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Healthy, Lean Pulled Pork

I’ve always been a big fan of pulled pork sandwiches but living in Memphis has allowed me to learn how make them myself. The process starts with buying bone-in cuts from local farms like ours at our farmers market stand! Once we trim away any fatty tissues or glossed over spots on these babies (you can do this yourself), they're ready for smoking and grilling until your heart desires—so go ahead: treat you' self today :). My opinion on cooking has always been that I can make the same exact stuff in the restaurant for half the price AND know what is actually in the food I eat. Case in point – Margaret and I were in the grocery store for a quick stop to grab some essentials. These essentials were probably perishables like veggies, egg whites, or almond milk.

No matter what we are at the grocery store for, we ALWAYS make a lap through the meat department. Why? Because you never know when there will be great meat on sale. This is intelligent grocery shopping 101. Actually, intelligent grocery shopping 101 is BUY A DEEP FREEZER. That way when you find some awesome meat on sale, you just buy it all. After all, its MEAT. It’s not as if you are going to decide to go vegan and not eat it.

Usually these trips are a quick check and move on with your day. But not today. Today was special. On this occasion, Margaret signaled me over to some pork loins. Usually these are good to go, and they were also $1.39/pound – jackpot. As we started filling the cart with pork, Margaret pointed out that the pork shoulder next to them were also the same price.

By now, I pretty much know which cuts of meat are worth taking a look at to find out if they are lean enough that they are worth buying. The rule of thumb is you want about 4 or more times the protein per serving than fat. Most nutritional labels for meat are around 20 to 25g of protein per serving. So for example, if the label reads 20 grams of protein, we want no more than 5 grams of fat in that serving. This reduces excessive calories in your diet. Pork shoulder is almost never one of those meats – in fact I’ve never found one that is. But sometimes we buy a fattier cut of meat and use it as a cheat meal, so it can be worth looking at a cut of meat that typically isn’t within the acceptable range if it’s cheap enough. So I figured we may as well check it out. I grabbed a big ole 5 pounder and flipped it over to read the label quick. I couldn’t believe my eyes – 6 grams of fat, 21 grams of protein. Admittedly slightly out of the acceptable range but I have literally never seen a pork shoulder be less than 10 grams of fat. Plus another trick I’ve learned is if you’re that close, just count your meat as your fat and your protein. Screw it – BUY THEM ALL!

Now the next problem with trying to cook great tasting meat for cheap – especially when cooking bbq styled meat is controlling the amount of added calories in your seasonings. A lot of bbq seasonings are primarily made with sugar. This means a ton of added calories if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully, I’ve been doing this long enough that I have some tricks to get a good rub together without jacking up the calorie content.

Here’s what you’ll need:

· Mustard

· Salt

· Garlic salt

· Stone Mill BBQ Rub (from Aldi, zero calore)

· Hickory Wood Chips

· Smoker (I have a Char-Broil Electric Smoker)

For most of my grilling or smoking, I like to use a mustard base on the meat. This has been one of the best discoveries I’ve made when it comes to cooking. I have no idea why, but mustard goes from being, well mustard tasting, to a very pleasant and savory taste when you throw a bunch of seasoning on it and put in on the grill or in the smoker. The mustard not only flavors the meat, but also allows the salts to be absorbed by the meat better.

Night before:

1) Cover the pork shoulder with a mustard coating

2) Add salt, garlic salt, and BBQ Rub – Be generous

3) Place the meat in a plastic bag overnight in the refrigerator

Morning of:

1) Take the meat out and let it return to room temperature

2) Make your mop sauce – Optional

a. ½ cup white vinegar

b. 8 oz beer

c. Stone Mill BBQ Rub

3) Set smoker to pre-heat

4) When ready, set smoker temperature to 225 degrees and throw your shoulder in.

The easiest way to cook a pork loin accurately to get a meat thermometer and monitor the internal temperature. My smoker has a thermometer that came with it and I can set my smoker to stop once the thermometer reads a specific temperature. Generally speaking, pulled pork takes between 1 and 1.5 hours per pound to cook – so you can tell that there is quite a range of times. At the end of the day, we are shooting for an internal temperature of 195-205 degrees. So you may as well do it right and get a meat thermometer. Either way, from here on, it’s very low maintenance. Zero maintenance if you decide not to use a mop sauce.

For the mop sauce, you will want to apply the sauce with a brush every 45 min or an hour. This helps keep the meat from drying out and adds a bit of extra flavor. Otherwise, sit back, take a nap, Read a book, do some chores, whatever you want until the next application or until we reach our target temperature.

When you hit the lowest part of that range, 195, take out the pork, stick a fork in it, and twist. If it turns with little torque, it’s done. If not, send it back in. I have found that the shoulder usually needs to get up to the 200-205 range before it's ready. You would not believe what a few extra degrees does.

When it is finally ready, take the shoulder out and let it rest for 10 minutes. If your eyes are on meat candy overload and simply cannot wait - go ahead, take strip off the top and have a taste. You should notice a thick flavorful crust, and right below it is the infamous the bright pink smoke ring. This ring is caused by smoke mixing with combustion gases and moisture. If you are more than an hour from mealtime, you can leave the meat on the cooker with the heat off or put it in the indoor oven and hold it there by dialing the temp down to about 170°F. If you are more than 2 hours from mealtime, wrap it in foil to keep it from drying out and hold it at 170°F.

Not only was this some of the best BBQ pork I’ve ever had, it also fit the bill of a lean meat. We ate this meat every day that week until it was gone. No need for “variety” when your food is amazing. So if you’re cruising the meat aisle and happen to stumble upon one of these beauties – you know exactly what to do!

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