Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BBQ Pulled Pork

Ashley's birthday was on a Sunday in June. He's not really into big celebrations, so we stuck to our usual "Adventure Sunday" (I'll elaborate more on that in a future post) and explored a natural wildlife refuge in the area. I did get him a birthday gift, but while while we were out for the day, I think his favorite birthday treat was simmering in the crockpot at home.

Painted turtle sunning itself on a log in the pond.
I couldn't remember exactly how I prepared the chunk of pig (your best best is a pork shoulder with one fatty side and the bone still in it) the last time I made pulled pork, but I'll let you in on a little secret about the most important ingredient: beer. Not just any beer though - a stout (or three). Look at a million recipes online for BBQ seasoning and you'll find about the same mix of seasonings: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, brown sugar and chili powder. Of course there are more (or fewer) spices you can mix together to meet your particular tastes, but those are the basics. 

I like to mix all of my spices in a bowl, and then rub the pork shoulder really thoroughly with all the spices, just like you'd prepare dry-rubbed ribs. After the meat is coated in spices, I put it aside for a few minutes while I caramelize onions. Slice up a yellow onion into rings, add a bit of olive oil to a large pan and pour in a few tablespoons of brown sugar. On low heat, sauté the onions until they are golden brown, then dump them into the bottom of the crockpot. 

I add a bit more olive oil to a the same pan (You really think I'm going to clean up that many dishes? Please.) and brown all sides of the meat, just to get the cooking started and seal in the flavor. Once all sides are browned, into the crockpot it goes, resting on a bed of caramelized onions. Next I throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme and pour in 2-3 bottles of beer, depending on how large the piece of pork is. 

You want the piece of meat completely covered with liquid, even a little extra so it remains covered as some of the liquid steams out. The beer selection is crucial. You want a dark, flavorful beer. You can choose one with a coffee or smokey undertone, or a sweeter taste. You can find any of these flavors in numerous stouts and porters. Don't be afraid to mix different types of beer. The first time I made pulled pork, we sampled all of the beers in a make-your-own 6-pack and chose two with flavors we thought to be complimentary to each other. So pour in your 2 stouts or porters. I topped my liquid off with half a bottle of a honey weiss, which is a lighter wheat beer. You can always add other flavors such as hot sauce, molasses, BBQ sause, etc. to enhance the flavor of the meat. Be creative!

After all the prep work is done, put the lid on your crockpot, set the temperature to medium or high and give the meat 6-8 hours to fall apart. When it's time to pull the meat apart, I like to keep it in the crockpot and the liquid so it can continue soaking up the flavor and not get dried out. I use a big two-pronged meat fork and a large serving fork since the meat shreds so easily at this point.

Ashley's birthday dinner was complete when the pulled pork was served on toasted potato rolls with homemade cheesy mashed potatoes, made from red potatoes. We ended the day with a picnic on the roof. It was such an awesome meal that I ate three sandwiches! 

Birthday boy's pulled pork and mashed potatoes.

Chow down, birthday boy!

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