‘So here’s the deal,’ I said. ‘I’m going to set this up right. I’m going to do the work, give you a lot of love, and make sure you’re all good to go. But once you’re in that oven, it’s over to you, buddy. I’ve done my bit. And we both know that if you don’t pull correctly at the end of it, that is not entirely my fault.’
Such is the conversation I had with a shoulder of pork this morning.
Slow cooking is meant to be a relaxing process, but I can’t deny that there’s a little anxiety that always goes along with making pulled pork. Will it actually pull? Will it burn before it gets to pulling stage? At the end of this rather nerve-wracking day of cookery, will I have something to show for all my patience and devotion?
If you read any articles about the art of barbecue, you’ll discover that there’s an entire science behind it. You need a good amount of fat in the cut of meat, because there needs to be plenty of collagen running through the muscle fibres. The pulling texture occurs when the network of collagen denatures, turning into gelatine. This starts to happen at 70C (160F), so most recipes recommend cooking pork low and slow until it reaches an internal temperature of 87C (190F).
Wonderful. But do I sound like the sort of person who would have a meat thermometer handy?
Reassuringly, I’ve never made pulled pork that hasn’t – well, pulled. Sometimes it’s been slightly more difficult than other times, sometimes it needs a bit of extra cooking, but it always comes good in the end.
Good pulled pork is smoky and rich, sweet and dense, moreish and juicy with that silky mouthfeel from all that gelatine. It speaks of long summer evenings with friends, a barbecue and an icy beverage, as well as cold nights huddled over deeply satisfying winter suppers. Since it’s cheap to make and feeds more people than you’d expect, it almost always features on my party menu.
1.5kg pork shoulder
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
3 onions, roughly sliced
6 cloves garlic
1-2 cups apple juice
Preheat the oven to 220C.
Oil the bottom of a baking dish and place the onions and garlic in it.
Rub the mustard into the pork, then mix the salt, sugar and paprika together and work it over the shoulder. Make sure you get it into the nooks and crannies.
Place into the baking dish, skin side up.
You want to blast the shoulder at a high temperature for about 1 hour. After that, take it out, add a cup of apple juice and cover with foil.
Cook at 150C for 4-5 hours. The hotter your oven, the more likely it is that you’ll need the extra cup of apple juice, so check it halfway through. If you’re away all day, you can lower the temperature to 125C for 8-9 hours. Always give yourself an hour at the end before you need to serve it, in case it hasn’t cooked to pulling temperature.
Remove from the oven and stand with foil on for 20 minutes. This helps the meat relax so you can pull it. It’s easiest to do this with two forks – I do it in the pan so the meat soaks up the juices at the bottom.