Monday, 24 March 2014

Making the Best Pulled Pork: Two Ways

Two methods for cooking foolproof pulled pork - one in the oven and the other in the crockpot of a slow cooker. Which one is your favourite? 


pulled pork on plate 

Pulled pork. It's very trendy at the moment, and it's easy to see why. 

First, it's effortless. You bung a pork shoulder in the oven and it cooks on a low heat all day long. No stirring, no fiddling... it just cooks completely by itself. 

Second, it's incredibly delicious and moist. I remember that I once thought pulled pork was difficult to make. It isn't. And you'll be rewarded with meat so tender you'll just need a couple of forks to 'pull' it apart before serving. 

Buying the right cut of pork
To start with, you'll need a nice piece of pork shoulder, about 1.6-1.8kg in weight. You might have heard of a cut of meat being used called 'Boston Butt' - that's actually a cut from the shoulder and nothing to do with the pig's other end. If it's going in the oven, get your butcher to score it for you, so you can have some crunchy crackling - if it's going in the slow cooker that won't really matter too much. Don't worry if your pork shoulder looks a bit fatty under the rind, that fat will break down slowly and baste the rest of the joint as it cooks. Lean, healthy meats don't usually fare all that well with slower cooking styles - these are the quick-cook cuts. 

Making pulled pork in the oven
Put the pork shoulder joint on a foil-lined, shallow roasting tray, skin-side up. Where the skin has been scored, push in some sea salt - or any other flavourings you'd like, such as chilli paste, herbs, spices - and slide into an oven heated up as high as it will go - likely 8-9 gas mark or 220ºC for the first 25 minutes. This will give the skin a chance to crisp and puff up a little bit to get your crackling underway. After the 25 minutes are up, turn the heat right down to gas mark 3/170ºC/325ºF and allow to cook for the next 5 and a half hours. Once the time is up, take the meat out of the oven and leave to rest, loosely covered in foil, while you get on with the vegetables, salad or whatever else you're serving with the pork. 

Once you're ready, slice off the crackling (and what's left of the fatty layer underneath) and lift the pork joint onto a plate. Pull the tender pork meat into strips using a couple of forks. It will probably be so tender that if you try and 'carve' it it will just fall apart. This is good. Serve while hot. 

Making pulled pork in the slow cooker / crockpot
Firstly, make sure your pork joint will fit inside the crockpot of your slow cooker. It doesn't? Then cook it in the oven, as above. If it does, peel and thickly slice an onion and lay it, in its rings, at the bottom of the crockpot. Place the pork joint on top and then add a little liquid - I like to use beer for its malty flavour, and a pinch of salt. At this stage, feel free to add in any herbs (thyme works well) or other spices or seasonings. Replace the lid and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until the pork shoulder is tender enough to lift out onto a plate and pull apart. 

Which method is best? 
I love to cook pulled pork in the oven - you get crispy, gnarly bits that are a little bit over-roasted and salty, which are amazing to nibble on when your preparing the rest of the meal - cook's perks. But cooked in a slow cooker, you get the option to add some liquid that imparts more flavour - beer or cider, for example - and if you're out and about a lot that day it feels somehow safer - at least for me - to leave the slow cooker going all day than the gas oven. It's up to you which one you prefer, but either technique will give you perfect, tender pulled pork. 

I've linked this up to the AIP Recipe Roundtable over at Phoenix Helix - check it out for more AIP paleo inspiration.... 

How do you cook pulled pork? And what seasonings or flavours do you use? What do you serve it with? Please feel free to link up your favourite pulled pork recipes, in the comments below.