Pulled pork: YES, we can!

Barbecue is a word that means different things to different people. Go down south and what they’re generally talking about is pit barbecues, which are informal restaurants with a wood-fired cooking pit out back. Southern barbecue restaurants are sort of like going to a picnic, with outdoor-cooked food and proprietary sauces that take on the mystique of what might be compared to “who has the best fish fry” around this part of the world. Around other regions, a barbecue is the device – like a gas or charcoal grill. In our regular practice of verbing nouns, you barbecue things on a barbecue (although here, most people grill things on a grill.)

Around Wausau, barbecue often means a hamburger-based concoction that you prepare and scoop onto hamburger buns. It’s one of the top dishes at kids’ birthday parties or other events where you don’t really know how many people will be showing up and you want it reasonably cheap, easy and informal.

Anyway, here’s a little recipe that’s easy and you will also be able to separate yourself from the rookies by simply taking your time. Because if there’s one thing that makes those southern barbecue places worth stopping at instead of just whipping the stuff up at home, it’s that they’re willing to take time to do it right and time is exactly what it takes.

First, let’s talk about the pork. A lot of hardcore pulled pork people like to use a butt roast. It works great and it’s cheap, but almost all cuts of pork are pretty cheap these days so I’m fond of the loin roast, which is essentially a long hunk of unsliced, boneless pork chops. For the proportions of this recipe, you want around three pounds.

Preparing the pork:

Paint on some Worcestershire sauce and then put on a rub consisting of garlic powder, pepper and salt. Let it settle in by bringing the meat up to room temperature for maybe 90 minutes and then throw it on a pre-heated grill. We’re not going to actually cook it on the grill, but brown it up to a nice finish and give it a little outdoor flavor. Then place it into a covered roaster with about a quarter inch of water in the bottom and a couple of drops of liquid smoke. This is going to be a VERY SLOW oven; I’m talking 225 degrees. You might think it’s going to take forever to cook at that low temperature and you’re almost right. For the piece you see in the picture, I put it in the oven at 11 p.m. and took it out the next morning around 7 a.m. – eight hours. But check out the results. The meat is so tender that it would be difficult to cut because it just pulls apart with the grain when you put any pressure on it at all with a chef knife. Voila, pulled pork! I like to remove any remaining excess fat on the exterior.

The sauce is boss:

Okay, let’s say you’ve decided at this point that you’ve had it with screwing around. It’s perfectly okay if you want to take a big bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce, stir it in with the pork in a big, covered pot on the range top or your crock pot and simmer it up and serve it. But what’s even better is to have a made-from-nearly-scratch sauce that proves to the world you’re truly the best of the best – not just because you understand food, but because almost nobody in this instant gratification, heat & serve world is willing to put in the time to do things right anymore. So here’s your sauce:

2 cups tomato juice

2 cans concentrated tomato soup (the small ones, 10.5-oz.)

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon chili powder

1-1/2 teaspoons Allspice

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon celery salt

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup white vinegar

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ stalk celery, chopped VERY finely

You can play around with some of the ingredients for taste, but don’t overdo the ground cloves, Allspice or salt because these are the kinds of things that can quickly take dominance.

Start by blending the juice, soup and vinegar together with the onions and celery and then carefully stir in the other ingredients as you bring it up to temperature over a medium flame. Once you see the bubbles of a boil, back it off to a very low simmer, mix in the pork, cover it and let it simmer for an hour to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. VERY LOW HEAT, okay? Things like brown sugar are really touchy about overheating. If you like the consistency after this process, then that’s great. If not, uncover it and keep stirring it regularly until it’s a bit thicker.

Skip those chintzy, spongy, mass-produced hamburger buns and put your barbecued pulled pork on some nice artisan bakery hard rolls because it deserves the respect.

(And if you’ve got a kid’s birthday party coming up, just skip the pork, brown 2.5 pounds of hamburger with the quarter cup of onion, drain it and stir it into a batch of this sauce to serve over chintzy, spongy, mass-produced hamburger buns because it’s awesome.)

Bon appetit!





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