Okay, people, I've been wanting to share this recipe with you for years, and I can't wait any longer! I had hoped to get better at barbecuing first. I've been waiting and waiting until I could competently maintain low, smoldering coals for six hours at a time without letting the fire go out. But it always goes out. Then I overcompensate by building a flaming inferno that rages on seemingly forever, until I grow bored and start doing something else, and then the fire goes out again. It would seem I don't have enough stamina for the slow-burning fire marathon that is southern barbecue. I can get the coals really, really hot or really, really cold. There is no in-between.
I was skeptical the first time I made pulled pork in a slow cooker. Wouldn't it be a shadow of its barbecued self? But you know what? It's great! It's fantastic! On a scale of 1 to 100, awesome minus 2 is still awesome! Yes, it's not as wood-smoky as it otherwise would be. I added a little smoked paprika to the spice rub to help out with that. Yes, it still takes a looong time to cook, but you don't have to DO anything. No coals to tend, nothing. It cooks all day while the cook's away/at play/on the bidet.
This time, I cooked up two pork roasts at the same time. I knew we'd eat it all and we did. The 9YO is over the moon for this stuff, and ate three big piles of pulled pork after deciding the roll was interfering with the full meat experience. Then he threatened to sneak downstairs at midnight and eat some more. He won't get too far, though, because my money's on Husband to beat him there, hiding in a dark corner of the dark kitchen, hissing, eyes aglow like a startled raccoon. Me, I won't try to compete. I can eat all the pulled pork I want in my dreams and never have to leave the bed!
So, it's up to you this Labor Day if you want to cue up the BBQ and do some actual labor or cue up the crockpot and labor ironically. Either way, you're in for some good eating!
Cheater's North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork (print-friendly version)
Start the night before by applying the dry rub and shaking together the barbecue sauce for best results. However, I've thrown it all together that morning and it still comes out great. I'm partial to the vinegar-based barbecue sauce for which North Carolina is known, but if you have your own favorite sauce, feel free to sub it in. Serve on a roll with coleslaw!
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika (I like to go half and half with sweet and smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
3- to 5-pound pork shoulder or Boston butt, bone in or out
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
Shake together all the sauce ingredients in a mason jar until the salt dissolves. Refrigerate.
Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. Dry off the meat with paper towels and rub the spice mixture all over. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. If you don't have that kind of time, proceed to the next step.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil until hot. Brown the meat on all sides to get a tasty outer crust. Again, if you're in a hurry, you can skip this step. (It does make it better, though.)
Transfer the meat to a slow cooker. Pour about 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce over the meat. Cover and cook 4 to 6 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low. The meat should be very tender when poked. Remove it to a cutting board. Pour the liquid in the slow-cooker into a measuring cup and let it sit undisturbed. Shred the meat with a fork, pulling it apart and place it in a large bowl. Pour off the fat from the top of the liquid in the measuring cup, and reserve the dark sauce below. Pour a few tablespoons of the dark sauce over the meat and toss (not too much, as it can be salty from the rub).
Make sandwiches by piling pulled pork onto bulky rolls, dressing with the remaining barbecue sauce or more of the brown pan drippings, and topping with homemade coleslaw.
The Barbecue Method
If you want to try your hand with the barbecue, here are my notes. This should work, theoretically, if you're diligent about adding enough coals every hour. It does take some practice, but if the fire does go out, just throw it in the slow cooker on high and call it a day!
Soak 4 cups of wood chips in water for 30 minutes (I use hickory). Preheat the grill (I use a chimney starter filled 3/4 of the way up with charcoal, bottom stuffed with newspaper, and lit from underneath with a match). Once the coals are ashy (about 20 minutes), dump them onto the bottom grate on one side of the grill. Place the cover on the grill, poke a thermometer through one of the holes in the vent, and close the vent a bit to get the temperature down to 300°F. Once there, add some soaked wood chips to the coals and replace the top grate.
Add the meat to the grill on the opposite side as the coals. Try to maintain a grill temperature between 200° and 225°F. Don't let the fire go out (haha, have fun with that!). To get the temperature higher, open the vent more. To get the temperature lower, close the vent more. Every hour, add 10 or so more coals and another handful of wood chips (grill grates often have hinges that allow you to lift up one side to add more coals/chips). Baste the meat with barbecue sauce and replace the cover immediately. Smoke 5 to 6 hours. When the meat is tender and nearly falling apart (an internal temperature of 190° to 195°F), remove the meat from the grill. Let rest. Shred the pork.
Pork: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA