Smoke-a-Thon 2008: Porc a la Mode du Caroline du Nord

Is everyone tired of pork yet? Not a rhetorical question.

We come now to the final installment of Smoke-a-Thon 2008, semi-classic North Carolina-style pulled pork with my in-demand potato salad as your special bonus with purchase. I’m not sure what I’m more tired of doing: eating pork, editing pictures of pork, looking at leftover pork or writing about pork, so I’m a little relieved that we’ve come to the last chapter.

Note, however, the bacon exception: I am not currently, and do not foresee ever being tired of eating, photographing or writing about bacon. I’m fairly certain that the bacon exception is a categorical imperative for all humankind except for freakish vegans who put tofu in their macaroni and cheese. Not than I am judging.

Okay, I’m not totally tired of looking at this picture yet.

I say “semi-classic North Carolina style” to head off anyone who wants to get on my case for failing to make completely authentic Eastern Carolina barbecue because (1) shut up and (2) I don’t care. Our recipe may not be 100% authentic, but it is 100% fucking tasty. I do welcome your classic recipes in the comments; bonus points to anyone whose recipe comes from an uncle named Jimbo who uses a homemade smoker he made out of a discarded and not entirely clean 55-gallon oil drum.

Our recipe comes from a decidedly less down-home source: Chef Neil Manacle, formerly of Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain in NYC and soon-to-be of his own East Village joint, Apiary. We met Chef Neil last year through Brian’s sister Jodi – sometime commenter, master deep-fryer, size-5 shoe wearer – whose fiancĂ© Adam was then the wine director at Bar Americain. When Adam mentioned to Neil that we were planning to smoke a pork shoulder for Smoke-a-Thon 2007: The Awakening, Neil offered to procure the pork and have us in to the Bar Americain kitchens to make a rub and mop for the meat. Because he is the nicest person in the world. Chef Neil’s chefly ministrations produced the most amazing pulled pork we’d ever had – until then, Brian didn’t even really like pulled pork* – so this year we wisely chose not to mess with a good thing.

*I know what you’re thinking: how could you marry this person? Let me tell you, he has a GREAT ASS.**

**Brian’s mom and dad, I know you’re probably reading this, and I’m sorry about using such crude language to talk about your son. Let it be known that he has many other redeeming qualities, like the ability to build electronic equipment from scratch, an encyclopedic knowledge of vintage video game systems and a good firm handshake, which you have painstakingly instilled in him.*** Seriously, good job with him and his great ass.

***He also loves his grandma.

Smoked pork shoulder, or meteor from deep space?

Okay, now for the nitty gritty: pork.

Just like the Cuban-style pork, this one starts with a flavorful rub that’s allowed to permeate the meat and create a nice crusty layer. The rub’s foundation is made of the basics – salt, pepper, paprika, sugar – along with some dried herbs and some Chef Neilly additions like ancho chile and coriander. This pork also gets swaddled in plastic overnight and then air-dried for two hours just before smoking. After the first few hours of smoking the shoulders get basted every hour with its own mop, which we also used to moisten the trays of pulled pork post-pulling.

In traditional Eastern Carolina style, the mop is vinegar-based (as opposed to other regional U.S. sauces like Kansas City (tomato and molasses based), Memphis (midway between Eastern Carolina and Kansas City), Texas (tomato and chile-based), not to mention dozens of local variants within states). Worcestershire, maple syrup,* some ketchup and some salt, spices and sugar round out and deepen the flavor, but the sauce is far from sweet and the vinegar tang is unmistakable. The mop isn’t meant to be a heavy sauce, but to keep the pork nice and moist during its 10+ hours on the smoker and to add a hint of flavor – the taste of the pork should always come through.

*The secret meat ingredient.

Yes, this picture is recycled. No, I don’t care.

I’m partial to sweeter, gloppier Kansas City-style sauces on my ribs, but when it comes to traditional American pulled pork there is no way to go wrong with Eastern Carolina bbq; I mean that metaphorically, literally AND figuratively. It’s some tasty shit. Moist, smoky, tender, a little tangy, a little sweet, a lot delicious. Depending on your tolerance for vinegar you could, I suppose, dial it down or add a bit more tomato or brown sugar, but I would advise that you learn to embrace the tang.

Cole slaw is traditional on a Carolina pulled pork sammich, but I think cole slaw is gross and it was my party. Suck on that.

East Carolina-Style BBQ Rub
Scale up or down depending on how much pork you’re dealing with.
3 parts paprika
3 parts salt
2 parts ground black pepper
2 parts superfine sugar
2 parts cumin
2 parts ancho chile powder
2 parts dried oregano
2 parts dried thyme
1 part smoked paprika
1 part mustard powder
1 pard ground coriander

Mix it all up in a bowl and apply it to yer meat.

Eastern Carolina-Style Mop
Sadly, we did not keep track of measurements in the madness of dealing with 60.21 pounds of pork. All I can tell you is that you use a crapload of vinegar, half a crapload of ketchup, and a bunch of everything else. Play with it until is tastes good to you. Sorry.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Worcestershire Sauce
Tomato Paste
Brown Sugar
Maple Syrup
Dry Mustard
Ground Ginger

Bonus Potato Salad
I think standard, mayo-y potato salad is gross, too. So I make this one instead, and it’s always devoured.
1 lb. small red potatoes
1 lb. small white creamer potatoes or yukon golds
1 lb. sweet potatoes
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium red onion
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. balsamic-glazed caramelized onions
1 bunch scallions

Pre-heat your oven to 450.

