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A Southern favorite, Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches are 'real deal' Carolina style barbecue without shortcuts. A tender smoked pork butt and a heap of pulled pork sandwiches are what I'm after today. Y'all are coming along for the ride.
Want to know why my Carolina Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwiches look so amazing? Because they include my recipes for
Barbecue is interpreted in many ways or “styles” across our country. I have had folks challenge me here on Not Entirely Average. About barbecue that is. Whether the sauces I have shared on this site are "southern." Maybe this is because I am NOT originally from the south. How ever would a Yank be able to adequately judge the merits of a southern sauce? After all, she isn't southern to begin with. You be the judge. Make my Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches and let me know.
Rich, savory, slow-smoked pork butt is mopped with a thin, vinegar based sauce, bringing a wee bit of bite to that melt in your mouth smoked masterpiece.
First and foremost, I am a fairly skilled home cook before I am a Comeya or a Beenya. Oh, “Comeya” is a Geechee term that translates to “Come here”. This term is used to describe someone that is not native to the area. That's me. Beenya, well that's just the opposite; somebody who is from here. Either way, I speak food! I am a quick learn when it comes to educating myself or watching what experts do to teach me.
Anybody who grew up here in the great American South is an 'expert' on most things barbecue in my opinion. I allow myself to "get schooled" whenever I have the opportunity. Still, we could argue all day about what region of the US has the best barbecue. But if you ask me, I’m a fan of each and every region.
The traditional method for any Carolina style barbecue is to smoke the pork low and slow for MANY hours, imparting a deep smoky flavor and unbelievable tenderness to the butt. The beautiful 'bark' or crust on the outside is kind of the prize, and I try to tuck a little into each sammie...
When I first moved here to Charleston, South Carolina, I was introduced pretty immediately to what is referred to as the 'Carolina style' of barbecue. Carolina Style typically means pulled pork. And this is not a quick fete. It's an all day affair with a couple of heavily salted pork butts, a mess of hickory wood chunks, and a tangy vinegar sauce. Well, and you need a smoker. Now, I have done smoked Boston butts on my charcoal grill before, however the temperature control was always an issue.
Today, I am smoking my butts (I laugh whenever I say that!) on a Weber Smoky Mountain Smoker which I purchased about five years ago. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. Yet, it wasn't but after one smoke that I was WOWED into wondering why I had not purchased one a decade earlier. These smokers are not difficult to pick up. Not at all.
This group of items is a complete beginner set of tools if you are in the market for a smoker. These are the identical five items I purchased for my first smoke and they were exactly (and all) I needed. Smoking and barbecue necessaries, click each image for pricing.
As an appetizer lover, serving up this smoked pork atop small dinner-sized rolls is way more fun for me than a big honkin' sandwich...
I smoked a beef brisket and it came out PERFECT. So much so that the folks I fed questioned if I was really the person who made it. Thanks. I never gave much thought about highlighting it here on Not Entirely Average, but have received quite a number of barbecue questions of late, and most of my answers always involve smoking over and above adding a traditional barbecue sauce.
It may not look like much, but it's a hell of a great appliance if it can be referred to as such. My slow cooked, multi-hour butts are going to turn out more tender and more moist and exponentially more flavorful than anything conceivable in a crock pot, and with no need for a liter of cola or liquid smoke. And despite the large fat cap on this cut of meat, the final product is considerably lean.
A traditional vinegar moppin' sauce is for anyone who takes their pork BBQ seriously.
As far as Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches go, I like to think I have learned from the best. The hogs are smoked over an 8 to 10 hour slow hickory heat, mopped with a vinegar-based solution, and shredded or 'pulled' with a pair of meat claws before being mopped with the vinegar based solution again and then again. The Lowcountry has been doing it this way for a couple of centuries at least, so I have it on good authority that I am doing it correctly.
On days where I plan to smoke, I also set aside a biggie home project to tackle. It seems cleaning out the garage takes just about the same amount of hours as a long smoke.
Since I have no intention of harvesting a whole hog, a couple to three Boston butts, bone-in, and with heavy fat caps are on my list when I visit my local box store. Its fattiness is actually an asset, as it will render during smoking to create exceptionally moist and tender meat. Using a leaner cut won't work well, as the final product will be exceptionally dry before it's even entirely cooked. I am looking for the highest quality I can find if I am going to invest this much time. The outcome, oh…it'll be WELL WORTH IT. Just watch my neighbors as they begin sniffing around (LITERALLY) by hour 2 or 3…you'd be shocked at who starts chatting you up once the primitive aroma of smoked meat is in the air.
When the pandemic was still a few weeks out before hitting the United States, I panicked some. You who follow me weekly know that I have discussed this feeling of fear and being "caught without" before in prior posts. I went into what can only best be described as quasi survival mode. I has us stocked up on EVERYTHING. And some of the supplies I focused on were smoking woods like mesquite and peach and hickory, as well as natural lump charcoal. I purchased bags and bags of the charcoal because I knew that no matter what happened, we could cook. Having the luxury of hardwoods to use to smoke with would just be a bonus.
Do a lot of tailgating? Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches are your answer for great food to share. All that's left is to chill down the beer.
The trick with natural charcoal is to purchase, but also be able to keep the coal as well as the woods, dry. The garage was the only place I would consider storing the coal as it is mighty dirty. An gigantic unused plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid was my solution and I tossed plenty of shredded brown paper bag material in with it to absorb any moisture, just in case. The shredded brown bags make excellent tinder starters when jumbled into a ball, so nothing to waste. I prepped my Weber Smoky Mountain by giving it a good hose down. Given the number of hours that go into smoking any recipe or recipes, I made sure that she was ready to rock and roll.
Carolina barbecue is a battle of east versus west...
Earlier, I referenced a vinegar based solution used to flavor the pork. The flavor does not come entirely from the hickory smoke or the moppin' sauce, but rather from both. Moppin' sauce is made with apple cider vinegar, a wee bit of ketchup, some brown sugar, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground black pepper. Rarely, but sometimes, I cut the cider vinegar with plain distilled vinegar in equal parts.
My Moppin' Sauce
The sauce I am using is NOT a South Carolina Lowcountry sauce, nor is it technically (from what I am told) a true eastern North Carolina sauce, rather a 'North Carolina style' bbq sauce. And yes, this recipe comes from a friend born and raised in High Falls, North Carolina. I combine his 6 ingredients, give it a good shake, and let it sit overnight. If you do not have overnight, aim for a minimum of 2 hours. I use a cheap plastic condiment bottle which I purchased online for my moppin' sauce. The biggest canning jar you've got on hand will work, too, as long as it has a tight-fitting lid.
Smoking one or two pork butts ahead of a party like New Years Eve or the Super Bowl means a HEAP of slider-sized sammies for everybody to enjoy.
Smoke the pork shoulder(s) at 225 degrees for 1 to 2 hours PER POUND. Ultimately, the internal fully smoked temperature for pork needs to read right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. But even then, you'll remove the butt(s) from the smoker. You'll double wrap them in aluminum foil TIGHTLY and set on the counter for 30 minutes more before pulling. I like using hickory wood for smoking pork shoulder, though cherry and apple are also respectable options. It really comes down to personal preference.
Pulled smoked pork is great for sliders. I also stuff them into quesadillas, or toss into a mean smoky chili. The possibilities are endless.
So, I have touched on the Carolina style pulled pork. What I have failed to educate you about is which Carolina, and what region of either state. A South Carolina Lowcountry barbecue sauce is a mustard-based sauce. It tends to be popular because it's both mustard-pungent and brown sugar sweet all at the same time. It is applied during the smoke and again at the end as a condiment. We are not doing that here today.
Whether you prefer to mop or squirt, you'll need a way of doing it. Smoking necessaries, click images for pricing.
I can't discuss ANY kind of Carolina barbecue without a firm nod to both South Carolina and North Carolina...
A North Carolina pulled pork recipe begins with an eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce. Again, we are talking a vinegar based sauce. A North Carolina pulled pork vinegar sauce is the tiniest bit sweet with a nod to red pepper. It is used as a condiment at the end, not as a baste during the smoke. We are not doing this one here today either. As I referenced above, I am using (and teaching YOU!) a 'North Carolina style' sauce given to me by a pit master friend from central North Carolina. Just know that regardless of the bbq sauce you choose, the smoke is still largely the same.
Barbecue may be a lot of things to a whole lot of people, but when you hear Carolina barbecue, people are referring to low and slow smoked pork butt, rested, pulled, and mopped with a vinegar-based sauce.
Set your smoker up for a long, low-and-slow smoke. It must run in the 250 degree range for 8-10 hours for this method and recipe. I begin with a good natural lump charcoal base and I use hickory wood for the smoke. I add the hickory to the coal as needed for the first 4 to 5 hours. Once my pit temperature has stabilized and holds steady in the 250 range, I'm ready. Toss a couple to three chunks of the wood atop. Place the pork butt FAT SIDE UP on the cooking grate.
Do not remove any of the fat cap from the pork butt prior to smoking. The majority will render out during the smoke, and the fat keeps the meat moist during the cook.
I will be using a 'North Carolina style' pulled pork recipe sauce which I refer to as my moppin' sauce. This is important to me so I continue to add moisture throughout the smoke. Additionally, I will set aside one cup of the sauce for doctoring. This doctored finished sauce will be offered as a condiment for serving. Gotta have sauce options for the folks committed to adding a condiment.
