Barbecuing is serious business in the US. Try telling the inhabitants of North Carolina that their neighbours make better pulled pork than they do, and you could spark a brawl. Cooking pork on a barbecue is a major component of culinary and historical heritage and is imbued with regionalisms, a source of pride and a way for people to set themselves apart. Some use hickory wood for smoking the pork, while others swear by branches of an apple tree; some season with a mix of ketchup and spices, while others insist on a vinegar-based sauce. It is a question of identity, of belonging, of tradition that, in short, is no laughing matter. While the different styles are hotly debated, there is one element on which everyone agrees: Cooking pulled pork in the way it should be cooked takes time. It is not something to be rushed.
Low and slow
This popular dish, a traditional feature of festive gatherings, is prepared from a shoulder of pork. The large joint of meat should be brined and then carefully covered in ‘dry rub’ (brown sugar mixed with spices including paprika, pepper and chilli powder) before being barbecued at a low temperature. Wood chips are added to the embers to flavour the meat as it cooks. The low temperature requires a long cooking time of at least eight to twelve hours, or as much as an entire day for bigger joints. This is what Americans call the low-and-slow technique.
Once cooked, the meat is wrapped in tin foil and left to rest before being gently pulled apart using two forks; hence the name of the dish. The slow and gentle cooking allows the marbling and collagen to melt and the aromas to develop, transforming the joint of meat into deliciously juicy and tender pulled pork. A culinary experience to share with friends on a lazy summer Sunday. Pulled pork is the quintessential slow food.
Bringing opposites together
At the opposite end of the scale you have fast food, a well-known concept that is all about speed. Chains such as Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s serve thousands of fast-food meals every day, mainly hamburgers and chips to customers on the run with no time to spare over their meal. The food is served in a matter of seconds and eaten just as quickly.
Pulled pork versus fast food? Blatant incompatibility. Yet, the impossible has become possible. Pulled pork has escaped its native Carolina to now be found where it was least expected, in fast-food outlets around the world.