Hickory-Smoked Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwiches
While back in my hometown to visit my parents for Fourth of July, I decided the perfect way to fulfill our patriotic duty – and celebrate our country’s 235th birthday – was by smoking a pig. Okay, just the shoulder of the pig in our case, but oh what a succulent, flavorful little shoulder it was.
I teased you with the sauce, but here’s the real star of the show: hickory-smoked pulled-pork sandwiches.
Several years ago, my dad upgraded his grill to a larger one with a built-in smoker. Despite being a regular – and accomplished – grill master, regrettably, he has never used the smoker. And while I have perfected the art of slow-cooked, fall-apart-tender barbecue pork in an oven, smoking the meat in a grill was new to me as well. It was high-time we tried the sucker out.
I headed to the southern United States for inspiration – a region where the term “barbecue” is generally synonymous with smoked pork cooked low-and-slow, and concocted a special rub to use prior to smoking the meat. Meanwhile, the mixin’ sauce pulled ingredient and flavor notes from Kansas City: it’s a thick, sweet tomato-based sauce I created with pulled-pork sandwiches specifically in mind.
Smoking meat is a commitment. It takes hours and even days to slowly cook the meat into tenderized, delicious oblivion. Especially the large, tough cuts of beef and pork that are traditionally used for barbecue, including the pork butt – also called pork shoulder or Boston butt – I chose for our first smoker test-run. However, the time-consuming smoking process is worth it. As you watch the meat fall apart at the lightest touch, and your mouth waters and you finally bite into that succulent sandwich, you forget how long it took to get there.
And it’s really not an arduous process. Yes you have to baby the fire along, to maintain an even temperature, and you have to “mop” the meat every so often to keep the meat juicy, but you get to be outside in the sunshine and sip on a cold drink and spend time with family and friends while you do it. Which makes a pretty perfect Fourth of July – or any Summer weekend really.
- 1 4lb boneless whole pork butt (also called pork shoulder or Boston butt)
- Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce (or favorite barbecue sauce), divided in half – one half for basting, one half for mixing.
Spicy Pork Rub (Makes enough to cover a 4lb boneless pork butt)
- 1 tbs coarse kosher salt
- 1 tbs ground black pepper
- 2 tbs cumin
- 1 tbs cayenne pepper
- 1 tbs paprika
- 3 tbs light brown sugar
- 3 tbs dijon mustard
- A disposable aluminum pan, large enough to fit the pork.
- A meat thermometer (a digital thermometer with a probe works best)
- A BBQ Grill with a built-in smoker.
- A mopping/basting brush.
- 3–4 5lb bags of Hickory Wood, chopped into 3–4” chunks.
- 1 5lb bag of charcoal briquettes.
Make the Pork Rub
- Blend dry ingredients with a fork or whisk.
- Add mustard and continue blending with fork or whisk until well combined.
- Slather generously on all sides of pork, prior to placing in the smoker. (You can do this up to 12 hours ahead of time)
Prepare the Meat
- Place pork in aluminum pan and let it rest on the counter until it is room temperature to the touch.
- Slather the pork generously with my Spicy Pork Rub (Recipe above).
Prepare the Grill
- Start the hickory wood fire. We used a charcoal chimney and crumpled newspaper as kindling to get the fire going.
- Once the fire gets going, pour the wood into the smoker box. We also used standard charcoal briquettes to stretch the hickory wood, which we added to the fire now. You could continue with just hickory wood, but using all-wood is more expensive, and I’m not sure that it’s necessary.
- Close the smoke box to allow the smoke to travel into the main grill compartment. Make sure that the vent on the side of the smoker box is open to allow air in.
Cook the Pork
- Place the pork, in the aluminum pan, on the grill.
- Insert the probe of a meat thermometer into the center of the meat. Look for the coldest temperature of the meat, which should be the middle.
- Close the lid of the grill, and make sure that the chimney on top of the main grill compartment is open to allow the smoke from the smoker box to circulate throughout the grill compartment and exit through the chimney.
- Maintain a smoke temperature of 225 degrees (found on the grill thermometer) until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees. Add wood and/or charcoal as necessary to keep the heat constant. You will have to do this frequently! Check it every 15-30 minutes. Assume approximately 1.5 hours of smoking per pound of meat.
- “Mop” the pork (baste) with half of the sauce every 30-60 minutes, as needed to keep the surface moist. A thick crust will form despite the mopping, but do not despair! This protects the juicy goodness inside.
- Once the pork reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees, immediately take the pork off the grill. Be very careful doing this as it will be very hot!
- Remove the pork from the aluminum pan and wrap in a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil. Let the pork rest in the foil for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. **Note: Do not omit this step. This allows the meat to rest and seals in all of the delectable juices!
- Carefully unwrap the foil – the meat will still be very hot – and using a fork, “pull” the pork apart into bite-sized shredded pieces. Add the reserved sauce, mixing gently to combine.
- Pile meat generously on burger buns (or any type of sandwich roll), and enjoy!