Pulled pork is pretty much ubiquitous on menus across Australia right now, from the cafe to the fine diner. And while it’s most closely associated with dishes from the American South, it’s been adapted to suit a growing number of cuisines – Mexican, Asian - alongside our ever-growing number of American-inspired restaurants, like Fancy Hank’s in Melbourne or Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen in Sydney.
So what exactly is pulled pork? Essentially pulled pork refers to pork that has been cooked low and slow (low heat, long time) until it’s so tender you don’t even need a knife - it can simply be pulled apart into tender, flaky threads using nothing but a couple of forks. If you want to try your hand at making pulled pork, there are a couple of options, and they depend on your time and taste.
You can go the whole social ritual of smoking the meat over wood chips in a kettle barbecue for the better part of a day, inviting friends over for drinks and snacks, culminating in lifting the lid on a rewarding sweet, smoky pulled pork. Alternatively, there’s the quicker stove-top version, braising the cut in stock for a few hours; what this method lacks in ceremony and rich smoke, it makes up for in time-saving.
We’ve covered both bases here – Neil Hamblen, co-owner of Melbourne’s Meatmother, shares a recipe for an American-style pulled pork bun, from the spice rub on the meat to the barbecue sauce and the crowning apple slaw. It’s lush and smoky and one for those of you who like a Southern barbecue flavour (and are prepared to wait for it).
For those of you who are a little short on time and don’t have a Weber or other kettle barbecue at the ready - the pulled pork served at Big Huey’s Diner (South Melbourne) is faster, and comes with an Asian flavour. Head chef Glenn Waugh shares Iain Hewitson’s recipe for Vietnamese pulled sliders, made with pork cooked on the stove top.
Big Huey’s Vietnamese pulled pork sliders
1 bay leaf
1 onion, roughly chopped
Pinch of sea salt
500g pork shoulder, bone out, skin on (leave the skin and the fat on during the braise for extra flavour, but remove once cooked)
6 soft bread rolls (try bao, if you can find them)
4 dill pickles, sliced into ‘‘coins’’ (Huey’s use housemade pickles)
3 tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise
3 tbsp sweet and spicy Asian chilli sauce
bunch fresh coriander
1. Fill a large pot (big enough to comfortably fit the pork) with water and bring to a slow boil. Add the bay leaf, onion, salt, pepper and pork, making sure the water covers the pork (weight it down with a plate to keep it under the surface, if necessary).
2. Cook on a low, slow boil for 2-3 hours.
3. Check to see if the meat is cooked by picking it up with tongs; if the meat appears soft and falls away easily under your grip, it’s ready.
4. When the pork is cooked, take it out of the pot (don’t discard the stock) and place on a tray. Remove the skin and fat and start shredding the pork dragging two forks into it in opposite directions, pulling the meat apart and into strands. (you can chop a little of the fat back into the pulled pork if you want a richer flavour.)
5. Take as much pulled pork as you want to use on your buns and place it in a small pot with the chilli sauce and a few tablespoons of the pork stock. Cook over a medium-high heat until the liquid has disappeared and the pork has taken on a sticky look. Remove from heat.
6. Toast the buns (or have them fresh if you prefer) and begin to assemble the sliders. On the base half of the buns, squeeze on the Kewpie mayo and top with the dill pickles and kimchi. Then layer on a good amount of the pulled pork mixture and top with sprigs of fresh coriander and the other half of the bun.
Tip: Experiment with your own aromatics when you’re braising the pork, adding flavours such as star anise, dried chillies or Chinese 5-spice, or coming up with a signature blend of your own.
Leftover pulled pork: You can make tacos, adding pineapple, red onion, coriander and lime or, in wintry weather, why not stuff some in a jaffle with some sharp cheddar and / or a spoonful of baked beans?
Chef Neil Hamblen says the most important thing to do when making pulled pork is sourcing quality meat. ‘‘Find a good butcher who can provide a whole small shoulder, preferably free range with bone in (it adds to the flavour). They will be able to remove the skin for you, but make sure they leave a thin layer of fat on top (1/2cm-1cm). This keeps the shoulder moist throughout the cooking process.’’
This recipe makes enough pulled pork for a crowd, so it’s good for a backyard party. It requires time (8-12 hours in barbecue), love and either a home smoker or a kettle barbecue with a lid, such as a Weber. Are you ready to get smokin’?
Meatmother's pulled pork buns
Serves: 10 - 15 people at 200gm a serve once its cooked (if you take out the shoulder blade you should be left with 3kg of meat).
Pork shoulder (about 5kg bone in, skin removed)
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 cups spice rub (see below)
1 cup Carolina BBQ sauce
Spice rub (makes about 1 cup, enough for 5kg pulled pork)
1/3 cup paprika
1/3 cup packed golden brown sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp chilli powder
2 1⁄2 tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp sea salt
2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
* For smaller quantity of spice rub, see bottom of story.
Carolina BBQ sauce (makes 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water or apple juice
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To assemble buns you will need:
dressing (see below)
green slaw (see below)
brioche buns (or good quality hamburger buns with a higher butter content)
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
3 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Tabasco
juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt to taste
For the green slaw
2 granny smith apples, finely julienned
1 small to medium white cabbage, shredded
8 jalapenos finely diced (reduce quantity if you don’t like heat)
1/2 bunch coriander, finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1. Make the Carolina BBQ sauce: Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Set aside (in fridge).
2. Prepare the spice rub by mising all the ingredients together.
3. Coat the pork shoulder with the oil then evenly apply 3/4 cup of spice rub and leave for at least two hours.
4. Set up your smoker for indirect smoking. Place charcoal or woodchips to one under the grill, rather than directly under the meat so rather than burning the meat it creates smoke to surround it. The grill lid is closed to hold in the heat, turning the grill into a sort of outdoor oven. If using a Weber - put lid on and bring temperature up to 120C. Add your wood to the charcoal, around 15-20 chunks - soaked in water so they don’t burn so quickly. Hickory is traditional with pork, but fruit wood such as apple is a good substitute.
5. Place your shoulder fat side up away from the charcoal. Close the lid. Every hour or so, add two small wood chunks to keep smoking the pork shoulder.
6. Grab a beer - you’re going to be here for a while. The most important thing is maintaining an even temperature on your barbecue. Use a meat thermometer throughout to test the internal temperature. When centre of the shoulder hits between 88-90 degrees Celcius (8-12 hours, depending on size of shoulder) it’s ready to come off the smoker. It should have a thick dark crust.
7. Wrap the shoulder in foil and let rest for at least half an hour.
8. Using a couple of forks, pull the shoulder - it should be falling apart at this point. Mix the pulled pork with the remaining 1/4 cup spice rub, 1 cup Carolina BBQ sauce and season to taste.
9. Assemble buns. Slice buns in half lengthways and toast on your barbecue grill. Generously fill with pulled pork and the green slaw. Top with cucumber pickles and a squirt of the remaining Carolina BBQ sauce. Get stuck in!
Neil Hamblen's drink suggestion: Lager or IPA.
* For a smaller quantity of spice rub, try this:
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon packed golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper