Saturday, January 09, 2016

an office barbecue fest

There was little that was truly "barbecue" about our Friday luncheon in the office—no grilling, no smoking, no pits or coals or racks or spits. The only true barbecue element was the barbecue sauce that I used for my pulled pork and my baked beans.

But that didn't matter. Lunch was given high praise by my boss and my new coworker, who hails from Florida and who knows a thing or two about Southern cuisine.

I had wanted to take pictures of the food as it had been laid out in the office, but I didn't remember to snap any photos until I was almost done eating. So here's a shot of my plate, minus the BBQ pulled-pork sandwiches, which had already been gobbled:

In the above photo, you see potato chips (sea-salt kettle chips from Costco), cole slaw, and baked beans, so let's talk about those elements. Last time I had a pulled-pork party with Tom and Charles, I had made cole slaw based on a Bobby Flay recipe that was, frankly, way overthought. Flay himself might have made it work, but I ended up buried under the complexity of it all, and the dressing, when I made it, was a failure. No one* said they hated it, but no one raved about it, either, and I didn't like the dressing much myself. I kicked myself for not following my instincts, which is what I normally do when making cole slaw. The dressing turns out different every time, but when I follow my intuition, it also always turns out tasty. This time around I had, as the Brits would say, a brain wave: instead of throwing in six or seven ingredients, why not keep it simple and use what's available? I had pickle juice from a jar of my favorite Korean jalapeño pickles; I mixed that with mayonnaise and added black pepper. Voilà. Perfect. After chopping the cabbage, I added green onions (I'd forgotten to buy carrots), then mixed everything up with the dressing. It was great! I might just stick with this formula from now on.

The baked beans went over well with my office crew, but I was disappointed that the local Costco didn't have Van Camp's pork and beans on the shelves. I asked a Costco staffer where the beans had gone, given that they used to be in stock. The staffer gave me a pained looked and told me that I'd have to visit another Costco branch to find them. Dejected, I went back to my apartment building's grocery, hoping against hope that I might find Van Camp's there. No dice. All there was was some shitty no-name brand. I bought four cans anyway, and opened one for experimental purposes. The sauce was too red and too tomatoey, and the beans had an odd texture. I shrugged and went ahead with my nighttime prep, throwing three cans of beans into my deep bokgeum pan, adding chopped hot dogs, crumbled bacon, brown sugar, and red-chili flakes. The end result was close to the baked beans I'd made before, but still not quite what I'd been looking for.

In the next picture below, you see a shot of the aftermath of lunch. The table is covered in green felt because the boss has taken up learning Korean brush calligraphy; he's practicing hangeul, not Chinese characters, and according to him, he's still learning how to control how much ink to put in the brush. (You can see that his ink bled through the calligraphy paper and onto the felt.) It's not easy; I know from experience.

Unhappy with not having taken pictures of a properly plated lunch, I decided to set up a plate for dinner when I got home. I had to make more cole slaw (I had made two varieties—a standard slaw and an "Asian" slaw whose dressing came from an online recipe), but that was easy enough to do. I heated up the pork and baked beans in my microwave, then set everything up for assembly.

Below, a shot of the pulled pork itself:

I used tenderloin that I had bought at Costco. It was decent meat with very little silver skin to cut off. I gave the meat a gentle sear in a smoking-hot frying pan, but because I was terrified that the smoke would set off my alarm, I seared the meat only briefly—not enough for a really good effect. Since I normally don't sear my meat when making pulled pork, the partial job I'd done didn't faze me that much; I simply dumped the meat into my new crock pot (a gift from my boss; I gave my old crock pot to my buddy Jang-woong at Christmas), filled the pot mostly with house-brand cola, plus some Worcestershire sauce, some apple-cider vinegar, some barbecue sauce, a bit of onion powder, some chili flakes, and a rough-cut onion.

Because I was using tenderloin and not sirloin, as I did when I lived in Goyang/Ilsan, I had worried that the meat might turn out very differently. Fortunately, it didn't, and now I know that pork tenderloin performs about the same, in a slow cooker, as pork sirloin does. And there's a bonus: the natural tenderness of tenderloin means the meat won't dry out quickly. Not that I've had any serious issues with overly dry meat, but dryness is a constant danger, given how you prep pulled pork: the pork comes out of the cooker in large chunks; you fork those chunks apart until they're clumps and fibers, and the meat steams heavily while you're doing this. Before you lose all that precious moisture, you slather on the barbecue sauce.

My pulled pork stayed moist from the moment I took it out of the cooker to the moment I served it up for lunch. I'm proud of that pig. And I'd use tenderloin again.

Frustrated at not having taken a proper photo of a plated meal, I recreated the plate at home. Here's a shot to give you the Gestalt:

Next, a closeup of the beans:

And finally, a closeup of the sandwich:

At the office, I fixed myself two sandwiches—one with cole slaw, another with pickles. Above, you see I combined the two.

My coworker, in an experimental mood, put the Asian slaw onto his pork sandwich. I warned him that the flavor profiles wouldn't match (the Asian dressing had sesame in it, and I can't see sesame ever going together with the particular sweetness of US-style barbecue sauce), but he did it, anyway. When I asked him, later, how the sandwich was, he said it hadn't been that good. A shame to waste food that way, but we learn by doing.

