The Right Wood

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 Dry Rub 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:Smoking Meat

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.


34 thoughts on “The Right Wood

    1. Then our fates mingle, Tamara, as this preparation did the exact same thing for me!

      Despite going on about pork from time-to-time, it hardly is a favorite. In fact, were it up to me alone, everything would be poultry or shellfish.

      However, readers deserve variety, and balanced health depends on it. Thus, beef, scale fish, veggies…and yes, pork…all get their turns.

      Barbecue and the smoke that elevates it are enough to make a winner even of a lowly pork shoulder. Just think what they can do for chicken!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow, even though I wasn’t raised to eat pork I have to say a good pulled pork sandwich is just divine. I’ve never had apple slaw but it sounds like a lovely and unique addition.

    I got educated the proper way on southern BBQ. On a trip to Tennessee (from Florida) once we sampled all kinds of BBQ along the way. The difference is just amazing. As you’ve alluded to: “The secret’s in the sauce.”

    I love the mini-lessons, such as important info on “Carolina.” I do kinda which you would have done a mini-lesson on hoecakes though… that would have been fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, JoAnn, pork and apples certainly bring out the best in each other. While I do love apples, pork – well, not so much. That said, smoke adds a special something that makes even pork the object of cravings.

      Oh yeah, Tennessee! It shares a border with Carolina, on one end and is just one Arkansas away from Texas on the other. How can a place of such advantageous geography be anything other than epic?

      Hoecakes? Not a whole lot of information to share. From what I’ve gathered, they acquired their unusual name because, traditionally, farmers would take a little cornmeal with them to the fields. When hunger struck (and, assuredly, gardening is hungry work), they’d mix the meal with some water, then cook it in the sun, on a hoe blade.

      Charming story, but I’m calling shenanigans. I don’t care how carefully a farmer cleaned the hoe, copious amounts of dirt still would find their way into the cake. That most certainly isn’t good eating.

      Unless they had special “cooking” hoes reserved just for the purpose. That’s quite the extravagance, though, and farmers are sure to avoid such nonsense. No sale, storyteller. Try again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol, I was thinking the same thing. Personally I do not like soil and small bits of weeds in my food. Picky I know!

        Remember though, that it took people a good long while to understand how a person caught cholera… something ya just don’t want to think about and sorry I brought it up… not sorry enough to delete this comment though!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No doubt! Part of Enlightenment’s benefit is appreciating some of the truly nasty things people have overcome the last several millennia.

        Lest smugness provide false comfort, though, consider what our descendants 1,000 years hence will ask. “You mean, if someone ate garlic, you could smell it on his breath?,” “Seriously? They just sat there in their own sweat?,” and, “Wait – they made babies HOW?”

        Would you believe, JoAnn, once or twice, as a small child, I ate dirt? The motivation was curiosity, which was satisfied then dismissed, but it did happen. At least I didn’t suffer a neurotic compulsion to do so, which is a highly rare, but genuine, condition!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Eating dirt? That is a bit strange my friend although considering how much of a foodie you are I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that you would have to try it at least once!

        Long, long ago when I was pregnant with my daughter I worked with a woman who said she craved eating rubber when she was pregnant. That just floored me. Then she went on to tell me that she’d had other women tell her that they had craved eating rubber as well when they were pregnant. I didn’t know if she was pulling my leg or what! A google search though does indeed back up that this a problem for some pregnant women!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, it certainly was strange. More than “a bit,” too, and I appreciate your diplomacy. Honestly, I was three, I think. After finding soil, “Meh,” (or whatever the three-year-old equivalent of “Meh” is), the curiosity evaporated.

        Rubber, eh? There’s got to some physiological reason for the desire, as more than one person has experienced it. Anything edible would make sense, as the brain calls for whatever nutrients the baby/mother needs.

        Rubber, though? Makes about as much sense as does dirt. Here, perhaps, we leave behind the dietician’s realm for the psychiatrist’s.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. From what I’ve read it does indeed seem to have something to do with missing nutrients. I took my pre-natal vitamins when I was pregnant though so maybe that’s why I didn’t feel like eating rubber. Who knows!

        I tend to agree more with your conclusion though. I wonder what Freud would say about this one? Hmmm.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. No doubt, odd developments with their fathers (or maybe, sometimes, with their mothers), years ago.

