Saturday, September 14, 2019

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 4, Free State Smoked Pork Shoulder

While every barbecue style is defined by a principal protein (beef in Texas, pork in North Carolina, etc.), that style is never limited to just that one protein. Pitmasters also work their magic on other proteins, adding their distinctive regional approaches to the resulting barbecue.

In this multi-part series, Project Maryland Barbecue, I have been exploring what would be true Maryland barbecue if the Free State had its own regional barbecue style. Part 1 generally focused on the elements of a regional barbecue, such as protein, rubs, sauce and wood.  Parts 2 and 3 turned to specific elements of what would be Maryland barbecue.  The discussion in Part 2 explained why, of all the proteins that could be smoked, the principal protein of Maryland barbecue would be chicken. With the protein in place, Part 3 turned to the sauce. Despite the range of sauces,  from white to red, from tomato to vinegar, the discussion in Part 3 explained why if Maryland barbecue had a signature sauce, it would be tomato based, but lighter and thinner than a Memphis based sauce or Kansas City sauce.

Part 4 takes us to the next logical extension of a BBQ style ... to other proteins.  There are a few options, such as beef, pork, lamb or mutton.  If there was to be a secondary protein for Maryland style barbecue, I think it would more likely than not be pork.  There are three reasons.

First, pork figures a little more prominently in Maryland agriculture than beef, lamb or mutton.  Maryland ranks 30th in the United States in terms of the number of hogs and pigs in the State, while it ranks 41st when it comes to the number of cattle in the state. By the numbers, there are over 7,000,000 hogs and pigs in the Free State, while there are only about 197,000 cattle in the state.  More pig farms than cattle ranches supports the conclusion that pork would feature more prominently than beef in a barbecue style. 

Second, the regional barbecues surrounding the state have pork as their primary protein.  The Carolinas are all about pork, whether it is whole hogs in eastern North Carolina or pulled pork in Western North Carolina and South Carolina.  In addition, ham features prominently in Virginia.  The prevalence of pork not just in the State of Maryland, but also nearby States, also supports the conclusion that pork would feature in any barbecue style in the Free State.

Third, a review of the menus from BBQ joints in the State of Maryland features a lot of pulled pork. This factor is a little less reliable than the first or second reasons because BBQ joints often try to feature a range of barbecue, including beef, sausage, and other offerings.  However, when one drills down to what the joint is known for or what it promotes, it is more often than not pork, and, more often than not pulled pork.

So, if there was a Maryland Barbecue Style, and, if there was a secondary protein in that style, it would be pork.  And, more specifically, it would be pulled pork.

With that in mind, I decided to smoke a pork shoulder.  When it comes to pork shoulders, one of the keys is the rub.  After doing some research, I decided to use a rub created by a native son to the State of Maryland ... Steven Raichlen.  I utilized his basic rub, which happens to be my go to rub for barbecue for both pork and chicken. The rub has the perfect balance of paprika, garlic, onion and salt, with the added flavor of celery seeds.  The one thing that this rub lacks, at least in my humble opinion, is a little heat.  If you are a chilehead like myself, then adding a couple of tablespoons of cayenne pepper could provide the requisite heat.

So, in the end, if there was a Maryland Style of barbecue, pork could also figure into that style, with a pulled pork that could be served with the Maryland style sauce.  Stay tuned for the next segment in Project Maryland BBQ, because, who knows where it may lead!


FREE STATE SMOKED PORK SHOULDER
Pork Recipe adapted from and inspired by Steven Raichlen
Rub recipe from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible
Serves many

Ingredients:
1 Boston Butt Pork Shoulder (6 to 8 pounds)
Chunks of apple wood

Ingredients (for the rub):
1 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
1 cup brown or white sugar
1 cup sweet paprika
1/2 to 1 cup coarsely ground or cracked black peppercorns
3 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
3 tablespoons granulated onion powder
1 tablespoon celery seed

Directions:
1.  Marinate the pork butt. Combine all of the ingredients for the rub. Season the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub, massaging the rub into the meat.

2.  Prepare the smoker or the grill.   Set up the smoker or grill for indirect grilling and get a fire going.  Preheat the smoker or the grill to about 250 degrees.

3.  Smoke the pork butt.  Place the pork but, fat side up in the middle of the grate over a drip pan.  Toss a handful of soaked wood chips (soaked for about an hour) on the charcoals.  Cover and smoke the shoulder until it is the color of mahogany, about 7 to 9 hours.  The internal temperature should be about 195 degrees.  This will require the addition of fresh charcoal every so often,  After about 4 hours of smoking, check the fire and the shoulder.  At this point, it may be appropriate to wrap the shoulder in aluminum foil for the rest of the smoke.

4.  Finish the smoke.  Once the pork shoulder reaches the requisite temperature, remove the shoulder from the smoker and let it rest for about 15 to 30 minutes.  Pull the pork and serve immediately.

ENJOY!


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