Failure is often very useful.
I have never been one to allow the unique demands of the Jeff Lifestyle to crimp my culinary range. I don’t begrudge the extra time I spend waiting for the bus, the smaller kitchen or the sink full of dishes. I can, nearly without exception, cook whatever I want.
That exception has been barbeque. Until this past Sunday.
I hate to be a pedant. But semantics matter, especially when we are talking about relative effort involved. By ‘barbeque’ I don’t mean that I “invited my golf buddies over to throw steaks on the grill and watch mainstream sporting events and complain about the government.” I BARBEQUED. I seasoned and prepped a piece of tough, fatty, sinewy meat, and the cooked said meat in an enclosed space, with nothing but the smoke borne of the combustion of hardwood.
I have never barbecued before. Sort of. I tried the Alton Brown flowerpot thing once, but I was young and foolish and brash. More to the point, I was prone to rushing – and didn’t understand the mindset necessary to bring wood to smoke and smoke to meat. After a few smoke alarms, and a warning from the fire department, the meat was chucked into the oven, and party guests were treated to second-rate Jeff Cuisine. It hurt.
This time, seven Labor Day Weekends later, I tried again. It took research, it took some effort to prepare, and patience to execute. But the results were worth it.
It was not a perfect hunk of pulled pork, by any means. Temperature control was not perfect, and I should have rotated the meat more than I did. Still, yes, oh, yes. It was luscious, gently salty and still sweet from the molasses brine. And deep, soulful smokyness that just reached down to your deepest part of your insides. This was GOOD.
Please consider this a recipe for producing a workable BBQ within a confined outdoor space on a day when you might have “Time but not unlimited time.” Obviously your cooking time will vary with the size and shape of your pork shoulder, but the method and prep list will be roughly the same.
The following recipe is Four Dimensional. Obviously ingredients and method both matter, but the important lesson I put my mind around this past weekend is that sometimes people neglect two other critical aspects of cooking: the equipment you need to complete the recipe efficiently, and the mindset necessary to achieve the best results.
Seriously. Attitude matters, especially with a piece of meat that requires a vast reservoir of almost zen-like inaction. I think the biggest problem an apartment-BBQ’er will face centers around a natural impulse to either A) pull the pork before it’s complete or B) add too much heat to the grill. In other words, here, it’s what you don’t do that matters most.
Pulled-Pork For Space-Challenged Apartment Dwellers
(This is obviously meant to be done outside. Not on a balcony or fire escape, but, say, in a parking lot or courtyard. Use common sense and have a fire-extinguisher handy. )
PART I – INGREDIENTS
- 7-8 lb hunk of pork shoulder (AKA Boston Butt) -.”
- 1/2 Cup (or so) of spice rub.
(If you want to go homemade, Alton Brown’s Rib Rub is quite good, This is another I’ve used for oven-braised rubs. Many attractive commercial options are available. IIt just so happens that my butcher shop is about twenty steps away from my favorite spice market, and their “OTR Butt Rubb” has just the right nuance of heat and smoke and “reddy sweetness.” (non-Porkopolitans should click the link to what “OTR” means)
PART II – EQUIPMENT
- Kettle Grill, with a lid that can completely close overtop your meat
- Large vessel, capable of holding enough brine to submerge the meat
- Charcoal briquettes
- TWO thermometers – ideally, one probe and one instant-read.
- About 8 ounces of small wood chips soaked overnight in apple cider vinegar. Mesquite is commonly available. BBQ purists prefer hickory.
- Aluminum Foil. a dead-sea-scroll-esque quantity thereof.
- Two pair of tongs, to be used in lifting the PB and its grate.
- A clean outdoor work surface (like a makesift card table) capable of supporting your grill grate and pork without collapsing or burning. The surface should be able to hold all “clean” utensils (tongs, etc)
- Paper towels
- Oven mitt
- Comfortable outdoor chair, with beverage holder (I’m only being partially silly here. You’re going to be outside, it’s gonna be warm, and you can’t really go anywhere. Be comfortable)
- Provisions necessary for spending the day outside. In my case, this meant a cooler full of ice cubes, a pitcher full of glycemic-nightmare iced tea, and ample reading material.
- Fully-charged cellphone, to be used SPARINGLY. Texting pictures of the smoldering meat pile to your vegan friends is to be encouraged.
PART III – ATTITUDINAL REQUIREMENTS
- A capacity for forward thinking. This recipe does require some forethought.
- Sufficient impulse control to NOT rush ahead with this recipe until you’ve determined that you have enough space and workable equipment (see note below as to grill size)
- Patience (I cannot understate this one)
- Trust in the well-established scientific principles of thermodynamics.
- A willingness to commit twelve hours to the process.
PART IV – COOKING METHOD
- Brine the Pork for at least twelve hours before you plan to light your grill. To brine, place 1/4 cup of salt in 1 1/2 cups of water, and bring to a boil, stirring. When the salt dissolves, add another 1 1/2 cup of water, and stir in 1/4 c of molasses, stir until dissolved. Pour into your brining vessel and dd the pound of ice cubes (note: this is a 5% brine) Add the pork, cover, and refrigerate.
- Remove meat from the brine about two hours before you light the grill. This will allow the meat to dry and ease up toward room temperature.
- Apply your spice rub, generously. You really want to coat the meat, including all of the crevasses.
- Prep your work area. I suggest chair to the far side with beverages and reading material and clean towels, etc. Middle area should be the grill, far area should be your clean work table with a baking sheet which will hold your clean utensils.
- Safety Check. Make sure that your grill is not prone to tipping over and that the briquettes are WELL away from the grill. Remember, you are going to be adding coals, and ashes will go flying. You don’t need a smoldering ember in your charcoal bag. You’re welcome.
- Perform some rudimentary origami to create a small “box” to hold a layer of woodchips.
- Start with six briquettes. Light and and arrange to one side of your grill.
- Once the briquettes are coated with white ash residue place foil woodchip “box” directly on top of them.
- Place the top grate back on the grill, and place a generous layer of foil on the area opposite your briquettes and wood chips.
- Now, remember my note about impulse control and forethought? You will want to have already checked your grill so that you know you can that you can place the meat far enough away from the direct heat as not to cook directly. Remember, the smoke cooks the meat, not the heat from the grill.
- Cover the grill, and insert the instant read thermometer through one of the vents. You may need to keep an eye on it for a while. Wait until the temperature is stable, and add one briquette at a time if need be. You are building the temperature toward 200 degrees. Try not to go above 225.
- At some point the wood chips will start smoking and the temperature of your “heat box” will be appropriate. Only then, add the meat.
- Insert probe thermometer into the meat. Set an alarm for 180 degrees.
- Cook for… well, anywhere from 1-2 hours per pound, given its shape.
- Keep an eye on wood chips and temperature, you should count on adding briquettes every hour or so. Just one or two. As you do, rotate the meat.
- Patience Patience Patience. This is what you signed up for.
- When the pork reaches about 175 degrees, remove from the heat, wrap completely in foil, and allow the meat to rest on your kitchen counter as you clean up the mess.
- Pull. Devour. Anything.
When you open the pork, you should see the “smoke ring” around the interior, indicative of the penetration of the smokey goodness. This means you have done well.
Enjoy. Hope you all had a great holiday!