Coke Brined Pulled Pork
Who doesn’t love a juicy bun stuffed with some delicious tasting, juicy pulled pork inside? All you BBQ lovers know exactly why this preparation of pork has reached the legendary title and earned it’s place in the KCBS competition. All of us searching for that perfect recipe. This coke brined Pulled Pork is one of those tests to see what effect a coke brine has on the texture and taste of the end result. Read on to find out what I prefer when making pulled pork so far.
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Making Pulled Pork is not that hard as it sounds to make. Yet you have several options to keep in mind that might influence the end result. In this post I’ll share my preferences with you and explain why. I’ve been testing some different techniques and flavor profiles. You might want to take a look at the other recipes over here to see what’s possible. You can combine techniques and flavor profiles as you desire. After all taste is something subjective and we all have or own preferences. I think it’s awesome to experiment with all of these elements. As said before it sounds difficult but in my experience most of the time it’s delicious in the end.
1. Choice of meat
It starts with picking the right piece of meat. For KCBS contests you need to prepare a boston butt. Yet I prefer to use a big piece of bone in pork neck. If you have the option to pick a bone in piece of meat, go for it! The best pieces of meat are gathered around the bone improving the overall flavour in the end. The same goes for the boston butt! Take a bone in piece. Why the neck? Well besides the amount of bones bringing flavour it the meat itself is more marbled by fat. Marbled fat is important for both taste and juiciness. So when you’re not competing you might want to try this. The only disadvantage in here: “You pay more for less meat since you’ll be paying the bone weight too…”. To bring you some insight on my failings (yes they happen too…) I made a piece of lean pork shoulder (it was the last piece) along with the coke brined pulled pork made by a pork neck and it ended up way to dry… (the one on the right side)
2. Curing the meat
Second choice you need to make is how to cure the meat. There are several options for this. To know what’s the difference you should have pieces of pork that are exactly the same (nearly impossible). Moreover I didn’t even try all techniques. Most common are brining, injecting and dry curing. But even uncured I obtained some good results. So what’s the difference? I’ll start with the most “controversial” one: “dry curing”.
Dry cured pulled pork
The dry cured pulled pork is an experiment I made with a piece of pork shoulder. I’ve repeated it several times with the same result and heard others say the same. It skips the zone without wrapping it up and brings a nice bark to the meat without affecting the juiciness of the meat on the inside. You can read more about my ideas over in this post. Yet I’m thinking the dry cure isn’t causing this effect. It’s hard to find out but in my experience even uncured pork necks skip the zone when prepared in my kamado. So it might be the humid environment causing the effect with a pork neck. Another advantage of the salty dry cure: “It distracts meat juice from the surface and mixes up with the spices before it’s slightly absorbed again. Yet this only affects the outer layer of your meat. But as you will see the brine isn’t doing better.
Using a brine
When using a brine in theory you would lose less of the fluids to end up with juicier pulled pork. Yet some researchers found out this process goes lost when smoking for a long time. The juices on the outside just vaporize faster in the beginning. Moreover it would influence the taste when using water making it taste flatter. If you have a lot of time you might want to read this post on the subject at amazingribs. Therefore I made this coke brined pulled pork hoping the coke with cope with this problem. Besides coke contains large amounts of sugar and acids flavoring the meat and breaking up the texture and soften it. It’s a bit more expensive though and the effect I tasted might be in my head. Plus it’s hard to tell if the juicy result is caused by the brine or the good quality of meat.
So the other options only affect the outer layer of the meat (about 2cm). So compared to the big piece you mostly make it’s nearly negligible. Injecting a brine or fat brings a solution to this part. Yet I’m not the biggest fan of injecting the meat. First of all I prefer to actually taste I’m eating pork. Second it’s difficult to spread the injection equally and enough to have an effect. I’ve tried it before and in my opinion the brine runs out of the meat the moment it’s injected. It’s a lot of work that you can avoid by picking the right piece of meat. When you opt for injecting you might want a good quality meat injector.
3. Smoking the meat
When smoking your coke brined pulled pork or any other pulled pork recipe, you need low temperatures. The meat texture of the though mussels softens up when gently heated for a long period while keeping the moist inside. The higher temperature you use the more chance you’ll end up with a dry and tough piece. Moreovere you want the meat to heat as slow as possible. The longer it takes the more smoke flavour builds up on the meat. And that’s what we like when eating a delicious pulled pork bun. So aim for a temperature near 110°C/230°F. Depending on what BBQ you have you’ll need to use different techniques to maintain that temperature for a long time. I’ll write something about that later on! Concerning the wood used for smoking you have several options. I prefer wood by a fruit tree for a mild smokey taste. If you want to read more about what wood to use and what effect you can expect you might be interested in this Woodflavorchart by Deejayssmokepit.
