Sublime summer barbecue: Pulled pork sandwiches, strawberry cheesecake cookies
When summer finally comes to Maine, we are ready to have some serious fun, spending the long, sun-filled days playing tennis, sailing, fishing, gardening, golfing, hiking and biking, or lolling about on lawn chairs. Evening celebrations are often held outdoors, too, and involve some other fine Maine pastimes – grilling, eating and drinking.
Maine is famous for its lobster bakes, clambakes and beanhole beans, but our skill at the grill is off the charts. We're good with steaks, fish and chicken, and we can make smoky, melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork with tangy sauces that's as good as you can get at any BBQ joint. Maybe even better. We tried David Rosengarten's recipe ("It's All American Food") for Carolina pulled pork shoulder barbecue five years ago and still think it's the best.
The recipe is easy to follow, but first you have to buy the meat. The recipe calls for pork shoulder, and in Maine, that cut is often called Boston butt or pork butt. To ensure that you get the right cut of meat, tell the butcher or clerk that you are going to make pulled pork. (Maine pork producers are now selling organically raised hogs. For more information, look at eatwild.com/products/maine.)
Rosengarten devised a simple way to cook the pork: Make a fire with lump charcoal in your Weber grill; add soaked hickory wood chips; add the pork and onion; grill, covered, for 15 minutes; then take the meat and onions in the house, put them in a Crock Pot with a cup of water, cover and cook on low for eight hours; pull the meat apart, pile it on bread or hamburger buns, slather it with sauce – and enjoy.
Serve a selection of icy-cold Maine-brewed ale and beer with the pulled pork sandwiches.
Strawberries make a fine dessert, and are summer's first fruit to ripen. The strawberry season begins in mid-June and ends in mid-July. At 45 calories a cup, you can have as many guilt-free strawberries as you can find. Go to a strawberry field or farmers market to buy them or pick your own. For more of an indulgence, make these spectacular cookies from Diane Mott Davidson's "The Cereal Murders." Called Red 'n' Whites, the cookies are like tiny bites of cheesecake with half a strawberry on each. The recipe says to bake them until they are lightly browned, but they are best when only barely browned (browning leads to burning). Make them a day ahead and keep them covered in the refrigerator so the cheesecake flavor can develop.
If you want to serve pulled pork sandwiches in the evening, begin the summer day smokin' up your grill. If you plan to serve them at 6, you should be out barbecuing by 8 that morning – but for only 15 minutes. After you get the pork into the Crock Pot, you have the whole day to play.
Carolina Pulled Pork Shoulder Barbecue with 2 Sauces
The recipes for the pulled pork and sauces are from "It's All American Food" by David Rosengarten, published by Little, Brown & Co., 2003.
5-pound bone-in pork shoulder [also called Boston butt], sawed into 4 pieces by the butcher
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch -wide rings
2 cups hickory wood chips, soaked in water for 20 minutes
Make sure the chunks of pork shoulder are well chilled. Place pieces in a large bowl. Toss them with the salt, black pepper, cumin, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, sugar, and vegetable oil. Let the pork marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Prepare the grill: Make a hot fire with the lump charcoal. Add the hickory wood chips. Immediately add the pork chunks to the grill with the onion rings alongside. Grill, covered, for 15 minutes, turning pork pieces and onion slices frequently. Remove pork and onion.
Finely chop the grilled slices of onion. Place the pork chunks, chopped onion, and 1 cup of water in a Crock-Pot (you will need at least a 2-quart size Crock-Pot or similar slow cooker). Cover and cook on the low setting for 8 hours, or until the pork is falling off the bone.
Remove the pork chunks from the Crock Pot and place them in a 2 1/2-inch deep, 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Set 1 1/2 cups of the pork juice aside for use in South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce, or 1 cup for use in Eastern North Carolina Vinegar Barbecue Sauce. Pour the remaining juice over the pork chunks, cover with foil, and hold them in a very low oven until ready to serve.
Just before serving, shred the pork into bite-size pieces with your fingers. Discard the bones. Serve the pulled pork on steamed hamburger buns or on white bread. Top generously with barbecue sauce. Pass extra sauce on the side.
Yield: 6 servings.
Eastern North Carolina Vinegar Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 cup cooking liquid from pork shoulder
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the mixture for 3 minutes, stirring frequently with a wire whisk. Serve immediately.
Yield: About 2 cups.
South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup French's yellow mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 cups cooking liquid from pork shoulder
Combine the butter, vinegar, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire, cayenne, and the cooking liquid from the pork shoulder in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the mixture for 3 minutes, stirring frequently with a wire whisk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Yield: About 4 cups.
Red 'n' Whites
The recipe is from "The Cereal Murders" by Diane Mott Davidson, published by Bantam in 1994.
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
36 small ripe strawberries, halved
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter with the softened cream cheese until well blended.
Beat in the sugar and vanilla, then stir in the flour until well mixed.
Using a 1/2-tablespoon measure, shape the mixture into small balls and place them 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.
Make small indentations with your thumb. Carefully place a strawberry half, seed side up, in each indentation.
Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until very lightly brown.
Cool on racks.
Makes 5 dozen.