Pulled Pork Three Ways: The Cubano


Cubano sandwich cut in half in parchment paper

I used to watch the show Bobby Flay's Throwdown religiously on the Food Network. One episode that really stuck in my mind was the one where he had a Cuban sandwich battle. I had never had a Cuban sandwich, I had never heard of a Cuban sandwich, and at the time in Toronto, nobody was making them. This one episode actually became one of the many catalysts to me starting Fidel Gastro's. Pulled pork was familiar but this was a really awesome evolution of that. I made one and I loved it. I made them for friends, they loved them too so then I started selling them at events and people felt all the things I did... this is so great, so different but so familiar. Making a proper Cubano has been a learning process - every time I do them or reintroduce them I evolve my recipe just a bit... the seasoning on the pork... Havarti cheese versus Swiss.... regular mustard or a spicy Dijon aioli... I've even bounced back and forth from braised and pulled pork shoulder to smoked and shaved pork loin. Now I go out of my way to sample them, I’ve had good Cubanos, I’ve had bad Cubanos, I’ve had ok Cubanos, but today I am going to show you how to make my Cubano on the smoker. While I was in Florida (the Cubano mecca of the world might I add), I decided to tackle three different kinds of pulled pork in one go. It was a full day project, considering it takes about 6-10 hours for the pork to cook, low and slow on the bbq. I of course had to tackle a Traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and it only seemed fitting to also include a Cubano sandwich while cooking outside in Florida.

A Cubano is always made with Cuban bread (like a sub roll but heartier), ham, seasoned roast pork shoulder, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. I’m keeping everything the same, except switching up the roasted pork for smoked bbq pulled pork. I’m using the flavours of a mojo pork, so fresh garlic and orange juice, and a rub made from fresh cilantro, dried cilantro, dried parsley, black pepper, onion powder and cumin. Each time I would check on the meat, I give it a spritz of an apple cider vinegar and lemon juice mixture to keep it moist and help render the fat. After about 3-4 hours of cooking, I add in light beer and more fresh squeezed orange juice into the pan with the pork, cover it with parchment paper and foil and it goes back onto the bbq for a couple more hours. Once it comes off the bbq it is just so fall apart tender. The shredded bbq pork gets layered onto the Cubano bun, with ham, pickles, yellow mustard and Swiss cheese and then grilled with a sandwich press to get the cheese all melted and get that classic Cubano look.

Keep reading to find out how to make my Cubano recipe or jump to the full recipe. If you want to find out my other favourite ways to make pulled pork on the bbq, check out my recipe for the Traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Smoked Italian Bbq Pulled Pork Sandwich.


charcoal and cherry wood in a bbq

The first step is to get your bbq or smoker going about 20-30 minutes before you need to start cooking. I use a chimney to heat up my charcoal and once it's hot, I pour into the bbq and place my wood chunks off to the side of the coals.


mojo marinade being rubbed onto a piece of pork shoulder

To prepare your pork shoulder, in a bowl or large measuring cup, mix together the fresh cilantro, dried cilantro, dried parsley, onion powder, salt and cumin. Using a microplane, finely grate the fresh garlic and add it to the marinade. Add the zest from two oranges and the juice, and add some apple cider vinegar. Stir to combine. Put your pork shoulder in an aluminum container. Take another orange and juice it over your pork shoulder, this is going to be your binder. Finally, rub the marinade liberally on all sides of the pork shoulder.


mojo marinated pork shoulder with oranges being squeezed over it

Once the pork shoulder is completely covered with the marinade, squeeze the juice of one orange over the meat and into the pan. Put the orange rinds into the pan to add some extra fruity flavour.


mojo pork shoulder in a pan being placed on the top deck of a bbq

Once the bbq has reached about 300F-310F it is ready to go. Put your mojo pork shoulder onto the top deck of the bbq, uncovered. It's going to cook for a total of 6-10 hours, but you'll be checking it every 2-3 hours. At around the 2 hour mark, turn down the temperature to 250F-275F for the long haul cook.


light beer being poured into the pan with the mojo pork shoulder

At the 3-4 hour mark, it's time to check on your mojo pork. It should already be starting to get some nice colour on the outside. You're going to remove the pan from the bbq and take out the charred orange peels and discard them. Give the meat a nice spritz with your apple cider vinegar and lemon mixture then add in about half a can of light beer to the pan. Next, cover the meat with a piece of parchment paper and then the entire pan with tin foil. Place back on the top deck of the bbq.


a finished mojo pork with a dark caramelized outside

The total cook time for your pork shoulder will be between 6-10 hours. At about the 6 hour mark, you want to check on your meat and give it another spritz with the apple cider and lemon juice mix. It can keep going another 2-4 hours, once the outside has that beautiful, dark caramelization and it should be fall apart tender and ready to go. The pork should shred easily with two forks.


building a Cubano sandwich with ham, pulled pork, mustard, pickles and grated Swiss cheese

To build, cut your cuban bun in half, but leave one side partially connected. Put down your ham, yellow mustard and pickles. Pile on your pulled mojo pork and top with the grated Swiss cheese.


