This post is long overdue. I was first inspired to write about this recipe over a year ago when my hubby and I started making it. For some reason it kept getting pushed off, and pushed off. And finally the time has arrived for this, the recipe of all smoker recipes. Our signature recipe. The one that defines us as bbq folks. And as we wrap up grilling season in many parts of the country I decided to pay homage to the greatest smoker recipe ever in honor of my favorite season of the year.
We premiered this recipe at our 2009 PBR-BQ (basically a BBQ celebrating all things PBR and meat. Believe me, the theme was NOT my idea, otherwise it would have been called "Bubbles-BQ") last summer for an intimate group of, oh, 50 of our closest Portland-based friends, and have been making it ever since. At that particular party, the meat (about 30 lbs of the pulled pork and brisket provided by a friend) was completely gone within 20 minutes. This recipe has even been endorsed by two vegetarians who ate multiple servings (true story) and one local Portland chef who described it as "the best bbq he's ever had". I kid you not. It was that good.
Now I have asked my hubby, the smoker master, to describe here the detailed process that leads to a good smoked recipe, especially smoked pork shoulder (aka pork butt). I am the sauce girl, the side girl, the appetizer girl, the everything but the meat girl. So I will leave it to the meat man to describe the meat smoking process in his own words and I'll cover the rest. So, without further adieu …
(aka the BEST pulled pork sandwiches you’ll ever have)
Grab 7-8 lbs pork shoulder (or pork butt), bone in from a local butcher. Sometimes the butcher will call it “Boston Butt”. I highly recommend bone in because it gives it more flavor, but will work either way.
¾ cup brown sugarThen I take the ¾ cup again and just fill it to the top with:
3 tablespoons paprika (for more flavor splurge for smoked paprika)That should equal the second ¾ cup.
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon Coleman’s Dry Mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Instructions: Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Reserve about 2 tablespoons for the mop.
A mop is a liquid-based solution I’ve used to baste the meat over a long period of time on the smoker. I typically use the apple cider mix as it adds a little flavor too. You apply it with a brush or spray bottle if you opt to use just liquid and no dry rub in it (*Note from experience, if you try the spray bottle after putting dry rub in the liquid, it will clog the bottle and not work so well).
½ cup water
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
2 tablespoons of the reserved of the dry rub
Instructions: Mix it all together in a medium sized bowl and reserve the day you do the smoking.
Instructions for smoking the pork butt:
I love the idea of a meat marinating overnight with a dry rub so it soaks into the meat. The pork butt is a combination of fat and fibrous meat and I think it lends itself to the rub. So, up to 24 hours prior to firing up the smoker, grab a big jar of Dijon mustard and your dry rub. Use cold water and rinse the meat and pat dry. Apply a light mustard coating to the entire butt to use to adhere the dry rub. Too much, and your rub becomes a paste; so don’t go too thick. Your dry rub can be sprinkled on all sides, lightly patted into the meat. Then place into a container in the fridge, covered overnight. The next time you're getting the meat is to put it on the smoker.
Be patient, this is an all day event. Be sure to buy a 12 pack of your favorite beer, one for each hour of cooking. A 7 pound butt can take up to 13 hours on the smoker, so be prepared! Take your meat out of the fridge, and uncover. Then get your smoker prepared and bring it up to 225 degrees (we use a Traeger smoker). Put the meat into the smoker and start the low and slow process of cooking the meat. *I should note, I make sure the fat side (you’ll see that the top of the butt will have a considerable amount of fat) is on top, as it cooks the fat will render and baste the meat.
Monitor your smoker to keep the temp at 225 throughout your day. About five hours into smoking it’s time to start applying your mop. Using a paint brush or a kitchen brush, lightly apply the mop to the top and sides of the pork butt, no need to be exact, the idea is to open your cover and quickly apply so you don’t lose your heat, but apply the liquid. Do this once an hour for about six hours. If you don’t use the dry rub in the mop and it’s just liquid, then use a spray bottle.
At about the nine hour mark, start taking temperature reads. When the thermometer is put in the meat I stay away from touching the bone and I am looking to get the meat to 190 degrees F. If the pork internal temperature is too low, you get a meat that doesn’t pull apart and is not truly moist and delicious. If it’s too hot then you can expect it to be dry and a little tough, so I go for 190 degrees. Most of the fat is rendered down and the meat is adequately moist. So, total cooking time can take up to 14 hours but usually 12 is average for seven pounds. (*Factors like weather, if it’s hot, cold, raining all can add or subtract the time). At 190 degrees F take the meat off the heat and let it sit for about 30 minutes, then you’ll use a large fork and a small fork and begin pulling (or shredding) the meat apart. Be sure to eat some, you’ve earned the taste test!
The bark: As you mop and watch the meat, you’ll note the browning of the meat and outer fat layer. This is good! The brown sugar in your mop caramelizes over the time it takes to cook and makes for a thick crust that adds a ton of flavor, so that is a good thing.
Smoke Ring: With any smoking, you want to see a pink layer of color right under the bark, this smoke ring is a sign of a well penetrated meat with good smoke flavor and is totally normal. It’s a badge of honor.
Preparation: After shredding the meat, serve on your favorite small bun (we LOVE the dinner rolls they have at New Seasons in Portland, but any style will do as long as you like them), place as much or little bbq sauce on the bun and a tablespoon or so of the cole slaw and enjoy all your hard work!
At first glance this sauce may seem like it has a lot of ingredients. But take a look in your pantry, you probably have everything you need sitting right in there! And it’s so worth it to make your own homemade sauce.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium finely chopped onion (about 1 - 1 ½ cups)
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup water
½ cup tomato sauce
¾ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
Instructions: Set a medium saucepan to medium-high heat, add the butter and once melted add the onions and cook until very soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add all dry spices and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 more minutes, or until the tomato paste begins to brown. Add the water, tomato sauce, cider vinegar, liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Lower heat to low simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened and reduced, typically about 30 minutes.
Once the sauce is at the consistency you like you can opt to use a hand immersion blender to make the sauce smooth. It only takes a few pulses. If you like it chunky, no need to blend the sauce.
Let cool. Can be made days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
Since there is so much incredible flavor in the pork we like to keep the cole slaw very simple. No heavy sauce or mayo needed. Just a little flavor and crunch. And the cumin gives it a unique flavor that your guests will love.
Pre-shredded cabbage mix (1 lb bag)
2 tablespoons cumin
2-3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 handful of diced green onions (about 1 bunch, just the green parts, save the white for something else)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Instructions: Mix and toss all ingredients together. Easy as that!
It may seem crazy to invest so much time into sandwiches, but this is truly a special treat. If you want to really see how good smoked pork can be, I highly encourage you to try this recipe and let me know what you think!
As for wine? Well, in all honesty when you're savoring the deliciousness that is these amazing sandwiches you aren't really thinking about wine. Most of the wine is consumed during this long 12 hour smoking process. I recommend a low alcohol spritzer wine like Vinho Verde so you're not tipsy come sandwich eating time. However, we did recently serve this meal at our Portland going away party, served with an array of white wines (since it was 95 degrees out that day). I will highlight the wines we drank in the next post.