I’ve been interested in new types of cooking since I read Michael Pollan’s book Cooked last year. The book divides itself into the 4 classical elements as means of transforming raw materials into “cooked” food: Fire (no explanation necessary), Water (cooking in pots), Air (making leavened bread), and Earth (fermentation).
In the Fire section, Pollan follows a few practitioners of the Carolinian whole-hog barbeque tradition, where meats are cooked over low heat overnight. I’ve dabbled with his takes on the last 3 elements, but, up until buying a house this passed fall, I haven’t had the yard space to try ambitious grilling projects. Now the time has come.
Pollan says “if you’re lucky enough” to be able to get it, choose a pork shoulder with some skin on it. Well, luck be a piggy tonight. This was the 7.5 lb pork shoulder I was able to find.
He suggests scoring the skin with a crosshatch shape and rubbing it all over with salt and sugar. I kind of find it unconscionable to leave it at that, so I also put some mustard powder into the mix. He also says to leave it for a few days uncovered in the fridge, which is nasty, but luckily we have a an extra fridge dedicated to beer/stinky shit. shoulder after 3 days
The big secret, as Pollan puts it, to cooking meat over fire is that it’s an easy task wrapped up in all sorts of pomp and importance. He uses gas for constant heat, but I upped the difficulty a bit by using charcoal. In my research, I found the Minion Method, where you light a few coals and place them on top of a pile. As the old ones burn out, the ones below light in succession and, with control of air flow through the grill, you can achieve a steady burn all the way down.
I thought the “minion” in the Minion Method meant that you have the leader coals which activate minions, which in turn active other minion coals, and so on down the line. No, it’s just because the guy who came up with the technique was named Jim Minion.
The goal is to keep it between 200 and 300 Fahrenheit, by nudging the vents open and closed. I did get to almost 350 F at one point near the start, but after that was able to achieve between 200 and 250 for the rest of it all. The Minion Method read called for 10 hot coals each on 2 piles of 35. I knocked that back to 27, but shouldn’t have since it needed all of it.
Having put the meat on at 6am, I checked the internal temp at 2pm. It was 175 F in the core. I think you’re supposed to let it get closer to 195, but I wasn’t going to wait more than 8 hours for this.
The meat handled as expected (i.e. falling apart when pulled). The skin wasn’t as expected. It’s supposed to turn into cracklin, or as you may know it, pork rind. Instead I got…well, leather. Maybe I should have let it go longer, or have used a smaller cut of shoulder.
In the end, I can’t see it as something I’m going to want to repeat unless there’s great demand. I think I prefer the flavors of garlic pulled pork or just smoking a spiral cut ham on the grill, and both of those take a fraction of the effort and time. Or, maybe I just failed at making it as good as it could have been. Still, this was a fun and tasty culinary adventure, and I can say I have truly slow cooked food with relatively primal means.