When I cook, I love showing people more ways they can use an ingredient. More ways to use mustard, or more ways to use leftovers but in this case it's more ways to use a pork shoulder and more ways to use the BBQ/smoker to create less traditional versions of "pulled pork". That's why I decided to tackle three different kinds of pulled pork at once and even though it's a time commitment, once you learn the fundamentals to smoking a shoulder, mixing up the flavours is super fun and easy. When I create food content or recipes, usually (but not always) it comes from a story. In this case, go back 7 years ago, I was in Philly filming my tv show Rebel Without A Kitchen and we were doing all this research on the episode being about the Philly Cheesesteak. However, when we got there and started filming we quickly realized that the cheesesteak is what tourists believe is THE sandwich, but if you're a local you know it's actually a juicy roast pork sandwich typically mastered in the Italian south Philly district. I went to John's Roast Pork, the world's only James Beard award winning sandwich shop. It's everything you want... small, obscure, incredibly Philly (if you've been you know what I mean) and above all else, incredible. This recipe is my version of that sandwich.
The premise is the same, take a piece of pork shoulder and smoke it and cook it for 6-10 hours, low and slow on the bbq, but the flavour profile is completely different than a traditional bbq pulled pork sandwich. I used olive oil as my binder, an all-purpose Italian seasoning mix, added fennel seeds, garlic salt, lemon zest and lemon juice. 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. When the pork is done cooking, it should break apart super easily with a fork, and I added some giardiniera mix to add in some acid and more Italian flavour. I used fresh mozzarella, grainy Dijon mustard and grilled up some broccoli rabe on the grill and tossed it in chili oil and lemon juice to top the beautiful pulled pork.
Keep reading to find out how to make my Smoked Italian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich or jump to the full recipe. If you want to find out my other favourite ways to make pulled pork, check out my recipe for the Traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Cubano.
The first thing you are going to do is start to heat up your bbq or smoker about 20-30 minutes before you need to start cooking. Once the charcoal is hot, pour it out into the bbq/smoker and place your chunks of cherry wood at the edge of the coals. I also placed an aluminum drip pan on top of the charcoal, under the grill, to avoid any flair ups.
Next, it's time to prepare the rub for your pork shoulder. In a bowl, mix your all-purpose Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, garlic salt and the zest from two lemons. The final step is to cut those two lemons in half and juice over your rub mixture, stir to combine.
Drizzle some olive oil over your pork shoulder, this is going to be your binder. Take the spice rub and cover all sides of your pork shoulder. Make sure to spread it evenly and smooth out any clumps, otherwise those clumps can burn.
Once the bbq or smoker has reached about 300F-310F, place your pork shoulder directly on the grill. At about the two hour mark, you're going to turn the temperature down to about 250F-275F for that long haul cook.
Meanwhile, fill a clean spray bottle with apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. When you check on your pork shoulder, you're going to give it a spritz to make sure it stays moist, and the acid from the apple cider vinegar and lemon mixture helps render the fat.
At the 3-4 hour mark, it's time to check on your pork shoulder. Remove it from the bbq, give it a spritz with your apple cider vinegar and lemon juice mixture. Next, wrap the pork shoulder in parchment paper and tin foil, shiny side facing the inside. Put it back on the bbq and continue to cook for another 2-3 hours.
At around the 5-6 hour mark, take a peek at your pork shoulder again and give it another spritz, re-wrap and depending on the size and the colour of the bark, keep cooking for another 2-4 hours, for a total of 8-10 hours. It could be ready at the 6-7 hour mark, but for that extra tender, fall apart pork, the 8-10 hours of cooking will do that. While the pork shoulder continues to cook, it's a good time to make the broccoli rabe for the sandwich. Blanche your broccoli rabe in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and then transfer directly to a hot bbq. Grill on each side for a couple of minutes or until nicely charred. Remove from the heat and toss with chilli oil or chilli flakes, olive oil (if using chilli flakes), lemon juice and salt.
At the 8-10 hour mark, it's time to take the pork shoulder off of the bbq and place it in a pan, it should pull apart super easily with just two forks. Add some giardiniera mix to your pulled pork to add some acid and more Italian flavour, mix to combine.
To build your sandwich, cut your bun in half, leaving one side still connected. Spread a layer of grainy Dijon mustard, put down your fresh mozzarella, the pulled pork, and your chilli broccoli rabe. Close the sandwich and wrap in parchment paper. Let it sit for a minute so the cheese melts a bit and then cut in half with a serrated knife.
And now for the full recipe...
Smoked Italian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich
Makes 8 sandwiches
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 hours
8 lbs boneless pork shoulder
All-purpose Italian seasoning
1-2 tbsps Fennel seeds
1-2 tbsps Garlic salt
Broccoli Rabe (or broccolini/rapini)
Chilli oil or chilli flakes
Grainy Dijon mustard
8 long Italian buns
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 middle of the bqq under the grill for my pork shoulder so there’s no flare ups.
For the Italian pork shoulder, I am using a fattier piece because I want it to be juicy. To start, place your pork shoulder on a large piece of tin foil. Drizzle with olive oil and make sure to coat on all sides. In a bowl, mix together about a cup and a half of the all-purpose Italian seasoning, the fennel seeds, garlic salt and lemon zest from two lemons. The last step is to cut your lemons in half and juice them into your spice mix. Stir to combine and then rub evenly over the entire pork shoulder.
You want the smoker temperature to be at about 300F-310F. When I was making this sandwich, I was cooking three different pork shoulders at one time, but likely you’ve decided to tackle one version at a time. This pork shoulder is going to start directly on the grill, unwrapped.
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 two hours of cooking, bring down the temperature to about 250F-275F for the rest of the cook. At about 3-4 hours into the cook, it’s time to check on the pork. Remove the pork shoulder from the grill, spritz with your apple cider vinegar and then place on a piece of parchment paper. Fold the parchment over the top, tuck in the sides and roll, until the pork is completely wrapped, then do the same with the tin foil, making sure the shiny side of the foil is on the inside. Place back on the bbq and continue to cook.
At around the 5 or 6 hour mark, you’re going to check on your pork again to see how it's going and give it another spritz. Now is also a good time to make some of the other components for the sandwich.
To prepare the broccoli rabe, you’re going to grill it, so make sure that you have your bbq nice and hot, or, you can do it in a cast iron pan, you’ll get a more subtle charred/grilled flavour this way, but if your bbq is occupied, this is also an option. You are going to boil water and blanche the broccoli rabe first for about 2-3 minutes. Transfer right onto your grill or hot pan and let it cook on each side for a few minutes or until nicely charred. Remove from the heat and drizzle with lemon juice, chilli flakes or chilli oil, olive oil (if you’re using chilli flakes) and salt.
At about the 6-8 hour mark, depending on the size of your pork shoulder, it should be ready to go, but you can keep it going for up to 10 hours. You want to have a nice bark on the exterior and it to pull apart easily with a fork.
To build your sandwich, remove the pork from the bbq, unwrap and place in an aluminum pan. Using two forks, shred the pork. Pour in some giardiniera mix straight into the pork and mix to combine. Cut your bun in half, leaving one side still attached. Spread a layer of the grainy Dijon mustard, then the sliced fresh mozzarella, your pulled pork and then the chilli broccoli rabe. Place the sandwich on a piece of parchment paper, fold it over the sandwich, tuck in the sides and roll. Let it sit there for a minute so the cheese can melt a bit, then use a serrated knife to cut it in half. Dig in!
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