The Cubano being pressed in a non stick pan to grill

The next step is a necessary step in any Cubano making process - grilling the sandwich. Close up your sandwich and in a non-stick pan with a sandwich press or plate, push down and grill each side of the sandwich until the cheese is melted.


the finished Cubano sandwich cut in half

Once the Cubano is grilled to perfection, cut it in half and dig in.


And now for the full recipe....


Pulled Pork Three Ways: The Cubano

Makes 8-10 sandwiches

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 8-10 hours

Ingredients:

8 lbs boneless pork shoulder

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

2 tbsp dried cilantro

2 tbsps dried parsley

½ trp black pepper

1-2 tbsps onion powder

1 tsp Cumin

1-2 cloves fresh garlic

6 oranges

1 tbsp salt

Apple cider vinegar

1 can light beer

To build:

Sliced Ham (2 slices per sandwich)

Grated Swiss cheese (1/2 cup per sandwich)

Yellow mustard

Kosher pickles

8-10 Cubano rolls

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, since we’ll be cooking on indirect heat.

For the mojo pork for the Cubano, start by chopping up your fresh cilantro and placing it in a large measuring cup or bowl. Add in the dried cilantro, dried parsley, black pepper, onion powder and cumin. If you’re using fresh garlic, use a microplane to finely grate the fresh garlic so it doesn’t burn while being cooked. Next, add the zest from two oranges and the juice as well. Finally, add salt and apple cider vinegar and stir. Place your pork shoulder in an aluminum pan. Take an orange and cut it in half and juice over your pork shoulder, this is going to be your binder, then rub the marinade all over the pork. Take another orange and cut it in half, squeeze the juice into the pan with your pork and on the pork and place the juiced oranges in the pan.


You want the smoker temperature to be at about 310F. I’m cooking all three at one time, but likely you’ve decided to tackle one version at a time. Keep the mojo pork in the pan the whole time with all the juices and put the container to cook on the top deck of the bbq. After about 2 hours of cooking, bring down the temperature of the bbq to 250F-275F for the long haul cook.

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.

After about 3-4 hours into the cook, it’s time to check on the pork.

Remove the pan from the bbq and discard the orange peels, give the pork a little spritz with the apple cider vinegar mixture. I used a can of light beer to add more liquid to the pan and then squeezed an orange over the pork to add some orange juice and threw in the orange peels into the pan, too. At this stage, we’re going to wrap the pork so it is covered for the rest of the cook. Take a piece of parchment paper and cover the pork and then cover the pan with tin foil. Place back on the grill.

At around the 5 or 6 hour mark, you’re going to check the pork to see if it is ready. Make sure to give it a spritz. You’re looking for a nice colour on the outside. You can keep it going for up to 8-10 hours.

To build your Cubano, remove the mojo pork from the bbq, unwrap and pull apart with two forks. Cut your Cubano bread in half and keep one side attached. Put your ham down, then yellow mustard, kosher pickles, the mojo smoked pork and then the grated Swiss cheese. Close up your sandwich, and place in a non-stick pan, if you don’t have a sandwich press, you can use a plate, if you have a sandwich or burger press, use that to press down on and flatten the sandwich a bit. Once the cheese starts to melt and ooze out the side, flip and grill on the other side. Once cooked on both sides, slice it in half and dig in.


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Matt Basile

MEET THE CHEF

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Chef Matt Basile is the founder of the Toronto-based street food brand, Fidel Gastro's, which, within four years, went from an underground sandwich pop-up to an internationally recognized food brand. Now almost a decade later, Matt has a still growing business of food experiences, restaurant consulting and new and exciting foodie-filled projects on the way. Matt always strives to be different in an industry steeped in tradition. Matt is also the author of the best-selling cookbooks Street Food Diaries and Brunch Life, and was the host of the travel food show Rebel Without a Kitchen for two seasons. More here!