Grilled Corn in the Husk
North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork Sandwich
I have taught many a foodie my recipe for pulled pork and my barbecue buddy, Steven Raichlen generously paid homage to my recipe in his tome, The Barbecue Bible.
“My friend and barbecue buddy, Elizabeth Karmel, makes the best pork shoulder I’ve tasted. Elizabeth comes from Greensboro, North Carolina, where she grew up on pulled pork. Her secret is to cook the pork to an internal temperature of 195 F—higher than is recommended in most books. But this is the temperature needed for the pork to separate easily into the fine, moist, tender shreds characteristic of true Carolina barbecue.”
North Carolina Barbecue : the personal story
I fell in love with North Carolina Barbecue but then the unthinkable happened…I moved out of state and a barbecue sandwich was only available when I made the trek home to visit. Being homesick for barbecue called for drastic measures so, one day, about 13 years ago, I decided that I was going to try and make North Carolina Barbecue at home. This doesn’t sound so preposterous today, but when I was growing up and even 10 years ago, no one made barbecue in their backyard—you bought barbecue at a BBQ pit or joint or shack or even restaurant.
For my barbecue experiment, I bought the biggest Boston Butt I could find—and going on memory alone—I generously seasoned it with salt and pepper and put it on my gas grill over indirect heat. Six hours later, I lifted the lid and saw the most beautiful piece of barbecued meat; all the fat had slowly rendered out leaving a deeply caramelized, crisp, crunchy exterior with meltingly tender interior meat. The butt pulled apart “like butter.” Once again, going from memory, I made the vinegar sauce remembering notes of sour, sweet, salt and a bit of heat. I concocted a sauce that was almost identical to the one I make today after perfecting my recipe for 13 years. I couldn’t believe how good that first bite of homemade North Carolina Barbecue was!
Since that fateful afternoon, I have made it my business to learn from the Pitmasters from all over the South and parts of the Midwest. It is interesting that my honed and extensively researched technique is almost exactly the same as my first attempt at barbecue—that’s another nod to how simple it is to make meltingly tender barbecue at home.
The secret to my success is cooking slowly over low heat, or “low and slow” as the saying goes—and that means indirect heat. And the trick that is never written into most (home) cook recipes is to let the meat reach 195 F. This internal temperature is higher than most books recommend, but trust me, I’m right! It is the temperature needed to be able to separate or pull the pork into perfect tender strands, and melt all the tough connective tissue that is found on these traditionally tough cuts of meat. There is no other cooking method that has such a high flavor return for such a low investment of hands-on time. Slow-cooking with indirect heat couldn’t be easier or more hands-off! Basically, you put it on the grill and forget about it for hours until the smoke, indirect heat and the natural fat and flavors inherent in the meat work the magic.
Grilled Corn in the Husk
Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat
6 ears of corn, unshucked
Freshly ground pepper
Lime wedges, optional
Trim the silk ends of the corn with a pair of scissors. Fill the sink or bucket with cold water and soak corn, husk and all for 30 minutes. Shake excess water off of corn and take to grill.
Place corn directly on the cooking grate and grill for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the outside is slightly charred and the inside is teamed and tender. The fresher the corn, the less time it will take to cook. Field-fresh corn will only take between 4-5 minutes to cook and fresh grocery-store corn will take closer to 10 minutes.
Remove from grill, serve in the husk and let everyone shuck their own corn. Serve with butter, salt and pepper and optional lime wedges, if desired.
North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork Sandwich
Barbecue is a noun and in North Carolina it is defined as pulled pork with a distinctive tangy vinegar sauce—no sweet tomato sauce allowed! The pork is either “pulled” into pieces or chopped with a meat clever, dressed with the sauce and served on a cheap white hamburger bun topped with slaw that is simply chopped green cabbage dressed with the same vinegar sauce.
Grilling Method: Indirect/Low Heat
Hickorywood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
1 Pork Butt, Boston Butt or untrimmed end-cut pork shoulder roast, 7 to 9 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce (see below)
North Carolina Coleslaw (see below)
1 package plain white hamburger buns
Prepare either a charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking.
Remove pork from wrapper. Do not trim any excess fat off the meat, this fat will naturally baste the meat and keep it moist during the long cooking time. Brush pork with a thin coating of Olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside on a clean tray until ready to cook.
Before placing the meat on the grill, add soaked wood chips. Place chips directly on white-gray ash briquettes or in the smoking box of your gas grill. For more tips on smoking on a gas grill, see sidebar. If using a charcoal grill, you will need to add charcoal every hour to maintain the heat.
Place pork in the center of the cooking grate fat-side up. Cook slowly for 4 to 5 hours at 325-350°F, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the pork registers 190°F-200°F. The meat should be very tender and falling apart. If there is a bone in the meat, it should come out smooth and clean with no meat clinging to it. (This is the real test for doneness on the barbecue circuit.) Remember, there is no need to turn the meat during the entire cooking time.
Let meat rest for 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Using rubber food-service gloves, pull meat from the skin, bones and fat. Set aside any crispy bits (fat) that has been completely rendered and looks almost burned. Working quickly, shred the chunks of meat with two forks by crossing the forks and “pulling” the meat into small pieces from the roast. Alternately, you can chop the meat with a cleaver if you prefer. Chop the reserved crispy bits and mix into the pulled pork. While the meat is still warm, mix with enough Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce (recipe follows) to moisten and season the meat, about ¾ cup. The recipe can be made in advance up to this point and reheated with about ¼ cup additional sauce in a double boiler.
Serve sandwich style on a white hamburger bun and top with North Carolina Coleslaw (recipe follows). Serve additional sauce on the side, if desired.
Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce:
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
½-1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (the more flakes, the hotter the sauce*)
2 tablespoons white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup ketchup
Mix all ingredients together and let sit at least 10 minutes or almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. (*Note, the longer the sauce sits, the hotter it gets since the heat from the red pepper flakes is brought out by the vinegar. Start with ½ tablespoon red pepper flakes and then add more to taste. )
Lexington (North Carolina Slaw)
1 ½ cups Lexington-style BBQ sauce
1 medium head green cabbage, chopped
Mix sauce and cabbage together until well mixed and not quite wet. Refrigerate. Let sit 2 hours or overnight.