Nothing beats perfectly pulled pork that just falls apart in your mouth. But recreating shredded, restaurant-quality pork is easier said than done. And though it can be tough to get meat moist, tender and flavourful enough to impress the whole family, it isn’t an impossible feat.
Luis Valenzuela, one of the hosts from The Latin Kitchen (airs every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET), has mastered the art of making pulled pork, and he’s shared several essential rules that’ll help you perfect the dish. Here’s what he had to say:
1. Brine or cure the pork
As you probably know, you can’t just throw some pork in the slow cooker and expect it to turn out amazing. Give that pork some TLC by soaking it in a brine or curing it in salt before starting to cook it.
“If I want the pulled pork to be more dry, I’ll cure the pork. If I want it to be moist, I’ll brine the pork,” Valenzuela explained. It imparts flavour to the actual animal… The only difference is the salt — if you cure it, it will extract the moisture, and if you brine it, the moisture will [stay within] the protein.”
2. Flavour that brine
Valenzuela stated that “the amazing thing about brining pork, is that you can add other ingredients into it. So you can add things like cinnamon or cloves. You infuse that into the water and you let it sit.”
That way, the pork absorbs everything, enhancing its natural taste.
3. Brine it for at least two days
The longer you let your protein soak in a brine, the better it’ll turn out.
“It starts to perfume and take on all these flavours,” he told us.
Ideally, it should sit for at least 24 hours to two or three days, depending on how strong you make the brine.
4. Give it time
Luis explained that if you want that pork to taste amazing, you need to cook it for a long time — at least a couple of hours. You know what they say: slow and steady wins the race.
5. Cook it low
“Keep it at 350F, depending on the cut of pork you’re using. The lower the temperature you use, the better it will be… unless you want it to be very dry,” he stated.
The last thing you want to do is crank up the heat to make it cook faster. After all, making pulled pork is a beautiful process that requires patience and care.
6. The slow cooker is your best bet
Don’t sauté it; don’t fry it; don’t bake it; don’t steam it. According to Luis, the easiest and most effective way to get restaurant-worthy pulled pork is by popping it in the slow cooker.
7. Stick with pork shoulder
20 to “30 per cent of pork shoulder is fat, and that helps us with the flavour and helps to keep it moist,” he mentioned. “The shoulder’s the easiest part to make pulled pork with, and the belly is [a great option] too.”
8. Don’t trim the fat
Part of the way you get that moist, flavourful taste can be credited to the fat within the pork — so don’t cut it out.
“There’s this war against fat, which is not necessarily bad,” Valenzuela said. “But everything we eat in excess is bad…. we just need to be more careful with that.”
Fat isn’t always healthy; in fact, it can be very unhealthy. But it is okay to have it in moderation — especially when it’s exactly what makes that pulled pork taste heavenly.
9. Respect the animal
“We need to shine a bigger light on the fact that these are living creatures that don’t benefit from us, but that we benefit from them,” Valenzuela explained. “If there’s a golden rule to making pulled pork, it’s that you need to honour the animal. Treat it with dignity, and cook it right.”
Looks like that drool-worthy, massive pile of pulled pork you’re envisioning is about to become more than a distant dream.
See what else Luis Valenzuela can cook up on The Latin Kitchen at 9:30 p.m. ET every Thursday.