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On Southern Cooking: Pork Barbecue

pulledpork-DSCN5522Piggin’ out on swine with swagger.

By Laurie Triplette

ldtriplette@aol.com

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

Wound tighter’n a Gibson guitar: A state of being, in which the individual is holding it all in, about ready to burst. Not the most desirable of states … interchangeable with about to bust a gut.

IT’S TIME TO BURN SOME PIG, Y’ALL

This week is my annual ode to barbecue, in honor of my Carolina family and in memory of an all-time great pig-picking party for my dear mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. And don’t forget, the Hawgs are coming to town to face the Rebels, so we really want to get in the mood to chomp down on some pig.

So much has been written about barbecue in general, and about Southern barbecue specifically, that I almost don’t feel the need to discuss the matter. However, for the five people in the Cornbread Nation unfamiliar with our Cue history, let me elaborate:

Grilling is done on high heat and smoke is incidental. Barbecuing is done on low heat, slowly, with smoke (low and slow smoke).

A smoker fired up to 185-250˚F (right around 200 is ideal) is the preferred instrument of execution; but even a charcoal grill can be modified to incorporate the low-slow-smoke components.

The heat is prepared by using untreated hard charcoal, without lighter fluid, to avoid tainting the flavor. Build the fire using a fire-starting chimney. (I suppose a gas grill can be used, but in my opinion, why bother.)

Proper barbecuing relies on a combination of marinating, rubbing with certain spices, and mopping with water, vinegar, or apple juice-based mop sauce. The final result may or may not be embellished with sauce, and the sauce may or may not contain ketchup or tomatoes. The type of slaw accompanying the Cue varies by region — some with mustard and/or mayonnaise, some with cider vinegar, and some with pickles.

The spice rub, the marinade and mop, and the finishing sauce are all tailored to the type of meat (varying cuts of pork or beef) and preference for consumption (sliced, pulled/shredded, chopped, or whole). Less is more regarding spices and sauces; the goal is to reveal the true flavor of the smoked meat.

Pork is the indigenous Southern barbecue meat. According to regional locale, the pig is ´cued as whole hog, shoulder, butt, or ribs. Beef brisket barbecue originated in Texas. Both cow and pig met somewhere above the middle, around Kansas City.

The type and amount of smoke imparted to the meat greatly affects the flavor. All smoke should be created using hardwood; fruitwoods and nut woods have compact cell structures and are the best. For pig, the preferred woods for smoke are hickory or fruitwood. For beef, the tradition is mesquite or hickory. Hickory and mesquite can be overpowering if overused. Apple, cherry, and pecan are mild and flavorful. Oak is great for large cuts of meats.

Barbecue aficionados fight for pieces of the “bark,” which is the crusty exterior of the smoked meat. This bark should be mixed in with the pulled or chopped meat to enhance the smoky flavor.

To prevent contamination, make sure to set aside some sauce for the table only, and also to clean your mopping brush each time you mop the uncooked meat.

The recipes I’ve included this week reflect my entwined Memphis and Carolina background. They range from the simplest rub and mop/marinade, to more complicated versions of each, combined with pulled/chopped pork. I also have included a faux-cue recipe for knocking out pulled pork in the slow cooker when the weather’s bad or there’s just no time to mess with the outdoors. I’m leaving the ribs discussion for another day.

BASIC DRY RUB

Pitmasters guard their secret combinations of spices. All great pitmasters claim that simple is best. So here is a basic barbecue dry rub. Feel free to experiment.

1/2 c salt

1/4 c black pepper

1 T garlic powder

1 T crushed oregano leaves

2 T paprika

1 T chili powder

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk together until blended. Store tightly covered until ready to use. I store my homemade rubs in leftover spice jars and canning jars.

LAURIE’S HEAT-IT-UP DRY RUB

This is my tarted-up, over-the-top variation from the simple Memphis Rendezvous dry rub. Feel free to omit the various seed ingredients. Store tightly covered in a jar in the fridge when not using. Works well on pork chops, and as a light dusting on grilled chicken. It’s spicy hot.

8 T paprika

4 T garlic powder

4 T mild chili powder

3 T black pepper

3 T kosher salt

1 T crushed celery seed

2 to 4 T whole yellow mustard seed

1 T crushed oregano

1 T ground thyme

1 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp dry mustard

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until well blended. If you prefer, crush the mustard seeds slightly. Store tightly covered in the fridge until ready to use. Liberally coat the pork shoulder or chops and rub into the meat. (Dust chicken sparingly with this rub.) Allow the rubbed meat to sit about 30 minutes before cooking. The rub will create a crusty bark when the meat is cooked over low and slow heat.

LEXINGTON-STYLE BBQ SPLASH

rub_Lex_Polly's-DSCN5668This recipe is a simple and classic Carolina-style vinegar marinade from the Lexington area of the Piedmont Triad (Winston-Salem, Greensboro-High Point). It is an excellent, spicy, mop sauce to use during the grilling phase.

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1/2 c water

1/2 c ketchup

2 T light brown sugar

1 T Texas Pete hot sauce (or Louisiana Sauce)

2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Pour all ingredients into a large jar (36-oz size at least). Shake. Let sit at least 12-36 hours to allow the flavors to meld. Use as a marinade for pork shoulder prior to cooking, or mop onto meat with a basting brush once every hour during cooking.

