Cooking on the Cheap: Sweet-n-Spicy Pulled Pork


September 10, 2009 by skwishface

**Note: if you’re squiggy about gratuitous photos of raw and/or cooked meat, this is not the blog post for you**

Texas is known for barbecue, but mostly we focus on beef. Brisket and such. Every now and then we branch out into the realm of pork. And oh my, do our barbecue restaurants just LOVE to charge ridiculous prices for their meaty goodness. Which is insane, because barbecue is really all about enormous slabs of cheap meat, seasoning, smoke, and time.

Seriously, check out the menu at one of our local landmark BBQ joints, Rudy’s. A half-pound serving of pork loin? Yeah, $5.69. Ugh!

I’ve made a few briskets at home (in my oven, so they’re technically “roasted” and not actually “barbecue”, since BBQ requires smoke), and I’ve delighted in the economical deliciousness therein. But I’d never attempted a big hunk of pork. Since big hunks of pork are really quite affordable, I decided to experiment.

How affordable? Well looky here:

Disregard the instructions on the label. I certainly did!

Disregard the instructions on the label. I certainly did!

That’s $1.68 a pound. Now scroll up and look at the price for a half-pound serving at that restaurant. Which would you rather pay? $5.69 for just the meat, no sides or drink? Or 84-cents for just the meat, plus some seasoning and minimal effort on your part?

EXACTLY! This, right here, is cooking-on-the-cheap at it’s finest.

Sweet-n-Spicy Pulled Pork (cost: $12-ish, prep time: 10 minutes, cook time: 6+ hours)
1 whole 6-7 pound pork shoulder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

(for a printable version, mosey on over to Tasty Kitchen)

A quick word about the cut of meat we’re working with. Some butchers call it “pork shoulder”. Some call it “pork butt”. Some call it “boston butt”. And some, like our local butcher who had to be harassed by The Husband until a very lovely hunk of pig was hauled out of the back of deli, will call it a “pork boston butt roast”. Whatever name they like to use, they will blink at you uncomprehendingly if you use any other. Just keep saying all the different names until something clicks. And be sure to get a cut with the bone in. There’s more connective tissue with the bone in there that slow-cooks down into wonderfulness.

First, we must mix up the seasonings with which we will rub down the meat. Real barbecue-ers will cal this the “dry rub”. I don’t call it anything, because it all makes my inner ten-year-old become my outer ten-year-old and giggle alot. Rub the meat! Pulled pork! Boston butt! TEE-HEE!

Sigh. Anyway, mix the brown sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl.

I may have used a bit more than a tablespoon of cayenne. But it was preeeetty!

I may have used a bit more than a tablespoon of cayenne. It was soooo pretty!

Mixy-mixy-mixy, and don't fret about the lumps. Lumps of brown sugar can only be good.

Don't fret about the lumps. Lumps of brown sugar can only be good.

Once it’s stirred up, give it a taste and see what you think of it. I fell in love, personally. It’s got the perfect sweet/salty/spicy mix that makes the Mexican part of my genetics dance and sing. Presumably in Spanish.

Then unwrap your hunka pork and rinse it. There’s all kinds of schmoo on the meat that is best left unidentified. Rinse it and pat it dry with some paper towels. Then lay in on a cutting board you don’t mind having to scrub later, and sprinkle it all over with the brown sugar mix.

Most of the unholy mess this makes is cropped out of the photo.

Most of the unholy mess this makes is cropped out of the photo.

There are two sides to the pork shoulder. The skin side and the … I dunno, other side? Non-skin side? Regardless, wash your hands and use your bare little fingers to rub the brown sugar mix into both sides of the meat, getting it down into all the little nooks and crannies. Ponder a moment what on earth crannies are.

The salt in the mixture starts to draw some fluid out of the meat a bit. At least, that’s my theory as to why the meat looks like this once it’s rubbed down:

Mmm, appetizing.

Mmm, appetizing.

Raw meat kinda ooks me out. But I soldier through it, because I’m optimistic about the end result.

