While the rest of the U.S. is braving record amounts of snow and ice, we're having a mild winter here in Maine – so the other day I fired up the smoker and made pulled pork for an appreciative crowd. It's an extremely simple preparation: a pork butt (which is actually the front shoulder of the pig, despite what you might have thought) is gently smoked for around 12 hours. The fat pretty much cooks away, the collagen slowly melts away, and what's left is a piece of pork that falls apart when pulled with a couple of forks (hence the name).
There are hundreds of versions of this basic formula, mostly related to regional traditions, each of which seems to have the force of downhome religion, complete with cadres of vociferous and serious defenders. Variations range from the super-pork-purists (no brining, no rub, no sauce while in the smoker, maybe a thin sauce of vinegar and red pepper flakes to be added by the diner) to more elaborate methods which include the aforementioned brines, rubs, and sauces (called "mops" if used while the pork is in the smoker).
Sauces, by the way, are another source of regional pride and potential conflict – the main difference being the question of whether the base is tomato, mustard or just vinegar. Everyone agrees, however, that the main point of the whole exercise is the taste of slow-smoked pork, and if you do anything along the way to obscure that taste you're on the wrong track. (In that vein, if you really want to learn pulled pork, step one is to smoke one with no treatments at all, so you can become personally acquainted with the unadulterated taste.)
I don't come from the land of pulled pork (which is apparently the former land of cotton, more or less) so I don't have prejudices or traditions to defend. This leaves me free to try different methods to see which can wow my friends and family most effectively. This one – no brining, with a rub, no mop, with a mustard-vinegar sauce offered on the side – is my current favorite.
One thing that all factions seem to agree on: the bun must be a cheap, fluffy, store-bought hamburger bun – no seeds, no density, no whole wheat or unbleached flours, no frills. And the complete sandwich includes a knot of plain homemade coleslaw (I recommend my Killer Coleslaw, though you might want to omit the green chilies. Avoid if possible the commercial coleslaws sold in plastic tubs or at deli counters, which all seem to have an undertone of chemical preservatives).
If you are looking to control your glucose levels or lose weight this treat has to approached cautiously. One sandwich, with 4 ounces of pork, a quarter cup of coleslaw and a tablespoon of the Carolina-style barbecue sauce is 418 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of fat and 9 Weight Watchers points. (The numbers can be cut to 357 calories, 16 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 Weight Watchers points by omitting the top half of the bun.) This is not a disaster in the McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese class (734 calories, 45 grams of fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 18 Weight Watchers points) but with pulled pork on hand portion control and attention to the other items in your meal plan for the day is essential if goals are to be kept in sight.