A few weekends ago, I attended a benefit at the California Scenario/Noguchi Gardens in Costa Mesa for a group called Inspire Artistic Minds here in Orange County. Inspire Artistic Minds, or I AM, is dedicated to helping employees of local restaurants such as waiters and bartenders. The organization provides grants for educational purposes for employees of restaurants in the area that are looking forward to taking courses, seminars or trips to benefit their careers, which ultimately helps the restaurants they are employed by. For example, I AM may get a grant application for a waiter who feels that the next step in their career might be learning the intricacies of wine and obtaining a Sommelier’s Certificate. They have sent bartenders to the biggest event in the bar world, the Portland Cocktail Week and sponsored sous chefs who want to become pastry chefs.
The event, called Pig Out 3.0, featured a “Guest of Honor” from the Templeton Rye Heritage Pork Project. This project used a combination of Iowans to achieve the desired results, yielding a moist, succulent meat with just a light hint of the rye whiskey. The participants were the Templeton Rye Whiskey Spirits Distillery and their founder Scott Bush, from Templeton, Iowa, a local pig farmer, Dr. Nick Barry (PhD. Animal Science, Iowa State University), who raises registered Duroc pigs and Dr. Mark Bertram (Doctorate in Swine Nutrition, Iowa State University) who was responsible for the nutritional aspects of the program.
Basically, the pigs were fed a diet that included the spent mash from distilling the Templeton Rye Whiskey. This year’s program yielded 25 pigs (pretty happy pigs, I expect!). All 25 were sent to organizations or top chefs in the United States, chosen from several hundred applications. The closest comparable meat made in this style is the famed Kobe or Wagyu Beef, which is produced in Japan with cattle that are fed beer or sake as part of their diest and also massaged daily.
The Inspire Artistic Minds organization got one of the pigs. Half of it was given to Chef Amar Santana, of Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach to prepare, while the other half of the 210 pound pig was presented to guests as part of a meat-cutting demonstration by Electric City Butchers and then the cuts were wrapped and live auctioned off to benefit I AM. I wound up donating money for both one of the pork shoulders and for the short loin. The short loin went in my freezer while the pork shoulder became part of the Labor Day festivities at my place. I felt pretty good that I had some very special pork.
On Thursday night before the Labor Day weekend I proceeded to get the shoulder ready to become delicious smoked meat. I peeled the skin and fat cap back, made a brine with Kosher salt, brown and white sugar, water and Penzey’s pickling spice. The shoulder was placed in a food-grade plastic bag which was put in a glass roasting dish and turned every 12 hours to ensure even coverage. On Saturday I made a nice rub that included Hungarian Smoky and California Sweet Paprikas, Kosher salt, brown sugar, ground cumin, ground black and white peppers, cayenne, ancho chile, and Chinese Szechuan peppercorns along with granulated garlic and granulated onion. The rub went on the shoulder after it had the brine rinsed off, making sure to rub it liberally in the space between the skin and the meat between the skin and the meat, as well as putting a layer on top of the skin. I wrapped the shoulder in plastic wrap, put it in a clean glass roasting dish and put the shoulder into the refrigerator until Monday at 4am.
I fired up my Traeger pellet smoker with a load of cherry wood and put the shoulder on. At 225 degrees, it was definitely low and slow. At 2:30 in the afternoon on a clear, sunny Labor Day it reached the perfect temperature and the pork was done. After cooling on a rack, I proceeded to remove the fat cap (yeah, I saved some of that nice crisp skin for ME), cut the burnt ends off and chopped them (I had decided to do chopped instead of pulled because I was in a ‘Carolina mood’), and chopped the rest of the meat separately. The smoke ring looked really nice; I was quite pleased.
In the meantime, our block party began and I was able to enjoy a few bottles of Dos Equis. When I had decided on doing the meat chopped I decided on two sauces. The first was simple, I just put a bottler of Stubb’s Original BBQ Sauce on the table. For the second, I did my version of an South Carolina Barbecue Sauce. I took some yellow mustard, added dry mustard for more kick, added apple cider vinegar, Tapatio sauce and a splash of Tabasco, a few tablespoons of water to thin it a bit, some white pepper and a little salt and mixed well. It passed the taste test with flying colors.
The key to cooking the shoulder properly is the temperature. I suggest using an electronic thermometer with a probe for the meat. If you don’t have a smoker, you can utilize a gas barbecue if the elements are on the sides so that there is no direct heat under the meat. A sheet of aluminum foil can be made into a packet enclosing hickory wood chips soaked for ½ hour in water. Replenish the packet for the first 4 hours, after that the wood won’t accept any more smoke. Temperature wise, it depends on the type of finished product that you want. For chopped pork, cook the shoulder until it reaches 190 degrees, pull and wrap in foil for an hour before chopping the meat. To do the meat as pulled pork, let the temp go to 203 degrees, wrap in foil for an hour and then pull the pork, using hands or forks to get the meat just right.
The other goodies were already at the table, homemade mac salad, cole slaw and a few packages of King’s Hawaiian rolls. Everyone served themselves, some trying the burnt ends mixed with the tender, juicy shoulder meat while others took my suggestion and had the burnt ends with the Stubbs and the Southern Carolina barbecue sauce with the regular chopped meat. Not only was everyone enjoying the meal but the fact that the ‘Guest of Honor’ had gone to benefit several of the grant recipients for I AM meant that it was a winning day all around.
- 1 cup Kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup white sugar
- 1 gallon water less 1 cup
- 1 cup ice
- 3 tablespoons pickling spice, Penzey’s or any good spice mixture
Mix ingredients into water until salt and sugar are dissolved. Add ice to cool mixture down.
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup Kosher or coarse sea salt
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp. ancho chile pepper
- 1 tbs. granulated garlic
- 1 tsp. granulated onion
- 2 tbs. Hungarian smoked paprika
- 2 tbs. sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp. Szechwan peppercorns (optional)
- 1 tsp. Kosher or coarse ground sea salt
Grind Szechwan peppercorns, if used, in spice grinder with 1 tsp. salt. Add other ingredients and mix together.
Eastern Carolina Barbecue Sauce
- 1 cup yellow mustard
- 1 tbs. Coleman’s dry mustard
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 3 tbs. Apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. Tapatio Hot Sauce
- 6 drops Tabasco Hot Sauce (adjust amount to taste)
- 2 tbs. Water
Mix mustards, white pepper, Tapatio Hot Sauce and apple cider vinegar together well. Add Tabasco and salt to taste and mix thoroughly. Add water to adjust consistency (Easter Carolina sauce tends to be on the ‘soupy’ side). Let sit in refrigerator overnight to blend flavors.
Inspire Artistic Minds website: www.inspireartisticminds.org