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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Banjo's Recipe NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ - Sous Vide Experiment #1

Last updated: 5/21/11 3:15 PM. Final Edition.

This Method
This method will make use of skinless, boneless, Boston Butt Pork,  a Sous Vide Supreme (SVS) for initial cooking, a charcoal grill (with a dome) for finishing, and some wood chips.  Please refer to previous posts regarding making NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ for other methods (see references at the bottom of this blog entry).

I have been making NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ since 1987. I have used many different tools to make BBQ in the 22 years I have been making it. Some of my approaches:
  • Using a gas grill (this was my first attempt)
  • Using a Weber Bullet style charcoal smoker.
  • Using an offset Brickman Hondo smoker.
  • Using a barrel smoker that I built
  • Using a Big Green Egg
  • Welding a large smoker and using it in competition at the Big Pig Jig at Vienna GA.
  • Designing my own computer controlled inlet air damper smoker.
  • Building a 'flower-pot' smoker designed by Alton Brown.
  • Designing my own low temperature oven using a heat lamp, Arduino microcontroller.
  • Using a flower pot and a thermocouple controller on a hot plate
  • Using a regular household oven as the cooking chamber, a heat-light-bulb (150 watts) for a heat source, and controlled by an Arduino.
So you can see I've done a few experiments!

Today I'm trying out the SVS to make NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ.  I've used the SVS to cook a lot of items, but this is the first attempt at BBQ!

Now some of you may say that's not the right way to make BBQ. And from a purest standpoint, I guess you'd be right. But I've done the purest form for years and this is what I want to try now! I like experimenting and I am searching for the best BBQ, and I don't care what I do to find it!  Besides - unless you take whole wood and burn it down to coals in a separate fire, then gather the coals and spread them underneath the pork, and continue to do this for 24 hours or more, you aren't doing it in the purest method either!  Offset smokers of any kind are not traditional  and purest!

