We hope you enjoy this, the first of a monthly series from Fleishers Craft Butchery, focusing on lesser-known – but no less delicious – cuts that you won’t find at the supermarket.
With the Super Bowl right around the corner, Fleishers’ Westport shop manager Rich Sastre says pulled pork is the most popular dish his customers want to cook for game day. Whether for tacos, nachos, or sliders, it’s the perfect main dish for any size crowd.
Any pulled pork dish is best prepared with the Boston butt. Often confused with the rear of the animal, the butt is actually located on the upper shoulder of the pig. The name dates to before the American Revolution when butchers in Boston packed pork shoulders into barrels called “butts” for storage and transportation. The name caught on quickly. The lower part of the shoulder, the “picnic ham” is also great for pulled pork, but is slightly more awkward of a shape and size for a pot or slow cooker. The most important rule of thumb we teach our customers is that the more heavily worked an animal’s muscles are, the more flavor it has. The catch is that you need to slowly break down all the fat and connective tissue in order to extract the flavor. There’s no shortcut, but it’s worth it.
How Do You Want It?
Some cooking methods are more “hands on” that others. It’s a matter of preference and what your schedule allows. Before you go to your local butcher, decide how you want to cook your pulled pork. You can smoke or slow roast it in the oven, throw it in a crock pot, or braise it in a Dutch oven. Just don’t rush it: as long as your method is “low and slow,” you’ll end up with tender, shreddable pulled pork.
If you want to smoke or slow roast, we recommend a bone-in, skin-on Boston butt (pictured above). These “dry heat” cooking methods forgo the use of a liquid in order to achieve crispy skin, browned meat and caramelized fat. Ask your butcher to score the skin into diamonds so you and your guests can pick off those crispy, crunchy pork rinds throughout the game (if they last that long!).
At Fleishers we’re fans of cooking with the bone in, both because of the flavor it imbues and because it’s more economical: a bone-in roast is $3 less per pound than boneless. We also recommend investing in a leave-in probe thermometer so you can monitor the internal temperature of your pork without opening the smoker or oven repeatedly. We like the DOT Oven Alarm Thermometer from Thermoworks and we have them available in our shops. Aim for an internal temperature of 190-200° F. Once your pork is done, take two forks and shred the pork in a crisscross motion or, better yet, get yourself a pair of rubber gloves and do it by hand. This would be the moment to add your favorite BBQ sauce, whether you prefer a vinegar-based East Carolina style or a sticky, sweet Kansas City sauce. At Fleishers we make our own green chili sauce, and we also stock some great locally-made options if you don’t want to make yours from scratch.
For a one-pot pulled pork, call on your trusty crock pot or Dutch oven to apply a “wet heat” cooking method. This is the way to go if you prefer a more stew-like consistency. We add sliced onions, apples, fennel and jalapeños, and use beer or cider as our liquid. In this case, we recommend a boneless, skinless butt, which our butchers will happily skin, debone, and tie into a compact roast of just about any size upon request. Since you’re not going for crispy crackling skin and your pot might only be 3-4 quarts, there’s no need to pay for skin and bone – it’s more likely to fit without putting up a fight, too. After at least 6 hours of cooking, you can allow guests to serve themselves right out of the cooking vessel – throw it on the buffet in a crock pot set to warm, or leave it on the stove top on low – so you can stay tuned in to the game. If you can, prepare your pulled pork a day ahead. The flavor continues to develop and it’s a sure fire way to guarantee it’s done in time for kick off.
To feel confident in your purchase, make sure you’re getting your pork from a trusted source. Some supermarket pork butts can be pieces of various pork shoulders all packed and bound together with a net or twine. You are entitled to ask questions about where your meat comes from, how it was raised, and what it was fed or administered. Don’t assume! Our pasture-raised pork from J&D Farm in Madison County in upstate New York, like all our meats, are hormone-free and raised outdoors without the use of unnecessary antibiotics. If you can’t get clear answers on these types of questions, go somewhere else.
Bottom line, your pulled pork is going to be awesome if you plan how you’re going to cook it ahead of time and get the best meat available from your local butcher. Well-raised meat just tastes better. Period. You can season it less and eat less of it. It’s richer, more flavorful, and more nutritious. Any great butcher will be happy to help you find the best bang for your buck, too. So while it’s not Thanksgiving or Christmas, go into the first big eating holiday of 2017 with the best quality meat. You’re sure to score extra points with your game day guests, and maybe even start up a healthy conversation about Meat Raised Right.
How do you want to cook your pulled pork?
- Slow-roast or smoker: Bone-in, skin-on (scored), 190+ degrees internal temperature
- Slow-cooker or Dutch oven: Boneless, skinless, 6+ hours