Saturday, May 1, 2010

I'm Back in the Saddle Again...

For those of you thinking of horses, shame on you! When I came up with that title, Steven Tyler's electric, screaming melodies were floating through my brain.

I'm baaaaaack!!! I'm back in the saddle agaaaaaain!!!! I'm baaaaaaaaack!!!!!

Not much about my situation has changed since the last time I posted, but I hope I'm right in saying that my disposition is slightly more positive than it was before? And yes, that is a question because I'm really not sure of the answer. I still have no idea what lies ahead for me, and if you want the truth about it, I'm terrified. Although I admittedly spent nearly a week in bed, slumming, bumming, crying, and watching all of the cooking shows and bad television I could stand, I eventually emerged and got back to reality, perhaps with a little less vigor than before. But it has caused me to hold fast to the things that I do have and to appreciate that they're all I have, and I should take good care of them. (For those of you wondering where I've been or what the hell I'm talking about, see my previous blog, "When life hands you lemons, make lemon bars?"

During my time bumming and slumming, I spent a lot of time watching Food Network. One evening, I watched an hour of Best Thing I Ever Ate, including an episode on barbecue. A lot of the places chosen by Food Network celebrities were in Memphis, where my boyfriend and I recently spent three very fun and food-filled days during my Spring Break. Sadly, we didn't eat at any of the places discussed on the show, but we did eat at one place that was quite memorable for us--Pig on Beale Street.

I visited Pig once before, during the Hurricane Gustav evacuation, when I tried the most delicious pulled pork nachos. Round corn tortilla chips were topped with sinful amounts of goopy nacho cheese, followed by mounds of soft, tender pieces of pulled pork. The whole thing was garnished with a sprinkle of rub spices and spicy slices of jalopenos. For an extra punch of flavor, you can top it with the sweet or spicy barbecue sauces on the table in picnic-style squeeze bottles. When I went back in April, I knew I needed to have those nachos again. But it wasn't enough, and as I watched limitless amounts of Memphis barbecue flash on my screen on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, my mind drifted to those heavenly nachos and how I could get some back into my life. The only way, that I could see, was to take matters into my own hands.

Let me take a moment to explain that the only meat that typically enters my apartment is a cutlet, a tender, a chop, or ground. I don't cook big cuts of meat, and I honestly have never enjoyed them very much. But I knew this craving had to be satisfied, and there was only one way to satisfy it. After a little research on the internet to find the perfect cut, temperature, and time, two trips to the store, and plenty of time spent trying to pick one that was just right, I invited a pork shoulder butt into my home.

And now I bring it into yours, thanks to a friend's suggestion that I post The Great Pig Experiment on my blog. With special thanks to her, I am now back in the saddle after my own personal D-day.

When looking for the perfect specimen, go for a cut that is about six to eight pounds (if it costs you more than $10, you're doin' it wrong!) and has PLENTY of marbling! Dieters, plug your ears. The fat in the pork shoulder is what will give your pulled pork its tenderness, and it's also one of the things that will keep it from drying out during its loooooooooong cook time. You also want a cut with a nice, thick slab of fat on one of its sides. When you cook your meat, you'll place it fat side up. That way, the fat will slowly melt and drip all through your meat, once again keeping it from drying out on you. And trust me, there's nothing worse than stringy, dry, nasty pork that gets caught up in your teeth and takes a half hour to chew.

This is also a dish that is not a quick, mid-week dinner (although its leftovers will be!!!). Pulled pork needs to be done right or not at all. Doing it right means cooking it low and slow. All. Day. Long. Also, you're also going to start the entire process the night before, allowing your meat to marinate in the spices you'll put on it. Cooking it on a weekend night will allow for a perfect family dinner, and there are plenty of options to play with when it comes to the leftovers. It may seem like a big undertaking, but I promise you, it's not. And it's all worth it in the end.

One more note: A meat thermometer is going to be your best friend during this process. 10 hours seems like a long time, and it is. However, your meat thermometer will be your assurance that this lovely hunk of pig will not come out looking and tasting like a tough piece of leather.

Timid cooks, don't despair! I managed to do this with no recipe, no prior experience, and no clue! Trust me when I say that if I can pull this off, you can too! With the success of my first Great Pig Experiment, I hope to guide you through your own so that yours will bring you as much delight as mine did. Good luck!

