Pulled Pork

Prep and Cook Dates: May 8-9, 2020

The smoker I have today – Mak Grills 2 Star – is a newer and updated version of one I had years ago and sold to a competition barbecuer in 2015 or 2016. The older version wasn’t great for grilling; but what really caused me to sell it was my own approach to smoking at the time. The Mak 2 Star has a wonderful controller that is programmable and can set the temperature within 5°. But I made myself crazy. How hot was it really? I used a third party smoking thermometer and meat probe. I kept spreadsheets of the variances between the built in and the probe. As someone once said: “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.” I was never really sure what the “real” temperature was. Frustrated, I sold the smoker to a guy who has used it in competition for the past few years.

I’ve used a gas grill and charcoal grill for ribs in the past few years but just didn’t like the low-and-slow results as much as that old pellet grill. So, last year, after reading about the grilling improvements of the newer Mak grills, I purchased a new one. For grilling it is much better than my old one: it does a wonderful job on burgers, chicken, and searing steak. After meditating my barbecue approach the past few years I realized that simplifying my barbecuing would lead to less stress. On my next go ’round I’d depend on the grill itself. I don’t need to track variances between thermometers. Just go with what the grill says and if I need to make adjustments so be it.

This was the weekend to get back to real barbecue after those five years off. Pulled pork means rub, injection, and sauce. Going for simple, I leaned on barbecue champion Chris Lilly for the rub and injection. I used this back in the day to good results.

Since cooking would start bright and early Saturday I prepped on Friday. The rub has brown and white sugar, paprika, garlic salt, kosher salt, chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne and black pepper.

Chris LIlly’s Butt Rub

Stir it all up

Chris LIlly’s rub all mixed up.

I’ve brined my pork shoulders, used injections, and cooked them plain. In for a penny, in for a pound with Chris Lilly I used his injection (recipe in the same link above).

Chris LIlly pork shoulder injection
Pork shoulder injection ingredients ready for mixing.

Five years ago I did a taste test with three barbecue sauces, this Carolina mustard and apple cider vinegar was the surprise winner. The recipe was orignally in the Oregonian FoodDay section but I couldn’t find it. My copy of the recipe is here.

Mustard and Cider Vinegar BBQ Sauce Ingredients
Ingredients ready to be turned into sauce.

Toss it all into a sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes. But do NOT lean over to smell it while simmering – it is potent.

Simmering mustard and vinegar sauce.

By Saturday afternoon, everything was ready.

Pulled pork prep is complete

I had two options for cooking. In the past I’ve done overnight cooks – it’s easy because the grill is programmable and as long as there are pellets in the hopper it doesn’t need tending. But those cooks sometimes finish mid morning and then I have to hold the roast for hours before serving. So, I opted to get up at 5:00 AM to start. I started the grill and injected the meat.

Boneless pork shoulder ready for injection

After injection I applied the rub.

I programmed the smoker to run in smoke mode for 1.5 hours then raise the temp to 235° until the pork shoulder was done. The sun was rising and smoke was doing its job.

Smoker doing its thing

We were getting hungry and the pork shoulder was hanging in the 180-185° mark so at 4:45 I bumped the grill temp to 250°. At Around 5:30 the meat was at 196°. Ideally, I’d let it go a bit more but like I said, we were hungry.

If you look at that internal temp – 196° – and think it looks burnt, you don’t do low and slow cooking. For traditional barbecue we cook at a low temperature so that the internal fat and connective tissue slowly melts and moistens the meat. That dark crust is the bark and is just soooo good.

When I took the pork shoulder off the smoker, I wrapped it in a double layer of foil, wrapped a towel around that and but it all in a cooler to stay warm. Forty minutes later I shredded the pork.

Pulled pork
Pulled pork ready for serving.

We portioned some onto our buns and drizzled some of that mustard-vinegar sauce on top. Coleslaw on the side please. Some folks like it on top.

Dinner is served. Pulled pork with mustard-vinegar sauce and a side of slaw.

We both had a bit more with the Ooga-Booga sauce my son and daughter-in-law gave me for my birthday. When they were little I put a blanket over my head and was the Ooga-Booga monster. It’s cute they found a sauce with that name.

Pulled pork with choice of sauces

Although I didn’t track the difference between thermometers, I did keep a cooking log, as I almost always do for my low-and-slow cooks. I find it very helpful in refining my process as time goes on. You can find my cooking log here.

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