Weekend Recipe: Barbecued Pulled Pork on a Charcoal Grill

Barbecued Pulled Pork on a Charcoal Grill
Cook's Illustrated

While developing an accessible pulled pork recipe, Cook's Illustrated determined that the shoulder roast, which has the most fat, also retains the most moisture and flavor during a long slow cook.

For flavor, we massaged a spicy chili rub into the meat, wrapped the roast in plastic, and refrigerated it for at least three hours to "marinate." Next we cooked the roast first on the grill to absorb its smoky flavor (from hickory chips — no smoker required), then put it in the oven to finish cooking (largely unattended). Finally, a rest in a paper bag allowed the flavorful juices to be reabsorbed by the meat. As a final step towards the best and easiest pulled pork recipe, we developed three barbecue sauce recipes from North Carolina and South Carolina.

Barbecued Pulled Pork on a Charcoal Grill
Serves 8


Spicy Chili Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 - 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 bone-in pork roast, 6 to 8 pounds (preferably shoulder or Boston butt roast)

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Pulled pork can be made with a fresh ham or picnic roast, although our preference is for Boston butt. Preparing pulled pork requires little effort, but lots of time. Plan on 10 hours from start to finish: 3 hours with the spice rub, 1 hour to come to room temperature, 3 hours on the grill, 2 hours in the oven, and 1 hour to rest. Wood chunks help flavor the meat; hickory is the traditional choice with pork. Serve the pulled pork on plain white bread or warmed buns with the classic accompaniments of dill pickle chips and coleslaw. You will need a disposable aluminum roasting pan that measures about 10 inches by 8 inches as well as heavy-duty aluminum foil and a brown paper grocery bag.

1. Mix all spicy chili rub ingredients in small bowl, set aside.

2. If using a fresh ham or picnic roast, remove skin. Massage dry rub into meat. Wrap tightly in double layer of plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (For strong flavor, the roast can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

3. At least 1 hour prior to cooking, remove roast from refrigerator, unwrap and let it come to room temperature. Soak 4 (3-inch) wood chunks in cold water to cover for 1 hour and drain. Meanwhile, light a large chimney starter filled a bit less than halfway with charcoal briquettes (about 2 1/2 quarts, or about 40 briquettes), and burn until all the charcoal is covered with a layer of fine gray ash.

4. Empty the coals into the grill; build a modified two-level fire by spreading the coals onto one side of the grill, piling them up in a mound 2 or 3 briquettes high, leaving the other half with no coals. Open the bottom vents completely. Place the soaked wood chunks on the coals. Position the cooking grate over the coals, cover the grill and heat until hot, about 5 minutes (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the coals for 2 seconds). Use a grill brush to scrape the cooking grate clean.

5. Set unwrapped roast in disposable pan and place it on grate opposite the fire. Open grill lid vents three-quarters of the way and cover, turning lid so that vents are opposite chunks to draw smoke through the grill. Cook, adding about 8 briquettes every hour or so to maintain an average temperature of 275 degrees, for 3 hours.

6. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place roast in pan and wrap with heavy-duty foil to cover completely. Place pan in oven and cook until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.

7. Slide the foil-wrapped pan with the roast into a brown paper bag. Crimp top shut; rest roast 1 hour. Transfer roast to cutting board and unwrap. When cool enough to handle, "pull" pork by separating roast into muscle sections, removing fat, if desired, and tearing meat into thin shreds with fingers. Place shredded meat in large bowl; toss with 1 cup barbecue sauce, adding more to taste. Serve with remaining sauce passed separately.

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