For the Love of Labor Day

pigsThe air was especially humid for the usually warm Labor Day holiday weekend. If memory serves me correct, Labor Day weather in the Northeast can either be hot and humid or a slight tease of the crisp and cool fall to come.

Unfortunately for my plans, this was one of those drenching humid days. It was also the weekend I wanted to hold my husband’s surprise birthday party at his sister’s roof-top garden in Manhattan.  It was two days before the big day.

With a desire to keep the affair simple, I constructed a menu that was suitable for a large crowd, but was served cold so hotplates or searing hot barbeques didn’t add to the heat of the Manhattan rooftop.

So with labor being the last thing I wanted to worry about on Labor Day, what could be more perfect than Pulled Pork sandwiches with Coleslaw?  It can be cooked ahead of time and only needs a basic rub and sauce.

Besides, living in Manhattan, proper BBQ is a rarity and would be a treat for my croissant-munching, city-dwelling cohorts.

The flavors of this pulled pork recipe tastes like you spent all day cooking, but in reality, it’s the oven and spices that do all the work.  But go ahead, as your guests drool all over themselves in delight of the tangy-sweet, tender pork, take all the credit.

No need to reveal how easy it was to your swooning fans. If it makes it look more authentic, wet your brow with water and splatter your shirt with sauce as if you worked you butt off for this meal.

This meal always starts with a trip to Costco. Most of my friends expect me to visit my swanky high-end butcher who hooks me up with premier cuts of meat. But for this specialty, I have found Costco’s pork shoulder, or more affectionately called, Boston Butt, is marbled with just the right amount of fat for flavor and maximum “shredability.”

But wait! Before we go on with the rest of the story, we must address the name of this cut that makes the snootiest of chef giggle, the Boston Butt.  Some would assume it is called a butt because of its large, rotund, squishy characteristics.

But actually, in pre-revolutionary times in New England, this cut was considered undesirable since it was high up on the shoulder of the hog and promised a chewy bite if not cooked for long periods of time.

These large pork pieces were packed into casks (called butts) for shipment and storage to the other colonies from Boston, so the name, Boston Butt became a common moniker for the hardy shoulder of the pork.  Strangely true, in Boston, they don’t use that name!

But back to the cooking . . . with one eight pound butt in a large roasting pan, you’ll be able to feed at least twenty people for your Labor Day picnic.

The key to this recipe is the spice blend and the length of cooking. I’ve tried other cooking times, but the key number is fourteen hours.

Yes, you read right. Put the butt in the day before at 8PM and take it out 10AM the next day. Just set it, and forget it. With this recipe, your oven does all the “laboring” while you receive all the love from your Labor Day picnic guests.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches:

1. Assemble the Pork Rub
–1 tablespoon of each: cumin, chili powder, coriander, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, ground fennel, dried mustard, ground pepper, kosher salt.
–½ cup brown sugar

2. Mix the rub ingredients in a bowl and spread all over the butt. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge overnight. Place the butt in a 210 degree preheated oven uncovered. Cook for 14 hours.

3. Remove the butt from the roast pan and set aside. Pour dripping into a large saucepan. Add the following to make a barbeque sauce. Cook on low heat to reduce into a thick sauce for about twenty to thirty minutes.

2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups ketchup
½ cup finely chopped onions
½ cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

4. When the pork is cooled, pull apart with a fork. Add half the sauce into the pork to wet it. Save the other half for people to add onto their sandwiches. Purchase super soft hamburger rolls to serve. Don’t go fancy on the rolls. The cheaper, the better.

Memphis-Style Coleslaw (inspired by Corky’s Memphis Coleslaw):

2 bags of shredded green cabbage
1 bag of shredded carrots
1 chopped green pepper
3 tablespoons of grated onion
2 cups mayonnaise
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white pepper

1. Mix all ingredients except the cabbage, carrots and peppers in a large bowl. Add the vegetables and toss to combine.

2. Let the slaw sit overnight to absorb all the flavors. Serve on the side of the pork sandwiches. Encourage your guests to top their pulled pork sandwiches with the slaw!

–Shelly Connors

Find more of Shelly’s work here.

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