Tar Heel Barbecue
For any of you with roots and/or family on the East Coast, you may know that North Carolina BBQ is one of the best regional meals you can find. Slow cooked pork with a light, spicy, vinegary sauce stands alone on a toasted bun; hopefully accompanied by a good slaw and some hushpuppies. Forget the heavy, sweet, or bottled sauces and the thought that dinner will only take 30 minutes to make. BBQ is as much about the company as it is about the food. If you’re in the Piedmont area try Allen and Son’s off of US 15/501 between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Assuming that you are a novice to the world of barbecuing pork and do not possess a charcoal grill, we will start with the basics. You will need the following:
1. A kettle-type charcoal grill (Weber is good)
2. One fire bucket or small charcoal grill
3. Fifteen pounds of hardwood charcoal (Kingsford is good)
4. One bag of hickory wood chunks
5. One small shovel or scoop
6. One pair of barbecue tongs
7. One pair of heavy rubber gloves
8. One sharp knife
9. One cutting board
10. One or two meat cleavers or chef knives
11. One stock pot (approx. 10-12 quart)
12. One roll of paper towels
13. One kitchen size waste can
14. One cup of salt
15. Charcoal lighter gel
16. A plastic water bottle with cap with holes (for fires)
17. A meat thermometer
18. One and a half quarts of barbecue sauce (recipe of your choice)
Salting the Meat and Preparing the Grill
Have your butcher prepare you an eight-to-nine-pound fresh pork shoulder Boston Butt. Rub the exposed side of the meat (not skin side) with a fair amount of salt. Set aside at room temperature. Place approximately half of a 10-pound bag of charcoal in a charcoal chimney, add dollop of ligher gel and light. Do not use lighter fluid, gas or other substance that might impart flavor to the charcoal. When the charcoal briquettes are lit and covered with light gray ash, transfer to kettle cooker. Arrange seven or eight briquettes in a circle at the center of the grill around the grate in the bottom and equally divide the remaining briquettes into piles positioned on opposing sides of the grill. Place several hickory wood chunks on top of each pile of briquettes. Arranging the briquettes in this fashion is the same principle employed by my grandfather and taught to me as a child. He called it “banking your fire.” It is the same principle of slow cooking meat with the fire around the edges that James Kirby imparted to Eddie Mitchell (Wilson). The wood chunks will soon begin to smoke. Put the cooking rack on the kettle (be sure the rack has been wire brushed, well cleaned and oiled with vegetable oil and dried).
Cooking the Meat
Set the pork butt, skin side up on the center of the grill above the circle of coals. Place the lid on the grill and leave the vent holes top and bottom open. Light another dozen or so briquettes in the charcoal chimney. When the briquettes in the chimney are covered with ash, add five or six briquettes to each pile on either side of the kettle grill. You do not have to replenish the circle of briquettes during the cooking process. Place a couple of hickory wood chunks on each of the two piles of charcoal. This process is repeated every 30 minutes from the time you initially place the meat on the grill. Try to replace the kettle grill lid quickly each time you add additional coals and wood to prevent the cooking fire from cooling. You do not need to check the meat between replenishing the charcoal briquettes and hickory chunks.
After meat has cooked for six-and-a-half to seven hours, turn the meat skin side down on the grill. If meat is cooking too quickly, only add four or five briquettes plus wood chunks to each side of the kettle grill each half hour for the next two-hour cooking period. If meat does not appear to brown, continue with adding six briquettes plus wood chunks every half-hour for the next two-hour cooking period. Cook meat skin side down for two hours. Entire cooking time should be eight to nine hours.
At this point if you are Phil Schenck (pit master at Bridges Barbecue Lodge) and have been cooking 60-90 shoulders per night, six nights a week for 19 years you can simply look at the meat, mash on it with a finger and know if it is cooked to perfection. Some people at this point wearing heavy rubber gloves, grasp the meat with both hands and squeeze it firmly. The meat should “give” if it is sufficiently done. I prefer to use a meat thermometer. The meat should have 170 degree internal temperature. If you do not feel “give” or the meat has not attained an internal temperature of 170 degrees, replace the meat on the grill, cook for another hour and try again. If you have kept your fire at a constant cooking temperature the meat should be done the first time you squeeze it or check with a meat thermometer.
Finishing the Meat
When the meat is done remove from the grill to the cutting board, remove skin, and trim away any fat. The meat is now ready to be pulled from the bone in chunks and chopped. After removing the meat from the bone, use cleaver(s) or sharp chef knives to chop the pork into the consistency you like. (I prefer coarsely chopped). You may wish to finely chop a tiny bit of fat (no gristle) and some crisp pork skin and mix with your chopped meat. Either or both of these additions add great flavor to your offering. Dowse meat lightly with sauce or dip and turn until all meat has some exposure to the sauce or dip. Do not over-sauce at this point. Guests can add additional sauce to suit their particular tastes. If you are not ready to serve at this point, place the meat in a warm stockpot and cover with heavy foil, keeping airtight. Do not set the stockpot on the grill, as the meat will continue to cook and the meat in the bottom of the pot will scorch.
Courtesy of the North Carolina Barbecue Society
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