During the summer there are many days when I am not up to slaving away in the kitchen for hours on end to get dinner on the table. Even with the air conditioning on, when the temps outside are hot and humid, the inside of the house gets hot and humid when the stove and/or oven is turned on.
Although Hubby has always teased, “You know you’re an American when you get a sandwich for dinner,” he has been singing a little different tune since I’ve stepped up my sandwich recipe arsenal. In the past two months I have added four sandwiches to my menu and after each one Hubby told me, “I don’t know if you’re cooking is getting better, or if I was just really hungry, but that sandwich is something we could go into business with.”
I’m gonna cling to the possibility that my cooking is getting better. Practice makes perfect, right?
Anyway, two of the sandwiches I made started with one of my favorite meats for sandwiches of all time — pulled pork. For those of you that haven’t experienced this super tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat, it is worth every minute it takes to cook it. Don’t be scared off by the time it takes to get the pulled pork, which can be anywhere from 5 to 7 hours in the oven. Most of this time is hands-off.
The trick to the tenderest pulled pork is to cook it low and slow and use a pork Boston butt roast. The butt is by far the most tender cut of pork you can get, if prepared correctly. And what’s even better is that it’s pretty darn cheap. I’ve gotten bone-in roasts for $0.89/per pound and boneless for $1.09 per pound. When these go on sale, my freezer goes through a major overhaul to make room for as many as I can get my hands on.
There are a few things to remember when baking a pork butt:
- NEVER cook it from frozen. I don’t know what it is, but no matter how long you cook the meat, if it starts off frozen, the meat is never as tender as if you start with a fresh or defrosted roast. Put a frozen roast in the fridge the day before you plan to roast it. The afternoon is probably best because you definitely want it completely defrosted.
- Do NOT remove the fat. I know there is a lot of talk about how bad fat is for you, but let’s be honest here, fat is where the flavor is and also where a lot of the tenderness comes from. If you are worried about fat, you can remove it after you have roasted the meat. The fat is needed in order to keep the meat from drying out and becoming tough. Plus the rendered fat can then be stored in mason jars and used as lard.
- Use a large roasting pan. Do not try to squeeze this roast into a roasting pan that leaves little to no room around the edges. This roast needs space to render the fat and for the steam to make its magic. If there isn’t enough room in the pan for the roast to breathe, the roast will not be as tender.
- A little bit of liquid goes a long way. I put no more than 1 cup of water in the roasting pan with a 6 to 10 pound roast, seal it with foil, and put it in an oven heated to 250 degrees. Again, this is where the fat comes in. The fat will begin to render almost immediately and provide enough moisture for the roast to cook as many hours in the oven as you leave it there.
- Do NOT rush the process. Cooking the roast at 300, 325, or 350 might get it cooked faster, but low and slow is the only way to get the melt-in-your-mouth results absolutely necessary for the perfect pulled pork. If you don’t have the time, don’t make this. You will truly be disappointed in the results and waste enough meat that could easily be used for two or three meals.
- Keep it sealed. The reason this roast becomes so tender and moist is the fact that it is steamed or braised rather than roasted. The moisture that builds up in the roasting pan is what ensures a truly “pull-apart” result. If you can’t wait to see how the roast is doing, carefully vent one corner of the foil to release the steam, take a peak and then seal the foil back around the pan.
- The roast will not be brown. If you want to brown the roast, the time to do this is after the roast is completely cooked and ready to serve. Carefully remove the foil and turn the oven to 450 or broil. Vent the oven door and watch the roast carefully. After about 5 or 10 minutes the top should be brown and you can then serve.
- Shred the meat while still warm. Although this meat is certainly tender enough to pull-apart when it is cold, it is easier to separate the meat from the fat that runs through a pork butt when it’s warm or room temperature. I like to shred the meat when it has cooled and before I put it in the fridge until ready to use.
- Pork butts make great pork roasts. I’ve talked to several people who use pork butts strictly for shredded/pulled pork, but this cut of meat is perfect for serving as a roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. I usually buy a pork butt big enough to use for at least two meals. The day I roast it I serve the meat as a roast and the leftovers are used later in the week for any number of ways as pulled-pork. That is if the family doesn’t devour the meat on sandwiches when I’m not looking.
Typically I start cooking my roast first thing in the morning. Preheat the oven to 250. Then I generously salt the roast with garlic salt and put it in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan, careful not to wash the garlic salt off the roast. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. If one width of the foil isn’t wide enough to cover the pan, use two, overlapping so the steam cannot escape. Place the roasting pan in the oven, shut the door, and leave it alone. I roast my pork butts for a minimum of 7 hours, but when I’ve checked it at 5 hours, it is pretty tender. Remove the roast from the oven and place on stove for 20 minutes to rest.
Since I started roasting pork butts I rarely buy any other cut of pork for roasts. I’ll buy pork loin roasts for cutting my own pork chops or making breaded pork, but for all other pork dishes I stick with the Boston Pork Butt. Give it a try, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Being able to prepare a cheaper cut of meat in a way that makes it taste like an expensive cut is essential for a housewife on a budget. Once you learn the tricks of the trade, no one’s the wiser, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.