A couple of pork shoulders after about three hours along on July, 03 2011.
It strikes me that lots of average guys, in particular those who live alone though not always, live on quick fix meals like pasta with a jar of tomato sauce dumped over it, pizza deliveries, and various icky microwavable foods like Pizza Combos, usually eaten in front of the TV or standing over the kitchen sink. Other guy favorites are the dreaded platter of goopy nachos, spicy chicken wings, or chips and dip of some kind. Yuck!
It does not have to be that way. An average guy looking to kick up his everyday style in the very broad sense can find and learn to prepare a range of tasty meals without too much trouble. And even if your weeks are busy, and you are pressed for time as everyone claims in 2014, it does a mind and body good to slow down during weekends and holidays and take the time to fix an actual sit-down meal, you know, with plates, placemats and/or tablecloth, silverware, and napkins.
Here is my suggestion for the perfect (informal) summertime outdoor meal. Is it burgers, hotdogs, or barbecued chicken? Nope. It's one of my signature meals during the warmer months, my maternal grandfather's North Carolina Piedmont-Style Pulled Pork BBQ with Red Slaw. Here's how to do it.
For this recipe, you'll need the following:
The Pork BBQ. . .
2 large pork shoulders
1 large bag of charcoal
A covered grill. Not an open bearbecue pit!
1 cup of apple cider vinegar
Coursely ground black pepper (to taste)
1 package of good quality hamburger roles
The Slaw. . .
1 large head of cabbage
Equal parts white sugar, white vinegar, ketchup
Lea and Perrin's Worcester Sauce (to taste)
Coarse ground black pepper (to taste)
The Iced Tea. . .1 two quart pitcher
5 bags of Lipton tea
3-4 sprigs of fresh spearmint
1 cup of sugar
The Process Explained. . .
1) Slow cook two large pork shoulders over indirect heat for about 6 hours, or slightly longer. I use a domed Weber grill with Kingsford charcoal and wet hickory chips to help the flavor, but a propane gas grill with a lid will also work. I set the two pork shoulders off to one side, so they are not directly over the coals, which I bank against the opposite side of the grill.
2) Baste your meat once every hour with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and coarse ground black pepper. Not only does this help to flavor the meat, but it also helps to dry it out. True BBQ is not overly moist, but somewhat dry in texture and consistency. That's where the red sauce comes in, which I'll discuss in a moment. You'll also need to add about 10-12 new charcoal briquettes to your coals every hour. It's a good ideal to do all of this at the same time, so you aren't running outside to check the meat/grill constantly during the day. You won't need to stand next to the grill all day, but it's a good idea to leave your schedule pretty open when you make North Carolina Pork BBQ yourself.
3) While your meat is cooking, chop a large head of cabbage by hand with a large, sharp kitchen knife (blenders and food processors won't work well -- I've tried them) until it's "fine course" -- tiny pieces about the size of a small pencil eraser, give or take. Salt moderately and bruise the cabbage by squeezing it with your clean hands in a big bowl. Set to one side.
4) Mix your red sauce. This is the type of BBQ sauce found across the central Piedmont area of North Carolina. Other regions have their own variation on the sauce, either ketchup or mustard based. Anyway, the basic recipe is equal parts of white sugar, white vinegar, and Heinz ketchup. Add some course ground black pepper and Lea and Perrin's worcester sauce to taste. How in the heck do you spell that word anyway? Once you have a mixture your like (I prefer to go just a bit light on the Ketchup), add it to your chopped cabbage and mix everything together in a huge bowl. Put in refrigerator to cool.
5) You'll probably need to mix up another small batch of this red sauce to sprinkle on your sandwiches. Put it in a shaker bottle, a small cream pitcher, or take the really blue-blooded approach and use what we use -- an empty squeeze ketchup bottle that we saved and washed out for just this purpose! And remember, equal parts (more or less) white sugar, white vinegar, and ketchup with a bit of Worcester sauce and course ground black pepper to add some "zing."
NOTE -- this is a tangy, spicy, and delicious mixture. It's not "hot", but if your palate is not used to spicy things, you'd best skip this recipe because you won't enjoy the heavy smoked, peppery flavor of the meat or the tangy sauce and red slaw. "Caveat eator!" as they used to say in Ancient Rome!
6) Make a tall pitcher of sweetened iced tea. Lipton's makes the best. And be sure to add three large sprigs of mint if you have it, to give your tea an extra burst of flavor. Let the five teabags steep for about 5-6 minutes before removing them. Leave the sprigs of mint in your pitcher of tea though. Chill in the refrigerator until dinner time. Serve over ice.
7) When the outside of your pork shoulders are pleasantly done -- crispy, but not too black -- remove them carefully from the grill, and set onto a platter. Let cool on the kitchen counter for about three hours. Fix yourself a scotch & water or gin & tonic and set a spell on the front porch!
