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Kentucky Pulled-Pork Barbecue

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    Posted: 24 May 2015 at 09:35
Kentucky Pulled Pork Barbecue

Following is a blow-by-blow account of a great barbecue that we prepared on the day of the Kentucky Derby:

I started with Brook's intriguing account of how it is historically done down there:

Originally posted by Brook Brook wrote:

The secret of Kentucky Cue is simplicity. A mopping sauce is made with equal parts of Worcestershire and apple cider vinegar. This is both injected into the pork butt and used as a mopping sauce as the meat cooks low and slow. 

The final saucing also is light and simple. Mix two parts Worcestershire to one part apple cider vinegar. To that add some tomato paste, brown sugar, allspice, and paprika. That’s all she wrote. This sauce is brushed onto the meat the last part of cooking.

I did not inject the pork, but otherwise did my best to stay true to the theme. When I posted this plan on another forum, one member expressed a concern about the level of acidity involved, but I figured I would give it a try and see how it works. Brook has never steered me wrong, so I took a leap of faith. I'm reasonably sure that this is a fairly old recipe, and they tend to be both simple - with few ingredients - and also wildly unorthodox by today's standards. Yet old recipes like these led to the barbecue that made the South famous, something that we still try to emulate today, and I wanted to give this method an honest try. I am glad that I did! 

Tasting the mop, (which is simply 50/50 Worcestershire and apple cider vinegar), I was very encouraged; it was clear that this barbecue was definitely going to be unique, in a good way. Other than an "assertive" pucker factor (to be addressed below), it did have some really good flavour. There is a little sweetness in both the Worcestershire and the apple cider vinegar - not nearly enough to counter the acid at this point, but I guessed that the thin-ness of the mop (which means that it would be on the meat in nice thin layers) along with the other flavours attending the party would balance things out well. Also, I judged that the fat from the pork would serve pretty well in cutting the acidity. The Worcestershire, of course, also had a great zestiness (zestyness?) and savory quality, which created amazing layers of complexity from such a simple combination; in other words, these old-timers knew what they were doing!

With this, I was pretty encouraged. The rub I used was a go-to favourite that I love for pork: Mad Hunky General Purpose Rub:

I brushed on a light slather of plain, old yellow mustard, then dusted the pork shoulder roast (butt) with a liberal coating of Mad Hunky Rub. That's it - nothing fancy - and that's all it needs, where prep work is concerned. Since this was going to be the maiden voyage of of my MES 30 electric barbecue pit, I kept it easy. 

I put the pork butt (8-ish pounds) on at 830 that morning, and settled in for the long haul. I also improvised a chimney for the MES in an effort to help with draw and air-flow. I am not sure if this is necessary or if it helps much, but it certainly didn't hurt.

I started with a temperature of 225, just because, and held this temperature for about an hour. I then bumped it up to 240 for another hour, and finally up to 250, with the plan to leave it there through the remainder of the cook. About 90 minutes in, I started spritzing with the Kentucky mop.

I filled the water pan with water before putting the meat on, and began to suspect early on that it (the water pan) is simply not necessary. The MES seems to retain more than enough moisture to protect the meat, so I will probably not use the water pan in the future; I will, however, leave it in place as a heat shield. I did use it for the duration of this cook, for learning purposes, and by the time I was finished, I judged that it just doesn't seem necessary, at this time. If it turns out any time that I need to add water to the water pan, then I will.

Also, I noticed right away that there is going to be little or no smoke ring when using the MES. Intellectually, I was expecting this, since the heat source is electric, rather than from wood, but expecting something and seeing it are sometimes two different things. As someone who does indeed enjoy the look and the flavour that comes with a good smoke ring in barbecue, I might experiment in future cooks with a (very) light dusting of Tender Quick before slathering with mustard and applying the rub; this will achieve the same result chemically, and should return the colour and flavour that is expected with wood-smoked barbecue.

I put a total of about 5.5 hours of cherry smoke on the pork, then settled back and simply let it cook. I did raise the temperature up to 260 for the remainder of the cook, since I got a late start.

Next, i turned my attention to the sauce. I thought I had another bottle of Worcestershire sauce in the house, but I didn't. Because of this, I ended up using my 50/50 mix of Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar (used in the mop), rather than the 67/33 ratio that the sauce description calls for. But all in all, I think that this was no handicap. 

