I slow-smoke, grill-roast a pork shoulder every fall. I adore an autumn day tending my grill that culminates with friends enjoying the spoils. This year, a gift of aromatic dill from neighbor Jon's garden inspires our feast. Dill sprigs flavor the brine; the moist seeds, rubbed from their pods, transform into a rub; and tender dill fronds speckle a simple slaw.
Pork shoulder proves an economical cut for a crowd. Little coin, lots of time. Time to brine, time to dry-marinate and then time to slow-smoke on the grill. Yet consumption goes quickly. My guests hover near the cutting board to pick up "schnibs" as my dad calls them — a dangerous sport with his carving knife at work.
Most supermarkets sell pork shoulder roasts ranging from 2 pounds to whole shoulders well over 10 pounds. I find a 5- to 6-pound roast easiest to negotiate in and out of brine and on and off the grill. For a large crowd, I prefer to cook two such roasts rather than the whole shoulder. After cooking, a bone-in roast will yield about 2 servings per pound of the raw weight.
I've often written about my fondness for flavor-brining. Especially for large cuts such as shoulder. Brining adds an insurance policy against dryness; perfect for today's leaner pork that can dry easily. I change up the flavoring agents in my brines to suit the outcomes — fresh garlic, fresh herbs, citrus rind, bay leaves and hot chilies are just some of the ideas.
After brining, a dry rub continues to build flavor. A simple combination of salt, pepper and aromatic seeds or herbs works well. Here, I'm using seeds plucked from fresh dill sprigs, but dried dill seeds suffice. Other options include fennel seeds, cumin, rosemary and allspice. A few hours, or a day or two, with the roast coated with the rub proves worth the wait.
Always grill large cuts with the indirect method — that is with the heat sources on the sides of the meat rather than directly underneath. This is akin to slow-roasting in an oven, which, by the way works too — set it at 325 degrees. You'll miss some smoky flavor, but still have mouthwatering goodness. When the meat is this good, it deserves equal partners. I can't resist whipping up a batch of biscuits. Thinly sliced pork layered on fresh biscuits, topped with a spoonful of the pan juices and a heap of dilly coleslaw transports me straight to hog heaven.
Slow-smoked grilled, dilled pork shoulder
Prep: 30 minutes
Brine: 4 to 48 hours
Marinate: Several hours
Cook: 3 1/2 hours
Servings: 10 to 12
½ cup each: granulated sugar, coarse kosher salt
4 large dill sprigs
1 large (about 6 pounds) bone-in pork shoulder blade roast (aka Boston blade roast or pork butt)
Dill rub, see recipe below
2 cups hickory or applewood chips
1 cup apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar
¼ cup honey
1. Mix 1 gallon lukewarm water, sugar, salt and dill sprigs in very large nonaluminum bowl or stockpot. Stir well until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the pork roast. Cover; refrigerate at least 4 hours or as long as 48 hours.
2. Remove pork from the brine (discard brine). Put pork into a glass dish. Coat with the dill rub. Cover; refrigerate several hours or up to 2 days.
3. Soak wood chips in a large bowl of water for at least 1 hour. Combine vinegar and honey in a small bowl.
4. Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-hot. For indirect cooking, arrange coals on two sides of the grill. (If using a gas grill, turn off burners in center.) Put the grate in place; let it heat a few minutes. An oven thermometer placed in the center of the grill should register about 325 degrees.
5. Put the pork roast in a shallow aluminum foil pan. Place in the center of the grill (not directly over the coals). Add a small handful of the wood chips to the coals. (For gas grilling, wrap the soaked chips in a foil pouch and place directly over the heat source.) Cover the grill; cook on medium, 1 hour. Check coals; add more if needed.
6. Drizzle pork generously with some of the vinegar mixture. Continue cooking, drizzling with the vinegar every 30 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers about 160 degrees, 2 to 21/2 hours more. After 3 to 31/2 hours total cooking, the roast should be a burnished golden color with some crispy edges.
7. Transfer pork to a cutting board; tent with foil. Let rest, about 20 minutes. Pour the pan juices into a small container.
8. Very thinly slice the pork. Sprinkle slices lightly with a little coarse salt if you like. Serve drizzled with the pan juices.
Mix 2 tablespoons each: coarse kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper and crushed dill seeds in a small dish.
Per serving (for 12 servings): 183 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 22 g protein, 1,137 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Prep: 15 minutes
Chill: 30 minutes
Note: Double this recipe if you are feeding a crowd.
½ cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
½ teaspoon salt
1 package (12 ounces) shredded broccoli slaw or cabbage
4 ounces shredded carrots
1 large tart apple, cored, chopped
½ small onion, finely chopped, rinsed
Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, dill, mustard and salt in a large bowl. Stir in broccoli slaw, carrots, apple and onion. Mix well. Refrigerate covered, at least 1 hour.
Per serving: 120 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 364 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Prep: 25 minutes
Chill: 4 hours or overnight
Cook: 15-20 minutes
Makes: 12 large biscuits
Note: Respectfully adapted from "My Family Table" (Andrews McMeel Publishing), by John Besh. These go fast, so I usually make a second batch while the food processor is still handy. They'll keep a day or two after baking and are best rewarmed in a hot oven for a few minutes.
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup sugar
5 cups flour, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled, diced
2 cups lowfat buttermilk
1. Dissolve the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl; let stand a few minutes until it bubbles. Put 5 cups flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and salt into food processor. Process to mix.
2. Sprinkle the diced butter over the flour mixture. Pulse to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle the buttermilk and dissolved yeast over everything. Process just long enough to moisten everything. This makes a light, fairly wet dough.
3. Sprinkle another 1/2 cup flour on the counter before you roll out the dough. Gently roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Fold the two sides in, making a triple layer of dough. Gently roll this into a rectangle about 12-by-9-inches. Use a very sharp knife to cut the dough into 12 even pieces each about 3 inches square. Place squares on a nonstick baking sheet; cover loosely. Refrigerate, 4 hours or overnight.
4. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm.
Per serving: 365 calories, 16 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 47 g carbohydrates, 7 g protein, 612 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.