Purists, and pretty much anyone from down here, will tell you that it can’t be done.
“Barbecue in a Crock-Pot? That’s not barbecue, you Yankee mo-ron.”
They’ll tell you that without smoking your meat, or at least getting in on some hot grill action, all you’ve got is wet meat in a hot bucket, which sounds about as unappealing as the visuals the phrase evokes.
Strictly speaking, they’re correct. You can’t really do BBQ, at least badass traditional barbecue, in an electric appliance on your counter top. It turns out though, that what you can do is an incredible and delicious simulation, particularly if you concentrate on busting out some North Carolina-style vinegar-based ‘que.
It’s kinda like Beatlemania, but with pork. Actually, it’s better than Beatlemania, because Beatlemania was lame, and pork is so not (and you can always put Revolver on the stereo while you eat, but they didn’t let you barbecue at the Winter Garden theater ).
I wouldn’t have even gone down this road to begin with if I hadn’t been sent a George Foreman “multicooker” for review last week. Yes, a George Foreman product, and it’s about as ridiculous as you’d imagine; I’ll spare you details beyond saying it’s pretty much a glorified Crock-Pot.
So I’m looking at this thing, and the only thing I can think to do is to slow cook a hunk of meat with it. And, since no one has thought to send me a Weber Smokey Mountain for my personal enjoyment, I figured I’d try to replicate some BBQ and do some sort of pulled pork deal. And oh yeah, I’m a Yankee mo-ron.
So off to market went I, where a purchase of a nice half picnic could be made. For those of you that do not know, the half picnic is part of the shoulder cut, specifically the lower part (the upper part is commonly called the Boston butt and is the cut I used for my oven-based BBQ). I’d been wanting to work with a half picnic for a while, and not just because of the low, low price of $1.29 a pound; it’s also generally sold with the skin still on, allowing me to play butcher at home (my EZ-Bake oven is broken).
There are a number of ways to handle the skin, but I wanted a sear on the meat itself, so I just removed it and trimmed the excess fat from the cut. I applied a sweet rub made of paprika, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, then cranked ol’ George up (one of the advantages to the thing is that you can go near-nuclear by heating it to 500 degrees; I drew the line at 350), added a bit of oil, and got my sear on.
After coloring it up, which wasn’t entirely a walk in the park as the the multi cooker was a bit small for the bone-in hunk of pig I was working with, I dropped in a couple of slices of bacon that I had cut into chunks to add a bit of smokiness and some bonus fat. Once they crisped, I added a seat-of-the pants vinegar-based BBQ cooking sauce, dropped in another chunked bacon slice for good measure, popped the top on, dropped the heat, and left it alone for 14 hours.
The next day, the pork wasn’t quite where I wanted it (to get a good, easy pull I was looking for about 195 degrees internal), so I increased the heat for an hour or two. That did the trick.
I removed the pork and tossed the bones, then pulled the meat with a couple of forks, shoveling chunks into my mouth now and then. The pork was incredibly tender and full of flavor, which is one of the advantages of the half picnic: more pork flavor, baby.
I skimmed the fat off of the liquid in the cooker, did a light strain on it (I didn’t want to lose all the bacon, after all), then added some additional hot sauce. The pork and sauce went back into the cooker on low to be mixed up and steep.
The result? Really, really amazing. The fact that it’s a vinegar-based ‘cue must help hide the fact that the pork wasn’t smoked, because this was seriously up there with some of the best I’ve ever had. And it wasn’t just me.
My wife, who wasn’t fond of the skin on the shoulder, thought it was the best pork she’d ever tasted, and hoovered it all day. No small feat, as she’d been complaining about being tired of meat lately.
My daughter took a bite, looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said: “Have I told you recently how much I love you?”
My son, who doesn’t like much outside of grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and burgers from a charcoal grill, simply said “holy crap,” dropped his video game controller and headed to the kitchen for more, his highest endorsement.
The entire hunk of pork, which was as large as I could fit in the Foreman unit, was eaten in a day by the four of us; between snacking and dinner, we were actually short a few ounces.
So next time (which is, um, tonight) I’m busting out a proper Crock-Pot, and making sure it’s a big’un. Hopefully, this batch will last longer than a few hours. But I wouldn’t bet on it.