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Dry Rubbed Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

It’s funny how things come full circle. Just over a year ago, I was starting to discover and connect with the DC foodie scene. My cooking posts were tossed in with the other things I wrote about in DC and if you’d mentioned a “food blog” to me, I would have laughed in your face. And well… here we are!

When I got my first crock pot, my inbox and IM windows were flooded with recipes to try and one that worked out well for me was a pulled meat style barbecue. It was ridiculously simple, put meat in the crock pot with a bottle of your chosen barbecue sauce and set on Low for six hours, shredding it at the seventh hour and simmering in the developed sauce. I shared the technique with a friend and ended up getting a mention as a “foodie friend” in her post on Pulled Pork. After looking back at that recipe, I decided to give it a try with a pork shoulder I recently picked up at the supermarket. Instead of a wet sauce, it uses a dry rub and relies on a bit of water and the pork’s fat to develop a sauce as it slowly cooks.

The dry-rub recipe is a “classic” from Cook’s Illustrated and the method is pure crock-pot with just a little bit of fiddling. You normally can leave things in the crock pot and walk away, but this requires some turning early on and obviously some shredding in the later hours:

  • one 6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/4 cup water (optional, depending on how much sauce you want to form)
  • spice rub
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
      (2 tsp if you like it spicy, I substituted chipotle pepper to trade heat for smokiness)
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
    • 4 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons salt

  1. Mix together the spice rub in a large ziploc/oven bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.
  2. Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.
  3. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours/overnight. The longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be.

Crammed into the crock!

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the bag and place it in the crock pot. Discard any leftover spice that didn’t “cling” to the meat.

  1. Add the 1/4 cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.
  2. Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for 1 hour.
  3. After an hour, turn the pork shoulder over and continue to cook for 1 more hour.
  4. Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another 4 hours.
  5. Check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize. If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs–or bear paws!) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during cooking.
  6. Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your crock pot and the desired flavor/texture.

Shredded and ready to serve

If your pork shoulder is closer to 8 pounds, you may need a longer cooking time and vice versa for smaller cuts of meat. Because of the fattiness of pork, it’s hard to mess this one up. Please note, this recipe makes a lot. It would be great made in advance of a picnic or party, but if you’re making this for just yourself, plan on a lot of leftovers!

To appease the BBQ purists out there, I admit that this isn’t barbecue. It was slow cooked using a steamed/simmering method, not slow-roasted over low heat on a grill/smoker. Some people like the charred bits that barbecue brings and if you feel that’s missing from this recipe, I advise that you remove the pork shoulder at about hour 5 or 6, place it on a baking or roasting pan and set it under the broiler for a few minutes per side to crisp up the edges before returning it to the crock pot for shredding. Just be careful moving the pork shoulder around at this stage as it’s quite ready to fall apart.

Even if it isn’t traditional barbecue, it will do for me in a pinch. Especially if I see that a planned cookout might be rained out, this wouldn’t be bad to have in the fridge as a backup dish. And while a sandwich is certainly the most satisfying serving method for the pork, I could also see it going over couscous or steamed rice, rolled up in a wrap with chopped veggies or even tossed with some cheese into an omelette for brunch. As I said, you’re going to have a lot of it, so if you and your guests aren’t feeling piggy–pun intended–when it’s first served up, plan ahead to freeze some or make some unique dishes with the leftovers. Enjoy!

Knife Skills with Olga Berman (Mango & Tomato)

I don’t often blog about cooking tips or techniques because most of the dishes I make don’t require any special kitchen moves to get the job done. Most of the time, people aren’t standing over your shoulder as you cook, and depending on what you make no one will ever know how adept or clumsy you are. That said, I am now an extremely dangerous man with a chef’s knife.

Knife Skills class, in potentia. Olga Berman of Mango & Tomato taught an amazing knife skills class this weekend for a few local food bloggers. It was hosted by Adventures in Shaw with myself, Thrifty DC Cook, adventures of a florida girl in dc and One Bite At A Time in attendance. We all have varying levels of experience in the kitchen, but I think most of us either ignored our chef’s knives, or weren’t using them to their fullest potential. I personally love my Santoku-bladed knife, but I admit that it isn’t the best tool for every job. I mostly reach for it because it’s a slightly smaller blade than my chef’s knife and the handle suits my grip better than that of my Sabatier set. And sometimes when your kitchen surface area is reduced, you just want the one tool to have at the ready. Still, after this past Saturday’s class, I have newfound respect for the chef’s knife.

This is definitely a “100 level” class, as she went through the basics on how to prepare your knife before each use, the best type of cutting board–we both love Epicurean boards, and how to hold the knife. Of course, I’d been doing it all wrong thereby robbing myself of the naturally rhythmic cutting motion that a chef’s knife affords the wielder. After we had the proper grip and cutting motion, we moved to to food, starting with segmenting an orange. It isn’t a necessary technique for when the slices won’t be featured, but it’s an amazing effect for when they’re center stage. My technique wasn’t quite perfect with this as I couldn’t quite get the roundness I was looking for, but I was able to get a few pretty segments before my orange fell apart. Still, in this class, even your mistakes are yummy.

IMG_0744 From there we moved onto onions, learning two methods for dicing them: making perpendicular cuts into the onion–which is the method you’re mostly likely to see TV cooks use, and cutting with the natural grain of the onion. The latter being a more natural and faster technique, but for either one, you have to have good control of the knife and the food on the cutting surface. Both gave us nicely even diced onion pieces which were swiftly collected in a bowl and whisked away by our host… As it turned out, she was reaping the benefits of the class by planning to use our chopped veggies for dishes this week.

Working with potatoes, we learned basic cutting methods for strips, matchsticks and cubes which can be applied to many foods. We also learned a new way of cutting carrots to give more triangular cuts than the standard round chunks. I’ll be using that next time I roast something as more surface area is a good thing. After applying the same basic cutting method to garlic and learning how to mince parsley–also discussing the chiffonade method for leafy herbs, she ended the class with a bang: peppers. I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting until she showed us the following method:

It may take me a while before I’m able to do that, but it was certainly impressive and none of us had ever thought to avoid the ribs and seeds that way. Over the course of the class, I realized that my biggest problem is timing. When I cook for myself, I often lose track of what needs to be done when and I end up rushing through my prep. This usually leaves me with shoddily chopped veggies–though that doesn’t always matter–and the occasionally-nicked fingernail. With Olga’s instruction and surrounded by friends, I realized that it wasn’t (and isn’t) a race. Taking my time produced superior results, and learning the appropriate techniques still had me finishing quickly. I will also note that there were six of us dicing onions in close proximity, but with the right methods and sharp knives, none of us cried.

The class was a lot of fun, very hands on and Olga is a wonderful teacher. As we were wrapping things up, she made sure we asked questions, and using pen & paper was able to sketch out cutting techniques for other types of food that we didn’t have on-hand. If you and some friends are looking for a fun (and educational) foodie event, get in touch with Olga through her blog and ask about the class.

We all took some great photos of the class and our efforts. There’s a flickr group with fantastic shots by Shaw Girl and the rest of us. I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I was surprised at how much fun it actually was. I’m not really into classroom type situations, but this was non-competitive, non-judgmental and we had a lot of laughs.

If you want to hear more about the class or our other foodie exploits, look us up on twitter: @urbanbohemian, @MangoTomato, @Shaw_Girl, @ThriftyDCCook, @floridagirlindc & @frijolita. (Note: Some of us have protected accounts, and some of us may not follow back right away, if at all. But an @-reply will be seen if you have a specific question.)