting tin filled with about 2cm of water sat on top of the plate setter to catch any meat juices and to add moisture to the cooking environment (the water seems to be omitted in many of the recipes but I like the effect it seems to bring). The stainless steel cooking grill is put in place and then the pork placed on the top of the grill with the “fat side” uppermost. The pork is shown here with a meat temperature probe inserted into the centre of the body of the meat away from the bone, just after putting it on the grill. So at this point just close the lid and let the BGE temperature equalize. Once at the right temperature there is so very little to do! You can see from the 3 pictures below that the meat is not moved during the cooking and all that may be necessary is to carefully top up the water pan – do take care with this as water should not be splashed onto the hot ceramic – and if at all unsure you might want to omit the topping up.
The three pictures were taken at 9 hours, 14 hours and 25 hours into the cooking and were the only times the top of the Egg was lifted!
Managing the temperature can easily be done with a combination of the draft door at the bottom of the Egg and the Daisy Wheel at the top – the Daisy Wheel will need to be almost fully closed and the draft door closed to somewhere around 1-2cm.
Done this way there is still a primordial need to keep checking the temperature – with an expensive piece of meat and guests coming – quite understandable – but may mean a disturbed night’s sleep! The other possibility is to use a “temperature controller that monitors the temperature of both the cooking meat and the temperature of the inside of the BGE at the level of the Grill. This is largely fit, turn on, set and forget – the one I am currently using is the DigiQ – and so far has been a real joy to use (more of this in a further article)
If using an in-dwelling temperature probe in the cooking pork you will see the temperature slowly and evenly rise throughout the cooking period. Do however be ready for the “Stall” when the internal temperature simply stops rising – probably due to evaporation from the surface of the meat. There are suggestions for “getting your meat to get through the stall” (click get through the stall for further details). For me I am happy to let nature take it’s course – as long as you have left enough time for the cooking in your plan!
The meat will be good to eat and will be really succulent once the internal temperature has reached 88C cooked this way – I have to say I usually aim for 92-93C as an ideal temperature. The plan should be to reach this temperature some 2-8 hours before you intend to serve so there is lots of flexibility!! Carefully lift the meat off the grill without letting it fall apart – you may need some assistance and wrap it in 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil. Pop to into an insulated “cool box” easiest to do if laid on it’s side, cover with some clean towels and close the lid – it really will stay warm possibly for up to 10 hrs if it is in a good cool box and the lid is kept closed! Cooked this way there is no need to “pull the pork” it will gently fall apart by gently “teasing” it!!
Classically served with BBQ sauce and served in rolls with slaw and sauce – I have to say I prefer mine on its own with some roasted potatoes or triple cooked chips and a little salad – but which ever way you prefer it …………….. there is nothing quite like it! YUMMY!!
Can you really do this on one fill of charcoal? The picture tells the story – this is what was left after cooking the pork and shutting down the BGE! It was raked slightly to remove the loose ash and relit the following day without adding any more new charcoal – and comfortably roasted a couple of chicken.
…………….. quite impressive!!
Traditional Pulled Pork
Slow cooked Pulled Pork - cooked overnight
- 7-8Kg of Pork shoulder - bone in (skin off)
- Basic ingredients - for the Rub
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 4 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tbsp light soft brown sugar
- 2 tbsp chilli powder
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper or chipotle powder
- 1 tsp English mustard powder
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- Step 1 Take the Shoulder of pork (bone in) and if not already removed by the butcher, remove the skin and set aside
- Step 2 Mix the ingredients for the rub modifying as necessary (see text)
- Step 3 apply liberally to the pork and leave ideally overnight in the fridge
- Step 4 Fill the BGE with charcoal a little higher than the joint with the fire ring set to cook initially at around 95C. Once up to temperature add some “dampened” wood chips or wood chunks of your choice. Add the plate setter in the feet up position. Optionally place a roasting tin filled with about 2cm of water on to pof the plate setter to catch any meat juices and to add moisture to the cooking environment. Place the stainless steel cooking grill in place
- Step 5 Place the pork on the top of the grill with the “fat side” uppermost.
- Step 6 It may be necessary to carefully top up the water pan – do take care with this as water should not be splashed onto the hot ceramic
- Step 7 Managing the temperature can easily be done with a combination of the draft door at the bottom of the Egg and the Daisy Wheel at the top – the Daisy Wheel will need to be almost fully closed and the draft door closed to somewhere around 1-2cm. After about 10 hours reset the temperature to around 110C
- Step 8 Be ready for the “Stall” see the text above
- Step 9 The meat will be good to eat and will be really succulent once the internal temperature has reached 88C cooked this way – but aim for 92-93C as an ideal temperature.
- Step 10 Carefully lift the meat off the grill without letting it fall apart. Wrap it in 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil. Pop it into an insulated “cool box” till needed
- Step 11 Serve with BBQ sauce in rolls with slaw and sauce or on its own with some roasted potatoes or triple cooked chips and a little salad