8) While someone else sets the table for dinner, it's time to put on your apron, wash your hands well, and start a pullin' that pork. This is the part of the job that I like the least, but you'll soon get used to it. Gently pull the pieces of pork -- it should come off in large chucks in you hand without to much effort -- into finger-long fairly small pieces, and then ull these apart until you are left with finely shredded bits of meat about as long as your fingers. The natural tendency of a slow-cooked pork shoulder is shred fairly easily. Pull both of your pork shoulders now. It will take you about an hour. The job is more difficult and time consuming if you chill the meat and try to pull it later it later.
9) Once all of this is done, serve your bowl of warm shredded pork BBQ, red slaw, and an extra vessel of the coveted red sauce. Call the chilluns* to the table and get ready for a truly ambrosial experience!
The best way to eat pork BBQ is in "good" hamburger or kaiser rolls (NOT the cheapest ones available) with a liberal amount of the extra sauce sprinkled over your meat. Replace the top half of the your buns and enjoy your sandwiches with the red slaw on the side. For an even more authentic Piedmont North Carolina touch, it's perfectly acceptable to add a spoonful or two of the red slaw to your sandwich before replacing the top half of your bun. You will not need salt, but you might like to add a few twists of coarsely ground black pepper from a pepper mill before you dig in.
10) Pork BBQ sandwiches and red slaw can be a messy meal! Given the preponderance of ketchup in this recipe, it's probably best not to use your nicest table linens for this meal. Use paper dinner napkins instead and have plenty on hand. It's probably also a good idea to wear old clothes to the dinner table too because it's easy to drip/splash red sauce onto that favorite madras shirt or pair of khaki shorts, even if you pride yourself on really nice table manners, and it's devilishly hard to get those kinds of stains out! For these reasons, the picnic table in the backyard is probably the most ideal place to enjoy this sort meal.
Things to Keep in Mind. . .
The above recipe and process for preparing North Carolina Piedmont-Style Pork Barbecue and Red Slaw is a nod to my deceased maternal grandfather David Lewis Stokes, originally from Lexington, North Carolina.
During my boyhood and into my early twenties, Granddaddy always prepared this dish for us several times from May through September each year. Thenm my mother picked up the baton through the 1990s into the early 2000s, and it's a tradition I have continued on my own since 2005 much to the delight of my wife, the Grand Duchess, friends, and other family members. It's not for the health conscious, given the high fat concentrations and the amount of sugar used in the sauce, but the 'barbecue' as we call it is smoky, spicy, and mouthwatering. In theory, I could eat my weight in the stuff, but I can't seem to manage that to quite the same degree as when I as 15 or 16 years old!
The only drawback is that the barbecued meat and slaw take all day to prepare, so it's hard to do much else besides hang around waiting to begin the next step. When you aren't checking the meat and basting it with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and course ground black pepper, it's time to chop cabbage for the slaw, pick mint for the iced tea, and finally mix the sauce. That is made by combining roughly one cup of ketchup, one cup of white vinegar, and one cup of sugar -- I prefer slightly less ketchup -- further seasoned to taste with course ground black pepper and Lea and Perrin's Worcester Sauce.
This 'red sauce' is used to flavor the slaw and the meat in your sandwiches. It's tantalizingly spicy but not uncomfortably so, though several years ago my visiting in-laws, who have rather less expansive pallets, found it too much and asked for plain ketchup! There are no words. . .
Anyway, after about seven hours of cooking/smoking over indirect heat, the pork shoulders come off the grill and go to the kitchen to cool for two-three hours on a platter. Then, it's time to get your hands dirty. You pull the dried, smoked pork off the bones and into slivers slightly smaller than your fingers.
If you have any energy left, and you aren't doubled over from anticipatory hunger pains, it's time to make some hush puppies. You can find many recipes for these in the right cookbooks or online, but avoid the New England style with Bay Seasoning and whip up a batch of their plainer Southern cousins.
Finally, when everything is ready, you can sit down to the table to dig in and enjoy a most delicious, "down home" meal with a large glass of sugary, spearmint-flavored iced tea. Oink, oink!
And there you go. You will probably be too full for dessert, but if you want to live dangerously, a scoop or two of peach ice cream -- or better yet, some peach cobbler -- is a fine way to finish this delightful Southern culinary experience. I think my grandparents, Dave (from Lexington, NC) and Vivian (from Asheville, NC. Mom hails from Asheville too!) would approve!
If you have any questions, just drop me a line, and I'll be happy to expound on the intricacies of North Carolina Piedmont-Style Pulled Pork BBQ. Now, it's your turn to give it a try. You'll never think about BBQ'ed meat the same way again!
*Chilluns -- A dialectal form of "children", which my grandmother used occasionally when she was being funny.