Just like cooking pork shoulder for pulled pork, this pork shoulder received a spice rub. It is difficult to see in this picture, but the roast is tied to create a more uniform shape.
I just hooked a TiVo back up to my TV and one of the things it does is make recommendations based on other shows you have recorded on your TiVo. It records these recommendations for you without your intervening and will erase them if it means not recording one of your picks. My TiVo has been back in action for a week and on Sunday evening I found several cooking shows from FoodTV and PBS had been recorded for me. One of them was Cook’s Country which is a magazine put out by the folks at America’s Test Kitchens. I didn’t know they had a TV show based on the magazine, and I’ll admit at first I wasn’t going to bother watching it. One of the items “Old-Fashioned Pork Roast” looked interesting so I decided to check it out. It turns out the meat used was a pork shoulder, also known as a Boston Butt, the meat used for pulled pork. Now they had my interested. I know this is a fatty cut and the thought of how they would turn this into a sliced roast was intriguing.
After 3 hours of smoking the roast was brought inside and some chopped onions were added to the pan drippings and moved around to coat with the drippings.
It turns out they ended up cooking it low and slow. The reality is low and slow is the only way to cook this type of meat. Cook it too fast and the fat and collagen doesn’t have time to melt away. They made sure to trim the roast so it had no more than 1/8” of an inch of fat cap on the surface. The roast received a spice rub, just like making pulled pork. They cooked it in the oven at 300 degrees (150 C) and after 3 hours it had started creating fat drippings. At this point the roast was pulled and the shows host, Christopher Kimball, was commenting how good it smelled and was acting as if he thought it was done. He was a little cranky when informed it was less than half way through.
The reason it was pulled was so some chopped red onions were added to the pan. The onions were mixed around until coated with the fat drippings, then it was back to the oven for the roast. After another 3 1/2 to 4 hours the roast was pulled again. I could see it jiggle a bit like a bowl of Jello just like meat for pulled pork does when it is done. I was wondering how they were going to cut it without the whole thing falling apart and turning into pulled pork. Well the chef informed host Christopher Kimball that the roast needed to spend the evening in the fridge where it would harden up and then it would be capable of being sliced. Kimball acted incredulous after being told even more time was needed. Then they showed a video of a roast being sliced straight out of the oven and it wasn’t pretty. The meat just fell apart. Before refrigerating, the onions were pulled out of the drippings and placed in their own container, the drippings were poured off into a measuring cup and the roast was put into a oven safe dish. After cooling for 30 minutes the three items were covered and put in the fridge.
The roast was done when it reached 190 degrees after about 7 1/2 hours.
The next day the fat was pulled off the top of the drippings and the drippings and onions were reunited and added to a sauce pan. Some apple cider, apple jam and apple cider vinegar were added to make the gravy which was heated to a boil. Meanwhile the chilled meat was now able to be cut into 1/4” slices . These were layered shingle style in a pyrex baking dish. After the gravy was brought to a boil, a half cup of the gravy was poured over the meat and the roast was covered with foil. The covered roast was off to a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes. Meanwhile the gravy was simmered some more to reduce it to a thick liquid. When the roast came out and was served Christopher Kimball exclaimed that although he had been cranky about the amount of time it took, this was the best recipe this chef had ever made on the show. While watching this I was thinking how it would be great on the smoker. This was reinforced when they actually mentioned that this was basically low and slow BBQ style cooking, but done in the oven and without the smoke. This is all I needed to hear - I was off to Whole Foods first thing in the morning to go get a Boston Butt. The meal on the show was served with mashed potatoes and this started my search for the best recipe for mashed potatoes. This was covered in a separate blog entry: What Goes Around Comes Around.
The pork was put in a pan, the onions were separated from the drippings and the drippings were poured off. After 30 minutes they were each covered and refrigerated overnight..
