An Epic Meal: Slow Roasted Pulled Pork

Last Saturday, we had perhaps my best home-cooked meal of 2009 thus far…a meal that was epic in its preparation, requiring 9 hours in the oven, but well worth heating up the kitchen all day. The meal was a low and slow-roasted pork shoulder, lovingly coated in BBQ spices, shredded and served on (my first!) homeade corn tortillas, with a red cabbage coleslaw, homeade salsa and some of our favorite “green bag” tortilla chips. It was an awesome meal.

When I began to ponder how I wanted to prepare the pork shoulder that was in the freezer, I had really planned to do a Rick Bayless chile braised shoulder, but then I had the fortune of catching a re-run of a Bobby Flay Pulled-Pork Throwdown on the Food Network. After 30 minutes of watching pro pitmasters, I wanted some BBQ of my own! So, the plan changed, and I coated the meat in the spice rub Friday night, to let it rest in the fridge and soak up those flavors overnight.

I was up early Saturday morning to get the roast in the oven for the 9 hours of roasting. By 11am, the house smelled like a good smokehouse, and it was probably a good thing that we spent most of the afternoon outside on our bikes, so I didn’t have to salivate all afternoon smelling the wonderful BBQ roasting in the oven.

The finished pork shoulder was deep black and very crusty, but when I took a fork to it, it was pink and perfectly tender and moist inside. When shredded, with the crust of the meat folded in, it was hard to stop snitching pieces of pork while we waited for our dinner guests to arrive.

At the last minute, I whipped up a fresh batch of my homeade BBQ sauce to drizzle over the tacos, which was a perfect match. I also made my very first homeade tortillas for the meal, and with encouragement from Emily, as well as our friends who joined us for the meal, I knocked out a successful batch of tortillas, and they were far better even than the excellent locally made tortillas we usually buy. Homeade tortillas are a thing of beauty – bursting with fresh roasty corn flavor and chewier texture, which holds up nicely in a taco. If you’re looking for an easy, slow cookin’ kind of meal, give this one a try!

Slow Roasted Pulled Pork
Adapted from
My Husband Cooks
Serves 8

3.5 lbs. pork shoulder (bone in)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 T smoked paprika

Recipe for my BBQ sauce

  1. To make the rub, thoroughly mix together the brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne.
  2. Pat dry the pork shoulder and then liberally apply the rub to all sides. Place in a leak-proof container. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 24 hours, or as little as overnight. It will give up a cup or more of liquid so make sure your container is big enough to prevent spillage.
  3. Remove the shoulder from refrigerator, brush off any excess or caked on rub. Move to a clean roasting pan with the fat side up.
  4. Heat the oven to 275F. Place in the oven and let roast for 7 hours. Yes, I’m serious about it taking that long. After about 3 hours, there will be enough fat rendered to allow you to baste the shoulder every 1 to 2 hours. With a large spoon simply pour the rendered fat over the shoulder. (The roast will be fully cooked after about 3.5 hours, so if you want to cut the cooking short, you can take it out, it will be completely delicious, just not quite to fall-apart pulled pork stage. We make it both ways, depending on how much time we have.)
  5. You will know it’s ready because the outside of the shoulder is extremely dark, nearly burned looking. The pork should pull easily from the bone and the fat/skin on the top should be nearly crispy.
  6. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 30 min. Using a pair of forks or very clean hands pull the pork away from the bone. This should be very easy to do.
  7. Serve with homeade tortillas and topped with homeade BBQ sauce.

Achiote Braised Pork Shoulder

In our meat farm share this month, we received many roasts – pork, beef and lamb…I don’t cook a lot of roasts, so I hit the cookbooks for some inspiration. I knew I wanted to cook the pork shoulder this weekend, so Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday was the winning cookbook – the man knows how to cook pork. I don’t often follow recipes from cookbooks – I love reading them, but mostly use recipes as a jumping-off point to make my own riff on a given recipe. Mexican Everyday is the rare exception where I make most of the recipes as written. In this book, Rick’s recipes are just how I like to cook – rustic, simple dishes.

We’re lucky enough to live very close to Rogers Park Fruit Market, which carries an excellent selection of fresh Mexican ingredients, along with fresh corn tortillas made locally. The achiote spice is pretty easy to find in grocery stores around the city, I use the El Yucateco brand. Banana leaves are found in the frozen food case at ethnic markets, and re-freeze well.

This dish is really easy to make, it just takes a little planning ahead to put everything into the pot, and then let it gently braise in the oven for 3 hours. The finished roast is meltingly tender, and the tart-spicy sauce poured over the pulled meat makes for some of the best tacos you’ve ever eaten. Be sure to make up a batch of the pickled onions to go with the pork, too – they add a bright note to any taco. And be sure to make enough pork for leftovers – the meat is even more flavorful the next day.

Pork Marinade:
2 oz Achiote Paste
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced

Mix all ingredients above in a bowl, mashing the paste to make a smooth, thick marinade. Set Aside.
1 2-3 lb pork shoulder, bone in
1 white onion, sliced
2, 2-foot long sections of banana leaf
1/2 cup water

Pickled onions:
1 red onion, sliced very thin
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a 6-8 quart dutch oven with the two banana leaves – one lengthwise, one crosswise. Set the pork roast inside the banana leaves, and pour the marinade over the pork. Scatter the sliced white onion over the roast, then pour 1/2 cup water around the roast. Cover the roast with the banana leaves, place the cover on the pot, and roast for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, until meat is fully tender.
  1. While the pork is roasting, slice the red onion, toss it in a bowl with the lime juice and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and set aside, stirring every so often while the pork roasts.
  2. After 3 hours, Remove the pork from the oven, and gently unwrap the banana leaves. Remove the pork and set on a cutting board. Scoop out the onions and place them in a serving bowl. Remove the banana leaves from the pot and throw away.
  3. Pour the juices from the pot into a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil to reduce the sauce slightly. When the sauce is boiling, any fat should pool around the edges – spoon off the fat and discard. After about five minutes reducing, turn off heat.
  4. With a serving bowl ready, use tongs and a serving fork to quickly pull the meat off the bone and shred, discarding any fat you find along the way. Place pulled pork in serving dish, and spoon some of the sauce over the meat.

Serve with fresh, warm corn tortillas, pickled onions, and either rice or beans.