Cook's Country (June/July 2015)
There we were, standing over an electric mixer filled with slabs of steaming-hot oven-roasted pork.
"There's no way this is going to work," said Zach.
"I'm dubious," said Clay.
The plan -- to use the stand mixer's paddle attachment to take cooked pork shoulder and pull it for barbecue -- seemed like a recipe for disaster.
We winced. We shut our eyes.
We threw the switch.
Let's back up a little bit. Given that we have a bona fide Tennessee boy in this household -- Zach -- we were definitely interested in Cook's Country's feature on Tennessee Pulled Pork Sandwiches.
We've been around the pulled pork block a few times. More than five years ago, we tried a Cook's Illustrated Pulled Pork made completely indoors. We've done pulled pork in a slow cooker. And an Asian-ish version, too.
But this pulled pork is different. Based on a technique used at Papa KayJoe's Bar-B-Que in Centerville, Tenn., it results in pork "shredded so fine it almost resembled paté."
This is a two-day process. On Day 1, you score and salt the meat, then wrap it up to sit in the fridge overnight. The next day, you cook the pork slowly, first for two hours on the grill and then for three hours in the oven. There are no elaborate seasonings in play here: It's just salt, and a bit of flavoring from wood chips that smoke on the grill. All of that is time-consuming but low-maintenance. (Feel free to binge your favorite new series while it cooks.)
But here's where it gets interesting: Cook's Country experimented with different ways to get that soft texture of meat, shredding it with tongs and other tools. But the magazine ultimately settled on the novel method of using a stand mixer. Once the pork is cooked, you simply remove the bone and drop it in the mixer.
So, does it work?
It's America's Test Kitchen, of course it works! Despite our dubiousness, the method works like a dream. In 90 seconds, we had perfect finely pulled pork.
And it's delicious. The smoke from the grill, plus the low-and-slow oven cooking, gives you flavorful pork that's tender and delicious. The barbecue sauce here is a straightforward classic version, and it's just perfect.
The magazine recommends serving this pork with hoecakes, savory cornmeal cakes cooked in a skillet. These are easy to whip up, but we made an error with ours. We fried our hoecakes about an hour before our dinner guests arrived, and kept them warm in the oven on 180 degrees. By the time we ate, we found them to be a bit dry and not very flavorful on their own. Still, we love the idea of having hoecakes with the pork. Just be sure to make them closer to your actual dinnertime.
We'd invited our friends Ken and Jeff over for dinner to catch up and help us eat the pork. (Sunday is an ideal day for this, since it does require about 6 hours of cook time, plus the 18 hours before that of seasoning the pork.)
We served these as open-faced sandwiches, topped with Gordy's pickles, a simple improvised red-cabbage-and-carrot slaw, baked beans and fresh-shucked corn on the cob.
Based on Ken and Jeff's comments -- and on everyone's clean plates -- we all loved our Tennessee barbecue fest. We're adding this to our BBQ repertoire; the next time we make pulled pork, we'll definitely be pulling out our stand mixer.
Serves 8 with leftovers
Note from America's Test Kitchen:
The roast must be seasoned at least 18 hours before cooking. In step 8, shred the pork while it’s still hot. We prefer to serve the pork on hoecakes, but it’s great on hamburger buns, too. Leftover pork can be refrigerated for up to three days.
NOTES FROM ZACH AND CLAY:
There are three pieces of "special equipment" needed here: a grill, a disposable aluminum roasting pan and a stand mixer. It would be nice to also have a grill thermometer to monitor the temperature of your grill, but we made do without one.
For the Pork:
1 (5- to 6-pound) bone-in pork butt roast, trimmed
2 cups wood chips
1 (13 by 9-inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan
For the Barbecue Sauce:
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon pepper
1 recipe Hoecakes (see below)
Dill pickle chips
1. FOR THE PORK: Using sharp knife, cut 1-inch crosshatch pattern about 1/4 inch deep in fat cap of roast, being careful not to cut into meat. Pat roast dry with paper towels. Place roast on large sheet of plastic wrap and rub 2 tablespoons salt over entire roast and into slits. Wrap tightly with plastic and refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.
2. Just before grilling, soak wood chips in water for 15 minutes, then drain. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.
3A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter three-quarters filled with charcoal briquettes (4 1/2 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.
3B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Remove cooking grate and place wood chip packet directly on primary burner. Set cooking grate in place, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium-high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature of 300 degrees.)
4. Unwrap pork and place fat side down in disposable pan. Place disposable pan on cooler side of grill. Cover grill (with lid vent directly over pork for charcoal) and cook until pork registers 120 degrees, about 2 hours. Thirty minutes before pork comes off grill, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.
5. Transfer disposable pan from grill to rimmed baking sheet. Cover pan tightly with foil and transfer to oven (still on sheet). Cook until fork inserted in pork meets little resistance and meat registers 210 degrees, about 3 hours.
6. FOR THE BARBECUE SAUCE: Meanwhile, combine all ingredients in medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl and let cool completely.
7. Carefully remove foil from disposable pan (steam will escape). Remove blade bone from roast using tongs. Immediately transfer hot pork to bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Strain accumulated juices from pan through fine-mesh strainer set over separate bowl; discard solids.
8. Mix pork on low speed until meat is finely shredded, about 1 1/2 minutes. Whisk pork juices to recombine, if separated, and add 1 1/2 cups juices to shredded pork. Continue to mix pork on low speed until juices are incorporated, about 15 seconds longer. Season with salt to taste, adding more pork juices if desired. Serve pork on hoecakes with barbecue sauce, pickles, and coleslaw.
Makes 16 Hoecakes
3 cups (15 ounces) white cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Whisk cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Beat buttermilk and eggs together in separate bowl. Whisk buttermilk mixture into cornmeal mixture until combined.
2A. FOR A SKILLET: Heat 1 teaspoon fat in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using level 1/4-cup dry measuring cup, drop 3 evenly spaced scoops of batter into skillet, smoothing tops slightly if necessary.
2B. FOR A GRIDDLE: Heat 1 tablespoon fat on 400-degree nonstick griddle until shimmering. Using level 1/4-cup dry measuring cup, drop 8 evenly spaced scoops of batter onto griddle, smoothing tops slightly if necessary.
3. Cook until small bubbles begin to appear on surface of cakes and edges are set, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer hoecakes to prepared sheet in oven. Repeat with remaining fat and batter: 5 additional batches for skillet or 1 additional batch for griddle. Serve.