Now! Take a big pan and heat up a little oil. We’re going to sear the pork over high heat before we roast it. Place the meat in the pan skin-side down and let it sizzle madly for a bit. Do NOT do like I did and use a big deep soup pot for this.

Helloooooo down there!

Helloooooo down there!

I was thinking the stainless steel would provide a nice sear, and the high sides would contain the splatter. And I was right! What I did not think of was how the HELL I was supposed to get a nearly-seven-pound chunk of meat back out of the pot. My little carpal-tunnel hands are wee and frail. Luckily, I married a viking. The Husband came to my rescue on this one.

Once you’ve seared the skin side, flip the meat over and sear the other side. You’re just looking to get some nice brown color from the sugar turning into caramel. That’s right. We’re coating the pork in candy.

Pictured above: candy-coated pig skin. My inner redneck is drooling.

Pictured above: candy-coated pig skin. My inner redneck is drooling.

Got the meat seared? Good! Now plop it skin-side-up in the center of a nice roomy roasting pan with deep sides. Cover tightly with foil and slide into the center of a 300-degree oven for six hours.

Six. Hours. At least.

This is kind of an all-day project. But you so don’t have to babysit it. There are whole chunks of hours where you can go do other things. About halfway through, pull it out, carefully un-seal the foil, flip the meat over (so it’s skin-side down), re-cover it, put it back in.

Then when there’s about an hour left, pull it out, flip over skin-side up, and let it cook uncovered for that last hour.

Why all the flipping and uncovering, you ask? I’ll tell you why …

That's why.

That's why.

If you’re a fan of meat – and I really am – that right there is GORGEOUS.

Now, that meat has been working hard for several hours. Set it aside and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Fix some sides for it or something.

Then take a couple of forks and just start mauling it.

There's something really caveman-brain satisfying about this part.

There's something really caveman-brain satisfying about this part.

If you’ve done it right, the meat should just fall apart into piles of shredded moist yumminess.

It's a FEAST!

It's a FEAST!

Tender, juicy, sweet, spicy, and plentiful. Seriously, I had no idea it would produce so much meat. I’m used to roasting a brisket, where a 10-pound slab will yield about 7 pounds of meat (the rest is usually a plank of fat). But a 6.79-pound pork shoulder will give you about 6 pounds of oh-so-edible goods. Either cook this for a crowd, or plan to share the leftovers.

As for how to serve your bounty? Well …..

With grilled corn, sourdough toast, and an assortment of sauces!

With grilled corn, sourdough toast, and an assortment of sauces!

 (sauce recipes will be posted later. yep, totally made my own BBQ sauces)

Piled on top of a hot, buttery baked potato!

Piled on top of a hot, buttery baked potato!

Y’all come on over to my house. I’ll fix up a plate for ya.


4 thoughts on “Cooking on the Cheap: Sweet-n-Spicy Pulled Pork

  1. Marion says:

    Looks fabulous, and very entertaining read, I might add!

    I’m new to pulled pork and thought I would have to braise it. I purchased just a tiny hunk of pork shoulder for experimental purposes, and it has no rind on it at all.

    But I think I will try my Ribs Rub on it. I wonder if I could steam it in my George Forman Party Time Grill instead of having the oven on?

  2. ivan says:

    I’ve to give this a try! Would you like to try N. Carolina pulled pork?

    Same meat add a quantity of vinegar and a lot of crushed red pepper flakes.

    In a slow cooker on HI for 4-6 hours until completely cooked.

    Shred it – and enjoy. ( you can pamper it or modify – it is yummy !

  3. […] vinegar, barbecue, food blog, ketchup, mustard, recipe, sauce So not that long ago, I roasted up about a hundred pounds of pork. And though the meat was tres tasty on its own, I felt some sauce was in […]

  4. […] meat is leftover Sweet-n-Spicy Pulled Pork, but I imagine any already-cooked pork would do. Leftover pork chops and such. Emphasis on […]

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