Everyone has that one dish that they bring to a party. Some people go to parties just because they know that Aunt / Uncle / Cousin So-And-So will bring their famous casserole / cake / spinach dip / whatever. Once you get pigeonholed into the role of Food Bringer, it is hard to show up without your famous dish and disappoint all of your friends and family. Plus, who would want to give up all of that hero worship?
Since I clipped a recipe for barbecued pulled pork from some crock-pot cooking magazine seven or eight years ago, I have been tethered to this dish for every cookout and/or sporting event. The original elements of the recipe are long gone, having been abandoned for all the modifications and improvements I have made since. I scrapped some of the time-saving parts of the recipe in order to perfect this crowd-pleaser.
In the summer, I usually slow-marinate the roast whole in my smoker on the back porch, shred it, then sauce it and smoke it some more. But it's getting chilly out, I have work and school, and football waits for no man, so I take it to the crock pot.
Barbecued pulled pork is the perfect food to have on hand while you’re watching the big game.
This is a long-term cooking experience; the roast should cook at least six hours. So either get the roast ready and let it cook overnight, or let it marinate overnight and cook during the next day for an evening party - make sure it fits your schedule. For football, I start the night before.
First, I get a boneless pork roast. If on-the-bone roasts are on sale, then I usually get whatever is cheaper, but your arms will pay for it the next day when you account for all the extra cutting to get the meat off the bone. About four pounds is good. Trim the meat of as much fat as you can.
Next, take the roast and rub it in some seasonings (salt, pepper, onions, garlic, whatever is your taste) and then splash a bit of Italian salad dressing and let it sit in the fridge in plastic wrap for at least four or five hours.
Barbecue Pulled Pork
1 3-4 pound pork roast
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. ground mustard
salt, pepper to taste
Season pork roast with salt, pepper and Italian dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in refrigerator at least 4 hours. Unwrap and cut pork roast into 2-inch cubes. Set slow cooker to low. Add cubed pork, chili powder, ground mustard, cayenne pepper, red pepper and cumin. Let cook one hour, then add all other ingredients. Cook an additional 4-6 hours, stirring occassionally. Serve on Kaiser rolls, pita bread or tortillas.
After it is nice and seasoned, it's time to start chopping. Two-inch-square chunks are pretty manageable when it comes time to shred the pork. Watch those fingers. Dump all of the chunks into the crock pot, set on low. Then I add the dry ingredients: onions, chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, chopped garlic, ground mustard, red pepper flakes. The amounts can vary depending on your tolerance for hot stuff - the cumin, garlic and mustard should stay with the recipe, but the chili powder and pepper are flexible.
After that cooks for a while (about an hour), add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, tomato paste, lemon juice and brown sugar. This essentially makes barbecue sauce. Barbecue purists would argue that this combines vinegar-based sauce with tomato-based sauce, but taste is the ultimate judge, in my humble opinion. I add a teaspoon of Chipotle Red Hot for some heat. Let this all cook for an additional four to six hours, stirring occasionally. Any fat will rise to the top during cooking, so you can skim it with a spoon when you stir.
Do a couple push-ups in the living room, because it's time to shred. Two big forks and a ton of elbow grease turns cubed pork into five pounds of tender shredded eatable barbecue. Turn off the heat, stab a chunk, and pull it apart with the forks. It pretty much just falls apart, it's so tender, but it takes a while, and you feel it the next day. Once everything is shredded, give it a good stir, a taste, and that's it. I like big Kaiser rolls for serving, but pita bread, ciabatta or tortillas work too. Shredded cheddar cheese, more barbecue sauce, or other toppings can be added.
The crock pot is handy for taking the dish to parties or to the football fans sitting couch-side. Football fans can also use chips to scoop the last bits out of the pot (and they do). It's a savory, sweet and spicy sandwich that you can eat in a La-Z-Boy. Now be quiet, the game's on.