The irresistible pull of that Southern staple: pork


August 03, 2008|By SANDRA PINCKNEY

When my family migrated north from South Carolina, they brought with them precious culinary traditions passed from one generation to the next.

Take rice, for example: It was rare not to find a pot of this starchy Southern staple on the back burner of my grandmother's stove.

Another was the scrumptious vegetable stew that we called "granddaddy's soup," consisting of fresh corn, fresh tomatoes, fresh limas and fresh okra. And then, greens - mustards, turnips, collards or any combination of the three, served with hot pickled peppers on the side.

Two icons of Southern cuisine, however, did not make the journey north, thus they never became part of my family's food lore. One was sweet tea. The other was pulled pork.

For most Southerners, sweet tea is the most-loved nonalcoholic libation.

Sweet and fragrant, especially when topped with a piece of fresh mint, it's oh-so-refreshing on a hot, summer day.

The problem is, just as you can't eat just one Utz potato chip, you can't drink just one glass of sweet tea.

When I discovered that this delightful brew is basically sugar water flavored with tea, for the sake of my waistline, we had to part ways.

Not so with pulled pork. In the Carolinas, folks just call it barbecue, so I'll do the same.

Typically, a whole hog is cooked long and slow in an open pit over hardwood coals until it's fall-off-the-bone tender. Then it's pulled into moist, meaty strands, and doused with a tangy vinegar and red pepper sauce.

In some parts, barbecue is served with a mustard-based "gold" sauce; in others, a spicy tomato-based sauce. I have happily sampled all three and prefer the vinegar and red pepper sauce.

Cooking a whole hog is impractical for most people.

Pork butt or shoulder is a whole lot easier to handle, takes less time to cook and is much easier on the budget. (Not to mention that most people can't dig a pit in their backyard.)

The thing to remember is that the pork must be slowly cooked over low, indirect heat.

Use a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the roast reaches 195 degrees, which makes it easier to shred.

There is no complicated dry-rub or marinade in this recipe, just a little salt and pepper. But the one ingredient you will need is patience.

If you're the type that likes to throw something on the grill at the last minute, this one's not for you. Barbecue takes an investment of time: four to six hours of cooking. But, like a lot of good things that take time, it's worth it.

Mound the pulled pork on a hamburger bun, or all by itself, serve with your favorite coleslaw and get ready to fall in love.


12 servings

Boston butt or boneless shoulder roast (5-7 pounds) covered with a good layer of fat

olive oil

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

6 cups hickory chips or chunks soaked for 1/2 hour in cold water and drained

vinegar sauce and other sauces (see recipes)

10-12 hamburger buns

Rub the roast with olive oil and season all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and place a drip pan in the center. If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips in the smoker box and preheat the grill to high; when smoke appears, reduce the heat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, preheat the grill to medium-low and adjust the vents to achieve a temperature of 300 degrees.

When ready to cook, if using charcoal, toss 1 cup of the wood chips on the coals. With gas, all you need to do is be sure that you start with a full tank of gas. Place the pork shoulder fat side up, on the hot grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill and cook the pork for 4 to 6 hours until fall-off-the-bone tender, and the temperature on an instant-read meat thermometer reaches 195 degrees. With a charcoal grill, you'll need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side, and a cup of the soaked and drained wood chips every hour. If the pork begins to brown too much on a gas grill, drape a piece of aluminum foil over it or lower the heat.

Baste with the vinegar sauce.

Transfer the pork roast to a cutting board, loosely tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes.

While still hot, pull the meat from the skin, discarding any bones or fat. Using two forks or your fingertips (wear a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves), pull the pork into shreds, mixing the pork with enough vinegar sauce to keep it moist. This will take time and patience to get the perfect texture. If you must save time, you can use a cleaver to chop the barbecue into small pieces.

Serve on hamburger rolls with more sauce on the side. (I have included recipes for a tomato-based sauce and a mustard or "gold" sauce.)

Per serving: 394 calories, 33 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 86 milligrams cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 288 milligrams sodium.

The nutritional analyses accompanying these recipes were calculated by registered dietitian Jodie Shields.

Vinegar Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

3 cups apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (to taste)

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