Chop all the potatoes into roughly equal, bite-size chunks. Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until potatoes are tender and have started to brown up a bit, approx. 20-25 minutes.

While, the potatoes are roasting, prep the caramelized onions. Prep the red onion as well: thinly slice the onion into half-moons, melt the butter over medium heat, and cook the onions until they are limp and translucent but NOT browning. Chop the scallions as well.

When the potatoes are done, toss them with all the onions. Adjust seasoning. Can be served hot or at room temperature.

26 thoughts on “Smoke-a-Thon 2008: Porc a la Mode du Caroline du Nord

  1. Love your hilarious testimonial of Brian’s ass/attributes. I had no idea that there were regional versions of barbeque sauces/cooking etc within America itself. That potato salad sounds delicious, love the addition of caramelised onions…:)

  2. If you asked anyone in my family what our religion is, we’d answer ‘Eastern NC Pork BBQ.’ (Mostly because it saves arguing over the whole Southern Baptist vs. Catholic thing.)

    We are serious about our pork.

    But the thought of any ketchup in the sauce sends us running for the hills. We are a strictly NO KETCHUP family. We are Goldsboro people.

    We use Scotts sauce cut with apple cider vinegar. And that’s all. We have duplicated the sauce ourselves, but really, it’s easier to let the Scott family do that part of the work for us. That way we can focus on just the right amount of hickory for the smoking.

    (Am drooling now. Is 9am too early for large quantities of pork??)

  3. Don’t ever stop posting about any part of the noble pig! On with the pulled pork! On with the bacon!

    It is never too early to eat large quantities of pork.

    I sympathize with the non-pork-loving husband thing. My Sir Pickypants does fill the back end of his picky pants quite nicely (the front end’s not so bad either). You just have to pick your battles.

  4. They tell me (lives in Raleigh N.C., not a native) that ketchup in your ‘que is reason to be denied pork-cess. I just nod my head and hold out my plate. Some of them add red-pepper flakes – for color. It makes this western-girl feel a little more at home to get that kick.

  5. courtney, i will gladly be the spokesperson…for small-scale, humane, heritage-breed raisin’ pig farmers.

    guess who, maybe he got the current one in a pawn shop? or the mall lost-and-found finally picked it up.

    susan, it was actually the ribs.

    laura, there are so many more; you could write a book. in fact, people have.

    liz, i must obtain that sauce the next time i’m in north carolina (my sister lives on the outer banks).

    rachel, wait, did i give the impression that he is anti-pork? because he is a big, big proponent of pork. sometimes he spreads bacon fat on toast.

    mittany, yeah, i know. but if it taste good, it tastes good.

  6. Since I’m from California and don’t know nothin’ about bbq… it’s all good, kc, north, south, or eastern carolina, texas… i’m an equal opportunity eater.

  7. Glad you decided to do our side of the map some justice in the porkathon… but i must agree that ketchup in the mop and sauce is verging on sacrilege… ketchup’s for those western folks. *Grin* Still looks pretty damn good, though. Gotta do hushpuppies to go with next time… since it’s clear that with cooking 60+ pounds of piggy goodness, you didn’t have enough to do… ;)

  8. I live in the Northwest, where we have “attitude” towards just about everything except BBQ. I am completely convinced that this is as classic as it gets, for I don’t know any better (ketchup in mop sauce= fine with me). All I know is I want to dive into photo #3 and start gnawing away.

  9. For a yankee makin’ bbq, you did fine. It is allowed (so long as you don’t talk about it) to put *just* *enough* ketchup or tomato paste in yer bbq sauce to turn it red (no more though, really).

    Yes, the primary ingredient is brown apple cider vinegar, and if you put most of the ingredients in your rub in the sauce, add more *HOT* pepper, and leave off the brown sugar, maple syrup, ketchup and paste and ginger, you aren’t too far from the old-fashioned basic recipe. I bet you enjoyed the one you made though, it sounds good.

  10. Oh man, I am so f**king happy to have this recipe – thank you! My favourite place to eat pulled pork is Bodean’s BBQ Smokehouse in Soho, London. But since I live in Sydney, Australia – I can’t really go there for the lunch time special. :)

    Looking forward to giving this a go!

  11. ECM, that is the proper approach to bbq.

    mike, i LOVE hushpuppies. i didn’t want to be stuck inside frying, so i made cornbread instead. i just got a copy of “cowgirl cuisine” (i won it in some serious eats thing), i bet it has a hushpuppy recipe in it.

    maybelle’s, let’s all do it! we’ll make it a blog event. i have no idea how the logistics would work, but that’s never stopped me before!

    brittany, that’s what i like to hear.

    fuzzy, it was good. and i’m a yankee through and through, so i get to plead ignorance on the ketchup thing.

    kim, you only missed the kick-off. the smokin’ lasts all summer long, baby.

    christie, don’t thank me ’til you try it! (but i know you’ll like it) what’s london-style bbq like?

  12. I had trouble concentrating after reading about your husband’s fine form, but the site of all them pig parts kept me focused. I’ve read a lot about bacon over the last few days (what’s the deal with bacon and bloggers this week?) — your post, it must be said, made me laugh far harder than the rest.

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