Saturday, June 18, 2011

The First Smoking of the Season

Having returned from a vacation in the Outer Banks and really wanting to do my first barbecue for the year, I decided that I would smoke some pork in the Eastern Carolina style.  Barbecue in North Carolina is exclusively pork.  There is a historical reason for the pork-centric nature of Carolina BBQ. The early explorers from Spain, beginning with De Soto, and settlers from England brought pigs with them on their voyages to the new world.  The pigs thrived much better in the woodlands of the South than cattle.  Over the years, decades and even centuries, pork became the principal form of protein in the South.  And, in the eastern part of North Carolina, barbecue means smoking a whole hog, pulling the meat and bathing it with a vinegar/pepper based sauce. 

The problem is that I do not have the facilities to smoke a whole hog at my home.  (One of my dreams is to be able to smoke or roast a whole hog, but the strident objections from Clare remain an obstacle to realizing that dream.)  I initially wanted to smoke a boston butt, but the pork I bought had been sliced by the grocery store.  I did not realize this until I got the pork home and unwrapped the tight clear wrap, only to watch the shoulder fall apart.  A little annoyed at the grocery store, I decided to buy another one from a different store.  That store did not have any boston butts, but it did have picnic cuts.  I have never smoked with the picnic before; all of my prior BBQ adventures involved smoking boston butts.  

Photo from
Now a little background about the terminology.  The "boston butt" and the "picnic" comprise an entire shoulder of the pig.  Actually, the front two haunches of a pig.  Although they are both part of the same haunches, the two cuts have some important differences.  Most notably, the boston butt has more fat on it than the picnic, while the picnic almost always has a good amount of the skin (which has some fat underneath it).  

The differences between the butt and the picnic are important when it comes to smoking, at least from what I have learned.   The picnic has less fat interspersed in the meat, with most of the fat in a layer just underneath the skin.  Thus, a picnic requires a good mop sauce and a lot of mopping to keep it from drying out.  By contrast, a boston butt has more fat throughout the cut, which helps to keep the meat more moist during the cooking process.  Normally, with the a boston butt, I would mop maybe once an hour after four or five hours of smoking.  With a picnic, however, I would do it once every forty-five minutes or even once every half hour after four hours depending upon how the smoking is going. 

My first smoking of the season was also my first effort at smoking a picnic.  The shape of the picnic proved to be an obstacle, because part of the edge dried out and  a little difficult to pull, while the rest of the pork, especially around the bone, remained most and easy to pull.  The pork is very good, although it was a little more like chopped pork than pulled pork.  Still, I would call this a success because the vinegary, East-Carolina sauce worked very well with the pork. It reinforced why I like Carolina BBQ.

All of the fixings I need for a good pulled pork sandwich
I debated about whether to post the recipe with this blog post.  I decided that I would hold off until after I tried to make this BBQ using a boston butt.  I think that it will be even better, and more blog worthy, when done with the butt rather than the picnic.  I'm already planning the next smoking sessions.  So, until next time ...


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