Some background first: my family likes pork products. A lot. We literally made pork a holiday. Yes, literally. We are also forgetful and prone to cook based upon a "sure, that can go in too; why not?" mentality, which makes the following recipe more than a little annoying: it is what I, the Archivist, can best recall doing when I last put a Boston butt on the grill. Strictly speaking, this is not a recipe from the Book of Lambert, but that’s ok since the Scribe stopped caring about this website long ago and it was my idea to create the thing in the first place. So fuck it.
Before we get into what I may or may not recall about the recipe, let’s talk about the meat. Like all good butts, it needs to have a pleasant amount of fat on it. The fat bastes the meat, which is a good thing. And the whole thing needs to be pretty sizable, otherwise the flavors won’t have enough time to mingle before the food starts to overcook. You’ll want several pounds.
I use a charcoal grill with a smoke box to provide the indirect heat that is necessary to cook low and slow. It is a piece of junk I got at Home Depot, which is fine, since fancy smokers are bullshit. The only exception is if someone has a great big yard. If so, they'd have to make a smokehouse like Mary Washington, who apparently was famous for her hams. Those of you with big yards are pretty much obligated to build one. Get to it; I'll wait.
Sike, no I won't.
In general, you’re looking for a heat somewhere around 200 degrees, but not much more than that. Using hardwood charcoal, which I prefer, you’ll find yourself adding more fuel more often than briquettes. That’s ok. Briquettes are fine when you’re just making burgers, but I theorize (without any solid evidence, mind you) that they produce a noxious, undesirable-smelling smoke inappropriate to this type of cooking. I also am mildly troubled that some sources report that briquettes include substances like coal, which just seems like a bad idea.
You’ll also want to get a flavorful wood to add to the fire as well, like hickory. If you can manage, use hardwood chunks rather than chips – they’ll last longer. Pork takes the flavor of most woods well, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I’ve never used pecan, but it always struck me as a good option. Mesquite is fine, but I only use it when I accidentally buy it.
Whatever you use, soak the wood in water for a bit. Some people say you don’t need to soak the wood. I say they are wrong-headed iconoclasts who are teaching our young people bad cookery by trying to unman the mysteries of barbecue.
They’re also probably wrong. Soaking helps keep the wood from burning away quickly and can aid you in controlling the temperature. And my suspicion is that the steam created by the soaking helps add more flavor. It also helps keep the humidity up inside the cooker. Those are all good reasons to soak.
And the reasons not to soak? “Oh, I’m a lazy asshole that thinks he knows more than everyone else.” That’s it. Actually, it is more along the lines of “soaking doesn’t do anything,” but really, is there a difference? No. So don’t be that arrogant prick. No one likes barbecue made by shit heads. Their barbecue tastes like shit, which is all that’s in their stupid heads. They’re probably the same people that want to talk about how The Dark Knight wasn’t realistic, instead of how it was badass. Shun them.
In any event, here’s what I can recall of how I made my barbecue pork last time I did so. It was damned good. You’ll agree.
North Carolina Barbecued Pork ALA Archivist
1 big piece of pork shoulder, several pounds
2 or 3 Tbsp yellow mustard, as needed
1 or 2 Tbsp tonkatsu sauce (Bulldog Vegetable & Fruit Sauce), as needed
For the Rub:
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 C brown sugar
½ C paprika
½ C garlic powder
½ C cracked black pepper (or until you get tired of grinding the pepper mill)
2 or 3 Tbsp ground cumin
2 or 3 Tbsp ground ginger
For the Vinegar Sauce:
Apple cider vinegar
Only girls – and even then, only lame ones – would choose to refrain from beers while making barbecue. Friends of Bill are exempt, obviously. I’m not an asshole. At least, not that kind. Don’t send me hate mail. So enjoy a beer or twenty during the cooking process. You’ll have the time. Honestly, you could go to bed, sober up, and the cooking could still not be done. A good friend of mine suggests a light American lager, such as Miller Lite, which she appropriately calls “lawn mowing beers.” I prefer Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or a grolsch for this sort of thing, but a lawn mowing beer would be fine, too. Stouts are winter cooking beers. Save them for drinking while making stews.
You will notice that the recipe is not exact. That is because I cannot remember the details and this is a rough guess based upon a fading recollection. Will it be the same? Probably not. Will it still be good? Yeah! That’s because this is not the world’s most difficult cooking. Jacques Pepin will not be looking over your shoulder on this one, so take it easy. Does the rub taste good as it is? Fine. Want some more pepper? Go ahead. Need more heat? Put in some cayenne. How about some flavors that are a little different than one might normally expect? Rosemary or even thyme might be interesting. I’m fairly certain there was rosemary in my rub, but I left it out of this recipe just in case. You can add a tablespoon or two if you want.
You can dry-brine the meat beforehand, which is probably the best idea and what I usually do. All this means is you’ve given the meat a nice once-over with some salt and let it sit for a few hours or even overnight.
Now, you obviously didn't do that. But you’re (probably) an American if you’re reading this, so don’t act like that’s going to stop you. Think of the flag. Not that shitty racist one from the losing side of the Civil War; the other one. The one that represents the country you are a citizen of. Would George Washington have been afraid to try out some salt in his rub? Baberaham Lincolin? Teddy Roosevelt?! Hell no! And neither should you.
Had I owned an injector, I would have injected the meat with a solution of some sort, but when I bought one it only lasted long enough to be used on a brisket before it got broken. If you’ve got access to one, however, you should use it. Whatever you inject will probably serve the same purpose as a dry brine, since you’ll probably use a stock or some combination of salt, vinegar, and juice. Embrace the weirder elements of cooking. Shoot that butt up.
Smear the meat with the mustard and tonkatsu sauce. This should be about a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio of mustard to tonkatsu. I actually think the tonkatsu makes a big difference, but why listen to me? I'm on the internet. Hobos are probably more reliable.
Next, smear as much of the rub as you can on there. Just get really enthusiastic about it. Rub it. Rub the rub. Rubbity rub rub. Some "experts" will say not to overdo the rub and maybe just sprinkle a bit on. I say fuck 'em.
The actual cooking is really easy, so long as you aren’t rushed. Just put the meat on indirect heat and keep the fire going at around 225 degrees or so. It’ll vary, so just do your best. Do this for a very, very long time. Ten hours? Twenty? Who knows? Until it’s done, that’s when. Basically smoke it for a day. You can use a meat thermometer if that’s your thing, or you can just wait it out. I wait.
After you start to fall asleep or run out of charcoal, it is probably finished. Take out the meat and let it sit for a while. Like, more than a minute. Give it a half hour at least. Longer, even. Then just chop and shred it all up into little pieces. If you did it right, there should be a nice, crusty bark on the meat from where the spices cooked, and the inside should be tender and juicy, but not sloppy and soggy.
Put that meat on a bun with some coleslaw that doesn't emphasize the mayo.
The part that makes this "North Carolina" barbecue is a vinegar sauce. That’s basically just a mix of apple cider vinegar and red pepper to taste. Don't bother emailing me about why this is not "authentic" for one reason or another. I don't care.
Now you can eat barbecue for days and days and days, or until it starts to make you sick and you banish the leftovers to a cold corner of the freezer, where you will forget about them until several years later, when you will rediscover them as a "what is that?" thing that you throw out.