How to Make Pork Shoulder Three Ways: Traditional BBQ, Italian, Mojo
My time in Florida is coming to an end, well technically it ended back in February but for the purposes of bulk shooting recipes it's coming to an end again... but fear not, I have not one, not two, but three new recipes coming your way. Today we’re talking all things pulled pork. Such a classic on the bbq, classic on pits, classic at tailgates and backyard parties. I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a pulled pork sandwich is tangy bbq sauce, pickles and coleslaw and that is the most classic way to make a pulled pork sandwich for sure. I’ll be sharing my recipe for this classic but also am throwing in two other ways to use this cut of meat for sandwiches you wouldn’t necessarily associate with bbq, but are even more delicious made with a good smoke and a low and slow cook on the bbq: an Italian-Philly style BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and a Cubano Sandwich.
Pulled pork is typically made with the cut of meat called the pork shoulder, you may have also heard pork butt or Boston butt, too. Well, they are all the same thing and I promise you that pork butt is not butt at all and is actually cut from the shoulder, just a different part of the shoulder. So, pork shoulder and pork butt can be used interchangeably for the most part. The pork shoulder is the perfect cut of meat to use for a low and slow cook because of its fat content and tends to be a tougher cut of meat. It takes anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of cooking at about 300F-310F to start to get some colour and rendered fat and then closer to 250F-275F for the long haul to make the perfect, juicy, fall apart pulled pork for these sandwiches. I also want to let you in on a little trick that will keep your pork, and any low and slow smoked or barbecued meat, super juicy and tender: your best friend the spray bottle. For this particular recipe, I filled a spray bottle with apple cider vinegar and lemon juice and periodically spritz my pork shoulder. The acid from the spritz helps keep it moist and render the fat. Depending on what you’re making, you can use different liquids like Coke or Pineapple Juice, too. Another important step in this recipe is to wrap your meat part way through the cooking process. The first three to four hours the meat is unwrapped and grabs that great smoky taste, but because it’s such a long cook, you’re going to take it off the bbq at that point and wrap it in parchment paper and tin foil. The timing of this also depends on the size of the piece of meat, so since the piece I used to make my traditional pulled pork sandwich was bigger than the others, it spent more time unwrapped. It also benefited from more time exposed to the smoke, to deepen that smoky taste that is the standard for this type of pulled pork.
Of the three sandwiches, the traditional bbq pulled pork is the most common you’ll see on a menu and most familiar of the flavour profiles. I used yellow mustard as my binder and a bbq rub meant for pork that is a mix of seasoned salt, celery salt, black pepper, garlic powder and then I mixed in some brown sugar. I put together a really simple coleslaw with homemade dressing that is light, creamy and tangy. And of course bread and butter pickles. I decided to use pull apart slider buns, I find they are fun and different, but you can use any kind of bun you like. Keep reading to find out how to make my BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders or jump to the full recipe. Make sure to check out how to make the two other styles of pulled pork by checking out the full recipe for my Smoked Italian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and the mojo pork for the perfect Cubano recipe.
The pork shoulder is the star of the show for this recipe and once you have the fundamentals down for how to smoke and bbq this piece of meat, it's really easy to switch it up and play with the flavour profiles to get something different each time. But for this recipe, we're going for that classic bbq pulled pork flavours that you know and love.
The first thing you want to do, is to start to heat up your charcoal about 20-30 minutes before you start to cook. Once the charcoal is hot, pour it into your bbq or smoker and place the chunks of cherry wood off on the edge of the coals. You'll be cooking on indirect heat, so the charcoal and wood should be set off to the side. I also placed an aluminum drip pan on the charcoal under the grill to make sure there are no flair ups.
To prepare your pork shoulder, spread a layer of yellow mustard on all sides, this is going to be your binder. In a bowl, mix together your bbq rub and brown sugar. Sprinkle the rub mixture liberally on all sides of your pork shoulder. Once your bbq/smoker has reached 300F-310F, place your pork shoulder directly on the grill.
While your pork shoulder is cooking, fill a spray bottle with apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. When you check on your pork shoulder make sure to give it a spritz to help keep it moist and the acid renders the fat. At the two hour mark, you're going to want to turn down the heat on your bbq/smoker to 250F-275F for that long haul cook.
Since my piece of pork shoulder was a bit bigger than the other two I was making, I wrapped it a bit later in the cooking process. At the 3-4 hour mark I checked on it and gave it a spritz with my apple cider vinegar and lemon mixture and added some more wood to the bbq to get some extra smoke flavour. At about the 5-6 hour mark, I gave it another spritz and finally wrapped it in parchment paper and then tin foil, shiny side in, and put it back on to cook for another few hours.
At around the six hour mark, I also started to make the coleslaw for my sliders. I mixed shredded carrots with thinly sliced green cabbage. In the container for my immersion blender, I added olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, brown sugar, black pepper, celery seeds, and chopped Spanish onion and blended until smooth. I poured the dressing on my carrot and cabbage mixture, not too much since you don't want it to get soggy on you, and then mixed everything to combine. Set aside.
