Technique For Homemade Eastern North Carolina Style BBQ
Ed Note: We saw this on Garry's
BBQ Pit and thought you might want
to see how others approach the fine art of smoking.
Tom "Big Heat" Solomon
- Gun Mountain, VA
Eleven acres of hickory and oak--send me your pigs!
Eastern North Carolina style barbeque is, by most accounts, the
oldest style of barbeque in the United States. Originating during
Colonial times in the coastal
regions of Virginia and the Carolinas, it endures and thrives today in the
eastern third of the state of North Carolina. According to Vince
Staten and Greg Johnson,
this style of barbeque "originated in those days when people thought tomatoes
were poisonous and refused to eat them. When the early settlers wanted a seasoning
for their barbequed pig, they chose English ketchup, a vinegar seasoned with
oysters and peppers and other spices, but containing no tomato."
and Johnson observe that "[today] Down East they cook the whole
hog, with no baste, over hickory coals, then 'pick' the meat off
the bone, chop it
into fine hunks, and coat it with a thin, hot vinegar-based sauce." Since
cooking a whole hog is not a valid option for most home barbequers, I have
come up with a three-step "infusion" technique that yields a reasonable
facsimile of Eastern North Carolina style barbeque.
The recommended smoker for making homemade Eastern North Carolina
style barbeque is a horizontal wood-fueled smoker with an offset
firebox, such as the Brinkmann
Smoke 'N Pit Professional, or similar style smokers made by companies such
as Oklahoma Joe, BBQ Pits By Klose, etc.
have had some success using the small, vertical, $30 dollar "water smokers" as well; however, it is an onerous
process and does not, as a rule, produce the deep, rich, smoky results that off-set
smokers yield. I have no experience with gas smokers, but many people have reported
good results using gas and wood chips and/or wood pellets.
you have a gas smoker rather than a wood unit, I see no reason why
you shouldn't be able to
make a perfectly acceptable version of Eastern North Carolina style barbeque.
After all, the key is "heat, smoke, and time," with smoke I think being
the most important element. While using gas will not make your barbeque "authentic" or "traditional",
you are not cooking a whole hog, either, so by all means use what you have.
This technique assumes you will be using wood for both heat and smoke. Those
using wood only for smoke can make the necessary adjustments. To find the right
woods, see my friends at Barbecuewood.com
noted, hickory is the traditional wood of choice for Eastern North
Carolina style barbeque. However, oak is also commonly
used, and both are good, strong,
full-bodied woods. From my experience, the ideal mixture is 40 percent hickory,
40 percent oak, and 20 percent apple wood--apple imparts a distinct, slightly
sweet essence that nicely balances the slightly bitter, high harshness of hickory
and the deep, mellow baritones of oak.
schools of thought exist regarding in what state (pre-burned coals,
split logs, or whole logs) the wood should be added
to the burn chamber, and
what color the smoke produced by the burning should be--a barely perceptable
blue, or a clean white smoke. Nearly everyone agrees that the wood should be
well-seasoned, as green wood tends to produce a bitter creosote that can ruin
my experience, the bitterness sometimes produced by a white smoke
is mitigated by the use of the infusion technique. What
I do is start a fire in the burn chamber
using plain old charcoal, let the charcoal burn down to glowing embers, and
then add split wood logs, using a ratio of two dry logs to
one wet (pre-soaked) log.
These are not hard and fast rules, however--I would encourage you to experiment
with pre-burned wood coals, whole logs, all dry logs, whatever you feel would
work best for your own taste buds and expertise. The only word of caution I
would add is that if, instead of using the infusion technique
you will be pulling the
pork and adding a table sauce (i.e. having a "pig pickin'"), you
would be well advised to use pre-burned coals rather than split and/or whole
the burn chamber.
In a word, pork. Period. No exceptions.
How much barbeque you want to make is up to you. The ideal cut would be what
Dave Lineback calls a "barbeque cut", which is a whole shoulder (a
picnic, commonly refered to in grocery stores as a pork shoulder) and Boston
Butt joined together. If you have access to a friendly butcher, by all means
use that cut. If, like me, you do not have access to a custom butcher, use a
ratio of two Boston Butts to every one pork picnic shoulder. Most retail grocery
store butchers will be happy to "special order" a whole shoulder for
you; likewise, they will also be more than happy to charge you the price of the
more expensive cut (typically the Boston Butt) for the whole thing when it arrives.
Picnics, at least here in Virginia, are often significantly cheaper per pound
than Boston Butts, so for me at least it makes more sense to just buy them the
way the retail grocers package them. Hey, it's all going to be mixed together
in the end anyway...
The Infusion Procedure
STEP ONE: Bring the meat up to
room temperature. Get your smoker started, and when you have a good base of
coals in the burn chamber put the pork in the cooking
chamber--fat side down for the first hour, fat side up for the rest of the
smoking process. Maintain a steady smoke and a temperature between 220 and
at the surface of the meat. Ideally, stay as close to 220 degrees as you can.
Have about 8 whole bulbs of garlic soaking; every couple of hours toss a couple
of the bulbs into the burn chamber [trust me :-)]. Smoke the meat (no baste,
no mop, no rub) for a minimum of 8 hours (this would be if you were using a
vertical water smoker, since 8 hours is about the outside limit of what you
can get from
those units in a single session). Ideally, you should smoke the meat for between
10 to 12 hours. Beyond that, I have found you begin to run into diminishing
return in regards to smoke penetration of the meat.
STEP TWO: Transfer the meat to
a large, covered Dutch Oven. Put a little bit of water and apple cider vinegar
into the bottom of the oven so that the pork
does not dry out. You can leave the oven in the smoker, or bring it inside
and put it in your range oven. Bake the pork at 275 degrees for an additional
or so, until the internal temperature of the pork at it's thickest point reaches
160 degrees. The pork should be separating from the bone at this point.
STEP THREE: Let the pork cool
until you can handle it without burning your fingers. Pull the pork into thumb
sized chunks, discarding as much fat and gristle as
you can. In a large cast iron skillet, pack about two or three pounds of pulled
pork. Make a finishing sauce of 16 ounces good quality apple cider vinegar
and 1-2 tablespoons cayenne pepper flakes (this is a rather fundamentalist
sauce--by all means feel free to experiment with other variations of Eastern
North Carolina sauces if you desire something a bit more elaborate). Dissolve
2 tablespoons of salt into 2-3 cups hot tap water and pour this over the pulled
pork. Add 8 ounces of finishing sauce, turn the heat to medium, and cook the
liquid down by about a third. Add another 4 ounces of finishing sauce, and
cook the liquid down some more, stirring frequently with a spatula so that
and Miss. White each spend some good quality time together in the sauce. When
the liquid is cooked down to the point that it just oozes over the spatula
when you press down on the pork, remove from heat, and serve your homemade
North Carolina style barbeque.
While this procedure is for Eastern North Carolina style barbeque, I see no
reason why it couldn't be adapted to other regional styles of barbeque. Experiment,
make improvements, and above all have fun with it. I hope it works as well
you as it has for me. Enjoy!