One of the rookie mistakes with pulled pork is pulling the whole butt at once. Bad move. When you first break into your butt it is drool-inducingly moist but once the meat is pulled it goes south (no pun intended) in a hurry. It’s a conundrum – you need to pull the meat when it is steaming hot to get the right texture, but pulling it hot means that a lot of the moisture (and flavour) disappears as steam.
The trick is to pull just the amount needed for each sandwich, get it in the bun, close it up, and then pull the next serving. The bun traps and captures and absorbs the moisture, but even then you need help. Specifically, you want a thin sauce (traditionally known as a “mop”) to over-hydrate each serving as you pull it. You could use water, of course, but that would be lame. You want a mop with flavours that compliment and enhance the sweetness of the pork. What matches with sweet? Sour (of course) and a bit of heat.
Sour, sweet, and a bit of heat. It’s either the title of a forgotten Simon & Garfunkle song, or it’s a recipe for a simple pulling sauce that makes your pork sing. Keep reading to find out which.
The ingredients for pulling sauce:
125 ml (1/2 cup) of ketchup
250 ml (1 cup) of cider vinegar
60 ml (1/4 cup) of water
1 tablespoon of sugar (raw if you have it)
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
Stupidly Obvious Tip: Measure your ketchup first, and then your vinegar, which will conveniently clean the “stuck” ketchup out of the cup and put it in the pot where it belongs.
Now then. Dump all of the ingredients into a pot and whisk until everything is combined. Turn the heat on to medium-high until you think it is just about ready to boil and then turn the heat right down to low. Let simmer on low for 30 minutes and then immediately remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature and then strain out the red pepper flakes by any means you see fit.
This makes exactly enough to full one 350 ml (that’s 12 ounces for y’all down south) squeeze bottle . Which is convenient, since that is the best way to use this. Have it at hand as you pull and squirt a bit on each portion as it shreds from the butt. You can have the sauce at room temperature or you can warm it up, it’s your choice. If you use it this way the batch here will work for just about one entire pork butt. If you want to make more (see below) feel free – you can scale this recipe by virtually any amount and it will keep in the fridge for months.
A Quick Note On Barbeque Tradition: As you probably know by now, pulled pork on a bun is known in the Carolinas as “barbeque”. When you “eat barbeque” or “get some barbeque” this is what you are referring to in that particular neck of the woods. Pulled pork, sauce, slaw, bun. This recipe comes the eastern part of the Carolinas – the basic combination of vinegar, sugar, and some hot pepper is seen in some form or another in virtually every barbeque joint in the region. But the locals there don’t just use it as pulling sauce. They use it more as a condiment, literally ladling it onto the pork after it is on the bun. This makes the bottom half of the bun a big soggy mess and also makes the whole sandwich amazingly delicious if those are the kinds of flavours you like. If you want to experiment with this ultra-traditional serving then you want to make at least twice as much as I have here, and making four times as much probably wouldn’t hurt.