If you’ve been watching the latest season of Project Fire on American Public Television—and I hope you have—you probably weren’t surprised to see intercontinental barbecue expert Steven Raichlen prepare cochinita pibil, Yucatan-style pulled pork, in Episode 8, which aired last weekend.
Cochinita pibil is an ancient Mayan preparation of pork shoulder. Slathered with spices and pit-roasted in banana leaves, this succulent, flavorful version of pulled pork was one of many treasures the Spanish discovered when they arrived on the Yucatan peninsula in 1502.
But it is only one of many iterations of pork shoulder, sometimes called pork butt after the barrels it was stored in by seafarers. In North America, proper pulled pork is cooked low and slow, preferably over a wood or lump charcoal fire. It is the most forgiving of meats—perfect for anyone who is just developing their barbecue skills. It comes out moist and juicy no matter how you cook it, nearly immune to newbie mistakes or miscalculations. Unlike brisket, which can be as ropy as electrical cable if mishandled.
It is also relatively inexpensive (sometimes less than $2 a pound), meaning it’s budget-friendly food for feeding a crowd. Figure on 4 to 6 ounces of finished weight per adult appetite. (It will lose up to half of its starting weight when cooked.) Substantial side dishes, such as Steven’s Best Barbecued Beans on the Planet, will stretch the meat.
As summer ends and America heads back to school, here’s your first important barbecue lesson of the fall: how to barbecue a pork shoulder. With tailgating season upon us, it comes not a moment too soon. For even more information and tips, check out our blog entitled, “Perform a Smoky Miracle: Pulled Pork Perfection.”
Below are five of our favorite pulled pork recipes. Personally, I’ve hardly ever eaten a pork shoulder I haven’t loved, from Carolina-style pulled pork to Steven’s cochinita pibil. With the exception of one cooked (not by me) in a Crock-Pot. Promise me you’re not one of “those people.”
5 Best Pulled Pork Recipes for the Grill
Pork shoulder cooked smoky as a fireplace, succulent as a biscuit dipped in bacon fat, and tender enough to pull apart with your fingers — such is North Carolina barbecue.
This is it—the ultimate pork shoulder. Steven’s inspiration is no less than the pulled pork sandwich at Lexington Barbecue (formerly the Honey Monk) in Lexington, North Carolina.