        A lesson for Dads everywhere – if your daughter asks what kind of cake you want for Fathers’ Day, if you tell her “Yellow,” she’ll be addicted to eating chalk the rest of her life. A strawberry pie? Fifteen years later, she’ll be popping pencil erasers like candy for nine months.

        Wasn’t that the superpower of the mom on “The Incredibles,” ultra-stretchiness? Maybe, subliminally, that’s influencing all our rubber-cravers. “Hmmm…I bet this baby can be just like her!”

        Darn you, Disney!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope. Alas, the South is the one part of this country I never called “home.” Still, a fellow can imagine, can’t he?

      Besides, I’ve visited the state enough to have a pretty good idea of the culinary wonders “kale-LAWNA” offers a hungry world!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nope, Pennsylvania. Though I have called Chicago, New York and Los Angeles (among other cities) “home” in years gone by.

        How about you, Rachel? After you wrote about a “favourite” once, and, imagining myself to be oh-so-clever, I concluded you were from the UK or from Canada. Not so fast, there, Slick! She’s from neither place.

        OK then, Rachel, where’s your “home?”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hehe… So, actually… I’m from North Carolina. As it turns out, being a homeschooled introvert who is — most days — too afraid to have a conversation with anyone outside my family, does not lend itself to geography-based cultural development. Instead, I tend to just adopt words and phrases from things I like, regardless of time or place. And I never can keep those alternative spellings straight.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. kale-LAWNA, Rachel*? Awesome! My cousin and her husband live outside Charlotte, though they’re transplanted Yankees. Seems we Northeasterners have trouble keeping hold of our own people, huh?

        *This is where, if you were less charitable, you’d ask, “Keith, you know nobody actually speaks like this, right?”

        Oh, good for you, taking inspiration from all corners (Just as, I can assure you, your own stylishness influences others.) That’s how all of started educating ourselves. Problem is, after a while, most of us become too hidebound and set in our ways to continue our lessons. Most of us, that is, but not you. Well played, Rachel!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Cool. Transplantation is a very American pastime, I’d say.

        Nonsense, I just haven’t met them yet. I’m still 7-point-something billion people behind, you know. That’s an awful lot of people, and I’m positive at least one of them talks about kale-LAWNA in perfect seriousness. And if we’re not including perfect seriousness as a prerequisite, then I definitely know at least one other person who’ll pronounce it that way.

        Oh, I’m plenty set in my ways; my ways just may be slightly different.


      5. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Your “different” approach is what gives you character and worth. It’s your calling-card.

        As though anyone’s used calling cards at any time within the last century. Although there are niches. Recall that each year, at the League’s Christmas Banquet and Formal, the club’s butler presents you each newcomer’s calling card on a nifty sterling silver tray. So charming and old-school. It just gives the evening a perfect panache, don’t you think?

        That is, until couples start sneaking into the wine cellar for tipsy make-out sessions. As last December’s mess demonstrates, that brings about all sorts of mischief. Most of it thoroughly unanticipated.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. To think, your predecessor was preparing to do away not only with the butler, but also with the Christmas Banquet! Seems he was keen to spend the money instead on a solid-gold Miata.

        The man was a menace.

        I mean, don’t speak ill of the (presumably) dead and all, but what a bullet the League dodged when the former prez set off a year ago to explore the storerooms and never was heard from again.

        It’s possible, and just possible at that, the Prothonotary’s Office might know a thing or about where he was lost – and even how to rescue him, but we all took an oath of secrecy, remember?

        Nope, news of the herd of miniature tuskers, of the giant bottle of glue, of the hall of bottled spirits and shades (among tens of thousands of other secrets) never will go beyond the Club’s walls.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Inconceivable! That butler’s been with us a hundred years, almost since the League’s founding. A fascinatingly fortuitous turn of events that our wayward president managed to lose his way in such a way that he consequently wound up out of the way. It almost makes one suspect that a group — or league — of assassins could be involved. But of course… my lips are sealed.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Really, your lips are sealed, even for a fellow-officer?

        “Need-to-know basis, and right now, you don’t need…to…know. You understand, don’t you, old boy?”

