Anyone involved in barbecue will tell you a good combination of woods produces a subtly-smoked roast that not only falls off the bone, but is tender enough to shred easily. Involuntarily in fact. All the more so when the meat is laced with a mustard-based sauce, making the quintessential Carolina Pulled Pork.
By the way, this site is more a fan of “East” Carolina grilling, a tangy celebration of mustard, than of “West” Carolina barbecue, sweet and focused on tomatoes. Both schools are worthy, yet East Carolina smoking is that much more superb. Oh, and if y’all aren’t from around these parts, “Carolina” always means North Carolina, not South Carolina.
Before we continue, a quick lesson on pronouncing the name “properly.” (Apologies to any Southerners reading; you hardly need some Yankee instructing you how to speak. We sure think we know everything, don’t we?). Anyway, the way to say it is, “KALE-lawn-uh.” Now, say it all as one word – “KALElawnuh.” Very good. You definitely would pass for a native in Raleigh.
That accomplished, let’s start with a dry rub. Brown sugar, dry mustard, paprika and other spices embrace the uncooked roast, which is then refrigerated overnight to absorb all that flavor Next is the most important part, the smoking. For this step, a little research reveals a combination of apple, cherry and oak creates the best flavor, the fruitwoods sweetly serenading the mustard, with the oak lending ethereal woodsy notes:
Wait a second, where’d you go? Oh, there. Sorry…the smoke. In any case, after the pork roast grills for a couple hours, it’s bathed in the aforementioned mustard barbecue sauce, is covered with foil, and finishes off in the oven. After all the flavor the smoke and the mustard impart, the meat is so tender it separates into shreds.
For these recipes, all found in the Cook’s Country Cookbook, the pulled pork is piled between hoecakes, small cornbread pancakes of sorts, and is topped with an apple-cabbage slaw The slaw is a particularly nice touch, as apple really compliments pork, and the slaw contains no dairy products, just mustard, which matches so well with the barbecue sauce.
Ultimately, though, it’s the wood, or the smoke it makes, that gives the pulled pork its flavor, its character. Choosing the right woods is crucial, and the apple, cherry and oak wrap the roast in a flavorful fog that gets at the true and original essence of flame cooking.
Carolina Pulled Pork with Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw on Hoecakes:
For the slaw:
- 1 medium head green cabbage, cored and chopped (*1)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into matchsticks
- 2 scallions, sliced thinly
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the pork and spice rub:
- 3 tablespoons dry mustard
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika (*2)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 (4- to 5-ponnd pork shoulder roast
For the barbecue sauce:
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
For the hoecakes:
- 3 cups cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying
First, start by making the slaw. Toss the cabbage with salt and let stand in a colander for an hour. Rinse well under cold water and drain. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the apples and scallions.
Place a small saucepan over a medium flame and add the oil, vinegar, mustard and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour over the cabbage mixture and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to 24 hours.
Next, move on to the dry rub. Combine the spices in a bowl and rub all over the pork roast. Wrap meat in plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.
About an hour before smoking, set the roast out at room temperature. Soak the wood chips for 15 minutes, then enclose them in a couple heavy aluminum foil packets, folded over the chips, with the edges folded shut. Pierce the tops a few times to release the smoke when the packets meet the flames.
Place the packets, pierced sides up, under the grates, directly over the grill’s heat source. Turn the heat on all burners to high. Once the wood chips are smoking, turn off the flame on all burners except under the wood chips. Turn those flames to medium. Remove plastic wrap from the pork and place it on an unheated part of the grill. Close the lid and smoke for two hours.
While the roast smokes, make the barbecue sauce. Whisk together all barbecue sauce ingredients in a bowl, until they’re smooth. Set aside. About 15 minutes before the pork is done smoking, remove all but the lower-middle rack and preheat the oven to 325°.
Bring in the pork and brush it with half a cup of the barbecue sauce. Reserve the rest of the sauce for later use. Place the roast in a baking pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven and cook for two hours.
While the meat cooks, make the hoecakes. In a large bowl, wisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk toether the buttermilk and eggs. Whisk the buttermilk mixture into the cornbread mixture until combined.
Place a large skillet over a medium flame and add a tablespoon of the oil. Heat until the oil shimmers. Place 1/4 cup (each) of the batter into the skillet, creating three separate hoecakes. Cook until the surface begins to bubble and he edges set, about three minutes. Carefully flip and cook other side until lightly browned, about three more minutes.
Place the hoecakes on a paper towel to absorb excass oil. Add more oil to the skillet if necessary, and repeat the above until all the batter is gone.
When the pork finishes cooking, remove from oven to cool. When cool enough to handle, use a fork to shred the meat. Assemble sandwiches by placing a hoecake on the counter. Top with some shredded pork, and then with some of the slaw. Finally, top with another hoecake.
1 – Green is standard, purple is better-looking. See?
2 – If you think of it, use smoked paprika. Not only does it have a nice flavor, it also it also picks up the smoky flavor when the roast is on the grill.