Perpetual Pork

Stall (v): to stop or cause to stop making progress.

Today was my introduction to the much-maligned pork shoulder roast “stall”, a trippy phenomenon in which the temperature gain of the meat on the smoker stops for a significant amount of time (sometimes several hours), usually around 155-165F. I had plenty of time to read up on this collagen conversion phase change this afternoon, and found a really comprehensive, scientific explanation for what’s happening here.  The more you know.

This was my first bone-in pork shoulder roast. The prior two roasts this summer were both boneless (and largely stall-free)… so overall today was a good lesson in patience, trust in molecular biology, and predictive beer stocking.

On with the show.

Today’s pork shoulder was a 5.75 lb. bone-in roast from Safeway. When preparing the meat, some people like to go trim-happy, shaving off excess meat or fat. I’ve learned that fat is really a close, personal friend within the context of smoking, as a decent top layer on the meat does a great job in keeping things moist when it needs to be during the cooking process.  Trim fat away when you’re done if you’re concerned, but not before.

1-Pork shoulder

Another swell pal you’ll make as you progress into this fragrant hobby is… yellow mustard. It’s a superior binder for keeping the rub on the meat the night before you pitch it on the smoker, and it adds a great flavor element.  A number of pork shoulder rub will call for dry ground mustard, but if I’m coating it with French’s, I skip that part of the recipe. So – step one for the meat, coat it with a healthy squeeze of yellow mustard.

2-Mustard base

You’ve primed the meat, now it’s time for the sexy. I’ll save my treatise on the multiverse of dry meat rubs for another time, but for the purposes of this roast, I went with a good, simple, brown sugar-based rub that performs really well:

1/2 cup dark brown sugar (I tend to use a skosh more than this)
1/3 cup sweet paprika (you can use regular paprika, too)
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper (if you like things with kick, up this with another tbsp.)

This makes enough rub to coat a 6-8 lb roast.

Mix ingredients well.  I toss the ingredients into a sandwich Ziploc bag, and shake it like a Polaroid picture until it’s well-integrated.  Sprinkle well over the mustard-coated pork, ensuring complete coverage.  Once it’s on, get in there with your hands and massage the rub into the meat a little. Or a lot.
3-Rub applied

Once you’re feeling good about things, lay out a good 2-3 foot length of plastic wrap on the counter, and wrap the rub-coated meat tightly and completely.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

This morning around 10AM, I pulled the pork out of the refrigerator, prepped the WSM Minion-style with 80% apple wood chunks, 15% hickory (the big log in the center), and 5% cherry. I wrapped the water reservoir in the WSM with foil, and left it empty.  Pork shoulders do best in a dry smoker, as this allows the proper creation of ‘bark’, the dark, dense coating that forms during the smoking process.  A humid smoker would prevent this brand of awesome from happening.

5- Minion 6 - Ready

The meat went onto the 225-degree smoker at 10:30AM.  Lower vents were at 25% open, top vent at 50%.

Oh!  Almost forgot, the “mop”.  Folks “mop” their meats in a myriad of ways: brushes, handheld mini-mops, or spray bottles, with yet another myriad of substances/concoctions.  The mop is used to keep things moist and help with the bark creation process.  I use the following in a spray bottle, applied every hour after the first hour of cook-time:

1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water

I took a few iPhone shots of the meat after the first two mop-spritzes, but the orange canopy overhead really screwed with the shots.  Here’s one from 1:30PM, about three hours in. Things look pretty wet as I’d just applied the spray-mop, but you can see some good early bark formation happening.

7 - 3 hours

Here’s another shot from 3:30PM, five hours in. Meat temp at this point had progressed to about 150F, pretty much on track. Good coloration, smoker was still producing good smoke with lid temp steady at 230F.

8 - 5 hours

Checking in again at 4:30PM (the six-hour mark), I was expecting things to be up around 165ish.  Nope.  We were pegged at 155, and there we remained for the next two hours, stuck in the stall.

9 - 6 hours

6:30PM, eight hours in.  160 degrees, a small creep up in temps.  Good bark progression.

10 - 8 hours

At around 7:15PM, temps rose to 170F.  Out of the stall!
7:45PM, 185F – almost there!
8:15PM, the magical 190-195 degree mark was achieved at just under ten hours on the smoker. Moved the roast indoors to rest for 5 minutes or so.  The bone removal was super-easy, it slipped out with almost no resistance, signifying spot-on temps. The large meat portions went into the shreddin’ bowl.  I also trimmed off the couple larger fatty areas that remained.

11 - 10 hours12 - bone removed

To shred the pork, I use Bear Paw meat handlers.  They’re made of heat-resistant nylon, and are perfect for going Wolverine on the pork. Took about 5 minutes to shred everything really well.

13 - shredded 14 - shred detail

The end result was well worth the wait.  The meat was tender and succulent, without being unctuous. The rub imparted the right amounts of sweet, salt, and heat without skewing too far over in any one direction, a really nice balance.

I’m still a relative n00b when it comes to pulled pork, but I’ve yet to find a better way to get it in my bell-ay than the following sandwich:

King’s Hawaiian hamburger buns (they’re smaller than the King’s Hawaiian Sandwich bun)
A good deli cole slaw
J. Lee Roy’s Hickory Smoked Dippin’ Sauce (Safeway carries it in CA)

After 10 hours, I deserved the carb hit. Totally worth it. Someone’s gotta help me out with the leftovers, though.

15 - sandwich

Thanks for reading!


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