Pulled Pork Shoulder


Six to eight pound bone-in pork shoulder butt (The higher up on the shoulder your meat comes from, the better. Skip anything that says "picnic." "Pork Shoulder Butt" is what you want.)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup apple juice
seasoning salt (like Lawry's)
chili powder
onion powder
garlic powder


roasting pan (13x9)
aluminum foil
meat thermometer
pastry brush


1. In a small bowl, mix together the Worcestershire sauce and the vinegar.

2. Spread a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface and place your meat, fat side down, on the foil. Liberally sprinkle the seasoning salt on all sides but the fat side, making sure you rub the salt into the meat. Next, brush your vinegar mixture onto the meat. Now, apply the rest of your seasonings liberally in the same way you applied the salt, rubbing each spice into the meat in the following order: pepper, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, and onion powder. Apply the cumin last, as you will want to use it very, very lightly. Once you have applied all of the spices, apply one final coating of the vinegar mixture.**

3. Fold the foil around the meat tightly and allow it to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

4. The following morning, preheat your oven to 200˚F. Line your roasting pan with aluminum foil, and pour the apple juice into the bottom of the pan. Place your roast in the pan, fat side up, and cook in the oven uncovered for 7 hours, or until your meat reaches 160˚F when testing the thickest part of the meat with your meat thermometer.

5. Once your meat reaches 160˚F, turn your oven up to 225˚F and resume cooking for 2-3 more hours, or until your meat reaches 180˚F. At this point, take your meat out of the oven, cover it with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. In this time, it will continue to cook from the residual heat another 5-10˚F.

6. To cut, trim the fat slab off the top of your meat, and cut the meat from the bone. It shouldn't give much resistance. Then, get chopping! Using a sharp knife and a fork, just work your way through the meat until it is in smaller, more manageable pieces. Now that the meat has had a chance to cool off a bit, get in there with your hands and break down the pieces even further. If it's not messy, you're not doing it right!

**Note that I haven't given measurements for the seasonings. The size of your pork shoulder will dictate how much you use, with the exception of the cumin, which should be sparsely applied. When you're finished seasoning your meat, it should have a reddish color from the paprika and chili powder.

Now you have pulled pork... what to do with it?

Here's some idea for what you can do with your own Great Pig Experiment.

Pulled Pork Nachos


Pulled pork
corn tortilla chips (lately I've been favoring the On the Border brand, but choose your favorite)
jarred yellow cheese dip (I used Pace's Mexican 4-Cheese Salsa con Queso for its mild flavor that compliments rather than overpowering the accompanying flavors
barbecue sauce (I used Bull-Eye Kansas City style. It's nice and sweet, which I like)
1 can jalopeno slices
seasoning salt
chili powder


1. Spread the chips on a microwave-safe plate.

2. Grab a handful (about 1/2 cup) of the pulled pork and place it in a bowl. Drizzle two tablespoons of the barbecue sauce and stir until well mixed.

3. Drizzle your chips with a liberal coating of cheese. A trick for easy, non-globby application: Place three spoonfuls of the cheese into a small ziploc baggie, seal, and cut the tip off of one of the bottom corners. Squeeze the cheese out onto the chips as though you were applying icing to a cake using a pastry bag. Toss the empty, used baggie! No muss, no fuss!

4. Sprinkle the pulled pork over the top of the cheese and chips. Sprinkle with the seasoning salt, paprika, and chili powder to garnish.

5. Microwave for one minute, or until heated and the cheese gets melty.

6. Top with jalopenos if desired. Serve with extra barbecue sauce either on the side or, if you have a squeeze bottle, drizzled over the top of the nachos.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches


Rolls or buns (barbecue purists will assert that there is no other way but on a white, soft hamburger bun, but I used a kaiser roll from the deli section)
pulled pork
barbecue sauce


1. Mix together one cup of pulled pork and 1/4 cup barbecue sauce for each sandwich.

2. Spoon the mixture onto the bottom bun.

3. On the top bun, apply two tablespoons barbecue sauce.

4. Enjoy!

To serve with your sandwiches, how about some potato salad!

Classic Potato Salad


4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup sandwich cubes relish
1/2 cup mayo (I like Hellman's)
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon seasoning salt plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder


1. Boil the potatoes and 1 tablespoon seasoning salt until fork tender, but still firm enough that they don't fall apart when pierced with the fork. Drain and set aside.

2. In a bowl, combine the drained potatoes and the remainder of the ingredients. Use my measurements for the mayo and mustard as a guide. Some people like their potato salad more mustardy, so use your own palate as your guide. My measurements should give a pretty balanced taste.

3. Refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Pulled Pork Pizza


pizza dough (make your own, use the Pillsbury stuff, use the pre-made, bread-like crusts like Boboli... just make sure to cut back on your cooking time if you use something pre-made)
1 1/2 cups pulled pork
1/2 cup barbecue sauce plus 1/2 cup
8 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, shredded
8 ounces mozzarella, shredded


1. Preheat your oven as directed by the instructions on your crust.

2. Spread the barbecue sauce over the crust. Mix together the pulled pork and 1/2 cup barbecue sauce in a bowl.

3. Top the crust with the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the pulled pork over the mozzarella, then top with the Gouda cheese.

4. Bake according to your crust's instructions. Slice and enjoy!

Optional additions to your pizza: Red onions, bell peppers, jalopenos

Pics of pizza will be up tomorrow!

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