Tangy barbecue sauce dripping over slow-cooked pork on a bun. Yum. I freely admit that I am a fan of all things pork. I love pork chops, bacon, and roast loin, not to mention all those sausages. But there’s something astonishing about taking one of the least expensive cuts of pork you can buy and turning it into one of the tenderest and juiciest sandwiches you can eat. Ah – the miracle of pork.
When you’re having a large group of people over, pulled pork sandwiches are a great menu option. In addition to the dish being pretty cost effective, it takes very little prep time and even less hands-on cooking time to make. But forget the pragmatic reasons. The real rationale behind making pulled pork is its crowd appeal — it’s just one of those dishes that people get excited about eating. Although it’s not something most of us have on a regular basis, pork sandwiches laden with tasty barbecue sauce is a treat few would turn down.
Although traditional pulled pork is often cooked in a smoker or slowly barbecued with wood chips, I like to let mine roast at a leisurely pace in a covered pan in the oven. I don’t own a smoker and am more comfortable using my oven than the barbecue, so this works well for me. I also love the way the house smells while the meat cooks. I realize this method of preparing pulled pork would be sacrilege to anyone who grew up in the South, but I’m not a Southerner, so I am a peace with my technique.
There are a few essentials to making a great pulled pork sandwich that should not be overlooked.
1. The meat should sit overnight, or for at least 3-4 hours, with a rub on it before you cook it. This both flavors and tenderizes the meat.
2. You need to make a nice cider vinegar sauce to pour over the pork. Although some recipes say you can use store-bought barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar gives the dish its tangy signature flavor. It’s also easy and fast to make, so please whip it up yourself.
3. Serving the pork on fluffy white bread rolls is key to the final result. White hamburger buns will suffice, but anything made from whole wheat or with a crunchy crust should be avoided. The pork just tastes better when nestled into doughy white rolls soaked with sauce.
So if you’re up for some porky goodness, here’s a recipe you might try.
Makes enough meat for 12 – 14 sandwiches
3-4 lbs pork butt
1 Tbsp salt
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp chili Powder
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried celery seed
1 tsp dried ground mustard seed
1 tsp Black pepper
Note: I sometimes use 1 Tbsp chili powder and 1 Tbsp chipotle powder
1. Combine all ingredients except the pork butt in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
2. Set pork butt on a baking dish or plate and cover with the rub on all side. Gently massage the rub into the meat.
3. Cover the meat and set it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 3-4 hours.
4. When you’re ready to start cooking, place your pork in a large Le Creuset dutch oven with the top on, or cover your baking dish tightly with foil.
5. Set the dish into the oven, which should be preheated to 350 degrees (325 if using a convection oven).
6. Bake for at least 3 hours without disturbing. Try to avoid taking the cover off the pan to check the meat as you’ll release steam each time you do this, and you need the steam to help keep the roast moist and juicy while it cooks.
7. After your three hours are up, take the meat out of the oven and set it on a dish to rest for 5-10 minutes.
8. Then, start breaking the meat up into small pieces. If your pork butt was tied with butcher string, be sure to remove the string before you start doing this step. I use two forks to break the meat up. Just place the tines into the meat and pull (yes, it really is pulled pork). The meat should easily separate.
9. Heat your buns in the already warmed oven for about five minutes.
10. Place a healthy scoop of pork on each bun and top with the sauce. Serve.
Pulled Pork Cider Vinegar Sauce
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup ketchup
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 tsp dried yellow mustard
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or as much as you’d like)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in a pot and mix thoroughly.
2. Heat until the sauce starts to bubble and then simmer for at least ten minutes on low.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also wish to add more cayenne pepper.
4. Serve with pulled pork sandwiches.