Beer-Braised Pulled Pork Shoulder

Pulled pork topped with coleslaw and grilled peach.

I told you we weren't dead! Becky and I spent the 4th of July weekend in my hometown of Truckee, California. If you're ever in the area, it's definitely worth visiting, in my humble (and admittedly biased) opinion.

Anyway, if you're a barbecue purist, you probably should just stop reading. I honestly have no idea if this dish would be considered "good" barbecue by the likes of you, or if it would even be worthy of being called "barbecue." It's not even smoked, for the reason that I don't have a smoker. However, if you're creative, you can recreate the tender, smoky quality associated with "authentic" Southern barbecue, with much less cooking time. By brining the pork, then coating it with a spice rub, roasting it, then briasing it in beer for a few hours, you can get something that's pretty close to the "real" thing (whatever that is).

Beer-Braised Pulled Pork Shoulder

  • 1 large pork shoulder, with the bone in.
  • 2-3 12 ounce bottles of beer.

For the brine:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon Worchesteshire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot, and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Turn off the heat, and allow the brine to cool to room temperature - at least 3 hours. 

Once the liquid has cooled, add the pork shoulder, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

For the spice rub:

I admit, this is kind of difficult to put into a written recipe. It's a little different every time, based on what spices I have, and my mood. However, it always includes coffee, cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, allspice, chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. And I always toast the whole spices before grinding them, by heating them in a small frying pan until they become aromatic.

I usually go with 1/2 cup of coffee beans, and about a tablespoon of everything else. Obviously, you can adjust this to your own taste. Grind everything in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Note that there's no salt in the rub. The pork is already plenty seasoned after being brined, and adding salt to the spice rub would be excessive.

Remove the pork from the brine, and discard the liquid. Coat every surface of the pork with a generous layer of the spice rub. Place the pork back in the refrigerator, and allow to sit for at least 3 hours.

Cooking the Pork

Take the pork out of the refrigerator, and place it in a large, over-proof container that has a lid. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the pork in the oven, uncovered. Let it roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until the outside has turned into a nice crust, and has even burned in a few spots.

Pork after roasting for an hour

Reduce the heat to 325, and pour one of the bottles of beer into the pot. Cover, and cook for about 2 hours. Add another bottle of beer, and cook for another hour or so. 

At this point, check the tenderness of the meat. With a fork, you should be able to pull it apart nearly effortlessly, and the meat should come away from the bone with no trouble whatsoever. If too much liquid has evaporated, add another bottle of beer, and cook until it gets to the point just described.

When the pork is done, carefully remove it from the pot, and set it aside, covered in foil.

Barbecue Sauce

  • The braising liquid that the pork cooked in, strained, with the fat separated
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine all the ingredients into a large saucepan, and and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it has thickened, and reduced by about a quarter to a third.

Using 2 forks, pull the pork apart. Place the shredded pork into a bowl, and add a few ladles of the sauce. Toss to coat.

This can be eaten by itself. Or, you can do a lot worse than serving it as a sandwich, topped with coleslaw (in this case, with a dressing of pureed avocado, mayonnaise, and vinegar), and a grilled peach slice.