Here’s your chance to cook with the cast! Make the featured recipe with us and comment on your experience below—we’d love to hear how it goes. Our cooks will answer any questions you may have, too.
7/29/2011 Update: Bridget has picked a favorite photo! Take a look at the winning dish.
For a chance to win an entire Season 10 4-DVD set of America’s Test Kitchen TV autographed by host Christopher Kimball, make this week’s recipe and email a photo of your completed dish to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, July 28. Bridget will pick her favorite snapshot and name the winner on Friday, July 29. Good luck!
Let me tell you about my love of pulled pork. The best sandwich in the world starts with a pork shoulder roast (I prefer the more prosaic name of “Boston Butt”) and it’s slow smoked for hours, and hours, and hours over a well-tended grill or wood-fed smoker. The payoff is smoky, ultra-silky meat underneath an evil, dark, and craggy crust—affectionately referred to in the BBQ circuit as “bark.” Pulled and mixed with a little tart sauce and piled on a bun, just knowing that there’s such a sandwich in my near future is enough to get me out of bed, which means that in the winter, I do a lot of sleeping.
Anyone who’s barbecued during a northeastern January knows that a recipe should start with “Step 1: Shovel out the grill.” But as a dainty southern(ish) flower, I will do no such thing. So that means no pulled pork until the ground thaws, or settle for a sloppy indoor version of pot-roasting a pork butt with bottled barbecue sauce. With no real smoke flavor, and none of the bark, this “fauxbecue” is enough to make me weep.
So I was cautiously optimistic (well, more like a Debbie Downer) that the test kitchen could create an indoor pulled pork that could even sit beside the real thing. Heck, I’d marry the cook that could pull this one off.
Well, I made the final version, and it looks like I need to get a new white dress (and break the news to my husband).
The recipe starts with brining the pork butt in a mixture of water, salt, and get this—liquid smoke. And calm down. Liquid smoke is not the remnants of a washed-out ashtray; it’s actually a natural product made from the smoke of real wood. Will the marvels of modern cookery never cease to amaze?
After a smoky soak, the big hunk of pork gets a good massage of both a wet and dry rub. There’s smoky flavor everywhere: Liquid smoke and mustard make up the wet rub, and smoked paprika is the key ingredient in the dry rub. Used to be that you needed to special-order smoked paprika, but it turns out that grocery stores will succumb to threats of boycotting and will carry the stuff if you “ask” them—nicely. Oh, and personal observation here: Unless you’re willing to walk around for the rest of the day with yellow-orange fingers, wear rubber gloves for the rubbing step (or be prepared for lots of questions about your health).
Smoky flavor—check. Tender meat? Not so much. We slow-roasted the rubbed pork in the oven—but as we found out, an oven sure isn’t a grill (I guess the name “oven” should have been a clue). Ovens suck out every last drop of ambient moisture from within the hot box, while grills keep the atmosphere under the lids downright steamy (by the way, to break down tough meat, steamy is good). So you’ve got to first roast the meat under a tight blanket of parchment and foil, trapping in that moisture, and then uncover the pork to develop crusty bark. Pretty clever, yes?
After all this, it’s time to shred the pork. And if I may be so bold here: Don’t over-shred the meat! (It looks like cat food.) It’s better to have big chunks of smoky pork and bark under that bun. Sure, you can use a couple of forks, but for the best control, nothing beats using your own two hands—just make sure that you don’t skip that cooling step!
So is it anything like authentic pulled pork? Hmm, how shall I put this… heck yeah! The smoky flavor, tender texture, and craggy bark give the real deal a run for the money. The only thing missing is that little tinge of pink that comes from smoking meat over real wood. Now, someone might be cretin enough to point this out. If they do, just hand them the shovel and tell them to start digging out the grill. That should quiet them down.