This is a long process, but it is ridiculously easy if you do not over think it. You are aiming for an internal temperature of around 198-200 degrees. Oh, and have a couple bottles of wine or beer chilling, because this is gonna be a while!
- charcoal or pellet smoker
- meat thermometer
- heavy duty aluminum foil
- disposable aluminum pan(s)
Did you know that it’s super easy to print out a version of a half recipe or even a double recipe on Not Entirely Average? Hover over the serving size (highlighted in blue, it says 8 on this recipe) and then slide the the white line to the left to make less or to the right to make more. This "calculator" allows you to play until you get the number of servings you want. Easy.
Ingredients for Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches
for the pork sandwiches
- 1 8 pound bone in pork butt
- 1/2 to 1 cup Kosher salt
- 16 yeast rolls or as needed, I am using Sister Shubert's
for the Moppin' Sauce
note: this solution will be divided, 1 cup being set aside for the sauce condiment at the end for serving
- 1 quart apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon pepper
for the Moppin' Sauce served with the sandwiches
- 1 cup the above solution
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- additional red pepper flakes if you desire more heat
to smoke the pork butt for a Carolina style bbq of smoked pulled pork
- Set your smoker up for an 8 to 10 hour smoke (this is based on a 4 pound butt; plan on 1 to 2 hours PER POUND of the size butt you are smoking if different than the 4lbs I am smoking)
- Remove the pork butt from the packaging and rinse under cool water. Pat the outside dry with paper towels and place in a large disposable aluminum pan.
- Coat the butt on all sides with a sizeable layer of Kosher salt. You will need anywhere between 1/2 cup to 1 cup. Most of this salt will render out along with the fat, however you need this amount of salt for a tender and seasoned finished smoke. Allow the meat sit until the smoker temperature is stabilized. The meat can even be prepped the night before you plan to smoke. Remove it from the refrigerator 45 minutes prior to smoking.
- Prepare your coals. (add the hickory to the coal as needed for the first 4 to 5 hours). Once your temperature gauge has stabilized to around 250°F, add 2 chunks of the hickory and place the pork butt FAT SIDE UP on the cooking grate. Replace the lid and resist lifting it for at least 2 hours. Check back to monitor your temperature gauge and adjust the vents as necessary to maintain temperature without lifting the lid. Don't worry is the smoker temperature fluctuates. Any temperature between 225°F - 250°F is sufficient.
- Once the pork has smoked for 2 hours remove the smoker lid and observe the meat. Mop or drizzle the top of the butt with a healthy dose of the vinegar sauce. Repeat this process every hour or so until the pork butt hits 200°F degrees internally.
- Once the pork is cooked through, DOUBLE WRAP the butt(s) in aluminum foil. Allow them to rest for 30 minutes on the counter.
- After the meat has rested, remove from the foil making sure to reserve all of the accumulated juices and blackened bits. THIS IS THE GOLD. Remove the blade bone and shred the meat by hand for a pulled texture. Chopping it finely is how it'd typically be served in a barbecue restaurant here in Charleston and is also a good technique. Once pulled, pour the juices and the blackened bits over the meat. I personally prefer my pork pulled versus chopped fine, and I make a point of adding a little bit of the crunchy blackened bark bits into each sandwich.
for the Carolina Moppin' Sauce or pulled pork mop sauce
- One day ahead of cooking, add all of the ingredients in a bottle or jar and shake well. **NOTE: if you do not have advanced time to allow the vinegar solution to sit, try for a MINIMUM OF 2 HOURS. This solution does not need to be refrigerated but I do out of habit.
- Reserve 1 cup of the solution and add to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Pour the remainder of the solution into a squeeze bottle (or in a jar with a sauce mop) and set nearer the smoker to use as a baste every hour or as needed.
for the Carolina Moppin Sauce condiment
- To the 1 cup of reserved vinegar solution you added to a mixing bowl, add the ketchup and the brown sugar. Whisk well for several minutes until to sugar is COMPLETELY DISSOLVED.
assembling the sandwiches
- I enjoy serving these on smaller buns and plating two sammies per person/serving. I also prefer a yeast roll over a potato or Hawaiian roll, but this is strictly my preference. It's your smoke, you serve on whatever works for you. Split your roll, LOOSELY pile a handful of the smoked pork atop the bottom half of the roll. Follow with a scoop of creamy southern slaw. Offer pickled onions and pickles alongside the smoke. They are as much a condiment as the sauce itself. Some prefer the pickled onions over the creamy slaw. It just depends on who you are feeding 🙂 I have links to both my Creamy Southern Cole Slaw as well as my Cinnamon and Spice Pickled Onions (good for pickling cukes as well!) above. I have also linked to bbq sauces other than the sauce I specify herein. Serve them in addition to or in place of. It's your call.