Food columnist Jim Hillibish tells you how to create that North Carolina flavor at home.
When I drive over the North Carolina line heading to the beaches, I can taste barbecued pulled pork. It just happens; I don’t know why. Some get cravings for seafood. For me, it’s pull-a-pork.
There are hundreds of North Carolina BBQ restaurants, maybe thousands.
Amazingly, they haven’t settled on exactly what N.C. BBQ is. You’ll find white sauce, red sauce, no sauce, hot sauce, sweet sauce and vinegar sauce.
The pork (always pork) will be rough-chopped, finely diced or shredded. It will be simmered, roasted, grilled or smoked -- or maybe all of the above.
Glob of Coleslaw
If there is any agreement, it’s the creamy coleslaw thing -- really cold, big glob on the sandwich, beautiful contrast to the piquant meat.
You cannot just walk into a BBQ joint hankering for a red-sauce platter of shredded. Each place has its own definition, and you’ll only find one type on the menu, as if the hundreds of others never existed.
If you ask the waitress about this, she’ll invariably say, “Ours is the real potato.”
I like pulled pork. It’s chewy and juicy, and the pork flavor never is dominated by the sauce.
OK, my real reason is you can pile it up to mountainous levels on your bun. (Pull-a-porks are served with an automatic doggie box. You will have enough for a second sandwich that afternoon.)
My favorite white pork BBQ comes from a roadside restaurant, dinosaur park, beach gear and souvenir shop just over the state line to the Outer Banks. I don’t know if it’s still there. I read a wire story when the owner got into a mess over a dancing chicken and a hot plate (you don’t want to know the rest). Sigh.
Anyway, this porker is sweet and sour and peppery, but the sauce is an accent, not a primary flavor. That’s reserved for the smoked meat.
Slow-roasting on a charcoal or gas grill takes some planning. You never want the meat directly over the heat or it will dry out. On gas, turn off the burners where the meat is. With charcoal, use a drip pan in the center and mound the hot coals around it.
This will take three hours for a five-pound roast. In a few minutes, the aroma will start pouring out of the grill, sending your guests into a frenzy of snacking and beer drinking.
Every hour, check to see if more coals are needed (it’s handy to start these in a second grill).
Wood chips are great for more smoke. My top choice is hickory. Soak for an hour beforehand.
When the roast is tender, tightly seal in foil wrap and allow to stand 20 minutes. Split your hamburger buns (called "rolls" in Carolina) and butter and grill them over the coals to a golden brown.
Serve with extra sauce on the side, and, of course, plenty of coleslaw and baked beans to complete the experience. Oh, and cold watermelon for dessert. Carolina will be on your mind.
Dancing Chicken Pull-A-Pork BBQ
1 5 pound pork roast, trimmed and boneless
Freshly ground black pepper
12 Kaiser rolls, toasted
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
Dash hot pepper sauce or to taste
Rub roast with salt and pepper all over and set aside.
Whisk sauce ingredients. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Divide into 2 portions.
Charcoal grill: Mound the hot coals around a drip pan. Add smoking chips. Place roast over pan and cover. Check every hour to replenish charcoal if needed.
Gas grill: Heat burners away from roast. Cook roast on other end of grill, covered over medium heat.
Cook for about three hours or until meat is tender. Wrap roast in foil and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Then pull apart with a fork. Mix with half of sauce and serve the rest on the side. Makes 12 well-filled sandwiches.