Labor Day weekend, unofficially the last weekend of summer, is worthy of a grilling project.
Here's a little Labor Day secret: It's easier than you think to make great pulled pork at home -- on a gas grill. It takes hours, but very little effort.
Barbecue purists, of course, insist 'cue can only be great if cooked over wood or charcoal. And while we can all admire pit masters like Keith Allen in Chapel Hill and Wilber Shirley in Goldsboro, who have stacks of wood outside their restaurants, that's not really doable for most home cooks. And besides, most barbecue restaurants cook on gas, and you can recreate that at home.
"I think you can make better barbecue at home than at most places," says Raleigh cookbook author Fred Thompson, who wrote "Grillin' with Gas."
You can follow Thompson's recipe exactly, with its marinade injections to ensure moist meat and its water-soaked wood chips to create smoke. Or you simply rub the meat with spices, set it on the grill and forget it for a few hours. That works, too.
In the end, either way, you will have delicious pork to serve with the Carolina barbecue sauce of your choice: eastern, western and South Carolina (recipes also on page 4D.) Round out your celebration of the last gasp of summer and its produce with a squash casserole topped with cheese and crackers, a fresh tomato pie and a classic coleslaw.
Thompson offers these tips to ensure porcine success:
--The grill needs to stay between 200 to 250 degrees. To judge that, Thompson places his hand six inches above the grate while saying Mississippi four to five times. If he only gets to a third Mississippi and has to pull his hand away, he turns down the heat. Or he gets to six, he turns it up.
If using a two-burner gas grill, rotate the meat throughout the cooking to prevent any one side from overcooking.
--To judge doneness, cook the pork until a thermometer inserted in the meat reads 190 degrees. Or pull at the bone. If it is loose, your pork is done. Thompson starts checking every 30 minutes after the third hour of cooking.
--After the meat rests for 20 minutes, pull or chop it. Place it in a roasting pan, cover it with foil and place it in a 200-degree oven until ready to eat.
--Never reheat the pork in the microwave, which will dry out the meat. Steam batches of it as you would vegetables. Thompson points out that many restaurants keep their barbecue warm in steam tables.
--Unless you're feeding a crowd, this recipe will produce leftovers. Don't worry. Pulled pork freezes beautifully.
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