Pork is one of the world's most popular foods, featured prominently in the cuisine of almost every culture and region. Roasted, grilled and barbecued, or ground for sausages and burgers, pork is very versatile, a culinary chameleon. Pork shoulder is a prime example, with its perfect balance of fat and lean meat. A well-marbled shoulder can be slow-roasted for Sunday lunch, smoked like a ham, ground for sausages, or slow-cooked to a buttery-soft texture for US-style pulled pork.
Slow roasted pork shoulder
Peel and coarsely chop the onions and carrots. Trim and wash the celery, and chop it coarsely. Place the vegetables in the roasting pan, making a bed about the size of the pork shoulder. Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C (250F).
Heat a large, heavy pan until very hot. Place the pork shoulder in the pan and sear it on all sides, until it is well-browned. Transfer the meat to a clean cutting board.
Pour 125 ml (1/2 cup) of water into the hot pan and swish it around, scrubbing vigorously with a wooden spoon to get all the tasty brown juices. Pour these into the roasting pan.
Cut the garlic cloves into slivers and liberally stud the roast with them. Season the roast lightly with salt and pepper. Place it carefully on the bed of vegetables, in the roast pan. Cover with the pan's lid or a sheet of aluminium foil.
Roast the shoulder for four hours, then remove the covering and check its internal temperature. Pork is considered safe at 71 degrees C (160F), and internal connective tissues are fully gelatinised at 85 degrees C (185F). This is the desired temperature range. The lower temperature will be juicier, the higher will have a slightly more luscious mouth feel.
Return the roast to the oven until the desired temperature is reached. Depending on the size of the roast and the accuracy of the oven's temperature, this may be anywhere from four to 10 hours. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Strain and skim the fat from the pan juices, and use them to make sauce or gravy.
Slow-cooker or barbecue pulled pork
Coat the pork shoulder liberally with the dry or paste barbecue seasoning mixture, as specified in the instructions for the brand you've chosen. Refrigerate the pork for at least 12 hours, or up to two days, to allow the seasonings time to penetrate the roast.
Load the barbecue with charcoal and wood chips according to its instructions, and light. Stabilise the temperature at around 90 degrees C (200F), and place the prepared pork shoulder in the middle of the grate. Close the barbecue's lid. If using a slow cooker, turn it to the "low" setting, insert the roast, and cover with the lid.
Monitor the temperature of the barbecue frequently, for the first hour, and occasionally after that. Cook for eight to 12 hours, until the internal temperature is 90 degrees C (200F). If using a slow cooker, turn the pork shoulder after five hours. Cook for six to 12 hours, until the same temperature has been reached.
Remove the shoulder from the barbecue or slow cooker. When it has cooled enough to handle, gently remove the surface fat cap, and any other large pieces of fat. Pull the rest into large shreds, and serve with a choice of barbecue sauces and side dishes.
The onions, carrot and celery mixture is known in the professional kitchen by the French term "mirepoix." It brings additional depth of flavour to the pan juices, and to the roast.
If following the barbecue or slow-cooker method, you may wish to pierce the roast several times with a skewer before resting it in the fridge overnight. Some cooks feel this helps the flavours penetrate the pork.
If using a charcoal barbecue to make pulled pork, ensure that the area is well ventilated, and that fumes do not have an easy path into the house through a nearby window or vent. Charcoal fumes are a potentially lethal source of carbon monoxide.