COUSIN POLLY MOORE’S BBQ SAUCE

CousinPolly's_BBQ_Sauce-DSCN5685This is our favorite Triplette, Sherrill and Kirby family recipe from the western Piedmont/Foothills region of NC. In my opinion, it is the best barbecue sauce for finishing off that pulled pork sandwich. Heck, I think it’s the best BBQ Sauce, period. I’ve tripled the recipe here.

6 T Worcestershire Sauce

6 T apple cider vinegar

3 T lemon juice

6 T butter, melted

9 T brown sugar

9 T ketchup

3 tsp salt

3 tsp dry mustard

3 tsp chili powder

3 tsp paprika

1-1/2 to 4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (amount determines fire of the flavor)

Combine all ingredients in a quart-size canning jar and shake well. This amount yields about 28-36 ounces.

SMOKED PULLED PORK SHOULDER

pulledpork-DSCN5520Decide how you intend to cook the shoulder — in the oven, in the smoker grill, or in the slow cooker. Some barbecue cooks will slow-roast the meat first in the oven, placing it on the smoker during the last hour to impart the smoke flavor.

10 to 14 lb pork shoulder

Lexington-Style Marinade Splash

Dry Rub (about 1/4 c)

Cousin Polly’s BBQ Sauce

Rinse meat and pat dry. Place in roasting bag in a pan and marinate overnight in either homemade Lexington-Style marinade or in 12 to 16 ounces of Cousin Polly’s BBQ Sauce. When ready to place over heat, remove pork from the marinade. Dust liberally with dry rub on all sides.

To oven-cook: Preheat oven to 215˚ to 225˚F. Place meat on a grill set into the roasting pan. Add about 1 inch of Lexington-Style Splash to bottom of the pan. Cover pan loosely with aluminum foil, shiny side out. Roast about 10 to 11 hours, mopping with Lexington Splash until last hour, then with Cousin Polly’s. Remove from heat and let meat rest 5 to 10 minutes. Use two forks to pull and shred the meat.

To smoker-cook: Prepare charcoal fire; bring heat in smoker or grill to medium and place meat on the grill above smoker drip pan containing water. Cook about 5 to 6 hours, adding water-soaked wood chips to coals part-way through this first stage. For extra smoke flavor, add wood chips after a couple of hours, but recognize that each addition of soaked chips lowers the coals’ heat-point temporarily. Add more wood chips at regular intervals, as needed for another 4 to 6 hours, depending on size of the shoulder. Mop with Cousin Polly’s BBQ sauce during the last hour to create “bark”; don’t add any sooner or the sauce will burn. When ready, remove meat from heat and place in an oven set to 300˚F to continue roasting for about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove and rest the meat for 30 minutes before shredding and chopping. Serve with additional Cousin Polly’s BBQ Sauce.

SLOW COOKER PULLED PORK (A.K.A. FAKE BBQ)

This is a no-fail way to rustle up some pretend-Cue without the fuss of grilling. Don’t ever mistake it for the real deal.

4 to 6 lb pork shoulder or pork shoulder steaks

24 oz Lexington-Style BBQ Splash

1-1/2 to 2 c Cousin Polly’s BBQ Sauce

Rinse the meat and pat dry. Place in slow cooker and cover with Lexington-Style BBQ Splash. Set cooker for 10 hours. At hour 6, uncover and ladle off most of the liquid, including the grease. Drizzle the Cousin Polly’s evenly over the meat and cover; continue cooking. After 10 hours, remove meat from the remaining liquid and cool for about 10 minutes; pull meat apart to remove fat. Chop and serve with additional Cousin Polly’s and homemade slaw.

Terrific Resources About the State of Cue:

Numerous barbecue recipe books abound in our region, and barbecue recipes are featured prominently in most regional cookbooks, including those by many of our local celebrity chefs. The following bibliography provides intriguing and often fun information about the history of barbecue in our country, the regional divides, and even a recipe or two.

Barbecue: The History of An American Institution, by Robert Moss; published 2010 by University of Alabama Press.

The Barbecue Bible, by Steven Raichlen, host of the PBS TV series Barbecue University and Primal Grill; published in 2008 by Workman Publishing Company. (Winner of the IACP/Julia Child Award.)

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint, by Chris Lilly (Big Bob’s grandson and chef); published 2009 by Clarkson Press.

The Great Barbecue Companion: Mops, Sops, Sauces, and Rubs, by Bruce Bjorkman; published by Crossing Press, first edition 1996.

Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, by John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney; published 2008 by University of North Carolina Press.

Peace, Love, and Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe; published 2005 by Rodale Books.

Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket (from the Bridwell Texas History Series), by Elizabeth Engelhardt; published 2009 by University of Texas Press.

Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America’s First Food, by Andrew Warnes; published 2008 by University of Georgia Press.

Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country, by Lolis Eric Elie, with photos by Frank Stewart; published 2005 by Tenspeed Press. (This is THE great road trip book.)

Smoke & Spice: Cooking with Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison; revised edition published 2003 by Harvard Common Press. (This was a 1994 James Beard award winner that still holds true.)

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).

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