Keeping Things Saucy: Roast Pork Shoulder

I would never really consider myself much of a barbecue fiend.  I grew up in New Mexico, where our culinary delights were more infused with fresh spices and peppers as opposed to dry rubs.  We grew up making salsa and sharing the best guacamole recipes, and our marinades all involved something citrusy and fresh herbs and peppers adding the flavor.  Sometimes we’d also add a bit of tequila to our chicken fajita marinades too, just to liven things up.  The point is, growing up we used loads of fresh flavor from cilantro and lime, from jalapeños and chives, as opposed to dried powders and crushed dried chile peppers.  Fresh was our livelihood, and New Mexican chefs did it best. Then, against all odds, I married a native Texan.  Why hello, barbecue.

Nice to meet you, tastebuds.

Nice to meet you, tastebuds.

In all seriousness, there are a number of things Texas does remarkably well.  That may seem like blasphemy when heard from the lips of a born-and-bred Burqueño, but truth be told, I’ve grown fond of many of the Lone Star State’s attributes.  The underground music scene is top notch, the craft beer production is beyond compare, and the food is fantastic.  Houston in particular is a pretty fantastic little melting pot of great ethnic foods (including Greek – gotta shout out to Niko Niko’s, which makes you crave Greek potatoes by the pound) and amazing barbecue.  The barbecue you’d really expect from Texas, but here in Denver, we’ll use the best resources we have available to make it work.  We cool, Texas? Let’s bro hug it out over some hot links and a craft beer taste-off. I want to talk a bit about smoking meats before we get on a roll here.  Smoked meats can be very, very potent.  If you are using a mild cut of meat, it will soak up all that smoke flavor and you will taste the bulk of the hickory or apple or cherry wood you burned up to get it to its peak of smokey perfection.  Some people, like myself, really do enjoy that all-day-smoked flavor, and in reality we sometimes view it as a challenge.  How much smoke can we get into this hunk of meat?  I WANT YOU TO FEEL THE BURN!

See how much I care about measuring?

See how much I care about measuring?

But it doesn’t have to be like that.  Not everyone enjoys the smoke flavor, and for good reason.  It does overpower a fair number of other flavors, and while barbecue isn’t exactly known for its subtlety, we don’t want to be forced to cover up the meat with sauce to have these two flavor profiles – tangy and smokey – destroying our taste buds and sending our acid reflux into overdrive.  Or maybe you do.  Whatever, my point is that if you’re cooking a barbecue feast for a crowd, you want it to be a crowd pleaser, so think about cutting back the smoke just a little bit.  My personal method is to typically use a 5-10 pound piece of meat, dry rub it, and smoke it for around 3 hours before throwing it in a low-heat oven to finish it off.  If you cook it slow enough, the meat will fall off the bone.  If you pull it out of the smoker a little early, you get an assertive-but-not-overpowering smokey flavor.  Smoking rant over.

Tender, juicy pork shoulder, torn and cut off in big hunks.

Tender, juicy pork shoulder, torn and cut off in big hunks.

For my barbecue, I went with a pork shoulder because I wanted to, and totally not because it was on sale.  I know you guys are probably getting sick of pork at this point, so I’ll promise another animal besides the noble swine for next time.  If you’re really hankering for red meat, the dry rub and smoke method would work in a more than great capacity for brisket… which will hopefully be on sale next weekend. In regards to smoking and/or oven roasting, that’s really about it.  You want to give yourself plenty of time to smoke or roast something when you’re working with barbecue because you want the muscle to break down without overcooking.  You want it juicy, but falling off the bone.  I’ve found for a full pork shoulder, twelve hours at 225 works like a charm, and if you really hate smoke, you could do this all in your oven.  Just make sure you put the dry rub on the night before, throw it in the oven at around 6 AM, and by 6 PM, it’ll be ready to tame the salivating masses.  If you’re smoking, then putting in the oven, just start a bit earlier to get your smoker going, or eat later.  It’s the freaking weekend, after all. My dry rubs, and my sauces, tend to air on the spicy side as opposed to the sweet side.  The fact of the matter is, in order to get that nice caramel crust on the outside of your meat, you don’t need much sugar.  A bit of brown will do the trick, yet many of the recipes online call for cups and cups of sugar and molasses.  It is all really a matter of taste, but I find pepper to compliment the tang just well enough, and if you want options, you could easily serve a bit of sweeter sauce on the side. Enough about sauces… for now.  Let’s start with the dry rub:

1 1/2 TBSP coarse ground black pepper 1 TBSP salt 1 TBSP hot red chili powder 2 TSP Cayenne 1 1/2 TSP garlic powder 1/2 TSP cumin 1/2 TSP smoked paprika

To be honest, I’m guestimating almost all of these ingredients, because in my mind, barbecue should never be exact.  However, you can cut back on a few things here or there, or you can add some brown sugar to the rub to make it stick and caramelize while smoking.  Seriously, barbecue is more of a sport than an art, and I think that’s what makes it fun.  The little things you do differently.  Whether you’re using pork or beef, go ahead and rub it liberally the night before and set it in the fridge, ready for the smoker or the oven in the morning.

Tastey, saucy goodness

Tastey, saucy goodness

Now, for the sauce.  Again, barbecue sauce in my mind should never be measured out.  Barbecue sauce is absolutely perfect for those days when you have a hunk of meat and a fridge full of quarter-full condiment jars.  One weekend, my brother and I ended up using a ton of ginger and apple cider vinegar, along with a fair amount of ketchup, molasses, and a few shakes here of whatever was left in the pantry.  It came out amazing.  In reality, barbecue is truly something to experiment with, but I went ahead and pulled together the basic start of what I used for your enjoyment and perusal. Mmmm… How ’bout an ingredients list?

1 knob of butter 3 garlic cloves, pressed 1/2 minced onion 1 can of tomato sauce 1/3 cup ketchup 3 TBSP brown sugar 3 TBSP molasses 1/3 Cup apple cider vinegar What’s not in the picture: 3 TBSP Black pepper Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 Glug of Worchestershire sauce 1 TBSP red chili powder 1 TSP Cayenne 1/2 TSP Cumin

Red, peppery goodness.

Red, peppery goodness.

Barbecue sauce is simple.  Start by melting your butter, then add the garlic to begin easing the flavor out of the crushed cloves.  Add your onion, and sauté until it’s transparent, then add all your other ingredients and simmer, for up to an hour.  Seriously, the flavors just need to meld, and you will have a killer barbecue sauce.  I like what I came up with because it was spicy, like the dry rub, and it still had a tangy zip from all the tomato elements.  If you want something sweeter, double the sugars and halve the peppers, and you’ll have something like a more traditional barbecue sauce.  Again, I like it spicy, but experiment with what you like and what your family likes.  Make a few options if you’d like – these are all cheap ingredients.  Start with the common ingredients – the onion, garlic, butter, ketchup, vinegar, lemon, and Worchestershire.  Then, halve it and simmer some with more sweet ingredients and some with more peppery ingredients.  Throw ginger in one.  Use up that cheap bourbon in the other.  Look at what you could come up with!

Along with homemade macaroni and cheese.  This coming week, we'll see more of that.

Along with homemade macaroni and cheese. This coming week, we’ll see more of that.

Typically, I’ll use half the sauce to baste my roasting beast whole, then serve the rest of the sauce on the side after I’ve deboned and shredded the rest of the meat.  Hopefully, this gives you some ideas to experiment with barbecue in your own kitchens.  Now, get smokin’.

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