On the competition barbecue circuit there are a few stand-out competitions, one of which is the Jack Daniel's invitational or "The Jack". This prestigious BBQ competition is hosted in Lynchburg, Tennessee and is host to grand champs from all over the US, Canada and several other countries. It’s a tough competition and there is always a tremendous amount of talent on board. One of the highlights in 2011 was DivaQ and her team taking home first place for their pork. What an accomplishment.
Pulled pork is one of the easier meats to cook. Not in competition with these seasoned pros mind you, but in general it is a relatively forgiving piece of meat and it’s a great place to start. Now I’m not going to share her award-winning secrets here, but I will walk you through a recipe that she shared here. This pulled pork recipe combines two different techniques that help make this a foolproof cook and employ techniques similar to my Game Day Ribs recipe.
Putting the pork butt in an aluminum pan towards the end isn't new. You can do that with only the rub and net good results. The one thing that really excited me about this recipe was the pineapple juice in the injection marinade. It’s a great flavor with pork and is a nice change-up. In fact, it reminds me of sweeter Kalua pork or luau-style pork (hence the recipe name).
Kalua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method which uses an underground pit called an imu. Basically it's another way to cook food low and slow. To maintain moisture and help break down the meat they'll wrap the pork shoulder with banana or ti leaves. With our recipe we'll accomplish this by placing the pork in an aluminum pan along with what will become a simple sauce. This pan will also help capture some of the juices that would otherwise be lost during the cooking process. In the past I’ve done this when feeding large crowds since it helps the pork from drying out and even helps when freezing leftovers (should there be any). Feel free to either or both techniques as they suit you.
Why Fresh Pineapple Juice?
The pineapple here adds a great flavor and according to the article she uses it because it’s filled with natural enzymes that tenderize meat. If you picture a Christmas ham in your head chances are you’re envisioning pineapples toothpicked to it. Same idea here.
You’ll want to juice the pineapple yourself though to benefit from the tenderization – the pasteurization process in factory canned pineapple juice kills the enzymes.
Cooking pulled pork is all about low and slow. Low temperatures and slow cooking times. Normally it can take anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 hours per pound. So plan for approximately 8-10 hours to cook. Good barbecue takes time.
1) Just before cooking, mix all of the injection ingredients together. Inject about 1 cup into each pork butt. When injecting it works well to go in at an angle and put one finger near the point of injection. Normally when injecting you want keep your injection sites about an inch apart. This will help give you an idea of how much marinade to use in recipes – you want to add flavor, but not make it the predominating flavor.
2) Generously season the entire roast with the dry rub. You will lose some rub during this cook so use it liberally. You can also re-season, as necessary, when you check the meat.
3) With your grill set up for indirect cooking, cook the soon-to-be pulled pork at 225°F using your favorite BBQ wood. I like to stick with hickory, oak or pecan, but pork goes great with all the fruit woods as well.
4) Check every hour and spray with apple juice as necessary. Using a spray bottle works best - you’ll lose less rub than by using a basting brush.
5) Continue cooking until the meat reaches a nice deep mahogany color at about 165°F. Then transfer the pork butts to disposable aluminum pans. This will catch all the juices so that it can be mixed up with the pulled pork for serving. Consider this the Texas Crutch for pulled pork.
Place in disposable pan. The turkey-size or large rectangles work best.
Add 1 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup warm apple juice and 1/4 cup of hot sauce for each one.
Cover with foil allowing the thermometer wire out. Place back on smoker.
6) In the disposable pans, cover each butt with 1 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup warm apple juice and 1/4 cup of hot sauce. Normally Frank’s is my go-to hot sauce to use, but not here. It tastes a little like buffalo wings…not quite what we’re looking for. So I’ve been using Cholula hot sauce and have found it’s been spot on. One bottle is just enough for 4 pork butts.
Note: If your pork roasts are on the smaller side you may want to use less juice.
7) This is where it’s handy to have a wireless digital thermometer. I use the Maverick thermometer in the picture and love it. Just leave it in the meat and wrap tin foil over the top of the pan. With the digital thermometer in place you can easily keep a close eye on the temperature without having to unwrap it all.
8) Return the pan to the smoker and cook until the internal temperature reaches around 197°F. This should take a few more hours. To tell if it’s done that bone should wiggle and freely move when pulled. You can also stab the roast with a fork and it should easily twist. When you can do either of those, then it’s done and can be removed from the grill.
9) Keep the pan foiled and cover with a towel or blanket and let rest for 20-30 minutes. Shred with a pair of bear paws or meatrakes. Discard the bone and excessive fat. As the meat begins to cool down it will pull in some of these juices. I'll normally lift out the pork butts with the bear paws and "pull" the pork in a lipped pan. That way you don't poke a hole in the aluminum pan or splash any of the pan juices.
Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce. Pulled pork is great with about any type of sauce from vinegar-, mustard-, ketchup- and molasses-based barbecue sauces. For this pulled pork recipe I tend to prefer a mustard-based sauce like my friend’s Grownup Mustard Sauce. Pile a sandwich high and enjoy!