        You aren’t kidding about that butler. In the normal course of events, he would’ve passed on many decades ago, but then, the League hardly is “normal,” is it?

        Seems our manservant quaffed the Potion of Immortality all the way back when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. The League president at the time, a fellow much more unsparing than are either one of us, gave him a stark choice – either be banished to the Hall of Sighs, or agree to be the League’s butler forever and ever.

        Seems a tough gig right? Actually, the butler is having the time of his (perpetual) life. Not just that, but he’s explored close to a third of the storerooms by now. No other human on the planet ever has broken 5% before. Not even Lisa the Eternal.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Ha! Sadly, yes. Even (failed) assassins have some secrets they must keep from each other, and the incident in question has been officially labeled “Classified.” I oughtn’t have even said this much… Acting presidency doesn’t protect me from being excised under the Secrets Six Feet Under Act.

        Indeed! The butler’s quite the fellow. His service has earned him much respect. Apparently, he was once even offered a role as the League’s leader in perpetuity, but he turned it down on principle.

        Now, Lisa the Eternal… I’ve surely seen the name somewhere around, but I just can’t recall… Was it a journal? A plaque, maybe? The back of a portrait from the 1800s?

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Yeah sure, Rachel – that butler’s one awesome dude.

        Before we petition the Pope to canonize him, though, remember, our crafty major-domo only accepted his situation and went along quietly because your predecessor seven-or-eight-times-over gave him free rein in the storerooms. Obviously, that Roaring 20s League president thought it’d soften the blow of catching the valet mid-pilfer.

        Absolute carte-blanche is something even I don’t enjoy. Heck, you don’t either, if you think about it. Do you realize how many people would kill to have what the butler possesses? Actually, have killed, literally, if the stories are to be believed.

        Now, Lisa ventured forth well before either of our times. Though she eventually “died” (quote-unquote) in 1960, aged 169, rumor has it she just took up residence elsewhere. In fact, you know that singular young woman who shows up at every Christmas banquet and ball? The one whose name nobody seems to know? I asked the butler once, point-blank, and got in response a discreet cough and, “Sir, some questions are best not asked.” Enough said.

        I will tell you, Lisa’s exploits fill books, journals and newspaper clippings spanning an entire shelf in the library.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Why read it when you write it and live it? It’d be like wasting months scouring every book you can find on “Breathing.”

        One story I can tell you (which a highly-tipsy butler let slip a couple years ago as we waited for the last revelers to clear out of the Midsummer Dance), centuries ago Lisa was contracted to bump off an conjurer. She caught the sleight-of-hand artist unaware at his dose table.

        He exchanged his life for his last two Immortality Potions. Lisa downed one, but in so doing she forever besmirched her savvy as a killer. Thus, she became a Failed Assassin, though the League founded for people just like her was. at that point, still was many decades in the future.

        Eventually, though, the 1920s came around and Lisa and a certain liveried individual caught each other’s eye. Filled with an almost-giddy enthusiasm for finally having found “The One,” Lisa gave the butler her remaining half of the miraculous elixir.

        Naturally, a cynic will guess they broke up a week after, but you know what? A century later, they’re still a thing. Precious few Immortals on this planet, and when they find another, it’s either a duel to the death (as you know, the only way for a Forever-Soul to die is at the hands of another), or in this case, Eternal Devotion.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t believe I’m not familiar with a hoecake. I’m very familiar with pulled pork though—such a guilty pleasure! (Thanks for setting your preferences aside). And your apple slaw sounds like quite the chummy companion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Crystal!

      Why would you have heard of hoecakes? They’re a Southeastern thing, and you grew up where the Midwest becomes the Southwest. Besides, you know about them now, and you may spend the next couple weeks contemplating their awesomeness.

      Pork and apples, surely one of the kitchen’s best pairings. Not quite on par with the legendary chocolate and peanut butter (then again, what is?), but a worthy occupant of the proud ranks just beyond. Its neighbors include bacon-and-honey, chocolate-and-mint, chicken-and-BBQ sauce…to name just three others.


      1. Outstanding, Crystal!

        Your curiosity and sparkle seeks nearly every artistic facet, whether the canvas employed is a dance studio, a stage, a kitchen, or, well, an actual canvas.

        Reaching your latest achievement, teaching at a performing arts school, you’re home.


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