Pulling Pork at Home (It’s not what you think)

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The street food revolution in Britain brought about something of an unexpected and organic publicity campaign for one particular form of food. It’s had the equivalent of an X Factor slow-burn and now appears to be on every high street in the UK. Actually, slowly burnt is exactly what it is.

Earlier this month it was impossible to scroll through Twitter without watching celebrities sigh over just missing each other at Meatopia. The Facebook page for Bristol’s Grillstock elicits groans normally reserved for less public activities. Even their Mac & Cheese has me drooling. While Pitt & Cue have already raced ahead and released their own cookbook, allowing punters the opportunity to recreate their offerings at home.

You can’t have escaped the sudden popularity in American-style barbecue joints springing up around the country; each attempting to plate up larger piles of protein than the next. The M.O. is always the same – the least expensive but most delicious cuts of meat (usually pork or beef), seasoned and spiced with classic American, often smoked, marinades and rubs, slowly cooked until it barely has the strength to hold itself together. It should be on the verge of a complete breakdown; so ready to yield that a mere whisper could force its sticky collapse.

American food often gets a bad rap. It is standard practice to chastise the US for introducing the world to the fast food that apparently made us fat.  BBQ restaurants definitely aren’t for those who feel driven to count calories any more than McDonalds or Pizza Hut are. And if you walk out without feeling like you’re nursing a food baby you’ve not followed the rules. The portions should make you feel that you won’t need to eat for a week or else you’ve been short changed. But the real difference between American junk and our new-favourite-thing is the pace, the quality and the overall satisfaction.

Unlike a fast food burger inhaled in a hurry, slowly cooked food is to be eaten slowly. It’s social food to be shared, not wolfed during your lunch break or forced down at the end of a drunken evening. And, of course, it is good food. We have finally found a use in this country for the beautiful cuts of meat so many of us don’t have the patience to cook at home because they need time; several spare hours for layers of fat to render into a melting concertina of meat. We have an irritating obsession with the quickest, easiest thing, despite higher cost and inferior flavour.

Supermarkets never stop watching what we love and they’ve been quick to jump on the BBQ bandwagon. When I spotted that Waitrose were selling pre-seasoned BBQ pork shoulder designed to cook down to pulled pork, for under £4.00, I was interested to see whether it would match up or if supermarket BBQ meant the craze had jumped the shark. Sainsburys also offer a similar but larger product for approximately £6.50.

The problem with anything pre-seasoned is that you can’t control the flavour. For me, this was an issue. Particularly as the balance of spices wasn’t to my taste before cooking. I set the oven at roughly 130 degrees celsius (fan) and ignored advice to leave the rubbed meat dry. I coated it in a little rapeseed oil to avoid it drying out.

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After about 90 minutes I raised the heat and added the sachet of ‘drizzle’. The liquid topping seemed to be a table sauce to add flavour and moisture on serving. I decided to cook the sauce into the meat for another 30-40 minutes. This, I believe, made all the difference and changed the unpleasant spice mixture to something far more appealing.

The meat had no resistance at all as I used two forks to pull it apart. More time spent shredding could easily have given it that ripped, restaurant texture, but I quite liked leaving a few chunkier pieces in the pile for the sake of substance.

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I loaded the meat into wholemeal bread rolls, on top of a spicy, homemade coleslaw. This was made up of half a red cabbage, half a white cabbage, two red onions, two large carrots, mayonnaise, Cholula hot sauce and Chipotle flavoured Tabasco. This married up nicely with the spices cooked into the meat, leaving a little freshness and crunch to cut through the richness.

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The meat didn’t quite have the same aching, meltiness of the restaurant equivalent or a bigger slab of meat cooked all day, but it was pretty close. For convenience and certainly for the price it was a winner, but an enthusiastic, more involved cook might miss choosing their own spices, or even the smoking process. The 612g piece of pork shoulder filled five large rolls. And now I’m hungry all over again.

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