Friday, January 29, 2016

on pork shoulder

This morning, I pulled nearly three pounds (about 1.2 kg) of pork out of my slow-cooker and flaked it apart with forks (only pussies need bear claws). For the first time ever, I had cooked pork shoulder—the proper cut of pork for pulled pork. Up to now, I've only ever used sirloin or tenderloin—both of which have proven tasty, and both of which are pretty solid, un-marbled muscle groups.

Pork shoulder is completely different, and I'm regretting not having used an oven-based method for prepping it—a nice dry rub followed by hours of mindful baking. The shoulder is an extremely fatty cut of meat, and by "fatty," I don't mean merely marbled: I mean there are actual veins and chunks of fat shot through the muscle (see a picture here). In a slow-cooker, some of that fat, if you haven't cut it off, will dissolve during the slow-cooking process, but much of it will remain. I suspect that, were I to bake the pork instead of crock-potting it, the results would be quite different. Baking often entails drying, unless you surround your food with (or set your food in) water. A fatty shoulder, though, probably wouldn't dry out after hours of baking: it would remain moist and succulent as the fat deposits denatured and the meat essentially basted in its own juices. At the same time, the fat deposits wouldn't become waterlogged and unpleasant to the tongue.

So as things stand, I'm a bit disappointed. I'm not sure that a crock pot is the best way to handle pork shoulder. My results weren't bad, but I didn't think the meat looked, felt, or tasted ideal. Next time, I'm going to do it right and bake the bastard. One good thing, though: the pork chunks actually look different from sirloin and tenderloin. The latter two cuts produce stringy, fibrous-looking meat; pork shoulder, by contrast, naturally breaks off into bite-sized chunks. I look forward to a major difference in mouth-feel.


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