I was looking at the weather forecast, and it seems we will have one of the mildest Augusts on record. There is a pool at my apartment so it is sad to learn I may have spent my last day there this year, but that means I’ll be cooking outside — which is my favorite place to cook! For me nothing beats the smell of a smoky fire in the grill and a cold beer in my hand.
Pork is my favorite item to grill, and the pork butt is the king cut. It does not come from the butt like it sounds; the ham comes from the back end of the pig. Pork “butt” is the top half of the front shoulder of the pig — the pork “shoulder” cut is the lower half of the front leg. Pork steaks, which are also cheap and delicious, are sliced from the pork butt and at $1.19 a pound they are very economical. But today I’m talking about the whole butt.
Almost all ingredients can be sourced locally which is a bonus! Every region has its own style of barbecue, so if you’re using local stuff, you’re making something specific to the flavors of central Illinois — cool! My recipe will get you the smoke flavor, but then you can finish in a roasting pan and skip fussing with the grill for an extra six to 10 hours.
You will need a gas grill or charcoal grill and charcoal. Wood chips of choice: I like hickory, mesquite, cherry, pecan or a mix of any. I do not recommend alder wood for this recipe. Also, you’ll need a large tub or sheet tray and disposable gloves. My secret ingredient is a strong cup of black coffee, it adds a depth of flavor that just plain works. Plan ahead — the whole process takes a few days.
* 1 whole pork butt, bone-in
* 1/2 to 1 cup chili powder, your favorite brand
* 1/4 to ½ cup seasoned salt or Kosher salt
* 1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (optional, for end of recipe)
Put the gloves on and place the butt in a tub or sheet pan and season generously with all the spices. Rub them in really well. You cannot over season so don’t worry about the heavy coat of spice. Let sit in the fridge, uncovered, for one to three days: one day to let the spices cure into the meat and another two days to get a sticky skin, called a pellicle. This tackiness helps soak up the smoke. If you don’t want to wait that long, then spray with cooking spray just before going on the grill.
Make an offset fire in the grill — coals on one side. Or if using gas turn on one side only at medium heat. Soaking the chips helps for smoke to develop, but they do not need to soak very long. Drain and put in an aluminum pie pan or make a pouch with foil and poke a few holes. Place this over the heat. When the smoke starts, put the butt on the cool side. This is where it will stay for four hours. You may need to add a few more coals and/or wood chips — just keep the smoke going during that time. From here it goes into the roasting pan with:
* 24 ounces of your favorite beer
* 1 cup plain, black coffee
If you want to have ready for dinner, then start the grill after breakfast. Smoke four hours and then into the roaster on high. Cook until the shoulder bone slides out easily — about three to four hours. If you prefer to wait until lunch (or dinner) the next day then start the grill in the early evening and smoke for four hours. Put the butt in the roaster set on low with the beer and coffee and cook overnight.
Once cooked and tender, remove carefully from the roaster. Shred the meat and it is ready to serve. One butt will feed eight to 16 people this way. I like to serve mine wet and it almost doubles the amount of servings. After shredding I add half a bottle of my favorite barbecue sauce and about half the cooking liquid. Taste for seasoning and adjust; quite often I will add more sauce and cooking liquid. Serve on buns — we like ours with a little coleslaw on top.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Sean Keeley is culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College.
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