  • A package of Boneless Boston Butt Pork Shoulder purchased at Costco.  Their packages of butt come in 12 - 18 lb with two butts per package.  This particular package weight 13.5 lbs.  For this test, I'll be using one of the two butts, and it weights about 6 lbs.  The other butt I've rewrapped and placed into the refrigerator for Experiment #2 to come in the next couple of days - it will also be posted here.  Costco's butt is boneless and already has the skin (AKA rind) removed so it is very lean, therefore you may need to add some additional fat to the final product to boost the flavor, but that's up to you.  When I add any fat, I prefer rendered bacon fat, but you can use any kind, although I would use butter if bacon is not available.
  • A small amount of vegetable oil for brushing onto the meat surface after it comes out of the SVS and being finished on the grill.
  • A charcoal grill with a dome, with a large enough surface area so you can position the pork on the side opposite the charcoal (you want to avoid placing the pork directly over the coals).  This is for finishing the BBQ.
  • Lump Charcoal for the grill.  I never use regular briquettes!  They use many different ingredients to bind the briquettes together.  Always use Lump (sometimes called 'natural') charcoal.  They burn hotter and do not impart any off flavors to the BBQ.  Do not use charcoal lighter fluid to start the fire, as it too may impart an off flavor to the BBQ!  Use a chimney to start the lump charcoal.
  • Some wood chips for adding smoke flavor to the cooked pork.
  • Some aluminum foil for wrapping the wood chips in for smoking on the charcoal grill.
  • A good cigar.  This is for me while I write this.  
  • Talisker Single Malt Scotch.  Unfortunately, I'm on a diet, so I'm not having any Talisker today.  See my other blog posts from April 2011 for diet information.
  1. Obtain a skinless, boneless, Boston butt.  If you use Costco, then remove one butt, and rewrapp the other and place back into the refrigerator, as two whole butts are probably too big for a SVS to cook at a single time.
  2. Cut the butt into strips about 2 - 3 inches wide, and as deep as it comes from the package.
  3. Package into pouches using your preferred method (vacuum food sealer, vacuum chamber, ziplock).  For my single 6 lb butt, I ended up with 6 - 7 strips, which I packaged into two separate pouches, ensuring no overlap between slices of pork.
  4. For this experiment, I used a temperature of 160 dF.  For me, the results of this experiment was the pork was dried out too much so the temperature was too high. For the next Experiment #2 I will use a different temperature, but I wanted to post the results of this experiment as I prepared it.  See Experiment #2 (future - in next couple of days) for the results of that experiment.
  5. Cook the pork for about 24 hours.  The exact amount of time is not critical, but you are trying to achieve a balance between two things: sterilization and tenderness.  You want to ensure your time of cooking will allow the pork to sterilize, and the amount of tenderness you want will also reflect the time used.  Please see references below for additional insight on this topic.
  6. 15 minutes prior to removing from the SVS, start the charcoal, as it will need about 20 -30 minutes to come entirely up to temperature.  You want a hot fire so you end up with a dome temperature of 400 - 450 dF, so use a good amount of charcoal.  Only you know the characteristics of your grill, so you will need to use your best judgement on this. 
  7. Wrap your wood chips in aluminum foil, forming an air tight pouch, and punch a few holes in the top of the foil.   I use a couple of handfuls of chips.  I do not soak my chips in water.  I prepare multiple packets in case I want to add more chips.  Soaking chips can lead to creosote problems which will make the meat taste bitter.  I use any of the following: Oak, Hickory, Mesquite.  I used Hickory for this test.  Oak, which has a stronger flavor, may be a better choice since we are adding smoke at the end of the smoking period when it is tougher to get the smoke onto the meat.  At some future experiment I intend to smoke prior to pouching and placing into the SVS, but for this experiment I smoked afterwards.
  8. At the end of your cooking period, remove the pork from the SVS but do not yet remove from the pouches.  Allow the meat to rest in its juices to reabsorb some of the moisture - about 15 minutes.  At this point, it should have resulted in your charcoal being up to temperature and ready to go.
  9. At the end of the rest period, remove the pork from the pouches.  Blot dry.
  10. Lightly brush the pork with vegetable oil.  This will serve two different purposes: it will allow the pork to absorb more smoke flavor, and it will help brown the meat.
  11. Place the pork onto the grill surface so it is not directly over the hot coals.  
  12. Adjust the air dampers so the coals will stay hot.  You should start seeing some blue tinted smoke from your chips.  You want a temperature in the dome of 400 - 450 dF.  This will brown the outside of the meat while evaporating some of the moisture at the surface of the meat, which will give it a slight crunch.  The pork is already cooked, so you are just interested in toasting the meat, and a hot fire is the best approach as it will allow you to toast quickly.  If your fire is not hot enough, then it will take a long time to toast the meat which will over cook the meat and dry it out.
  13. Heat the cooked pork until it takes on a dark tan color, much like a correctly cooked Thanksgiving Turkey.  This could be anywhere from 10 - 30 minutes.  I let mine go for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove from the gill and place into a bowl to shred.  I use two very large forks.
  15. Taste the meat.  If it needs some additional fat (you were using very lean meat), add some bacon fat (butter if none available).  The meat should have a slight glisten to it when enough fat has been added.  For 6 lbs of pork, I would add about 3 ounces as a starting point.  You can add more, but you can't take any away once added!
  16. If done correctly, the BBQ should have a slight crunch to it at this point from being indirectly heated in the hot, dry grill dome.  Shred the pork with any added fat.  I use two very large forks to pull it apart, mixing it up good.
  17. If you know that everyone likes their NC Pulled Pork BBQ with the same sauce, you can add some now, but don't over do it - people can add more sauce at the table, but again - they can't take it away.

  • We are experienced BBQ smokers and tasters!  
  • We very much enjoyed the BBQ made using this method.
  • We would have preferred more smoke.  I hope to correct this in Experiment #2.
  • We enjoyed the toasted pork, and particularly enjoyed the crunch!
  • The BBQ did not have enough fat on it.  We did not have any bacon, so we had to use butter.  I do not like the taste of butter on BBQ as much as bacon, but in a pinch.....
  • It was overly dry.  It lacked both moisture as well as fat.  
  • I may cook the next experiment at 135 dF (still debating next temperature for experiment, but no higher than 145 dF), leaving it in the SVS long enough to ensure it is sterilized.
Banjo's Recipe - Sauce for NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ
Which BBQ Smoker?
BBQ Smoker - Trash Can Smoker?
Sous Vide Cooking - Harold McGee
More Sous Vide Cooking
BBQ and Low Temperature Cooking
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven - #2
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven - #3
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven - Final

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