We had my in laws over for lunch a while back and I served them my sous vide pulled pork. I was a little stunned when my mother in law proclaimed it the “Best Pulled Pork Ever” and assumed she was just being polite, but then I found out that she had been proclaiming it’s awesomeness to all of her friends and relatives. I felt quite proud of myself. The process was actually quite simple: Put the dry rubbed pork in the sous vide for 36 hours, shred in a large container with a lid, and hit it with the smoke gun for about 5-10 minutes. While this was very tasty, it did lack the crusty exterior and the serious smoke of traditional pulled pork.
Then I got the smoker …
The first thing I did was smoke a pork shoulder. Actually, several. I found that getting the nice crust and the smokey flavor resulted in the meat drying out even when I applied a mop. I really liked the crusty bits, but the main event (the actual meat) was not up to the standard that had been set by the sous vide. So, I resolved to meld the two techniques and create a pulled pork that was even better than the “Best Pulled Pork Ever”.
Obviously, I would start in the sous vide and then move into the smoker since that’s how I would get the crust. It seemed to me that 24 hours in the sous vide and 4 hours in the smoker at around 250º was a reasonable starting point and that gave me a good doneness, but still no crust. I figured the problem was that the rub was dissolving in the fat in the sous vide so I tried applying the rub to the meat between the sous vide and smoker steps but the meat suddenly didn’t have the depth of flavor that the original sous vide only version had. Finally, I hit on the idea of putting all of the spice components of the dry rub in the sous vide and waiting to apply the brown sugar until I was getting ready to put it in the smoker.
Now all you need is a pretzel roll, some barbecue sauce, and some Brussels sprout slaw to make a sandwich fit for a king!
- Sous vide
- 1 gallon heavy duty freezer ziplock bag
- Offset smoker
- Heavy duty aluminum foil
- Two mixing bowl, one of which should have a lid
- BBQ tongs
- Boneless pork shoulder/Boston butt about 4 lbs
- Spice rub (this makes more than you need for one pork shoulder)
- 1/2 cup dried oregano
- 1/2 cup ground cumin
- 1/4 cup smoked paprika
- 1/4 cup coarse sea salt
- Ancho chile powder to taste
- Wood chunks for smoking (mesquite or hickory), 12-16 3″ cubes (3 per half hour of intended smoking)
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- Pretzel rolls
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- Coarse sea salt
- Barbecue sauce
Time: about 30 hours (although a day of this is in the sous vide and a good chunk of the rest of it is staring at the smoker while drinking beer).
Yield: Enough for 6-8 sandwiches with some leftovers
- Set the sous vide to 150º and make sure you have enough room below the fill line to accommodate the pork shoulder.
- Mix the spice rub together in a large jar. You should be able to get a few pork shoulders out of each batch. If you’ve already got the rub lying around, you can skip this step.
- Generously sprinkle the rub over the pork shoulder covering it completely and patting it to make sure it sticks.
- Put the pork in the ziplock bag but do not seal it. At this point, you should be around 28 hours before you actually want to serve the food.
- When the sous vide is at 150º, lower the bag into the water so that all of the air around the meat is out of the bag and then seal it. I clip the bag to the edge of the sous vide container (a 2 gallon paint bucket with a hole cut out in the lid for the sous vide) but you need to make sure that the meat is completely under the water so that it’s all at the right temperature. Put the cover on and let it go for a full 24 hours.
- I usually make the slaw at this point, and let it sit in the fridge overnight but really you can do this any time before it’s time to eat. The slaw is really simple but time consuming:
- Cut each sprout in half lengthwise (so you are splitting the stem) and then slice the halves into tiny strips.
- Put the strips in the mixing bowl.
- Add mayonnaise and salt to taste
- Put the lid on the bowl or cover with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to start making sandwiches.
- About an hour before the sous vide time is up, get your smoker fired up. You want to get it between 220 and 250º. While your fire is getting going, you can soak the first 6 wood chunks for your smoking wood. You’ll be placing 3 in the fire box for each half hour of smoking time so as you remove 3, add 3 more. You might want to use two separate containers but I personally don’t get that anal retentive.
- Make a rimmed “baking sheet” out of foil large enough to hold the pork shoulder. The rims need only be about a half inch to an inch high.
- When it’s done, carefully remove the bag with the pork from the sous vide and pour the liquid into your second medium sized bowl. This is the melted fat from the pork shoulder combined with some of the spice rub and it will be your mop while you are smoking.
- Liberally coat the pork with the brown sugar. It will start to turn into a bizarre fat/sugar paste that you can then slather over the meat. If you thought this was going to be some kind of dainty process because of the sous vide … well … SURPRISE!
- Put the foil on the grill on the side away from the smoker box and then transfer the pork to the foil and go wash your hands.
- For the next 4 hours, repeat the following process every half hour:
- Put 3 chunks of wood in the fire box and add three more to the soaking liquid
- Liberally brush the pork with the sous vide fat.
Interesting twist: We have two ridiculously prolific rosemary plants. I trim off a small bunch of sprigs and use those as a brush. When I’m done with them, I throw them in the fire box and cut off a few more. It’s kind of awesome. You could actually do this with any herbs you have over-growing.
- Every other brushing, roll the pork over 1/4 turn
- After 4 hours, you should have a nice crust. Remove the meat from the smoker and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
- While the meat is resting, cut your rolls in half, butter them, and toast them in the smoker.
- Shred the pork with two forks (at this point, it should actually be tender enough that you can just put it in a big Tupperware with a tight fitting lid and just shake the ever living crap out of it until it falls to pieces. This is a really good method if you’re feeling stressed out.).
- Assemble your sandwich, bun bottom, pork, BBQ sauce, slaw, bun top. DONE!