Faced with the scene you see above this morning, I decided it was a good time to try Cook’s Illustrated’s indoor pulled pork recipe. Actually, I decided to try it yesterday, but the insane snowfall reinforced my decision. The idea behind the recipe is to replicate the smoky flavor, moist texture and pronounced bark that comes from slowing smoking pork on wood/charcoal fueled indirect heat. I was a little dubious about the author’s claim that he got results that rivaled true pit prepared pulled pork but I decided to try it and see for myself.
I used a Smithfield boneless pork shoulder I’d frozen back in December for this recipe. I don’t like to freeze pork as I feel thawed previously frozen pork doesn’t cook up as moist as fresh pork, but it’s what I had so I went with it. The first step calls for a salt/sugar/liquid smoke brine. I used a “Homer” bucket from Home Depot and placed it outside on the patio.
The next morning here’s what I found.
It was only a few degrees below freezing, and the salty solution was not frozen at all. I pulled the pork from the brine, rinsed it and patted it dry. Next I slathered the pork with a mustard/liquid smoke mixture and rub. I had sliced the pork in two, so I used a black pepper/paprika/cayenne/salt/brown sugar mixture I based on the Cook’s Illustrated recipe on one and rubbed the other with Pork Barrel Rub.
The next step in the process called for placing the pork on a rack inside a foil wrapped pan, covering the pork with parchment paper and wrapping the pork and pan in foil to seal it in.
Parchment wrapped pork
Foil wrapped package
I placed the two pans in the oven (one in our conventional oven and the other in our Cuisinart Toaster Oven at 325F for three hours. After three hours here is what I had:
Cook’s Illustrated recipe rub
Pork Barrel BBQ Rub
Pork Barrel BBQ Sweet Sauce – Coming Soon!
I poured off the pork drippings into separate fat separators and returned the pork to the oven for another 1.5 hours. When I pulled the pork out of the oven I had two pieces of bark encrusted shoulder. They were both fairly moist and both also had a bit of smoky aroma. The texture was good and the taste was solid.
So, I was able to successfully cook a moist, bark encrusted pork shoulder inside. But was it as good as wood smoked pork? No way. Not even close. Was it better than about 70 percent of the “pulled pork” I have had in restaurants here in the BBQ wasteland that is the greater Washington DC area? Absolutely. A few observations:
- The pork I rubbed with the Cook’s Illustrated recipe rub was moister than the Pork Barrel BBQ rubbed portion. I don’t attribute this to the rubs but surmise it may have been due in part to a combination of different ovens, different sizes of pork (Pork Barrel BBQ piece was smaller) or other undocumented or unobserved factors. As far as taste, the Pork Barrel BBQ rubbed portion was subtly flavored with no single flavor dominating. The Cook’s Illustrated rub was much spicier and “bolder” in flavor.
- I used Pork Barrel BBQ’s new Sweet Sauce on both pieces of pork. Per the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, I mixed the sauce with pork drippings, but I also used the sauce straight. I definitely preferred the straight sauce; it’s sweet but not cloying, with a nice smoky tang and just the faintest amount of heat. The pork drippings seemed to take away from the sauce’s big, sweet taste. I think Heath and Brett have a winner with this new sauce. You can get Pork Barrel products here.
- As much liquid smoke as the recipe called for, I just didn’t get much of a smoky flavor. The brine reeked of liquid smoke aroma, and the uncooked meat certainly smelled smoky but not so much smoky taste. In short, this recipe confirmed my suspicion there really is no substitute for wood/charcoal smoking.
Bottom line, this is a good recipe for someone who doesn’t have access to an outdoor smoker. It produces a tasty piece of moist pork that is better than the majority of restaurant “pulled pork” you can get around these parts. But if you want the real thing, you’ve got to go to the smoker.
One more thing: if you want the recipe you’ll have to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated or pick up the current issue at the newsstand. The publication does not release their recipes for free online. I would recommend, however, that you check this publication out as it’s filled with good recipes and useful reviews of cooking utensils, cookware, appliances and food ingredients like spices.