With the 4th of July just around the corner, it’s hard for me not to think about pulled pork. The holiday weekend is the epicenter of summer, and barbecues are in full swing. When thinking about what to serve for summer cookouts, pulled pork is an easy choice to make; it’s festive, feeds a crowd pretty inexpensively, and, most importantly, it’s so damn good you’ll be in total seasonal rapture.
There are so many methods to get to an end result of pulled pork, but I have to say that smoking and slow roasting is by far my favorite. Sure, there are slow cooker methods that, technically speaking, end in pulled pork, but something about that doesn’t feel quite fitting for summer. There’s just something about this recipe that makes it feel like summer is here and warm sun drenches you at every turn. That’s not to say it can’t be made any time of year; we made it for New Years after I lost the bid for roasted lamb—the same plea that falters annually I might add—but if there ever was a time to make it, it would be now.
(Picnic roast/ham shown)
When it comes to the cut of meat, it has to be something from the shoulder of the pig; either the Boston Butt (blade of the shoulder) or picnic roast (sometimes call picnic ham). To call the two interchangeable would be almost like suggesting Parmigiano and Pecorino are—will it work? Yes. Will it taste great? Yes. Are they really the same? Not really—but for the intents and purposes of this recipe, both are acceptable. Frankly, depending on where you go, both cuts might be snubbed by barbecue aficionados that are in favor of using the whole hog, believing, and accurately so, that the varying tastes and textures of all cuts of meat yield the best pulled pork. Since I have neither the means nor the motivation to take on such a literal and figurative beast, I stick to the shoulder.
I prefer the Boston butt over the picnic roast because it has a richer, porkier flavor, and while it has a good amount of fat to keep it moist and flavorful, there’s not typically pockets of it within the meat that won’t break down and melt as there can be with a picnic roast. There’s also less bone in a Boston butt, meaning you get more meat per pound. The benefit to a picnic roast is that it does cost a bit less (though I don’t consider the butt an expensive cut) and they usually come with the skin/rind on (it does need to be removed for this recipe, but you can use it for pork cracklins, and get rendered fat from it, too—see recipe note).
Rubbing it down with a dry rub and letting it marinade gives you tons of flavor, and eventually a good crust. Smoking the pork infuses it intricately with a lingering smokiness, woven between every strand of meat. Every bite transports you to a Norman Rockwell summertime painting. Toss it with your favorite sauce, be it barbecue (and if you’re making one, save a bit of the dry rub for that); vinegar, mustard, or tomato-based; chimichuri; or simply the pan juices from slow roasting, and pile high on some good buns for the ultimate sandwich. And you don’t have to stop at sandwiches; tacos, quesadillas, mac n’ cheese, smothered over a skillet of cornbread, in dumplings or fried rice, the list goes on.
Even if you’re feeding fewer people I’d go ahead and make the full-sized shoulder—I doubt leftovers will be an issue. No matter how you celebrate summer, or how you plan to serve this, you can’t go wrong with this smoked and slow roasted pork shoulder.
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