On that base, here is my interpretation of the sauce described in Brook's outline above:

1 cup Apple cider vinegar
1 cup Worcestershire sauce*
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 six-ounce cans of tomato paste**
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons allspice

* I used the low-sodium variety.
** 1 six-ounce can would probably have been enough, but it's no big deal.

NOTE - the correct proportion of Worcestershire sauce to apple cider vinegar should be 2:1, but I was forced by circumstances to improvise this time. The next time I make this, I will use the correct proportions.

After simmering this sauce a while, I sampled it, and it was indeed good! When preparing the sauce, I was a little concerned about the "pucker factor" and the spiciness of the Worcestershire (The Beautiful Mrs. Tas doesn't do spicy-hot), but both of these fears were unfounded, as the brown sugar and tomato paste brought everything to a nice, mellow level. It will still be tart, to be sure - and has a nice zip from the Worcestershire, paprika and allspice - but these characteristics are all a part of a cohesive sauce, rather than the forefront of a mixture. It seems that the sauce achieves a very good balance, and I suspected that when it hit the smoky pork, it would be just about wonderful.

By the time the early evening rolled around, The family's hunger had finally grown to "torches and pitchforks" proportions; the internal temperature was somewhere around 175, which is 10 or 15 degrees less than a minimum for pulled pork, so I simply removed the butt from the heat, then rested and sliced it.

The pork was very good as far as flavour was concerned, but the lack of smoke ring did result in a noticeably different flavour; not bad, just different. I definitely prefer pulled pork rather than sliced, as the fat and connective tissues are not fully rendered at these lower temperatures; but it is good, for sure, and I would happily eat this any day of the week.

The mop and sauce resulted in great flavours. The sauce was a bit on the thick side, due to my extra can of tomato paste, but it was very good. What I found surprising was how wonderfully the allspice came through - this really added a nice dimension to the sauce, and in combination with the Worcestershire sauce made it worth the entire experiment, right there. The Beautiful Mrs. Tas was not so happy with it, but she has never been a fan of vinegar-based sauces, so this was no surprise. I like vinegar-based sauces, and for me, this was very much a good compliment for pork.

All-in-all, a very good cook, and I think that anyone who tries this (and who likes vinegar-based sauces) will very much enjoy it.

Note: After I made the sauce, Brook sent an email that outlined the recipe in more detail; my "interpretation" of the basic instructions in the opening lines was pretty close, but there were some differences. Here is his recipe:

Quote Kentucky Barbecue Sauce

1 cup Worcestershire
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup (6 oz can) tomato paste
1 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4-5 tbls brown sugar

This Kentucky method is definitely worth a try, in my opinion - and deserves a shot by anyone who wants to get in touch with some old-time goodness. One can't go wrong with it!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 May 2015 at 11:58
I'm so glad it worked out well for you, Ron.

Kentucky Cue is the least well known of the regional approaches, and deserves wider exposure. Even in central Kentucky it is hardly recognized, and the bbq joints all go with either Memphis or St. Louis style.

A note on your proportions: Within every regional style of barbecue there are further diferentiations, as each cook makes it his or her own. So, my recipe and yours are merely variations on the theme, rather than mine being right and yours not.

The thing to remember is that this is a Worcester-based saucing, along with a couple of unusual (for cue) spices. The exact proportions, as always, are a matter of personal taste. I do agree, though, that too much tomato paste isn't right for this sauce, and would cut back to the one can.

Interpretations aside, if you really want to go the traditional route, you'd start with mutton.
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drinks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 May 2015 at 13:00
Mutton? of all the meats I have tried,that is about the least appetizing I can think of.
How about just marinating pig in Jergens lanolin hand lotion?
Couldn't be much worse!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 May 2015 at 22:11
Couldn't agree with you more, Drinks. I always thought "mutton" and "ugh" were synonyms.

But, at one time, Kentucky was the largest sheep raising state in the country. So mutton became a traditional meat. It's part of the barbecue tradition here, and is the meat originally used in Burgoo. The chicken-based crud they sell as Burgoo during the Derby is a pale imitation.
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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