Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pork Shoulder (or A Shortcut for Two Weeknight Dinners)

This is a pork shoulder.  Actually, it's half of a pork shoulder, specifically the "butt" end, although it's not a pig's behind, so don't worry.

That not exactly a convincing argument for this cut of meat, is it?

Please take my word for it, pork shoulder is really, really good.  Yes, I know that fat layer looks excessive and scary, but you don't eat the fatty parts.  Yes, I know it's huge and tough, but you cook it low and slow and it falls off the bone.

I've already shared a few recipes that utilize pork shoulder:  Carnitas, Carolina Chopped Barbecue, and probably another that I can't remember.  As much as I love pork, I never cooked this cut of meat until about two years ago.  I grew up eating tons of barbecue with my pop pop, including chopped barbecue, but I didn't attempt it myself until recently.  Now that I've had over a year's experience with pork shoulder, I have some tips and I'm ready to fully endorse it as a great weeknight meal.

First, don't buy a whole pork shoulder.  My grocery store (local readers know I love ShopRite), sells it cut in half and I buy the nice, rounded "butt" end and I prefer cuts that are 4 to 6 pounds, max.  Four to six pounds will feed 8 adults, or it will allow me to have a nice amount of leftovers for a second meal and lunches at work for a day or two.  I can buy a half pork shoulder for $5-8 at my store.

Second, cook it in a Crock Pot or a pressure cooker.  You can cook it for hours in your oven, but I haven't tried it.  If you have, let me know how that works out.  You'll need to cook it in your Crock Pot all day (I let it go on low for 10 hours while I'm at work) or you can get it on the table in less than 90 minutes if you use your pressure cooker.  Either way works fine.

Finally, save the leftovers.  I immediately pull all the meat off the bone, remove and discard the fat and put the pork in a recipe.  However, if you have way more than you need, pop it in the fridge for up to three days, or even freeze it.  I just wrap it tight and park it in the freezer for up to 6 weeks.  Next time you want pulled pork, you have a shortcut.

I like to season my pork with a healthy dose of dry rub up to three days before I actually cook it.  I'm sure you could season it at the last minute, but I like to let the flavor get in the meat.

I use a spice rub from use real butter.  It's a combination of cumin, paprika, onion powder, black pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.  It's a little sweet, a little hot, and a little smoky and it's not too salty.  It's a great base flavor whether you're going to use your pork for barbecue sandwiches or a Mexican-inspired dish.  Jump over to use real butter to get Jen's dry rub recipe, if you're interested.  Perhaps you have your own dry rub.  Whatever you do, just season your pork in advance.

(Pssst... if you don't eat or like pork, try this same recipe with the same quantity of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Adjust the seasoning to your taste.)

(I also LOVE Jen's vinegar-based sauce for Carolina-style barbecue sandwiches, but E prefers traditional barbecue sauce.  Go figure.  Try both on your pork and tell me what you think.)

I always brown my pork shoulder before I put it in the Crock Pot or pressure cooker.  I like getting a crispy crust and I think it sears in the juicy flavor.  Oddly enough, most of the time I prepare this dish you'll find me standing in the kitchen in my robe at 5:45 a.m. trying to get dinner in the pot before I get dressed for work.  It's not unusual to smell seared pork and spices in our kitchen before sunrise.

All you need to do is put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan (preferably not non-stick) and take a few minutes to brown the pork on all sides...

Nothing like the smoky smell of pork at 6:00 a.m.

Then you just put the pork (fat side up) in the Crock Pot with about 3/4 cup of water (or chicken broth), set the timer for 10 hours on low and just go on with your day.  Sometimes my day is longer than 10 hours.  That's okay, your Crock Pot will keep your food safe and warm for up to 12 hours.

When I get home, I pull the fatty layer off the top of the cooked pork, remove the center bone, and begin pulling the meat.  The pork is so soft that it's very simple to pull.  I remove all fat from the pork and it's ready for dinner...

The crazy thing is that you can buy this meat already cooked for about $6 a pound in some stores.  That's at least three times what it cost you to do it yourself... crazy.

We opted to have pulled pork sandwiches on the first night.  Just separate the amount of meat that you'll need for your sandwiches and put the rest of the cooked meat in the fridge for your next meal.  I like mine on a soft bun in a vinegary sauce (I use potato hamburger rolls) and topped with red onion.  E likes a traditional, thick, sweet barbecue sauce.  Whatever floats your boat.

With less than 15 minutes of effort, dinner is served.  Plus, I have another recipe coming soon for the leftovers!


  1. Holy Moses.

    Will you come over tonight and make me some?! K thanks!

  2. That looks super delicious! I have a big bowl of pulled pork in my fridge right now :)


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