What follows is a visual odyssey that takes us through today's pulled-pork adventure. I've been wanting to make a heap of pulled pork for my buddy Tom, but because there were a lot of variables to consider, I thought it might be a good idea to do a shakedown cruise first to work the kinks out of the process. Today would be, after all, the first day for me to use both my new slow-cooker and the awesome Wiswell convection oven that my buddy Charles had given me for my birthday nearly two years ago. I was also unfamiliar with the dwaeji deungshim (pork sirloin) cut of meat that I had purchased. Would it take the same amount of time to soften as the top sirloin I had gotten from Costco back when I lived in Front Royal, Virginia? I had no clue, so before I could cook anything for friends, I needed to find out what was what.
It all started with the pork itself. Behold 1.3 kilograms of sirloin:
Here's a closeup of the price tag. Using the Jongno-based restaurant Seorae as a comparison, I saw right away that this was a much, much cheaper price. At Seorae, you pay W17,000 for 500 grams of galmaegisal (i.e., pork skirt-steak cut, which is on the opposite side of the pig from the sirloin cut). At my local grocer, as you see below, it was W15,504 for 1,292 grams of sirloin. That's exactly W6,000 per 500 grams—about one-third the price of Seorae's galmaegi. To be sure, that's still expensive by American standards: when I left the US in 2013, beef (which is more expensive than pork) was about $3.70 per pound, or close to W4,100 per 460 grams (about W4,500 per 500 grams, if you're comparing American beef to Seorae's galmaegi or to my local grocer's deungshim). Nevertheless, my sirloin was cheap by Korean standards.
Next, you see that I had cut the slab of pork into three large hunks, then I bagged them and froze them overnight. Freezing meat that's going to be slow-cooked doesn't really affect the cooking time that much: the relentless application of heat, once the meat is in the cooker, means that everything un-freezes fairly rapidly. I doubt I added more than 30 minutes to the overall process. I had cut the meat into chunks so that all of it would fit nicely into the cooker instead of jutting out like a large baguette in a puny picnic basket.
Below: everything fits nicely into the cooker.
Next, I poured in the reagents that I felt would help give the pork some savor as it cooked: ketchup, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, balsamic vinegar (as the acid to tenderize the muscle fibers during the cooking process), salt, black pepper, and some basil.
Below, you see I've added a liter of water. The cooking now begins, and the big question is whether this meat will need only 5-6 hours, or whether it'll have to go longer.
In the photo that follows, I'm checking the meat's doneness after about six hours of slow cooking on the cooker's "high" setting (which, as you can imagine, isn't really all that high). Surprisingly, the meat had gone tough, which is not what had happened with the Costco top sirloin. I knew, however, that a certain rigor mortis was part of the tenderizing process, so I understood that I'd need another two or two-and-a-half hours. The meat would clench up, then suddenly release, turning into the melt-in-your-mouth treasure I was aiming for.
Two hours did it. The meat was ready. All the fat had melted away; all the connective tissue's collagen had sloughed into jelly. I pulled the chunks of meat out and flaked them easily with two forks. Now it was a race against time: with the meat steaming and moist, there was a good chance that everything would dry out if I worked too slowly. I piled the shredded pork into a large pan: spreading it out would have accelerated the drying. Here's what moist, flaked pork sirloin looks like up close:
Here's a shot of the flaked pork in the large pan:
I slathered the pork in honey and tossed it thoroughly. I then took half the pork, put it on a tray, turned Charles's oven on to its "broil" setting, and let 'er rip. I didn't get the crispy black "bark" until about five or six minutes later. Because I live in an apartment building, I'm constantly worried about smoke tripping a fire alarm somewhere; luckily, no alarms went off. I was also worried that five minutes of broiling might dry out the pork completely, but I needn't have worried: the pork was still mostly moist when it came out of the broiler.
This was Charles's oven's maiden voyage, and it worked perfectly... once I figured out the controls. You have to put on the timer to activate the coils, even if you're doing un-timed cooking. Aside from that quirk, the oven worked just as I had imagined it would.
I tossed the broiled, charred pork back in with the rest of the shredded meat, gooshed in a gout of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce (my thanks to a nameless benefactor), and tossed again. Below, you see the beautiful result:
I had decided to make pulled-pork sliders, so I sliced some Costco dinner rolls and buttered them up with—yes—homemade salted butter. Voilà:
I buttered the bread, pan-fried it, put on different types of cheese, microwaved the cheese for a few seconds to begin melting it, then arranged the bread on a plate to await the arrival of the pulled pork.
I piled the pork onto the bread...
...and here, at last, are the pulled-pork sliders.
I now have a good idea of (1) how my kitchen equipment behaves, (2) how Korean deungshim behaves in a slow-cooking situation, and (3) how much time I need for prep. With all this in mind, I'm now ready to serve my buddy Tom a veritable pile of pulled pork.