North Carolina Pulled Pork Menu
Taming the Flame
Taming the Flame: 20 Meals from the Grill by Elizabeth KarmelIn this weekly column, grilling expert Elizabeth Karmel shares menus for full meals cooked on the grill (with occasional allowances for a no-cook or make-ahead dish that's not grilled). In this column, she shares her recipes for North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Lexington Coleslaw, and Grilled Corn in the Husk.
The Secret to North Carolina Pulled Pork"In my mind, I'm going to Carolina...!" Can't ya just smell the pork smoke?
It wouldn't be summer without at least one all-day North Carolina Pulled Pork cookout. This is the day that I fire up the Primo charcoal grill, make a pitcher of whatever cold beverage I am in the mood for and relax as the pork cooks slowly, becoming meltingly tender inside and cracklin' crunchy on the outside.
North Carolina-style pulled pork is -- at its essence -- pure pork. It's cooked slowly at a low temperature and kissed with hickory wood. Hickory wood is used because it's a common tree in the Lexington area of North Carolina. If you don't have hickory chips, you can use apple. Apple is a little sweeter but it has a wonderful natural affinity for smoking pork.
Start with a bone-in Boston Butt or pork shoulder. Contrary to what it sounds like, the "Butt" comes from the shoulder! You can buy a boneless butt but the best way to tell if it is done and ready to "pull" is when the bone slips out of the "roast" with ease and is clean-as-a-whistle! This is my favorite moment of making pulled pork, and no matter how many times I've made it, it never loses its thrill.
Before you put the Butt over a medium-low indirect heat -- about 300 F -- you want to season it liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. That's all they use in North Carolina and that's all you need. Make sure the gray-ashed charcoal is raked to either side and the pork is set over a drip pan. Add a few handfuls of wet wood chips and close the lid. Don't peak for at least the first 45 minutes -- you want the meat to absorb the maximum amount of wood smoke, and every time you lift the lid, you let the smoke escape and the grill temperature drops. After the first hour, you can add a little more wood and you may need more charcoal if you are cooking on a traditional Weber kettle. The basic rule is to add charcoal every hour but I've found that to be unnecessary with a Kamado-style (Primo or Big Green Egg) charcoal grill.
Once the Butt has formed it's great burnished crust, the smoke will not penetrate the meat so there is no need to keep adding wood.
While the pork is cooking, it's a perfect time to make the North Carolina-style vinegar sauce and the Lexington Coleslaw (dressed with the same sauce) that will top the sandwich.
Overall, the pork should take 4 to 5 hours depending on the size, but it's not an exact science. It might take longer and it might take a little less time. Make sure the internal temp is no less than 190 F and that the bone comes out clean-as-a-whistle. Let the pork rest about 20 minutes and then you are ready to pull it or chop it (if you have to). These days, chopped pork is quicker for restaurants and a cleaver looks more dramatic than two forks pulling against the grain of the pork. However, I still prefer the old-fashioned "pulled" pork, even if it takes longer. I discard any connective tissue or veins that are still present and carefully pull off the crispy cracklin' fat to chop or break into pieces and add at the end.
Once the pork is chopped and dressed, I usually cover it with foil and put it into a low oven (225 F) to keep warm. Toss it occasionally to mix the sauce and the meat and it can stay in the oven for up to 2 hours. It can also be pulled and dressed days in advance and kept either cold in the fridge or even frozen. Never re-heat in a microwave or over a direct high heat. You don't want to scorch the pork! You can re-heat in a double boiler -- like I grew up doing -- but be forewarned that it requires patience. Or, simply cover it with foil and place it in a gentle oven, stirring it from the bottom every so often.
Simple Grilled Corn on the SideBecause it takes the better part of the day to cook, I want the dinner table focus to be on the pork and so I only serve the simplest side dishes. This time of year, I like to buy corn at the farmer's market and soak it in a big barrel of cool water. While the pork is being pulled, I give the corn a quick shake to get the excess water off of it, then put it on the cooking grates of the grill over direct medium heat. I turn the ears of corn a few times to make sure that all the sides benefit from the direct heat but the real beauty of grilling corn this way is that the water that is collected by the corn silk ends up steaming the corn and giving it a super-sweet taste enhanced by the silk and the husk. I don't shuck them, rather serve them on a big platter, letting everyone shuck -- much easier after grilling -- and slather their own ears with sweet cream butter and a touch of fleur de sel. A good friend of mine, a farm boy at heart, can eat five ears himself when prepared this way. And, remember, the fresher the corn, the less time it takes to cook.
Time to Serve the Barbecue!When you are ready to eat, place a heaping mess of the hot pork on one side of a classic white hamburger bun -- no sesame seeds, please! Using a slotted spoon, place a generous spoonful of the coleslaw on top of the pork. Put the top bun on the sandwich and take a big bite. Soft bread, hot smoky, tender pork and cold crunchy slaw also dressed with the slightly spicy apple-cider vinegar sauce is a bite to behold. "In my mind, I'm going to Carolina..."
More Barbecue and Grilling from KitchenDaily:
- See Elizabeth Karmel's Barbecued Ribs, Grilled Corn & Tomatoes menu for other variations on pork and corn.
- Get ten amazing variations on grilled corn.
- Watch videos on how-to grill.
- Browse more barbecue and grilling recipes.