The thing that really appealed to me about this recipe was a Boston Butt can be a really variable piece of meat to cook. Depending on the fat content and the length of the plateau, the cooking time can vary by hours. But doing it the day before it really doesn’t matter to you when it comes out, it is going straight into the fridge. Your guests will be arriving the next day when you know you have a 30 minute cook in the oven to finish it. Another thing is you can start it on your smoker and finish it the next day at someone else’s house. So I came back from Whole Foods and set up the smoker using a large foil pan full of apple juice under the grill grates. This helps keep some moisture in the cooking chamber and evens out the temperatures. I lit the smoker using a full chimney full of charcoal to help drive it past the normal 225 degrees 110C) to closer to 300 degrees (150 C). While the smoker was heating up I prepared the rub, applied it to the pork and inserted the meat probes for my remote read thermometers. When my smoker passed 225 degrees (110 C), it was off to the smoker for the meat. The best I could do was hit 280 degrees (138 C). There were times when it got windy and I could only hold 250 degrees (120 C). As long as I maintained 225 (110 C) plus I knew it would eventually finish. Once again where it was just going to the fridge, it really didn’t matter to me when it finished.
The gravy got it’s apple flavor from the apple cider vinegar, apple cider and apple jam that was added to the pan drippings and onions from yesterday.
After 3 hours I brought the roast inside and added the onions and it was back out for more time on the smoker. Other than the higher cooking temperature and one other exception it was a typical cook. I added pecan chunks every hour and kept an eye on the temps. Just before it was time to pull it to add the onions, the temps started to fall rapidly. This drop was faster than I’d ever seen in warm weather. Opening the firebox I saw the DuraFlame briquettes were almost gone. DuraFlame holds temps very uniformly right up until they are almost gone. I raked the remaining coals towards the front of the Side Fire Box and added more new coals. Fortunately though the temps fell for a while longer this was happening while the roast was inside getting the onions. By the time I brought it back outside the temps were around 225 (110 C) and climbing. From this point on a kept a closer eye on the coals as they were burning up at a much faster rate. Other than that little hiccup, it was a wonderful day. The weather was in the high seventies, sunny and I spent quite a bit of time sitting outside reading while I kept an eye on the smoker. Supper was to come off the grill and it is always a great day when the grill and smoker are both in use. This cook actually went so well that this pork roast hit 190 (88 C) and finished up immediately after I finished cleaning up from my Basil-Grilled Tuna Steak supper. I’d feared it might decide to be ready right when I was grilling supper.
The chilled pork could be sliced. If I had tried to slice it when it was at 190 degrees I would have had shredded pork..
The next day when we would actually be eating the pork roast was very predictable, which was perfect. I wanted to eat at 5:15 and basically I knew I needed to put the roast in at 4:45 and when it came out 30 minutes later it was sliced and ready to eat. I started cutting the roast an hour before supper time and began heating the gravy. While the roast was in the oven the gravy finished reducing down. This low maintenance finish was perfect because I could focus on getting the other sides done. At the low reheat temperature of 300 degrees (150 C), if things ran 5 or 10 minutes longer I wasn’t worried about burning the meat. Everything finished right on time and it was time to enjoy the slow cooked pork roast.
This pork roast was the best I’ve ever tried, imagine my surprise when the mashed potatoes were the best ever too.
When I took my first bite of the meat I let out a surprised “Oh my word”. I was pleasantly surprised by several things. First the pork was as soft and tender as I have ever tasted. It was like soft butter. The second thing was the gravy had a very sweet apple taste which was far stronger than I expected. It was a great match for the pork. The pork had been infused with flavor from the melting fat and the rub gave the skin a great flavor. It was so good I had to take a second bite right away because I didn’t believe how good the first bite was. The smoke flavor was the perfect addition to the basic mix. My next pleasant surprise was the mashed potatoes: these were the best mashed potatoes ever. This is a story for another blog (see links below) but to have the best pork roast ever and the best mashed potatoes ever on the same plate was amazing. Nobody could stop eating and nobody had any room for dessert.
This pork roast has a lot going for it, it takes some time but you are rewarded with some fantastic eats.
You owe it to yourself to try this recipe, it is fantastic. Even if you don’t have a smoker you could always indirect grill it on your grill at 300 degrees and add wood chips for the smoke. Or if you don’t want to grill it either do it in the oven, it is this good. The smoke flavor makes it extra special, but this recipe is good enough just make it anyway you can. The link below will persist as long as the current season of Cook’s Country is airing on PBS. The episode is called “Autumn Summer” and you may be able to catch the actual show too when it is run again on your PBS affiliate.