Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Barbecued pulled pork on a Traeger

Of all the different cuts of meat that can define what real "low n' slow" cooking is all about, pulled pork is right at the top of the list. When cooked slowly, the fat and connective tissue renders in the meat, resulting in some of the most flavorful and tender meat imaginable.

The two most popular cuts used to make pulled pork sandwiches are the butt (also known as Boston butt,pork butt roast or pork shoulder), and the picnic. Both cuts come from the front portion of the hog and tend to be very well marbled-a trait most desirable for long-term barbecue.

The Boston butt comes directly from the upper portion of the shoulder. It is sold both boneless and bone-in. A typical butt weighs between four and seven pounds.

A picnic (roast) comes from the upper portion of the front leg of the hog. It may or may not include a portion of the shank, or lower leg. The picnic typically weighs in between 12-15 pounds, and is usually sold with the outter skin attached.

Preparation: The Boston butt will require little trimming. A bone-in butt will most likely be more flavorful than a boneless cut. The reason being is that some of the marrow from the bone will be absorbed by the meat while the butt is cooking.

With a picnic, you will need to remove the skin, and trim down the fat to a uniform thickness.
The next step is to apply a light coat of seaoning or dry rub of you choice. Traeger Pork & Poultry or Salmon Shake are excellent seasoning blends. You may also want to apply a light layer of yellow or deli mustard on top of the seasoning, making sure to completely cover all of the exposed meat.

Cooking: In order to get the best results, you will want to cook the shoulder at a medium heat setting. Use the MEDIUM setting or a temperature of 275F, You always want to start cooking a large piece of meat (regardless of whether it's pork or beef) on medium.

Smoking: Allow the shoulder to warm up to at least 100F internal temperature before you switch to the smoke setting. This will allow the meat fibers to open up, resulting in better smoke penetration. Figure on it taking between 1-1.5 hours per pound total cooking time-in other words, at least nine to twelve hours.

Some cooks use a mist or baste on their pork butts while it cooks. This is optional on your part. The mist or baste can be any combination of liquids, anything from water and whisky, to beer, apple cider vinegar or any other combination that suits your tastebuds.

One thing to keep in mind is that you want each of the various ingredients to compliment, rather than compete with each other. The whole idea is to enhance the flavor of the meat.
The secret to succulent pulled pork is to allow it to slowly cook so that the interior fat and collagen melts. In order to render the meat shredable, you will want to cook the shoulder to at least 190 F. Some cooks will cook their shoulders to as high as 210F internal temperature.
The shoulder will wind up with a mahogany colored crust. Some cooks prize this outter crust-aka-crunchies and mix it in with the succulent interior meat, winding up with a juxtipositon of chewing and tender meat.

Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the grill and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes before attempting to shred the meat. This can easily be done by using two salad forks placed back to back and then pulled in opposite directions. At this point, the meat can either be mixed with a traditional barbecue sauce, mustard sauce, vinegar sauce or left plain with sauce on the side.

For a true Memphis-style pulled pork sandwich, pile the meat on a bun, then top with cool coleslaw. For a Carolina-style, use a traditional mustard or vinegar based sauce with the meat.
Just remember to give yourself plenty of time for the meat to properly cook and come up to the correct internal temperature. Then get ready to enjoy one of the most sublime joys of great barbecue-pulled pork.

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