After about 8-10 hours, your pork shoulder should be ready. Remove from the bbq/smoker and place in an aluminum pan. Add in a bit of apple cider vinegar as you're pulling your meat. Pour in your bbq sauce and mix to combine. I had a bit of bbq sauce left in the jar, so I poured some pickle juice from the bread and butter pickles into the empty bbq sauce jar and shook it to grab all that sauce off the sides, then poured the liquid into my pulled pork and mixed it around.
I decided to use pull apart slider buns, but you can use any kind of bun you like. I cut my buns in half, keeping them all attached, so there is one big bottom bun and one big top bun. I threw the tops onto the top deck of the bbq to warm up, and started to build my sliders on the bottom buns. I put a nice generous layer of pulled pork, a layer of bread and butter pickles and then the creamy coleslaw.
I put the top buns back on and now it's time to cut or pull apart the sliders and dig in.
And now for the full recipe...
Traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Makes 12 sliders
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 hours
8 lbs half boneless pork shoulder
1½ cups Bbq rub
½ cup brown sugar
For the coleslaw:
¼ green cabbage, finely chopped
1½ cups shredded carrot
100 ml olive oil
100 ml apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp celery seeds
¼ - ½ Spanish onion
Bread and butter pickles
12 slider buns, still attached
How to make it:
The first thing to do when making anything on the bbq is to get your charcoal going about 20-30 minutes before you want to start to cook. We’re doing a low and slow cook today so we’re going to set up our charcoal, once it’s hot, on one side of the bbq and place the wood chunks off to the side of the coals. We’ll be cooking on indirect heat and I’ve set up a drip pan in the center of the bbq, under the grill, for my pork shoulder, so we don’t get any flare ups.
The first step is to put the pork shoulder into an aluminum pan, so it will be easier to season. I’m using yellow mustard as my binder, so you’re going to just take that mustard and rub it all over the exterior of your pork shoulder. Next, in a bowl, mix about half a cup of brown sugar with a cup and a half of the bbq rub. I used a rub that is specifically for pork and has a nice mix of seasoned salt, celery salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Apply the rub liberally to the pork, on all sides.
You want the smoker temperature to be at about 300F-310F. I had cooked three pieces of pork shoulder all at once, but likely you’ve decided to tackle one version of pulled pork at a time. My pieces of meat were slightly different sizes, so I had to make a mental note that the smaller two pieces, the mojo pork and the Italian would have to be wrapped first. The pork shoulder for the traditional bbq pulled pork is going to go straight onto the grill and wrapped at a later point in the cooking process.
Next, you’re going to put together a spray bottle to use to baste your pork shoulder while it’s cooking. I recommend this for anytime you’re making any kind of pork shoulder, brisket or ribs on the bbq or smoker. I’m going to mix apple cider vinegar and some lemon juice in a plastic spray bottle. Every time you check on your meat, make sure to give your pork a spritz. At the two hour mark, turn down the temperature to 250F-275F for that long haul cook.
At the 3-4 hour mark, I’ve wrapped two out of three of the pork shoulders, but I’ve left the larger one, for this pulled pork sandwich unwrapped. I’m also adding in more wood, so that this third shoulder that I’ll be using for the traditional bbq-style sandwich, will get more smoke. The other two, since they are completely wrapped, won’t have as intense of a smoky taste.
At around the 5 or 6 hour mark, you’re going to wrap that final shoulder. Remove it from the bbq, give it a spritz with the apple cider vinegar mix, then wrap it in parchment paper first and then tin foil, shiny side in. Put back on the bbq. While it continues to cook, you’re going to make the toppings for the sandwich.
We’re going to make a nice creamy slaw to go on the sliders. In a bowl, put your shredded carrots and your finely chopped cabbage and set aside. To make the dressing, add in the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, brown sugar, black pepper, and celery seeds in a blender, or in a container for a hand immersion blender. Chop up the Spanish onion and add into the blender or container and blend until smooth. Pour some of the dressing over the cabbage and carrots and mix, making sure not to add too much, so it doesn’t get too soggy. Set aside.
At about the 8-10 hour mark, depending on the size of your pork shoulder, it should be ready, with a nice caramelized bark on the exterior, cooked all the way through and should be fall apart tender.
To build the traditional bbq pulled pork sliders, remove the pork from the bbq, unwrap and place it in an aluminum pan. Using two forks, shred the meat, and add in a bit of apple cider vinegar and mix around. Pour in your bbq sauce of choice. If there is some sauce left in the jar, take the jar of pickles and pour some of the pickle juice into the bbq sauce jar and shake. Add the liquid to the pulled pork and mix.
Take the slider buns out of the bag and make sure they are all still attached together. Using a serrated knife cut through the buns so you have one big connected top bun and one big connected bottom bun. Throw the top buns onto the top deck of the bbq for a couple of minutes to warm up. Add a layer of your pulled pork to the bottom buns, a layer of bread and butter pickles and then the slaw. Put the top of the buns on and cut or pull apart your sliders to enjoy.
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