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Carolina Divide- The Great BBQ Battle

pic from whatscookingamerica.net

pic from whatscookingamerica.net

College basketball, football and bbq; topics that could re-start the Civil War and end up with the South against the South.  This article in Saveur does an excellent job of stating the bbq battle in North Carolina.  To break it down to bare bones:

Eastern NC style BBQ is whole hog , vinegar based, with a dash of black pepper. (pig pickin’ bbq, anyone? YES, right here, PLEASE! Does anyone else have memories of summers with a whole hog on a huge, barrel style grill, a huge family reunion and games of horseshoes?)

Western NC style BBQ is (mostly) pork shoulder and a sweeter, tomato based sauce.

I choose whole hog with a combination of both sauces; I like the sweet, tangy, bitter, sour, and kick of spice.  In a word: sassy.  I also like a generous side of South Carolina style BBQ sauce which is a tangy mustard style.

If you’d like to know more about Carolina BBQ battles, it’s included after the jump below the recipe (which is also after the jump).

You’ll find some tools are essential for this recipe.  Those are: a multi-probe digital thermometer, or two digital thermometers;  two full tanks of propane (a backup, just in case); aluminum foil (heavy duty, it does make a difference); wood chips;  extra large roasting pan for pulling and tossing meat after it’s cooked (I recommend a disposable aluminum one. You can always plate it in something prettier if that is your preference.)


(1) 5lb pork butt

3 to 4 tbsp vegetable oil

1/3 cup Sassy Pork Rub

2-3 cups wood chips

BBQ sauce (homemade or store-bought)

BBQ pulled pork sandwich fixings (I like hamburger buns and pickles, plus extra sauce)


1- Get your grill ready.  Actually, I recommend figuring this out before the day you cook your butt, it can be a challenge getting and maintaining the indirect heat zone to the target temp of at least 225 but not above 250.  It took me over 4 hours and a good 1/2 to 3/4  tank of propane to get mine calibrated right.  Write down what settings and how long it took to get there, e.g., if you set your direct heat zone(s) to medium high and it took 30mins to get the indirect zone to 225 and to hold it there, write this down.  You’ll thank yourself next time when you’re oh-so-sure you’ll remember exactly how you got to that indirect zone temp.

I’ve been using a gas grill for a while now and since this recipe takes approx 10 hours to cook (usually 2 hours per pound), you’re going to need a full tank of propane as well as a backup tank. We’ll be using indirect heat on the pork butt, at least a two-zone method of cooking (more if you have more burners).  A good digital multi-probe thermometer (or two digital thermometers) will prove the difference between ‘do’ or ‘die’ in this recipe.  The temperature over the indirect cooking zone needs to hold steady at 225-250 degrees.  Do not assume the temperature on the indirect zone is hot enough because the built-in grill thermostat indicates the grill is at ‘x’ degrees.  Also, bi-metal digital thermometers, you know, the ones with the needle that point to a temperature? Totally worthless, avoid at all costs.

So, after you’ve arranged your probe over the indirect cooking zone, toss about 1 cup of wood chips wrapped in some aluminum foil over the direct heat part of the grill.  No need to soak them,  poke a few holes in the top of the foil and place directly on the grate you’ll have on.  I turn on my two outer grates so I toss 1/2 cup to 1 cup wrapped chips on each side (I leave the middle two burners off and thread the probe to rest just above the center of the middle two grates).  Let your indirect zone get up to temp (225 to 250) and hold there for 30mins before placing your butt on.

1- Trim most of the fat from the pork butt

2- Rub generously with oil

3- Coat with Sassy Pork Rub (rub it in well) and let it sit for about 30mins (though not a necessity)

4- Insert digital probe thermometer into center of pork butt and set to 190 degrees, keep away from the bone.

5- Place pork butt directly on grill grate over the indirect heat section.  Work fast. Lift your lid. Lift your butt. Place on indirect zone. Close lid. Walk away.

6- Don’t touch it. Just don’t. Don’t peek. Don’t prod. Do swap out wood chips for new ones after about 4 hours. Have them wrapped and ready to swap ahead of time.

7- When thermometer alerts you that your pork butt is at 190, remove from grill and let rest for at least 30 mins.  Place it in the aforementioned (recommended) disposable pan and let it sit.  For the best pork butt, keep all of those drippings that will accumulate and mix it right in as you chop and pull your butt.

Tip-  Don’t worry when your butt hits the ‘stall’.  Pork butt typically hits around 150-160 degrees and then stalls. Sometimes for a good 50% of the total cooking time (yes, 5 hours!).

From Saveur magazine:

When I introduce someone to a North Carolina barbecue sandwich, I expect a strong reaction. It’s the perfect food: succulent pork scented with wood smoke—sometimes a whisper of it, other times, a shout—topped with sweet slaw and vinegar-spiked sauce in a squishy white bread bun. Just thinking about it makes the sides of my tongue water and my heart swell up with love.

Once I became a convert, I realized that it’s not enough to simply love North Carolina barbecue (or basketball, for that matter); you have to play favorites and defend yours at all costs. And these favorites will land you on one side or the other of a fierce and long-standing debate: Which is better, North Carolina’s eastern- or western-style barbecue? To an outsider, this rivalry must seem silly: Both regions serve slow-smoked pork with tangy sauce and slaw. How different could they be?

But to North Carolinians, the details represent something larger than barbecue itself: They’re a matter of intense cultural pride.


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This entry was posted on June 14, 2012 by in bbq, Southern and tagged , , , .

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