Defining moments demand a defining tailgating favorite: barbecue

A few years back I heard a bunch of chefs from across the Southeast talking about the defining ingredient in Southern cooking. Rice and corn (as in grits) seemed to be dominating the discussion until one chef said, “For my money, the defining ingredient in Southern cooking is pork.”

The talk ended right there – no one could successfully challenge that. It’s not just the meat itself that defines our cuisine, but all the other ways that pork flavor has always seeped its delicious way into our cuisine, via products such as smoked ham hocks, bacon drippings, lard and more.

When it comes to the highest and best uses for pork, barbecue’s at or near the top of the list for many of us. With a huge game looming Saturday against Georgia – a game that might be a defining ingredient in how the SEC East turns out – it’s time for some serious food, and this easy pulled pork fills the bill. A heads-up: The meat has to rest in its dry rub in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight, and it takes about 4 hours to cook, so don’t wait until Saturday morning to start pulling this together.

This recipe, which originated with Paula Deen, calls for pork shoulder. The shoulder is the whole front leg and shoulder of the hog. Grocery stores usually make a shoulder into two cuts: the Boston butt and the picnic. Although “butt” makes it sound like this cut is from the pig’s hindquarters, it’s actually from the upper front section of the shoulder.

I like to use the picnic for this recipe since it typically seems to have a little more bone, and that adds a little extra flavor. But some good friends that I’ve shared this recipe with swear by a Boston butt, and they’re so sold on this particular recipe that they refuse to even try any other.

The picnics I see in my store are usually right around 4 pounds, which is what this recipe calls for, but if you find a larger or smaller cut, you can adjust the cooking time as needed. If you have any leftovers, they freeze really well; use some of the cooking liquid with the meat when you freeze it, and it’ll stay nice and moist.

photo by Bill Thrash

Easy Pulled Pork Barbecue

2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 1⁄2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
4-pound pork shoulder roast
2 cups apple juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke
2 teaspoons garlic powder

Mix the first five ingredients in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork roast, pressing it into the meat. Wrap the roast in plastic wrap, put it on a plate, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and pour into a large Dutch oven that has a lid. Put the pork in the Dutch oven and cover tightly with aluminum foil, then with the pot lid. Roast for 4 hours, basting occasionally with the cooking liquid. The pork is done when it’s fork-tender. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle. Shred the pork with forks or just pull it apart into bite-size shreds. Serve on hamburger buns or slider rolls, topped with your favorite barbecue sauce and cole slaw. Serves 6-8.