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Monday, February 2, 2015

Easy 3-Ingredient Hawaiin Pulled Pork

Pulled pork, anyone?

People always say to us, "why's your meat so tasty?" Well, because science.

As much as we'd like to believe cooking is an art, the truth is it's like 97% science and 3% creativity.

(If you wanna skip the science, scroll down to the bottom to get the recipe.)

There's essentially 4 aspects to cooking meat and we're going to cover them as it relates to the tougher (but more delicious) cuts of meat:
  • Breaking down the collagen
  • Bringing it to a temp that kills bacteria
  • Adding flavor
  • Keeping the meat moist (unless you're making jerky)
Collagen and connective tissue: While meat is generally food safe at a very low temperature, collagen and connective tissue don't begin to break down until a much higher temperature. This is why lean meats with little collagen and connective tissue (filet mignon, for example) are best cooked rare or medium rare. When cooked well done, they tend to be tough. The inverse is true for a chuck roast due to it's collagen and connective tissue. If it's rare, you won't be able to chew through it, but if it's cooked to 190F, it should fall apart. Because between 190F and 205F is the magic temperature range at which the connective tissue falls apart.

Temp: This one is pretty much a no brainer. It has to be brought up to a temp that kills the bacteria in the meat. In the case of a pork shoulder roast which has a lot of collagen, you'd want to push it way past that... all the way to 190F. (Note that most of the bacteria on meat is found on the surface and that the danger zone for meat is is between 40F and 140F.)

Flavor: While brining or marinading meat makes a delicious sauce, other than salt very little of the spice/herb mixture makes it into the meat. This is especially true with pork (and beef) which both have very stubborn tissue strands. Beef bourguignon, for example, is all about that sauce. If you taste the actual beef by itself, you would most likely be unable to tell the difference in flavor from a pot roast made with Lipton's soup mix.) So, if you're not doing all that for the sauce, why the brine and marinade fuss and coming up with all the liquids to immerse the roast in?

Moisture: Nobody likes it dry. So most people try to add some sort of liquid to the pot. The problem with this is that the liquid will produce steam which will cause the cooking temperature to far exceed the actual temperature in the oven. For example, if you're cooking a roast at 350F with liquid in it, as soon as the liquid hits 212F will boil and evaporate causing lots of steam. This will increase the heat considerably which leaves you very little control over the temperature of the meat. It will also cause the meat to cook too fast leaving little time to break down the connective tissue. Additionally, the meat will not be evenly cooked as the outside will be cooked much faster than the inside. If you're cooking a more tender cut of meat, this won't usually be a problem because it's being cooked quickly. But we're talking the tougher cuts here. (Using a pressure cooker is an exception to the rule but we'll cover that in a different post.)

So, if liquid doesn't add flavor or moisture to the meat, why add it? Well, if you want to make gravy or sauce, it's great. But, the key to cooking with liquid is to keep your oven temp below 212F so that the liquid produces very little steam. And, don't add too much liquid or you'll be boiling your meat and it'll taste like the food monstrosities we expect from the UK.

Do you need moisture? No, not if your pot is tightly covered so it doesn't dry out. Can you add it? Sure. But, when you "dry-cook" meat, the flavor intensifies in a way that it will never do if it's sitting in too much liquid so keep it to a minimum.

Without further ado, we bring you top secret recipe for the most amazing pulled pork you'll ever eat. (No Hawaiians or BBQ experts were harmed during the making of this recipe):

  • Pork butt roast
  • Regular table salt (1 tsp per pound of roast)
  • Liquid smoke (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Rub roast in the salt (and Liquid Smoke, if using).
  3. Place in a pot, fat side up, and put in the oven for 10 minutes at 400F. This will quickly kill off any bacteria on the surface of the meat.*
  4. Cover the pot with foil and a tightly fitting lid and reduce oven to 190F.*
  5. Leave it alone for 18 hours.
  6. When you remove it from the oven, you'll notice that the meat is between190F and 200F.
    190F - 205F is the magic zone!
    Falling apart and LOOK at the moisture! LOOK AT IT!
  7. Let cool then shred (removing fat) and use as needed. I added homemade bbq sauce to half of it and used the other half to make delicious tamales!
    From left to right: fat, natural juice and shredded meat
You'll be surprised how much delicious juice is in the bottom of the pot when you take it out.  You can use this to make a gravy or spoon it on the side. It will be a bit salty so use liberally.

* You can also do this in a crock pot, but 190F in the oven with a tightly covered pot is the same as a crock pot on low. If you are going to do this in a crock pot, you'd need to use a very large one so the meat didn't sit in too much juice and you'd also want to completely pre-heat it to high before adding the meat and turning it to low.

Pull pork, anyone?

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