North Carolina BBQ Pork

From Kristopher Link, “The Fish Girl” (Professional Fishmonger and Sous Chef).  In the South, pork is the BBQ meat of choice.  As with beef brisket, pork shoulder is transformed by slow cooking, spice and hickory smoke.  The sweet and tangy thin BBQ sauce may be unusual for Yankies and Texans alike, but this is the authentic sauce of a North Carolina barbeque.  And while Texas claims the brisket, and both Memphis and Kansas City claim the ribs, only North Carolina is home of authentic pulled pork.

Necessary accoutrements:  Potato buns, cole slaw (vinegar base is best), sliced dill pickles and yellow mustard.  Serves 12

For the Dry Rub:

  • ¼ c. cumin seed toasted and ground—Spread in a small cast iron skillet and toast, shake often to prevent it from getting too dark.  Once you get nice color pull it and allow it to cool until room temperature.  Grind into a fine powder (I keep a spare coffee grinder around just for spices).  Pour into a small mixing bowl and add:
  • ¼ c. dark brown sugar
  • ¼ c. chili powder
  • ½ c. sweet or hot paprika
  • 2 T. mace
  • 1½ T. cardamom
  • 2 T. ground red pepper
  • ¼ kosher salt
  • ¼ cracked pepper corns

Mix spices together with sugar.  This stores well and can be made in large batches and given as gifts or just to have around…stays good for about 5 months.

For the Carolina Vinegar Sauce:

  • equal parts white and cider vinegar (about 1/2 C each)
  • couple dashes of tobacco ( We like it hot so we use more)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes

Place into a container that you can store it in and serve it in (an old glass catsup bottle is a good look, a mason jar, or a French lemonade bottle.)   This keeps forever and you can just add to it as it gets low.  It is good on vegetables as well.  I usually season my pork with the vinegar based sauce before serving but you can leave it off and allow guests to do it themselves.

Every time I make this it just gets better so play around with the cooking methods as you will find what you like best.  The key is to roast the skin just enough to get it crispy and then slow it down and cook it until it falls apart.

For the Meat

1 6-8 lb. pork shoulder or butt (I prefer the bone in with skin-on but you can use what you like).  For slow roasting, a roast with some fat on it, is a good thing, it keeps it from drying out.  Rub meat with the Dry Rub.  You can cook right away or store for up to 24 hours to allow the spices to meld in.

Here is where your preference of cooking method comes into play.  I will give you both of my methods, both are great it just depends on how much time you have.

Roasted method:

Place the meat in a roasting pan large enough so that it doesn’t touch the sides and can easily be covered with foil (Dutch oven, clay pot or cast iron skillet have all been used in my house).  Sear the meat on a stove top on all sides.  Place with the fat or skin side facing up (when that fat gets roasted it becomes ‘Crackling” and that is a delicious treat!)  Place into a 400 .degree oven, sprinkle a little more sea salt on top and cook for about 30 minutes.  Turn down the oven to 325 and cover the pan with foil and roast for 5-6 hrs, turning the pan every couple of hours if you are around.  You will know it is done when the meat starts falling off the bone.  Shred the meat with a fork and serve with Carolina Vinegar sauce.

Crock Pot Method:

Sear meat on all sides and place in a large crock pot or Dutch oven (which is a great method for camping.)  Add liquid of choice (water or stock is better) until the meat about half covered.  Throw a stick of butter into the pan that you seared the meat in and melt, stirring to make sure you envelope all the spices and pork jus in the pan.  Add a little water or dark beer and then pour over the meat.  Allow at least 8 hours, turning at least once during the process.  Meat should be tender and falling off the bone.  Shred and serve with cole slaw and Carolina Vinegar sauce.

Smoker Method:

Troy Hier, master of the smoked arts says, “start with the freshest pork you can get, rub it thoroughly with your favorite rub, start the fire with only hardwood charcoal, and after that, switch to all wood. I use an alternating mix of Hickory, Pecan, and Cherry when I smoke anything, but beef. With beef, I switch the Hickory for Mesquite. Don’t let the temp get hotter than 245 f, and go until the internal temp on the pork shoulders reaches 185 degrees. Take the pork off the smoker, wrap in foil, and stick it in a cooler packed with news paper for at least an hour. Trust me, it will stay hot, and when you go to pull it, the juices will stay with the meat. Happy smokin.”


You can reheat the shredded pork in a 250F oven and serve with potatoes and your favorite side, hefting it onto a hearty bun, dousing it with the BBQ sauce, and topping with coleslaw (that’s right the slaw goes on top on the meat in the sandwich).