One of my favorite internet memes is the one that says “Dear Naps, I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you as a kid.” As an adult, I value sleep immensely. Unfortunately, even if I HAD time to nap, I’m one of those people who finds it impossible to fall asleep during the day. Unless I’m sick, the daylight part of my body basically tells the sleepy side of my body to “shove off.” I tell you this to give you a reference point for how delicious food must be if it makes me willing to awaken myself every two hours during the night to make it.
When it comes to BBQ, I like all types; I’ll eat baby back ribs, spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, you name it and I’ll slather sauce and cole slaw on it and go to town. Unfortunately, despite having two kitchens and a very well stocked cooking arsenal, we do not own a smoker. That means I have to find alternately creative ways to get that same delicious BBQ taste. If that means waking up every two hours at night, so be it.
I’ve learned the trick with doing pulled pork in the oven is that you need to create a nice thick “bark” or crust on the outside of the meat while it’s cooking. This will seal it off to keep the juices inside. Even in the oven, if you combine a bark with a long, slow cook time, you can pull off an amazing pulled pork. The reason for the slow cook is to get the internal temperate to about 170 and to keep it there for several hours. The fat in the pork will render at 170 degrees, and since the outside is sealed off, the fat will sort of melt into the meat around it. The rendering of pork fat seeping into the meat is what makes pulled pork so incredibly tender.
To get that bark you’ll need to do a combination of things. First, you need to slather your pork with some liquid that won’t just run off the sides. Cheap, yellow mustard is a great candidate and is exactly what I use. Next, you’ll want to put together a spice rub. I’ve included my recipe below but feel free to tweak it based on your personal spice tolerance. For the best results, you’ll want to coat the pork with a really good coating, then seal it up and put it in your fridge for 6-8 hours to rest. When you’re ready to roast it, get your spice mix back out and rub another layer of coating over any of the spaces that look “wet.”
You can use a couple of different cuts of meat for this, but I’ve had best results with a pork butt or a pork shoulder. I prefer a nice, big picnic shoulder in the 7-9 pound range. I can find these at Aldi sometimes during the summer months.
The waking up part comes when you are cooking it. You’ll want to plan on a little less than two hours of cook time per pound, so an eight-pound pork shoulder is going to take fourteen or fifteen hours to cook. Every hour or two, you’ll need to “mop” the meat with a mixture of juice, oil and vinegar. This mopping action is what helps turn the spice rub into a nice thick crust that holds the rendering fat inside the meat.
After the pork has finished cooking, it’s important to let it cool outside of the oven for about 20 minutes before you start to carve it or pull it apart. This lets the juices settle deeply into the meat and will keep it from drying out as much once you’ve cut into it. Some people like to cut off the crusty “bark” at this point, but to other, those “burnt ends” pieces are true BBQ delicacy. (I pull some of it off as I go, but that’s because I like to throw it into a pot with green beans.)
You should be able to use two forks to pull the meat apart into chunks, but now and then I’ve had a piece of meat that needed to be sliced and chopped instead. It still tastes fabulous either way, so don’t worry about it if you start to shred and find that you need a knife. In fact, when I made pulled pork to get pictures for this post, I ended up with a pork shoulder that was more sliceable than pullable. It looked more like brisket as I sliced it up.
After I had sliced it, I chopped it into pieces and threw it into a big casserole dish. It’s up to you whether you want to mix some BBQ sauce in it with or leave it plain, but I like to put just a little bit of Sweet Baby Ray’s classic sauce into it as I mix it.
My favorite way to eat this is with a healthy topping of creamy cole slaw and BBQ sauce, alongside fresh sweet corn and fatback green beans, but I can also just pick at it bite by bite straight from the container. (Which is exactly what happened as I was taking pictures; my dad decided to try to sneak a bite between shots.)
- 6-10lb pork shoulder or pork butt
- ½ c Yellow Mustard
- 4 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons chili powder (I use chipotle chili powder)
- 2 tablespoons pepper
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon onion salt
- 1 c apple juice (or orange juice or apple cider)
- 1 c apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
- ⅓ c extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
- Rub the mustard into the pork with your hand until the whole thing has a very thin coating.
- Mix dry ingredients in a bowl to create your pork rub, then put a light coating on the meat, working it into all the cracks you can find. Store the pork in a sealed container overnight. The next day, apply any remaining rub to give the pork a nice, thick coating.
- Put the pork in a large roasting pan up on a rack so that it's not sitting on the floor of the pan. (I put a cookie rack in mine to hold the meat) Place the pork, uncovered into the oven for two hours.
- Mix juice, vinegar and oil in a bowl and set aside.
- After two hours of roasting, take the pork out of the oven and apply juice mixture using a wadded up paper towel or clean washcloth to "mop" the meat with the mixture.
- Mop the meat once an hour, cooking the meat for a little less than 2 hours per pound. (i.e. a seven-pound roast will take about 13 hours, an eight-pound roast will take fourteen, etc…)
- After removing the pork from the oven, allow it to rest for about twenty minutes before using forks to shred it or a knife to slice it.