NW Applewood Smoked Pork & Sauce

September 25, 2018


Author Notes: I use multiple varieties and physical states of apples to great effect in this suite of recipes. Applewood smoke, stewed apples, apple cider vinegar, aged apple brandy, and caramelized apples all combine for a philosophical cohesion. I live between the self-proclaimed apple capital of the world and the largest apple producing area in Washington State—you’d think these would be one in the same, but apparently they’re not. Needless to say, I’m surrounded by apples. The alleys are full of windfall ripe for the picking. Apples and pork are a wonderful match. I love to eat this pork on sesame or poppy seed-topped challah buns (I use Jeffrey Hamelman’s recipe from his book Bread and scale them at 70g for sliders or 100g for sandwiches dividing up 2kg of dough). Make this into a meal with my NW apple coleslaw for the sweet, fresh counterpoint needed to balance the unctuous meatiness. This is a great way to feed a crowd both due to volume and the food cost being $1-2 per serving. I catered a wedding reception for 75 people with a similar recipe and received great acclaim.

The meat’s two cooking stages simplify the process in some respects by maximizing the flavor benefits of the smoker but finishing the cooking in the forgiving, hands-off realm of slow-cooking that also keeps the meat juicy. I like to perform the final braise in a Dutch oven on an induction burner since I can really control and apply heat at the end to reduce juices if necessary, but a crock pot works very well. This long-cooking recipe is flexible in that it can be ready anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after starting depending on how the meat and heat are handled for the braise. Cut the meat into smaller pieces after smoking and use higher heat for the 8 hour finish, or let it coast untouched on low heat for up to a 24 hour finish. It’s certainly possible to speed up the braise by using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, but I haven’t done it and don’t have suggestions for technique. Reducing the liquid at the end might be a challenge in such a device. If you don’t have a smoker, you can get 70% of the way there by just searing and braising plus adding more smoked paprika and a little liquid smoke but it won’t be the same. Wash down with cider, eat with apple slaw, and follow with apple cake! Yum!

The caramelized apple and onion barbecue sauce is deeply flavored, and relatively fast to make for what it is. I utilize a few tricks in this recipe as gleaned from J. Kenji López-Alt’s quick French onion soup in his Food Lab book--namely, the speedy caramelization through the use of baking soda and repeatedly browning and deglazing over medium-high heat. The end result is thick due to the apple pectin. I serve it on the side and mix a little into the finished meat.
BakerBren

Serves: 20-30
Prep time: 1 hrs 15 min

Ingredients

NW Applewood Smoked and Braised Pulled Pork

  • ~8 pounds bone-in pork shoulder or butt
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon crushed brown or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 large apples, cored and diced but not peeled
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced pole-to-pole
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Calvados or similar oak-aged apple brandy (or Bourbon if you can't find apple brandy)
  • 10 lightly crushed juniper berries
  • additional salt to taste

Caramelized Apple and Onion Barbecue Sauce

  • 2 medium apples, cored and finely chopped but not peeled
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 dashes ground white pepper
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 dash allspice powder
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup smoked/pulled pork braising juices (from the accompanying recipe or substitute prepared stock with the addition of a little liquid smoke or more smoked paprika)
  • 2 tablespoons molasses (or honey, maple syrup, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup (optional)
  • salt to taste

Directions

NW Applewood Smoked and Braised Pulled Pork

  1. Set up smoker per manufacturer’s directions. Include water in the liquid pan if it has one. Place a full charge of applewood chips (pre-soaked in water) in the smoke box. Preheat to 225°F.
  2. Combine the measured salt, pepper, brown sugar, smoked paprika, mustard seeds, thyme, rosemary, and garlic in a small bowl and stir together to make a dry rub.
  3. Apply the dry rub (reserving 2tsp for later use) all over the pork and place it fat-side-up in a low-sided pan that will just fit it. I use disposable foil pans or a quarter sheet pan lined with parchment paper for this.
  4. Place the meat on a middle rack in the smoker and smoke at 225°F for about 4 hours, pausing to refill the water pan and recharge the smoke tray with fresh wood chips about three times (I do this on the hour). After 4 hours, the pork should have an internal temperature of 150°F, but it isn’t necessary.
  5. Prepare a large (at least 7 quarts) enameled cast iron Dutch oven or a large crock pot for the braise: Place the sliced onion and apples in the bottom, sprinkle on the reserved 2tsp of dry rub and crushed juniper berries (use a mortar and pestle or the side of a chef’s knife) and pour in the vinegar and Calvados. Place the pork on top of the bed of apples/onions and pour in any juices that collected in the pan while in the smoker.
  6. Cover with the lid and braise for at least 4 hours and up to 20 hours over low heat on the stovetop or high heat in a crock pot. Aim for a constant low boil. If you want to speed the cooking process for a shorter braise, cut the large chunk of meat into 4-8 smaller chunks in the pot.
  7. After about 4 hours, the meat should be tender enough to “pull” by simply stirring it with tongs. Remove the bone at this point. If it isn’t soft enough yet to separate, give it more time and heat. If a lot of liquid has built up, crack the lid for the final hour of cooking and stir often to reduce and concentrate the juices. This is harder to accomplish in a crock pot because most products don’t supply enough heat to keep a boil with the lid cracked. That’s the main reason I prefer stovetop preparation. If you just can’t get the juice reduced, pull some off with a ladle and keep it for another use such as a soup or the accompanying barbecue sauce.
  8. Adjust the salt, acid, and sweet seasoning as desired before serving. I often mix in half a cup of barbecue sauce to further moisten and flavor the meat.

Caramelized Apple and Onion Barbecue Sauce

  1. Melt butter in a 1-2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, white pepper, a few pinches of salt, baking soda, and 1 tsp of the brown sugar. Stir and let it cook uncovered until the onions start to brown and stick to the pot a little (7-10 minutes).
  2. Have some water handy in a small cup. Pour in about 2 tsp of water, and deglaze the browned bits from the bottom of the pan using a flat-tipped wooden spoon. Let the onions cook and brown again undisturbed (but watch carefully--don’t let them burn!) for about 5 minutes. Repeat the water deglazing. Again repeat the browning rest and deglazing a third time until a deep brown-colored paste is achieved. If you think it can get darker without burning, go for a fourth rest and deglaze.
  3. Now add half the apples with a little salt, stir, add a little water and quickly close the lid. This rapidly steams a portion of the apples and speeds up the breakdown process.
  4. After 5 minutes, remove the lid, add the remaining apples, cider vinegar, remaining brown sugar, smoked paprika, and allspice. Stir and continue to cook over medium-high heat while watching carefully to prevent burning.
  5. Once the apples are browned and starting to disintegrate (5-10 minutes later), add the pork braising juice or stock and cook for another 5-10 minutes. For a sweeter sauce, add molasses (my favorite), honey, maple syrup or any combination thereof. A tablespoon of ketchup or two is optional but really ties the flavors together well. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender then try a taste test. Adjust with salt, cider vinegar, or brown sugar as needed.

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