Thursday, October 14, 2010

Incredibly Good, Fallin' Apart Smoked Pork Roast

On a recent trip to Black Rock Desert for an annual camp-out with friends, I decided to try a recipe I'd never tried before.  It's been passed around on the BBQ Brethren forums as a "great pork shoulder/butt recipe", and I have to agree.  It's a smoked pork roast recipe by Chris Lilly, a champion competition BBQ cook and the corporate pitmaster for Kingsford Charcoal.  I've tried it once out in the desert and once at home, and it makes some INCREDIBLE pulled pork sandwiches.

Unlike some recipes out there, this one takes almost no preparation time.  No marinating, no letting it sit with the rub on it, etc., and it turns out great.  You simply mix up a dry rub, mix up an injection marinade, inject and rub the meat, and toss it on the BBQ.  Total cooking time is about 10-12 hours, but it's a labor of love!  Be sure to wake up at 5 am if you're going to eat this for dinner!

Here, I go through how to cook the roast on a Weber grill.  The second time I cooked it, I used my 55-gallon "Ugly Drum Smoker" (UDS) and it turned out even better!

Here's the recipe.  This is for a 16 pound whole pork shoulder, so you may want to cut it in half for a ~ 6 lb. roast you'd find at the local supermarket.

Anything from a single 4-pound pork shoulder roast to a whole 16-lb pork shoulder.

Rub ingredients:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/3 cup garlic salt
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper

Injection marinade:
3/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup iodized table salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire

Sauce: (this is my contribution)
3 parts Sweet Baby Ray's Original BBQ Sauce
2 parts apple cider vinegar
a dash of cayenne if you want to heat it up a bit

Grill or smoker capable of cooking at 225F for up to 12 hours
Digital thermometer with a wired remote probe for the meat
Accurate thermometer on the grill/smoker (or second probe on your digital meat thermometer)
Heavy set of tongs (you don't want to pierce the meat while it's cooking!
Foil or metal pan bigger than the roast(s) you're cooking (it's a drip pan)
Kingsford Competition charcoal
Applewood chunks for smoke flavor

Let's get this meat ready to cook.
Using a marinade injection syringe, inject the marinade evenly into the roast.  I recommend working out the ratio of the weight of your roast vs. the 16-lb roast that this recipe calls for, and apply that factor to the amount of injection marinade you use.  You could easily over-salt the meat by using too much marinade.

Speaking of salt, here's something I already knew, but hadn't fully thought through:  Different types of salt have different densities, i.e. a cup of a given salt weighs different than a cup of another.  Most recipes in the USA measure salt by volume, and it's safe to assume that the recipe is talking about table salt if it just says "salt".  If you use other kinds of salt like Morton's Kosher, like I do, you have to correct for this.  If we could just measure stuff in grams we'd be much better off, since all salt is the same if measured by weight, but that's not happening anytime soon.  Anyway, here's a comparison of different salts:

Type of Salt Grams per Cup Relative Density If recipe calls for "salt" or "table salt", multiply by…
Morton's Kosher 250 0.83 1.2
Diamond Crystal Kosher 135 0.45 2.2
Table Salt 300 1.00 1.0
Coarse Sea Salt 210 0.70 1.4
Malden Sea Salt 120 0.40 2.5

So, based on this, I used a heaping 1/4 cup of Morton's Kosher, or I could've measured out 75g on my digital scale.

Anyway, back to the pork!

After injecting the marinade, coat the roast evenly and generously with the rub.  Put as much on there as will stick to the meat.  Once that's done, it's ready to cook!

Let's burn some meat.
To cook the pork, if you don't already have and know how to use a smoker, I recommend using a Weber 22.5" grill available at Home Depot for $90.  If you spend $15 on a set of Weber charcoal baskets for indirect cooking and another $15 for a Weber cooking grate that allows you to access those baskets, you'll be set.  I'm going to just tell you how to do it on a Weber, and those who know how to use a smoker will do just fine.

Shown here is the setup.  Using a Weber charcoal starter chimney, start up about half a chimney full of coals.  Dump those coals into a single charcoal holder on one side of the grill... we'll only use one basket for this cook.  Set the foil drip pan on the other side of the grill, as shown above.  Set the roast far away from ghe coals, but at least a few inches from hitting the lid on the far side, and make sure it's above the drip pan.  My roast is shown here in the middle of the grill, because I had a second basket in the grill and didn't end up using it.  Insert a thermometer probe into the very center of the meat in order to monitor the coldest point in the roast.  For grill temperature, I just stuck a second probe through the corner of the roast so the probe tip is suspended in the air, using the roast as a probe holder.  And just for good measure, I stuck a dial-type thermometer in the roast, but it's not needed.  Toss a chunk or two of applewood on the coals as shown, and shut the lid.

Adjust the dampers so the bottom ones are only open about 1/8" at the widest point, and the top ones are open to about 3/16" at the widest point.  Let it sit for at least 20 minutes and check the temperature. We're shooting for anything between 225 and 250, preferably closer to 225.  Adjust the dampers as necessary, but let the grill settle for about 20 minutes between adjustments or you'll overshoot/undershoot the point you're looking for.  If the smoke stops coming out, open the lid and toss in a chunk of apple.  You'll need to add coals every 2 hours or so... just pop the lid off, grab the charcoal holder with tongs and rattle some of the ashes out of it, toss unlit coals into the charcoal holder until it's full to level with the top of the basket, and put the lid back on.  Once it's cruising, the damper settings will regulate the temperature, almost regardless of the amount of charcoal in the holder.

Cook the roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 165.  At that point, take the roast out and close the lid quickly so the temp doesn't spike.  Wrap the roast with HEAVY DUTY foil.  Don't skimp on the heavy duty part.  Use a piece of foil on the bottom and on the top, rolling the edges together so the seam between the two pieces is tight and up high on the roast.  This thing will make a bunch of juice... make sure the seam is up high!  After it's wrapped up, stick the thermometer probe back into the roast and put it back in the grill.  Let it cook until it's at 200 degrees.  (Note: If you'd like to slice it instead of pull it apart, I've heard that you should cook it to 190 and it won't be so "fall-apart tender" and will hold together in slices.)  At that point, take it out of the grill and transfer it to a small ice chest (with no ice in it, obviously) and let it sit there until the internal temp reaches 165.  This is a step referred to as "coolering" by BBQ cooks.

If you're careful with the roast, you won't have punctured the heavy duty foil by this point in time.  Unroll one end of the foil, use a towel to pick up the foil-wrapped roast, and dump the juice into a bowl.  I got about 2 cups of juice out of a 6-cup roast, and only about the top 1/4" of it was fat!  Save this juice.

Using a good set of tongs and/or a fork, pull the meat apart.  What you see below is an attempt to do this in the desert without a decent set of tongs or sufficient table space... ideally, you'd take a chunk of meat, transfer it to another plate, remove any big chunks of fat, tear it to pieces, and transfer the good stuff into a bowl for serving.  After you've pulled the pork into pieces, taste it, taste the juice that is in the bowl, and pour juice over it to taste.  You'll have a bunch of juice left over, don't worry.

Put this pork on a good quality roll with a vinegary BBQ sauce like the one I've suggested above, toss on some pickles, and you're in hog heaven.  Enjoy!!!


  1. Have you really not cooked anything all summer? You're just going to leave me hanging here aren't you? :]

  2. LOL... I actually haven't done anything noteworthy this summer. The weather was bad well into June, so I got a slow start. I did do this pork roast again, and it was good, again... ;-)