Published January 1, 2010.
Could we transform pork shoulder into smoky-tasting barbecue with a crusty exterior and tender interior—without trading our indoor oven for an outdoor pit?
In recipes, the phrase “indoor barbecue” is usually code for “braised in a Dutch oven with bottled BBQ sauce.” Unfortunately, this results in mushy, waterlogged meat and candy-sweet sauce.
We wanted moist, tender, shreddable meat with deep smoke flavor all the way through, plus a dark, richly seasoned crust.
Be it indoor or outdoor, with barbecue, a good amount of fat is necessary for moisture and flavor, so we chose to use boneless Boston butt because of its high level of marbling. Our first big decision was oven temperature. We knew that for meat to become tender, its connective tissues must break down, which takes both heat and time. Meat needs to hold an internal temperature of around 200 degrees for at least an hour in order for collagen (a key protein component of connective tissue) to dissolve.
But there’s a crucial difference between real barbecue and oven barbecue: On a grill, as moisture escapes from damp wood chips and starts steaming meat, it becomes trapped underneath the dome of the lid, creating a moist cooking environment. An oven, by contrast, is ventilated to remove any moisture that builds up inside. Since moist air transfers heat more effectively than dry air, an oven is less efficient than either a grill or a smoker.
The answer was a dual cooking method: covering the pork for part of the oven time to speed up cooking and keep it moist, then uncovering it for the remainder of the time to help the meat develop a crust. We experimented until we found the perfect balance of time spent in each stage, and cutting the pork butt in half provided more surface area for a flavorful crust to form.
Next, we focused on mastering the defining feature of barbecue: smoky flavor. To achieve this without an actual barbecue pit, we turned to liquid smoke, a natural product derived from condensing the moist smoke of smoldering wood chips. We found that adding it to our brine infused it with smoky flavor without tasting unnatural. For even more smokiness, we employed a dry rub and a wet rub, which we also fortified with smoky flavorings.
To serve alongside our pork, we developed three sauces inspired by the variety of barbecue regions and styles: a classic sweet and tangy sauce, a vinegar sauce, and a mustard sauce, all of which we flavored with some of the pork’s defatted cooking liquid.list of recipes