Like it or not, American food isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. One glance at the swathe of burger and fried chicken joints, food vans and artisanal donut vendors that have popped up in the past decade is a testament to that.
But there’s another trend that has crept over from the States and into kitchens throughout the country, leaving a smoky, meaty waft in its wake: Texas’s low and slow movement. And the holy grail of American barbecue? Pulled pork.
In Melbourne, restaurants like Fancy Hanks and Bluebonnet BBQ fire up the pit each night, while in Sydney, Vic’s Meat Market down at the Sydney Fish Markets serves up several hundred smoked brisket and pulled pork sandwiches a week.
It’s a similar story in the UK, where award-winning chef and Food Detectives co-host Tom Kerridge is a fan of taking things slow in the kitchen, plating up BBQ sandwiches at his Marlow pub, The Coach.
“Pulled pork is one of those dishes you can’t rush – you’ve got to be prepared to sit back and take your time,” Kerridge tells SBS.
In Food Detectives, Kerridge offers some trade secrets for achieving those tender, pull-apart hunks. And it starts with the meat itself.
The traditional cut for pulled pork is the reasonably inexpensive, fatty shoulder, known in the States as Boston Butt. In the recipe Kerridge share with us, he uses pork shoulder.
“It’s all very well to say buy the best free-range organic pork you can but I would say buy the best that you can afford,” Kerridge says, “and always look for an animal that’s been treated well. Animal husbandry matters, Kerridge believes, because it means you’re buying meat from someone who cares about animals and the way they’re bred and looked after; and secondly, it will ultimately taste better.
“If it’s fed well and looked after well and slaughtered without stress, it really does enhance the flavour of the food. Buy the best you can afford and if you can support the local farmers and the guys that are trying to make a living out of making food, fantastic.”
“The dry rub is really important,” Kerridge stresses. “There’s plenty of recipes out there but you can play around and make your own, as long as it’s got a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of dry herbs and then a little bit of a spicy kick – whether that comes from cumin, black pepper or mustard powder – they always give this wonderful enhancement to the pork.”
Here's how Tom makes his perfect pulled pork:
The chef encourages experimenting with Indian spices, northern African rubs - harissa, cumin and coriander work well together - or a straight American BBQ rub with smoky hickory and paprika. (Try our Vietnamese pulled pork sliders, or Mexican smokey pulled pork and slaw, or find more recipes in our pulled pork collection.)
“Pork is such a beautiful cut of meat – it’s a nice mild white meat that absorbs flavour well, so feel free to play around."
So, why a rub and not a marinade?
“Marinades work perfectly well but a dry rub gives it a little more depth, because you can get the flavour deeper into the meat,” the chef says. “When you cut some slashes into it, you can really massage the flavours into the meat.”
According to the chef, the salt in the rub actually draws out moisture, letting the dry flavours penetrate deeper into the meat.
Next, the meat has to refrigerate overnight to let the flavours mature, before you cover it in stock (the stock adds flavour and allows the meat to gently steam). Now, it’s time to sit back, grab a drink, and let it slow-cook.
“If it doesn’t pull away form the fork, just leave it in there,” Kerridge says. “If the recipe says four hours but after four hours it doesn’t feel ready, leave it in there for another two – don’t worry about it.”
And then, shred the pork, and mix with with some of the cooking liquid, or a sauce if you're adding one. "So you slow-cook the pork and then re-moisten it with all the cooking liquid. It’s beautiful." As he says as he tucks into a pulled pork burger on Food Detectives, "You have to do this at home, people."
Lead image by Sarah-Rose via Flickr.
You can do this as a superb toasted sandwich, or just pile the flavour-packed pork onto a bun with the fixings.
I bought my first slow cooker around the same time I quit sugar. As I ventured into what was virgin territory, I found the easiest way to eat simply and sustainably was with this nifty kitchen device. A slow cooker is sustainable in every sense. It’s super economical, energy-efficient, convenient and makes things tastier. Cooking secondary cuts of meat, like pork shoulder, in a slow cooker can result in the most succulent, melt-in-the-mouth dish.
In Goa, once an overseas province of Portugal, there are many dishes influenced by Portuguese originals. The Goan version of pulled pork – so named because the meat is so tender when cooked that you can literally pull it apart – is a meal for times of celebration, and this version makes an interesting, Indian-inspired alternative to a traditional Sunday roast. Serve it in lettuce cups.
Dry rubbed and slow roasted for 12 hours, pulled pork is smoky, spicy and perfectly balanced by the coleslaw. Prepare the pork ahead of time, then gently warm the shredded meat in the oven, covered, for 10–15 minutes before serving.