I should note that I didn't have Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce on hand. At Costco, all I saw was Yoshida's, so I bought two bottles in the hope that it would taste good. I've used Yoshida's Asian barbecue sauce before (it tastes a bit like some sort of bulgogi marinade), but never the American sauce. It turned out to be okay; it was legitimately barbecue-y, but still qualitatively different from Sweet Baby Ray's. It certainly wasn't as sweet, and it had a hint of smokiness that Baby Ray's lacks.

So: a good time was had by all. My boss now wants to invite us all to his house, and he'd let me be the chef, going nuts in his kitchen.

ADDENDUM: I should have mentioned that my coworker very kindly provided us with drinks and a lovely
dessert: a soft, creamy cake from the downstairs bakery.

*By "no one," I really just mean Charles: Tom refuses to eat any vegetables unless they're potatoes. I often wonder how he's still alive, but he seems to be in perfect health.



Bratfink said...

You can always add brown sugar to a barbecue sauce that isn't sweet enough. Assuming, of course, brown sugar is available. If not, molasses.

Kevin Kim said...

Yup! In the above post (5th paragraph), I did indeed mention that. In fact, I find it hard to imagine baked beans without brown sugar. I have a very sweet tooth.

Charles said...

I'm still skeptical that tenderloin could have the same flavor as a pulled pork. Tenderloin is just not as flavorful a cut of pork as say, shoulder. I have no doubt it would work in terms of breaking down and then being pulled, but does it really match up to a good pork shoulder?

brier said...

Those baked beans look good!

Frank (formerly known as Nomad) said...

I finally broke down and bought an electric smoker last summer and life hasn't been the same since. Baby back ribs, whole chickens, steak, brisket, and my favorite, boston butt for pulled pork.
I put a sweet rub on the butt, wrap it, and let it sit overnight, then inject it with a mixture of apple juice and rub, then it's off to the smoker (I use apple wood) until it has an internal temp of 195-200.
I then wrap it in heavy foil and put it in a cooler with towels for about an hour, and then it's pulling time. I put Sweet Baby Ray's on half the meat, and leave the other half as is; my family and coworkers seem to love it either way - I prefer the sauce mixed in while the meat is still smoking hot.

Kevin Kim said...


That sounds amazing. I'm inviting myself over to your place.

Can your smoker be used indoors? Is that the point behind having an electric one?


Dammit, you done insulting my cooking without having tasted it?? I'm canceling Tuesday. Can't eat with assholes.

On a more serious note: I think you'd be hard-pressed to tell which was which in a sirloin-versus-tenderloin taste test, especially after everything got sauced up. I found the tenderloin to be plenty flavorful. Even if the meat really is less flavorful than, say, sirloin, shoulder, or butt, it goes through a slow-cooking process that essentially marinates the meat in a flavorful solution over six to eight hours. The muscle fibers become like sponges, absorbing all that ambient flavor.

And here's a wrinkle: after having had back-to-back Manimal and Linus pulled pork, I have to say that neither joint's pork was all that flavorful, either, despite it being pork shoulder. The one crucial difference between their pork and mine was the level of smokiness, which I can't simulate without resorting to that product of Satan, liquid smoke.

Bratfink said...

I don't like liquid smoke either. It even made my farts smell like liquid smoke!

Charles said...

Gird up your loins, my friend, because the throw-down has just begun.

"Even if the meat really is less flavorful than, say, sirloin, shoulder, or butt, it goes through a slow-cooking process that essentially marinates the meat in a flavorful solution over six to eight hours. The muscle fibers become like sponges, absorbing all that ambient flavor."

I will grant you that any cut of meat slow-cooked in a flavorful solution will take on the flavors of that solution. But the flavor of the meat itself does matter (and, although you appear to be skeptical, tougher cuts of meat in general tend to have more flavor then more tender cuts), and that flavor becomes part of the sauce.

Now, I'm not doubting that your tenderloin pulled pork came out fine. If you say it did, I believe you. But I'd have to taste it side-by-side against a shoulder cut prepared in the same way to make a final judgment. Or, I don't know, maybe if I were invited over to have some tenderloin pulled pork I might become more amenable. (I mean, seriously, how many hints does a guy have to drop?)

Oh, and you may not be able to eat with an asshole, but you're certainly going to want to have one around a few hours later. Assholes are a very important part of the circle of life.

Kevin Kim said...


There were a lot of fart jokes going around at the office, given that I had served beans and cabbage, two notorious fart-makers.

Hint taken. How's about you and the Missus (or just you, as we did when I was in Goyang) come over to my place for a pulled-pork taste test? Let's set the date for sometime this month, after my payday (the 16th). If this month is too early, sometime in February will be fine.

Frank said...


No, the smoker still produces the smoke so at best, I could see putting it in the garage with a door open. The nice thing about an electric smoker is that you can set the time and temperature, and leave it be. No need to add or tend to the charcoal throughout the cooking process to keep the heat at a constant temperature. For example, it takes about 16 hours to smoke a boston butt at 225 degrees so I start it at 5 or 6 pm, add wood chips every 45 minutes for about 3-4 hours, then let it go overnight.