North Carolina Pulled Pork
Click here for Cook's Illustrated notes

Serves 8 to 10

Spice Rub

4 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons table salt

Pork

3 smoked ham hocks
1 boneless pork butt (Boston butt) , 5 to 6 pounds, prepared as shown in photos 1 and 2
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Sauce

1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons hickory or mesquite liquid smoke
Table salt and ground black pepper
Tabasco sauce for serving

For the spice rub:

1. In small bowl, combine paprika, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, pepper, and salt.

For the pork:

2. Place ham hocks in bottom of slow-cooker insert. Set aside. Following photo 3 on page 10, thoroughly coat pork butt with spice rub. Following photo 4, reshape pork butt and place on top of ham hocks, tucking meat down into slow cooker as far as possible. Cover insert with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next morning, discard plastic wrap and set insert into slow-cooker base. Pour chicken broth over pork, cover with lid, and cook on low until pork is very tender, 8 to 10 hours.

4. Using 2 large spoons, carefully transfer pork butt and ham hocks to rimmed baking sheet. Using two forks, separate pork butt into large chunks. Set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, shred pork butt and ham hocks, discarding excess fat from both as well as small bones from ham hocks.

For the sauce:

5. While pork is cooling, pour cooking liquid through strainer into medium saucepan. (You should have 5 to 6 cups.) Using large spoon, skim excess fat from surface. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup, 30 to 40 minutes. Whisk in vinegar, ketchup, and brown sugar, and simmer for 1 minute. Off heat, stir in liquid smoke. (You will have about 3 cups.)

6. Pour 1 1/2 cups sauce over meat, tossing to combine, and let stand until meat has absorbed most of sauce, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing remaining sauce and Tabasco separately.

Make Ahead

If youíre worried about getting home in time to check on your slow cooker, start the pulled pork before going to bed. In the morning (if the intoxicating barbecue aroma doesnít wake you earlier), transfer the meat and liquid to a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to proceed (up to three days). To finish the recipe, remove the solidified fat on top of the cooking liquid, transfer the defatted liquid and pork to a Dutch oven, and cook over medium-low heat until warmed through. Proceed with the recipe from step 4.
 

STEP BY STEP

 

Seasoning to the Max


 

1. Using a sharp knife, slice lengthwise down the center of the roast and pull the two sides apart.

2. Cut a horizontal slit into each lobe of meat so the roast will sit flat on the cutting board.

3. Apply the spice rub with your hands, massaging the spices deep into the meat.

4. Loosely reshape the meat back to its original size so it will fit in the slow cooker.

 

Cook's Illustrated Notes

Authentic pulled pork is a true labor of love, involving hours and hours of babysitting a low fire and the slow roasting meat. Sure, the meatís flavor is worth every minute, but all that time does make it a project best left for the weekend. We wondered if we could do better and produce meat with authentic, pit-cooked flavor via the slow cooker. Hereís what we discovered:

Use full-flavored, fatty Boston Butt for the best flavor. Cut the roast open to expose as much surface area as possible and rub every inch thoroughly with a spice rub. Fold the meat back together to fit it into the slow cooker.

Add ham hocks to the cooking liquid for an authentic-tasting smoky flavor. Liquid smoke couldnít come close to the flavor lent by the deeply smoky, rich-tasting hocks. Once cooked, shred the hock meat and combine it with the shredded Boston Butt.

Simmer the pork in chicken broth for a rich, but not intrusive, flavor.

Boil the cooking liquid down to a rich-tasting base for the barbecue sauce. The meat is pretty dry after the long simmer and will soak up the sauce like a sponge. A little liquid smoke added to the finished sauce will boost its smoky flavor.

Ham or pork hocks are available smoked and cured or just smoked. Although either will work in this recipe, smoked and cured hocks (which are deep red) will provide the best flavor. We prefer to use Boston butt for this recipe, but a picnic roast can be used instead. You will need a 6-quart slow cooker for this recipe. Don't be tempted to speed up the process by turning the cooker to the high setting--the pork will have a decidedly boiled texture. Serve the pork piled high on white bread or hamburger buns, with plenty of coleslaw and pickle chips on top. To warm up leftovers, add 1 tablespoon water for every cup of pork and heat in a large skillet over medium-low heat until warmed through.