So what if I’m a Yankee attempting some down-home Southern cooking? These babies are delicious. And they’re also a labor of love. Each step isn’t particularly hard, but it does take time. I made the BBQ sauce myself – about an hour of cooking time. I made a spice rub for the pork and let it penetrate the meat in the fridge overnight. I roasted that pork butt in the oven for hours. And honestly, I didn’t anticipate how long it took to pull apart a hunk of meat with two forks. I had to take a break and let my man do the rest of the work. But it all worked out — that meat was so tender I barely needed to chew.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of dilly-dallying by a grill for hours on end so I had to bake this in the oven. Next time, I’ll see if I can get some friends to come out on a lazy Sunday afternoon and drink beers by the grill while a pork butt smokes in there to be ready in time for dinner.
And can we take a step to the side and speculate why it’s called pork butt? Because it comes from the shoulder part of the pig. The actual butt (as in, hindquarters) of a pig is a ham. Why do they call the shoulder a butt? It’s also sometimes known as Boston butt. It’s not like pigs come from Massachusetts. I just don’t get it.
And we’re back from the tangent. Let me tell you a couple of things that I learned while creating these succulent sliders.
1. You need a spice rub for your pork and it should contain some brown sugar. You should rub the meat with a thin coat of oil and then cover with the spice rub and let it hang out in the fridge overnight. This is because some spices are oil soluble so their flavor really shines when they’re sprinkled onto a layer of oil and it also helps them stick. The combo with brown sugar forms a gorgeous and flavorful crust all over the pork during cooking.
2. The pork needs to cook “low n slow” – at a low temperature for a really long time. This helps dissolve the fat and connective tissues to help the meat become fork tender. You should let it come to room temp before cooking and let it rest for at least 15 minutes after (covered in foil to keep it warm). These steps help the meat to keep its juices and stay moist and wonderful.
3. Pork and mustard are made for each other. These sliders go best with a Carolina-style sauce, which is characterized by lots of mustard and no tomatoes whatsoever. Wikipedia tells me there are at least 3 other main categories of BBQ (Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas. And each one has variations within it. Plus, “other regions”). It’s pretty confusing, but I’m sticking to my guns here. Swine + mustard = heaven. If you make these, you have to serve them with a mustard-based sauce. There are some delicious store-bought sauces out there, but I’m recommending the homemade one below. It’s tangy, a little sweet, with a background hint of spicy heat and that signature zing! of mustard in your sinuses.
4. I will never be a Southern BBQ master. This stuff just takes up too much of my day. I loved it, but I don’t know if I have the patience for slow-cooked pork any more often than once in a blue moon. I’m so glad I did it, though! I have a new appreciation for Southern chefs!
I am breaking this down into 3 recipes to make it easier. The first is for the sauce, the second is for the pork, and the third is for the sliders. I made the sauce and spice rub on day 1 and rubbed it on the pork. I refrigerated it overnight and cooked the pork/assembled the sliders on day 2. This is definitely at least a 2 day project. The spice rub can be made ahead. It’s all dry so it shouldn’t go bad if you keep it in a plastic baggies. You can make the BBQ sauce ahead and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
adapted from Foodie with Family
South Carolina-Style BBQ Sauce
makes about 1 cup of sauce
1/2 cup (4 oz) yellow mustard
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) brown sugar
3/8 cup (3 oz) cider vinegar
1/8 cup (1 oz) water plus more as needed to thin out sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Chipotle powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon butter
1. Simmer everything except Worcestershire and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, about 30 minutes. Whisk every 5 minutes or so. Add 1/4 cup water at a time if sauce becomes too thick. It should be just thick enough to drip out of a spoon and not so thick that it just stays in the spoon when you turn it upside down.
2. Whisk in Worcestershire and butter. Simmer another 5 minutes over low heat.
3. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Put into an airtight container and store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
adapted from the Zen of Barbecue
Slow-cooked Pulled Pork with Spice Rub
makes about 30-50 sliders
1 3-5 lb. pork butt/Boston butt/pork shoulder (they’re all the same thing)
3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon crushed rosemary (I used fresh chopped really fine, almost into a powder)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1. Sift all rub ingredients together into a small bowl.
2. Pat pork dry with paper towels, then rub oil all over the surface. Sprinkle with enough rub to cover pork all over and form a small layer on the pork.
3. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. The next day, let sit at room temp for an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 275°F. Bake fat-side-up in a roasting pan just large enough to accommodate pork (I used a 9×13″) for 4-7 hours. Don’t even open the oven door for the first 3 hours – you don’t want to ruin the moist heat environment in your oven.
5. Check meat internal temperature – it should read 190°F in the thickest part of the meat. Check doneness with a fork. Insert into side and turn. If fork turns easily, the meat is done. If it doesn’t, put back in the oven for 30 minute intervals until meat is tender.
6. Set aside and tent with foil for 15 minutes. Then, pull meat apart using two forks. Make sure to discard any large pieces of fat.
Pulled Pork Sliders
20 dinner rolls
Shredded pulled pork
BBQ sauce to taste
Caramelized onions (optional)
1. Assemble sliders.