Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Labor Day Root Beer Pulled Pork or the Time I Learned to Use a Pressure Cooker

For Labor Day, I promised myself I would find the time and energy to get some quality cooking in. Thanks to rediscovering Final Fantasy VII and having spent the weekend being social with an old friend in town, this energy and effort was gonna have to be minimal, so slow cooking pulled pork seemed like the natural way to go. But when hunger (and Kevin) came calling, slow cooking just wouldn't suffice. We were gonna have to brave the feared pressure cooker.

Would we end up with melt in your mouth BBQ sandwiches, or would our day be ruined by something resembling baby food and a giant hole in my kitchen?

Root Beer Pulled Pork
Modified from Food Network
Time: 90 minutes
Servings: 8-10 sandwiches
Soon you will be delicious

Pulled Pork
3 lb pork tenderloin, cut into large pieces
1-2 tbsp salt
Ground black pepper
Red chili flakes
12-16 oz root beer (I used Barq's)
4 oz liquid smoke (I used mesquite)
1 small onion, diced
Whole garlic cloves
Oil for browning
Sauce and soda: together at last

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup molasses
1-2 tsp garlic powder
4-8 oz root beer
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp liquid smoke
Ground pepper to taste
Salt to test
Cayenne pepper to taste

Onions- regular or pickled, sliced
Buns (I used these baguette buns)

The pork is so tender that you won't work up a sweat getting it this perfectly pulled.
The right bread is key.
  1. Get really sad that you were lazy to start your day, and now won't be able to eat until 9 pm.
  2. Have your cooking buddy come to your rescue by suggesting you try using a pressure cooker, and then trick him into buying one.
  3. Learn how to use your pressure cooker so as not to have it explode. I highly recommend getting an electric one that does pretty much everything for you. There are several kinds of pressure cookers, so be sure you know how yours works.
  4. Heat oil over medium-high heat, and use it to brown the pork and saute the onions until a nice color and crust start to form on the pork.
  5. Add the pork, onions, red chili flakes, salt, pepper, liquid smoke, garlic and root beer to your pressure cooker (Note: levels of liquid required may vary by size of the pressure cooker but this worked well for our 6 quart one. Also, never start a pressure cooker without liquid).
  6. Set your cooker to high pressure for 60 minutes (again be sure to follow whatever safety measures yours requires). When time has finished, allow the pressure to fully release before opening (I let it slow release for ~ 10 minutes then used the quick release valve to finish it off).
  7. Remove the pork and pull apart with two forks. Reserve the remaining cooking juice.
  8. Prepare the sauce by simmering all the ingredients together until smooth and all carbonation bubbles have been removed.
  9. Prepare your sandwich by loading up a bun with pulled pork, onions, pickles, sauce and reserved cooking juice.
  10. Bow before the awesome power of the pressure cooker.
  11. Note: if you just want to do this with a slow cooker, let it cook covered over low heat for 8 hours and be careful not to let the anticipation build up to unsafe levels.
The sandwich would still be amazing bare bones like so.
Our first experience with a pressure cooker could not have gone better. We managed to cut the time down by 7 hours, while still getting unbelievably tender and juicy pulled pork (seriously this fell apart when you touched it). The pork itself had beautiful flavor with the liquid smoke really coming through to help mask the fact that we didn't spend 8 hours smoking it, and the root beer added some subtle sweetness and acidity. The chili flakes added a fun little kick and the pickles gave that vinegary smack that helps define a good pulled pork. My second try at the baguette buns was even more incredible than my first effort (see Banh Mi Burgers) as I generated a fantastic outer crust, but the pork was so good on its own that the bun isn't even required. The only real disappointment was the sauce, which came out like a fairly standard sweet BBQ sauce (which isn't to say it was bad, it just could have been better). I would highly recommend going to a more traditional heavy vinegar sauce for maximum enjoyment (or just smother on the pickled onions) and adding some more heat as well since that got lost once the full sandwich was assembled.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't stack the pulled pork all the way to the heavens, but I was worried about dropping it on the ground.
Now if you'll excuse us, Kevin and I will spend the rest of the week plotting all the amazing things we're going to make with our newfound toy.

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