BBQ Pork Shoulder
|April 4, 2011||Posted by Cheeks under Main Course, Make-ahead, MEAT, Recipe|
This is the sort of meat that begs for long, wet … cooking. Did I just get to riske for this blog?
C’mon, we are talking about pork BUTT here. And it’s not even butt – it’s the shoulder. And it’s delicious. Pork shoulder/butt is a very flavorful cut of meat, but it’s also incredibly tough, given the amount of connective tissue running through it. Also, think how much a pig’s shoulder is used – it carrries the animal’s weight around all day. Any muscle that’s used a lot is tough.
That’s why a tenderloin is so tender – it’s the length of muscle that runs up along the back under the ribs, and it doesn’t get much use in its protected position. Though the tenderloin may be tender, it’s not generally considered the most flavorful cut either. I prefer flavor over texture – give me short ribs or pork shoulder any day. You just need to cook them to enhance the flavor while improving their texture.
A long, low, slow cooking time gives all the little connective tissues – the tough, chewy bits – time to dissolve away. The fat, too, melts away during a long braise, leaving tender, shreddable meat that retains its strong, distinctive flavors. Pork shoulder is most often used for BBQ pulled pork, when a long (8 hour) rest in a smoker does the work a relatively short (3-4 hour) braise can do. Since I don’t have a smoker, and it’s still too cold in Chicago to fashion one out of my gas grill, I went the oven route.
Really, nothing could be easier. You basically season the meat (you can sear it if you want too, but I didn’t even want to take that extra step), add in the flavorful braising liquid, and let it go. Once it’s baked for several hours, you can see the magical transformation. The stringy, tight chuck of meat becomes fall-apart, loosey-goosey tender. The thin braising liquid has absorbed the tremendously flavorful liquids (yes, and fat) that melted out of the meat.
The shredded meat, being returned to the enriched liquid, becomes the most versatile and delicious of concoctions. Put it on a sandwich! Roll it in a tortilla! Spoon it over texas toast, cornbread or egg noodles! Top your nachos with it! Eat forkful after forkful!
I went a pretty straightforward barbecue-esque flavor route below (mustard, vinegar, tomatoes, brown sugar) but you could do anything. Mexican Carnitas (lime juice, more chipotle, pineapple juice, cumin) or, hmmm, Asian (soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin/sake, ginger, garlic, brown sugar) or anything! Best part is, this can feed a humungous crowd or just two, provided you have space in your freezer for extras following the meat feast.
BBQ Pork Shoulder
- 1 4-lb pork shoulder (also called port BUTT)
- 1/2 large onion
- 1 can whole or crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup bbq sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 chipotle chiles
- 2 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp cumin
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Roughly chop onion and throw in the bottom of a large, covered dutch oven. Season meat on all sides with salt & pepper and place on top of onion in pot. Dump tomatoes over the top (if using whole tomatoes, use your hands to crush them into smallish pieces).
In a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients until smooth, then pour over top of meat. Cover pot and place into oven.
Cook, covered, for 3-5 hours, turning meat over every hour. When done, meat will be fall-apart tender and will easily shred. All connective tissue should be dissolved.
Remove meat to a cutting board and allow to rest and cool for 15 minutes. You may want to boil the remaining cookign liquid over med-high heat for a bit to reduce it, but it’s up to you.
Using two forks (or two hands), shred the meat into chunks. You should meet no resistance here – if the meat doesn’t want to come apart with minimal effort, it needs to braise longer.
Return shredded meat to the pot and allow to cool. (I like to let it rest overnight, because the dissolved fat rises to the surface and hardens, making it easy to skim off the top.)
When ready to serve, heat de-fatted pork on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. Serve on rolls, tortillas, texas toast, nachos, noodles, potatoes, or straight-up.