Thursday, July 20, 2017

Recipe: Pulled Pork

Another recipe requested by a friend. Enjoy, Lenny.

Pulled pork is probably the easiest barbecue to make, especially for beginners. It is very forgiving of technique and can even be made in a crock pot, if you are desperate, though purists probably wouldn't consider that barbecue. (I usually resort to this in late January/early February, when the world outside is starting to dream of spring but it isn't quite warm enough to really run the smoker yet.) I strongly encourage you to smoke this, if at all possible, or even cook it on a regular grill, using two-zone heating. (That's a whole other post, for another day. If you really want to know, Google is your friend.) You can even roast it in the oven at a low temp, but if the crock pot is your only option, go for it. I've included crock instructions where they might vary from the smoker method, but most of it will be the same except for the actual cooking part. As for the oven, it's pretty much the same as the smoker only you are doing it inside.

First, you will need a pork butt, or pork shoulder as it is sometimes called. If you are cooking in a crock pot, I suggest a partial butt if you can find one. Even my largest crock would have trouble accommodating a full butt. Um, that just sounds wrong, but you get what I mean. Anyway ... if you can't find a partial butt, no worries. You can cut a full one into smaller pieces. I usually do that anyway, even when using the smoker, as it allows it to cook faster and gives me more bark (more on that later.)

This is a pork butt. Or pork shoulder. Call it what you like, it is delicious when cooked low and slow until it becomes fall-apart tender. My local butcher trimmed this up pretty well, so it is ready to go, but if your butt has excess fat on it (ahem) then you might want to get rid of some of it. CROCK TIP: This is especially important when cooking in a crock pot, as every bit of that fat stays in the pot. Trim it down to a 1/4-inch (about 6 mm) thick or less.

If you are working with a full butt, you may want to cut it in half. I usually do. It cooks faster and gives me more bark, that tasty, crunchy crust that forms around the meat when you smoke it. A half butt takes 10-12 hours to smoke, whereas a full butt will need 16 hours or more. I don't like to get up before dawn to start making dinner, so I cut it in half. CROCK TIP: Bark, alas, is not going to form in the crock pot, so that is not a factor for you, but size might be. You may need to cut your butt just to get it to fit inside the pot.

To cut a full butt, look for the bone, as knives and bones don't get along very well. Cut the butt in half just to the side of said bone. You should get two almost equal pieces which will cook at close to the same rate. CROCK TIP: You can freeze half your butt for another day or use the other half to make sausage. Your call.

After splitting your butt, you need to coat it with mustard. (Stop laughing, I'm being serious here!) The mustard helps the rub adhere to the meat and also helps develop that amazing crust. Traditionally, plain yellow mustard is used. I prefer Dijon mustard with a little of my homemade chili sauce mixed in, but any mustard will work. If you are not a fan of mustard, don't worry. The mustard flavor pretty much disappears during the cooking process. Even so, if you honestly cannot handle putting mustard on your meat, then you can substitute olive oil. I prefer the mustard as I find it easier to work with and think it makes a better crust; however, there are many cooks out there who would disagree with me.

Just use your hands and slather a thin coat all over the meat. Don't be afraid to get messy. If you really must, you can use a silicone brush to apply it, but it will take longer and your coverage won't be as even. CROCK TIP: Since you cannot form bark in a crock pot because it holds all the moisture inside the pot, you may skip the mustard if you like. It won't hurt to add it, but it won't hurt to leave it out either. Just skip ahead and sprinkle the rub directly on the meat, if you prefer.

Next comes the rub, the true secret to great pulled pork. Most pit masters have their own secret blend and I'm no exception. I won't share my specific recipe, but I'll give you a basic one to get started. Just mix all the ingredients together and sprinkle liberally on your butt. (Seriously, stop laughing.)

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) coarse sugar. I use turbinado sugar. Brown sugar also works. Granulated only if that is all you can get.
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) coarse salt. I prefer kosher, but coarse sea salt also works. Table salt in a pinch. (haha -- pun!) IMPORTANT: If your butt has been injected with saline solution, omit any additional salt!
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) paprika. I prefer smoked, sweet paprika for this recipe, but any will work.
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) ground cumin
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon (2-5 ml) pepper flakes. The more you use, the spicier it gets.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different spices in your rub. That's how you get your super-secret, signature recipe. Just remember to start with a sugar/salt base with a ratio of about 3 parts sugar to 1 part salt. Again, omit the salt if your meat has been injected with a saline solution.


Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C). This is your target temp, where you want to keep your smoker at, but as I said earlier, butts are very forgiving. If your setup strays a bit from this, don't fret. As long as you keep it between 200°-300°F (95°-150°C), you should be fine. Since there are a ton of different smokers and grills out there, I'm not even going to attempt to instruct you on temperature regulation here. Just follow the instructions that came with your smoker or grill and you should be good. NOTE: I use a pellet smoker myself. I find it easy to use and love how it regulates the temp for me. I've used charcoal, wood and propane smokers in the past as well, but greatly prefer my pellet smoker. I just fill the hopper, set the temp, toss in the meat when it's ready and forget about it until dinner. Can't get much easier than that.

As I mentioned earlier, a full butt can take 16 hours or longer to cook. Half butts like these generally take 10 hours, maybe 12, depending on the size. Use a good meat thermometer and start checking full butts at about the 12 hour mark, half butts at about 8 hours. Don't check too often though, as all your heat escapes every time you open the smoker. (NOTE: I recommend inserting a digital cooking thermometer into the butt when you place it in the smoker. This will allow you to monitor the internal temp without having to open up the smoker.) When the internal temp hits 195°F (90°C) stick it with a barbecue fork and twist gently. If the fork turns easily, it is ready. If not, keep cooking until the internal temp hits 203°F (95°C). Cooking beyond this temp will just dry out the meat, so it's time to take it out of the smoker. If the fork still won't twist at this point, you may just have a tough butt (Stop it!) and may have to slice it instead of pulling it. No worries, it will still taste good. 

Smoked pork butt, ready for pulling.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT put sauce on your butt while it is smoking! I mean it. You have to wait until after it is pulled. Sauce will ruin all that lovely bark.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Not My President

(Zoo At Home is NOT a political blog. It is a place to share my thoughts. 
Right now, these are my thoughts. Take them for what they are worth to you.)

Yes, Donald Trump is now president. I know this. We ALL know this. Many of his supporters seem to think we need to be reminded of this fact. Trust me, we don’t. We are painfully aware of the situation. If you voted for Trump, I ask you to think back on how you felt when Obama took office. How long did it take you to get over it? Still working on that, I’d bet.

Yet, many who voted for Trump seem to think the rest of us should simply fall in line. I repeatedly see calls from his supporters to "accept it" and "give him a chance." To "respect and support him” simply because he now holds the title of President of the United States. This befuddles me. The notion that a person, any person, should automatically deserve respect regardless of actions, behavior or attitude is ludicrous. To suggest this of a person in power is downright dangerous. One might even call it un-American. Where would we be today if our forefathers had taken that stance?

Respect must be earned, yet many would have me blindly offer it to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. These demands often come from the same people who are still ridiculing Barack Obama, even though he has now completed his TWO TERMS of office. If eight years of dignified service to this country were not enough to warrant their respect, why on earth would a few days of whining and spinning falsehoods be enough to gain mine? In short, they aren’t.

Trump was not elected president on a trial basis. He does not get a preliminary period to prove himself. He is president NOW, which means he is accountable NOW. Like many, I am not inclined to take a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to civil rights and the future of our nation. Early decisions and actions matter just as much as later ones. Perhaps even more, as they may very well be a portent of things to come. To be painfully honest, I’m not comforted by what I have seen so far. His first acts as president reflect the polar opposite of what I envision for this nation, thus I am not inclined to support any of them. Why would I?

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that Donald Trump does NOT represent me. His ideals are not my ideals. His agenda is not my agenda. His vision for America is most definitely not my vision. After months of listening to him speak, watching his rallies and reading his interviews, I have found exactly zero issues which we agree on and none of his actions since taking office give me any hope that this will change. Therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, support the man or his policies.

In fact, I feel it is my civic duty to do exactly the opposite. I must challenge every decision I disagree with. I must call out every action I feel is harmful. I must shine a spotlight on every incidence of deceit and chicanery that I witness. I cannot, will not, be silent while this administration works to tear apart a country I love. America IS great and can be even greater, but this man, this president, will not get us there.

Many of you disagree. I get that. It is certainly within your rights to do so. You seem to share Trump’s vision for America and, thus, you support him. Perhaps you even respect him as well. It is not for me to say, just as it is not for others to determine where MY loyalties should lie. That responsibility lies with me and me alone. I take that responsibility very seriously. I have never supported ANY president unconditionally. I am not about to start now.

As long as Trump continues to pull my country in this dangerous and oppressive direction, I will fight him. I will not call him names or belittle him on a personal level, but I WILL stand against him. I will join with others who seek to do the same. Together, I hope we will have the strength to prevail, but even if we don’t, I will not simply capitulate. This great country is worthy of my support. Donald Trump is not.

Trump will have my respect and support when and if he earns it – and not one minute sooner. Until then, I will resist him and all he currently stands for. As a citizen of the United States of America, it is my right – no, my duty – to speak out against a government I disagree with.

So, speak I shall. While I still can.