I spend so many hours reading about smoking meat that it is starting to cut in on my porn time! I think I am getting to be OK at it. I am still gaining experience into how far I can bend rules. Sometimes it is so hard to tell just how far you can bend them and still come out good, especially when some of the more experienced people are saying things and you feel certain doom is coming if you don't follow exactly!
Sometimes the conversations seem to skip steps or fail to mention different ways of holding pork. There are lots of threads about freezing pork to pull later and such. While there are discussions about holding pork for long periods of time, there seldom seems to be a consensus on what to do. Or the situation isn't exactly what I am looking for. I decided to jot down a little about what I have experienced while I get into smoking. I have no doubt that most experienced people know all of this already and know when to bend the rules. I am ServeSafe certified(manager), so I think I was pretty safe about everything. Butt(haha), if I say anything that sounds unsafe, feel free to let me know!
I've got about 20 butts and 30 smokes under my belt now and I am certainly doing something different each time. That is just in 8 months or so.
Anyways. This is what I did today:
We have been having bake sales at work for a children's hospital. I decided that I was going to make a few port butts and bring them in and do bbq. I talked a bunch of people into bringing beans and cold salads and the like.
Every time I cook a pork butt, the issue is this: If I start it early and it cooks fast, the butt will be done way too early. If I try to time it just right, I end up eating hours late. After cooking all day, the last thing I want is a dried out pile of pork jerky or something that is chewy.
I put two butts in the smoker at 6 pm last night and kept it between 245 and 255 until 6:50 this morning. I decided wrapping the butt was for chumps and I just bleached/sanitized the cooler the night before. At 6:50 am one butt registered 198 and the other 187. I boiled up some water and poured it into my clean and sanitized cooler and let it sit for about 10 minutes. I poured it out, and then threw down a piece of aluminum, I grabbed the butt with another piece of aluminum and sat it into the cooler. The second butt I rolled onto a piece of aluminum foil and then set it into the cooler. Closed the lid, and took it to work. It sat in the cooler til about 10:15 am. It was still too hot for me to touch. My cooler isn't a great cooler, it is a cheap igloo cooler from Walmart that holds a case of beer and a bag of ice. Not one of the pricey 7 day coolers or anything. It was in the cooler about 3 1/2 hours and it was too hot to pull by hand still. I didn't wrap it in blankets or anything else. I pulled the 198 degree one with tongs while I let the 187 one rest. The second one was still too hot to handle while I was cutting it. I'm a big boy though and I had some latex gloves on which helped a little. By the time I finished, it had cooled significantly. I put the 22lbs worth of pork in a large alum pan with two sterno under it and poured the finishing sauce I had made(recipe at the end) in along with some apple juice and water. I would normally have a beer in my hand to add liquid, but they frown upon that while I am at work.
Sterno are not the most exact ways to keep things hot and I didn't have a real lid for the tray. I checked the temp a couple times and it was around 200 throughout the day. I served the last of it at about 1pm. I tasted a piece right after pulling, and I got the next to last sandwich of the day. I tended the pork throughout the time and I added water and apple juice back and forth. To cut down on maintaining it, I ended up adding quite a bit more apple juice and finishing sauce to the pork and just stirring it right before serving to people and it came out just right while still protecting the meat at the bottom. I figure I had about 1 1/2" of liquid in the pan and just kept stirring it. I added about a half cup or so of water every 10-20 minutes. It boiled in places and the heat was definitely directed into two spots. I stirred it each time I served a sandwich. I kept the pulled on one side of the pan and the chopped on the other. Towards the last couple pounds I just stirred them together. I honestly don't think anyone noticed the difference between the pulled and chopped aside from the people who I fished out larger pieces to put on the Spanish rice that someone else brought. I believe I could of kept the pork like this indefinitely as long as it was stirred every couple minutes. I laid foil over it when not serving to try and keep some of the liquids from evaporating. I couldn't tell the difference between the first piece I ate after pulling and the sandwich towards the end.
I can honestly say that it came out great. The pork at the end was just as juicy and awesome as right after pulling. Using a plug in turkey roaster would of made the entire deal much easier to keep warm, but I can't say I had much problems with it. It was very successful and I can say that I wouldn't change a thing about how it went. Lots of people asked me "You made this?" like they expected I was lying. I take that as a compliment. It came out great and we got some money for needy children.
Over the last couple months I have had pork done 6+ hours early. Here is what I've tried:
1) Pulled the pork and put it in the fridge to chill for 5-6 hours and then in the oven an hour before.
Result: It was still better than your average chain, but not much. It was great when I first pulled it, so I honestly didn't like this method. I had to put more finishing sauce and then sauce it on my plate. Definitely edible, but not the choice way to do it.
2) Pulled it, and put it in the oven covered at 160 for hours.
Result: Edible. Maybe a little better than the refrigerate and reheat. I think it was because the collagen and fat maybe recongeals in the fridge and the amount of heat/time necessary to change it back makes it drier? I don't know for sure, but this isn't the best method to use either.
3) Finished smoking and put the entire butts in a big turkey roaster on top of a roast rack to keep it out of the juices and save the bark. (well.. wadded up aluminum foil haha) in the oven at 180. I think I left it for 6 or 8 hours before I decided to pull it.
Result: Came out about as good as pulled pork can. It didn't destroy the bark or anything either. I have no qualm about holding a butt most of the day this way now. I've done it a couple times. It does make the house smell very bbq licious though. Once I took it out of the oven and pulled it, I put it back in the turkey pan with the dripping that were in the pan and used the finishing sauce on it. I left it on the stove for another hour or two across 2 eyes that were on to keep it warm. This is my go to way to keep pork right until dinner now. I am going to buy a plug in turkey roaster to do this so the oven isn't used and it can stay heating while serving easier. It also will keep not heat the house up as much and can be portable.
If I only had an hour or two til eating then I would still use the cooler, but the oven is so easy and I don't really see a downside to it if one is handy.
Anyone else have any thoughts on it or any helpful hints for holding a pork butt for long times?
Finishing sauce recipe:
1 cup vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chipotle sauce. I cooked some chipotle peppers in water with a little bit of spices then blended for something else and I loved it added to this.
1 teaspoon pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste
Put apple juice and sugar together, microwave for 30 seconds, swirl. Add the rest. Swirl. Done.