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Sous Vide: Pulled Pork, Indoor Style

Sous vide tenderization is more precise than a crock pot and reduces the time requirement of pulled pork from all day to two hours.

Ingredients

Pork Shoulder Butt, boneless or bone-in, anywhere from 2 lb/1.8K g to whole, 8 lb/3.8 Kg.
Kosher salt, 2 teaspoons/lb, or 4 teaspoons/Kg.

Slider buns, as needed.
Butter, softened for grilling the buns, too little to measure.
Scallions, one per person, cut in half.
Pineapple, fresh or canned, a few tiny pieces for garnish.

Potato chips, as needed (optional).
Onion crisps, optional.

Seasonings, per 2 lb/1 Kg of pork:
Sugar, 1 teaspoon.
Ground pepper, 1 Tablespoon.
Paprika, 1 Tablespoon.
Garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon.
Fennel seed, 1 Tablespoon.
Oregano, 1 Tablespoon.
Allspice, 1 teaspoon.
Coriander seeds, crushed, 1 Tablespoon.

Equipment requirements:
Immersion circulator, portable or stationary.
Heat rated container, approximately 5 gallons/19 liters.
Heat rated sous vide bags.
Channel or chamber vacuum device
Infrared thermometer.
Thick bottomed skillet, approximately 12″/300 mm, OR crock pot.
Kitchenaid type mixer with paddle attachment.
Sheet pan.
Infrared or probe thermometer.

Serves 4-10+
Level of difficulty 2.75

Note: This recipe utilizes un-smoked pork butt. This is because not everyone has the opportunity, time, or equipment to smoke their pork before shredding it. For this reason, we provide recipes to make pulled pork both ways–smoked and un-smoked. If you are one of those people who makes pulled pork in a crock pot or another streamlined method, this recipe/method offers benefit. Advance sous vide processing tenderizes, pasteurizes and preserves your pork. As long as the packaging remains sealed, it will keep refrigerated for at least two weeks. Then, at your convenience, you will have a two hour production window from start to service instead of an all day commitment to hoping that the crock pot is on the right setting.

The recipe for smoked, pulled pork butt is located HERE.

Procedure:

Preheat the sous vide bath to
183 F/84 C.
Note: This introductory temperature gives us a head start on bringing the pork up to the optimum internal temperature. Once a sealed roast is staged into the bath, the temperature is lowered to
135 F/57 C.
Reducing the temperature when you stage the roast in to the bath is necessary to limit shrinkage, moisture loss and to prevent overcooking.

Stage the pork into heat rated vacuum bags or Ziploc gallon freezer bags. The size of the roast does not matter for sous vide processing. However, a full sized roast may not fit in a standard sized bag without being cut in smaller pieces. This is a wise alternative. A full sized roast will not take significantly longer than a 2 Kg roast. The time and temperature parameters remain exactly the same. Sous Vide times and temperatures are almost indifferent to bulk and are mostly dependent on the shortest distance from the surface to the geometric center of the protein.

Go big?
If you are determined to process the whole roast, extra large sleeves are available on line. Sealing the extra large bags can also present a challenge. They are usually sealed twice, at opposing angles. First, the empty sleeve is turned at 45 degrees to seal half of the opening on the Foodsaver heat bar. The bag is turned and the remaining “half” opening is sealed.

After loading the whole roast into the large sleeve, the other end of the bag can also be sealed at angles. Vacuum is only applied for the last step. Sans vide is another good option for this–one end of the bag is sealed at angles, but the other end/opening is draped over the edge of the tank and secured by the lid.

Once you have staged the roast into the appropriate pouch, stage the sealed roast into the sous vide bath. Remember to
LOWER THE TEMPERATURE! TO
135 F/57 C.
Set the timer for anywhere between 22 and 26 hours. Sous vide is very forgiving, and there is no “moment” before which the roast is under cooked or after which it is ruined. Temperatures should be used with attention to precision.

When the processing time has elapsed, shock the roast(s) in iced water until they achieve 70 F/21 C. This is a very important safety procedure for roasts of this size–whether you are processing sous vide or not. A roast (or a turkey) of this size should NEVER be cooled at room temperature–it just takes too long to meet established safety guidelines.

How can you tell when the internal temperature of such a large roast has achieved 70 F/21 C? That is an excellent question.

Be cool, Man
The packaged roast is first submerged in a container of iced water that is at least twice the volume of the roast. Without explaining the details of how this is calculated, consider that meat is almost the same density as water. In this case, we use a vessel or sink that can hold at least 3 gallons/12 liters of cold water. One way to do this is by siphoning the water out of the sous vide bath and replacing it with iced water from the tap. The ability to do this depends on the logistics of your station/kitchen.

Then what?
Regardless of its size, submerge the roast in the filled vessel/sink. Wait until the ice has all melted. The temperature of the water will be approximately 70 F/21 C. Return in 15 minutes and use a probe or infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the water. If it is above 70 F/21 C, then the roast is not completely chilled. Drain the vessel/sink, refill with cold tap water and come back in 15 minutes. Repeat this process until the water steadies at 70 F/21 C. Then you will know that it is safe to refrigerate the roast at 40 F/4 C.

Preparing Pulled Pork

Submerge the entire cold package for 5-10 minutes in a preheated sous vide bath or hot tap water (110+ F/44+ C). This will fully melt the gel. Cut one of the corners of the bag and drain the juices. Set aside. Click HERE  to learn how to clarify the juices for use in any recipe that calls for stock or water. Finish opening the bag and remove the roast from bag. Pat the roast dry with paper towels.

Cut at least  2 lb/1Kg of the roast into large pieces–approximately 4 oz/120 g each–just so they can fit in the pan or crock pot. You can add the salt and seasonings now or after this next step. A lot of people will debate this, but the science strongly contradicts the idea that seasonings other than salt can actually penetrate the surface of meat–even if it has been shredded. The salt is going to dissolve into the mixture regardless of when you add it.

Pulling towards a goal

Set the burner temperature on medium low–just below the “sizzling” point. There should be steam escaping from the mixture and a moist, bubbling sound coming from the surface of the pan. In my experience, the noise that food makes when heat is applied is more indicative of correct cooking temperature than visual examination or even thermometers

Once the meat has started to show the appropriate signs, cover the pan. Check in half an hour to make sure that the correct sounds are being made!

Finishing

After two hours, remove the lid and turn off the burner. Add the seasonings as per the instructions in the ingredients list and/or to your liking. At this point the meat will shred almost on its own. Old school methods used two forks. Now there are tools available on line that look rather like combs that are good for large amounts. If I am feeling lazy, I use the Kitchenaid type mixer with the paddle attachment–it only takes a few seconds.

Heat the skillet on medium, spread a little butter on the buns and toast. Toss the scallions with salt and pepper and a few drops of oil, add to the pan and increase the heat to high. After a few seconds, they will wilt–remove from the pan, set aside.

Assemble the sandwiches as shown, or, do your own thing!

Enjoy!

Norm King

About

I suspect that pulled pork's ancient discovery was accidental or at least incidental. In the process of trying to tenderize and render a freshly captured wild boar, some serenely patient (or preoccupied) practitioner built a fire, dug a pit, buried the pig Luau style and went upon his or her other daily tasks.

Primitive cooking methods lacked the precision to create the various intermediary textures that enable pork shoulder butts to be served as roasts, steaks, or other familiar applications. There was a sort of DMZ zone. Raw on one side. Shredded, fully rendered "pull-apart strings" on the other.

Now, this form is favored by any culture in which pork is routinely consumed.

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