4. Texas crutch or not?
In the beginning when I made pulled pork I constantly read you needed to wrap your meat (texas crotch) after 5hrs. smoking or when your meat reaches the zone (about 74°C/165°F core temperature). So that’s what I did in the beginning as you can read in this post where I explain the technique step by step. With the texas crotch you prevent the moist on the surface to vaporize preventing the stall. This way your meat might be done a lot earlier. Yet it’s less time to form a bark and grab some smoke flavors. Plus when unwrapping you’ll have a chance the core temperature suddenly drops an certain amount of degrees. This is no problem at all but when you don’t expect it to happen it might be scary. Since my pork necks never seem to stall and I don’t compete I have enough time to skip the Texas crutch.
5. What sauce to use?
Another hard choice to make. Actually this might be a subject where I don’t have a clear statement on. The only thing I’m sure about is that I limit the use of sauce to a minimum to be able to taste the pork itself too. Sauce needs to support the meat flavor. So while smoking I mostly limit the usage of sauce to one or two thin layers to flavorize the bark. In the end you’ll be able to add an end sauce at desire bringing your pulled pork to taste. You can opt for the sweeter more common known BBQ sauces like the one I used here spiced with asian flavorizers: “Spicy Lee’s BBQ sauce” or opt for the “North Carolina style” vinegar based end sauces! Both are delicious but I have a slight preference for the second.
Coke Brined Pulled Pork with Spicy Lee’s BBQ sauce
I hope you had some insight on all possibilities out there. For this post I used the pork neck with a coke brine to test the effect. It was delicious and probably one of the most juicy pieces I made so far. If it’s caused by the brine is hard to figure out. Besides Coca-Cola I also used the soy sauce, salt and vinegar for a balanced brine. I’ve used whisky barrel wood this time. Simply because I ran out of apple wood chunks and they work great on pulled pork too. I’ve sauced the meat with one layer and added the Spicy Lee’s BBQ sauce in the end. Served in a taco with a red cabbage slaw.
I hope you had an interesting read on several options you have when making pulled pork. These options are far from complete so you may add any suggestions or insights you have by yourself! What are your preferences? Come join us on facebook and tell us all about it! If you like this post or the recipe for coke brined pulled pork, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends.
Have you ever tried brining your pork shoulder or boston butt in a coke flavored brine? I hadn’t either but I was curious what would happen with the flavor and taste of it. The result brought me a very juicy flavorful piece of pork perfect for a pulled pork bun. Find out how to make it yourself through instructions below!
- 2 kg pork shoulder or boston butt
- Spicy Lee’s BBQ sauce end sauce at taste
- 500 ml coke
- 500 ml water
- 100 ml sherry vinegar
- 100 ml soy sauce
- 50 gr. salt
- 3 chunks smokewood I used whisky barrel wood
Mix all brine ingredients. Add salt at the end and you’ll see the carbonisation from mixing the salt with the coke.
Add the piece of pork meat to the brine and put aside for 12 hrs.
Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry. Put back in the fridge for another 12 hrs. uncovered to dry out the surface of your piece of meat.
Prepare your smoker for an indirect session at low heat 110°C / 200°F). Add three chunks of wood spread over the coals aim for a combination of hot spots and low heat spots.
As soon as the smoke turns blue you can add the pork meat to the BBQ and let it smoke lid closed. Meanwhile you can sit back and relax. All you need to do is control the temperature of your smoker and have an occasional drink. Try to avoid opening the lid often to keep a stable dome temperature. Don’t worry if it takes it’s time cause that’s exactly what you need. We’re cooking low and slow baby. It soon takes half a day, even if it seems to gain temperature fast!
Hint: when using a different BBQ than a kamado you might want to add a waterpan to keep the dome environment moist.
At an internal temperature of 72-74°C/160-170°F you may notice the temperature stalls or even drops a few degrees. Don’t worry this is the legendary stall caused by the evaporation of the juices on the surface of the meat. This can take a couple of hours. I prefer to let it sit and take it’s time to have a delicious bark in the end. You can opt to wrap your piece of meat if you want to go the quick way. Read more about it over here.
When the pork reaches an internal temperature of 94°C/200°F it’s the moment to remove it from your smoker. Try poking it to test if it’s done. If it falls apart with a small touch you’ll know it’s done. Gently wrap it in tin foil and let the meat rest for a half hour. Turn it on the other side halfway.
Note: I let the meat rest in a preheated oven at 70°C/160°F to keep it warm without overheating it and risking to lose moisture.
Now’s the moment to start pulling. Pull the pieces of pork in little threads. This should go rather easy.
Add some Spicy Lee’s BBQ sauce (recipe here) or your own preferred BBQ sauce to the meat at taste and you’re ready to serve.