Pulled pork is a staple dish at barbecues from the Carolina's to California. It's no surprise – pulled pork is delicious. It's also an inexpensive dish that provides plenty of opportunity for creativity. Some people take their pulled pork seriously, even travelling nationwide to compete in regional cooking competitions. There are lots of great things about pulled pork, starting with the fact that it doesn't have to be a fussy dish to make.
What is the Origin of Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork most likely originates from what is today the American South. Spanish explorers brought the newly discovered barbacoa – both the device and the manner of cooking – north. Natives copied the design and by the time of the Colonies, slow cooking a whole hog was a Southern institution.
Pork has always been an important commodity in the South. Pork don't require the extensive grazing lands of cattle, they are better foragers, and they can be raised rather quickly. Pork presented an affordable and easily available protein source that, when expertly barbecued, becomes one of the most mouth-watering and delicious dishes there is.
What Part of the Pig Does Pulled Pork Come From?
Pulled pork comes from the shoulder of a pig. The shoulder and leg can be butchered to separate two roasts. One is commonly called the Boston Butt, the other is called Picnic Roast. Both roasts can create pulled pork, but we prefer using the Boston Butt roast. It lends itself well to a tender, moist, and delicious cut and shreds perfectly when it's cooked right.
Why is it Called Pork Butt?
Remember how we said earlier that pork was an inexpensive meat in Colonial America? Well, butchers would pack inexpensive cuts into barrels that are called butts. Someone started calling them pork butts, and so today we have a silly name for a cheap cut that is perfect for pulled pork. While it may seem strange that the front legs are where the butts come from, now at least you know why they call them that. And if you're wondering, the hind legs (including the actual butt portion) are where we get hams.
What's the Difference Between A Picnic Roast and a Butt Roast?
The picnic roast comes from the lower foreleg of the pig. This is a muscle group that does a lot of work and is highly responsible for the animals balance. This makes for long stranded muscle with very little intramuscular fat. When cooked, this portion tends to dry out easily and doesn't provide as tender a bite. The butt roast is the top part of the shoulder. This muscle has far more intramuscular fat and will typically have a large fat cap on one side. The butt roast is tender, moist, and perfect for pulled pork.
Why Do They Call it Pulled Pork?
This dish gets its name from the manner in which the cooked meat is prepared just before serving. Using your hands, a pair of forks, or meat claws, the butt roast is shredded into thin pieces. The "pulling" process tenderizes the meat and unlocks the intense flavor, especially after hours of smoking.
How to Make Perfect Pulled Pork
Pulled pork sandwiches are one of our favorite dishes to make. Everyone has their own special way of seasoning and flavoring a pork roast for pulled pork. The most traditional way to make the ultimate pulled pork is to smoke the roast. We've got a video on our YouTube channel that shows you every step in the process. For that video, we used our Big Green Egg. There is certainly more than one way to get delicious, juicy, tender pulled pork.
You can use the barbecue to cook your pork roast if you don't have a smoker. The key is to keep your temperatures low and slow. Wrapping the butt roast in foil will help to keep moisture in and allow the meat to get fall-apart tender.
When the weather doesn't want to cooperate with outdoor cooking, you can make pulled pork in your kitchen. You can slow roast a pork butt in lots of sauce and seasonings right in the oven. If you want to make it even easier, a slow cooker is an excellent choice for making pulled pork. Slow cooking in barbecue sauce and seasonings gives your roast excellent texture and tenderness while also being one of the most convenient methods.
The Styles of Pulled Pork
Many people have very strong opinions about how pulled pork is prepared and served. You'll see lots of information out there about "Carolina-style", "Texas-style", and others. Generally there are four "barbecue" regions in the U.S., however that is a slight oversimplification. Pulled pork is a traditional menu item in many places, but personified by the variations you find in the Carolinas and Texas.
North and South Carolina may be among the best known pulled pork regions there are. Dozens of regional variations exist, but have a few similarities. Pulled pork is frequently made using a spicy, thin, vinegar-based sauce. Sometimes it's even as simple as vinegar and cayenne pepper. Some areas add a tomato-base to the sauce.
Like the Carolinas, Texas-style is an oversimplification of reality. Texas is a big place, and you will find significant differences in the way pulled pork is made in different places. Texas pulled pork is typified by the use of a molasses-based sauce that may include brown sugar, honey, or all three.
While most of the attention is focused on the American South, people often forget that pulled pork originates from regions influenced by Spanish-style preparations. One of the most popular Mexican food items around is carnitas, slow cooked pulled pork that is fried in lard after shredding. Carnitas often uses extremely spicy seasonings with very little sauce. Stuffed into a tortilla with guacamole, pico de gallo, and slathered with salsa negra hot sauce made from roasted black chilies, you wouldn't even recognize this as a cousin of the BBQ sauce-dripping sandwich you can buy in the American South.
The Secret: Cooking it Low and Slow
Pulled pork is one of the most economical and delicious meals you can make. Pork butt roast tends to be one of the least expensive cuts, and even a small butt roast will feed several people. The key to getting the perfect pulled pork isn't in the sauce, though. Cooking it low and slow is what gives you the perfect pull apart deliciousness that you crave. Just follow our recipe for the perfect smoked pork butt and it'll quickly become one of your family's staple meals.