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The Daley Question

Pulled pork 101

A memorable recipe for this slow-cooked Southern treat

Bill Daley

The Daley Question

May 24, 2013

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Q: Where do they pull pulled pork from?

—Sal Spadafora, Hoboken, N.J.

A: Pulled pork is pulled from the pork shoulder.

The shoulder can be divided into two basic parts. Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart call them the "Boston butt" and "picnic ham" in their book, "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking." There are other names for these cuts; the National Pork Board calls them "shoulder butt" and "picnic shoulder," for example.

Don't worry about nomenclature too much; talk to your butcher or meat department staffer. They should be able to steer you in the right direction.

Memorial Day weekend is perfect for making pulled pork. Cooking the pork takes time, whether you're using an oven or a smoker or a covered grill. (Whatever you choose, remember that old Southern adage about temperature: Cook it "low and slow.") You want to cook the pork until it's falling-off-the-bone tender, so tender you can literally "pull" it into threads and chunks with your fingers.

Pulled pork is never served as-is. There's a sauce, the preferred choice of which varies from region to region (the vinegar sauce of eastern North Carolina has long been my choice). Coleslaw is the go-to side for pulled pork, either mounded on the plate or spooned on top of the pork. Make your favorite slaw or use store-bought. Serve the pork on white bread or a hamburger or sandwich bun.

Below are directions for cooking that pork shoulder in the oven from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" and recipes for two sauces: A traditional vinegar-based barbecue sauce from "Mastering" and an Asian-influenced "Black BBQ" sauce from "Smoke & Pickles," the new cookbook by Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville, Ky.

While both sauces are meant for pairing with pulled pork, do experiment by matching them with whatever you might be grilling: Burgers, ribs, chicken, pork tenderloin, steak.

Slow-cooked pork shoulder

Makes: 8 to 10 servings

A recipe from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart.

1 (4- to 5-pound) pork shoulder (Boston butt or picnic ham)

4 to 5 garlic cloves, slivered

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cider vinegar

Vinegar-based barbecue sauce (see recipe below)

Cole slaw

Loaf bread or buns

1.Put the pork in a sturdy pan. Pierce holes in the flesh and add slivers of garlic. Rub the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Move the pan to the lower part of a 275-degree oven. Mix equal amounts water and vinegar. Start basting after the first hour, and baste occasionally. Cook 6 hours and check the temperature; it should register 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. If necessary, cook 1 more hour. Take care not to cover meat in the oven, as it will make the skin chewy. Do not baste the last hour.

2.Remove from oven and let rest up to 10 minutes. Carve the meat off the bone in big pieces, either reserving the crispy skin or including it in the large pieces of the meat. Tease and tear apart the meat with fingers, two forks or two knives into edible pieces, or chop roughly. Serve hot, with barbecue sauce and coleslaw, on loaf bread or buns.

For the vinegar barbecue sauce: Mix 3 cups cider vinegar, 1 cup tomato sauce or ketchup, 1/2 to 1 cup light or dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon to 1/2 cup hot sauce or red pepper flakes (err on the side of caution with hot sauce) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cook 10 minutes.

Black BBQ sauce

Makes: About 3 cups

A recipe from "Smoke & Pickles" by Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville, Ky. His recipe is a mix of Asian and Southern flavors and ingredients. Black bean paste is available at most supermarkets and Asian groceries.

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 pound onions, chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (seeds and all)

1/3 cup raisins

1/2 cup each: bourbon, dark coffee, cola, ketchup

1/4 cup each: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons each: molasses, Worcestershire sauce, black bean paste

1 tablespoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons each: ground allspice, freshly-ground black pepper, cayenne

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup Asian sesame oil

1.Melt the butter with the olive oil in a Dutch oven over low heat. Add the onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers and raisins. Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown and caramelize on the bottom of the pot, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan but adding the bourbon, coffee and cola. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon and simmer until the liquid has reduced by about half.

2.Add the ketchup, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce and black bean paste and simmer over low heat about 5 minutes. Add the mustard, allspice, black pepper, cayenne and smoked paprika and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the sauce to cool for about 15 minutes.

3.Transfer the sauce to a blender, add the lime juice and sesame oil, and puree on high until you achieve a thick sauce. Taste; adjust seasonings. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate; bring to room temperature when ready to use.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: wdaley@tribune.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley