PorkFest ’07!

Pig Pumpkin
The cooking highlight of the year at stately IPB Manor is PorkFest, our annual celebration of all things pork. This tradition started three years ago when I made pulled pork (smoked in my regular old Weber grill, mind you) and mentioned it to Carrie (Official Real-Life Friend of IPB [TM]), who was aghast that she and her husband Jonathan were not invited to partake of it. Jonathan should be, if he’s not already, a legend in the pork industry for his tremendous fondness for all things pig meat. Because I enjoyed making the pork so much, I was more than happy to re-create the dish in “having actual people over to the house to eat the things I’ve made” form, and PorkFest was born. This year’s invite list included Carrie, Jonathan and their daughter Molly, Sarah and Paul and their son Clark, and Eugenie and Jarrett (of U.S. Open fame), and everyone was asked to bring a dish.

So my big PorkFest secret is that pulled pork is almost stupidly easy to make. Last year it was even stupider, because I made a vinegar mop to go with it that involved no cooking, but I prefer a tomato-based barbeque sauce, so I returned to the original PorkFest recipe (from Cook’s Illustrated’s barbeque book) this time around. That at least involved several hours of simmering.
BBQ Sauce
As far as the ostensible centerpiece of the whole affair, though, the key is to buy a nice hunk of meat. In this case I started out with a ridiculously large Boston butt (it was nine pounds, and Whole Foods very nearly sent Boomer home from her meat-fetching errand with twice that much — I’m so oblivious, though, I’d probably have just gone ahead with the 18-pounder, wondering why it’s taking so long to cook), rubbed it good early on Saturday morning with a blend of paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, cracked black pepper, oregano and whatnot, then let it refrigerate while thinking about itself for about 15 hours.
Rubbed Butt
Around midnight I fired up the Bradley smoker, tossed the butt in, and went to bed. (Doesn’t that sound easy and cavalier? Because I’m a terrible worrier, it totally wasn’t either of those things. I barely slept at all, for the way I was fretting about wild animals tearing into the smoker during the night [I worked myself all the way up the food chain to bears; if I’d gone to bed any early I probably could have tossed-and-turned myself to freaking out that killer whales were going to come into our yard to go after the butt], and then the smoke smell made me dream, once I finally fell asleep, that our house was burning down.) While I am fully capable of smoking a huge piece of meat in my normal grill (and have done so. Twice), I hope to never have to do so again, now that I’ve experienced the joys of this electric smoker device. Twelve hours after putting the butt in there, I retrieved from its blackened interior a gorgeous, melt-in-your mouth hunk of smoked pork.
A few minutes spent shredding the pork by hand yielded a mountain of sandwich-ready meat, begging to be topped with the zingy, spicy homemade barbeque sauce!
Pulled Pork
The rest of the menu was rounded out with pork and bacon kebabs (The key to making them is, in my opinion, building the hottest fire in the history of grilling, which will then belch flames as the bacon drips grease onto the coals. At those astronomical temperatures, with charring flames licking up around them, the kebabs will be cooked in about 15 seconds. Good stuff.), potato salad (with a cider vinegar and mustard dressing, and crumbled bacon — of course), and heirloom tomato salad (recipe courtesy of andrew; when Pookie tried the salad she declared, “andrew’s my hero”). Pookie made several gallons of lemonade, and after some hard tidying of the yard by Boomer, we were ready for our guests!
PorkFest Spread
Our friends, awesomely, are some serious foodies — when there is a potluck in this group of people, that means some crazy-good food is going to be produced. And PorkFest ’07 was no exception. Carrie and Jonathan faced perhaps the biggest challenge, thanks to Molly’s recently-discovered food allergies. They brought allergen-free corn muffins, and while no one could argue that they looked awful (thanks to a lack of dairy, there was no real binding agent, so the muffins were terribly crumbly), they were surprisingly moist (almost like a cake rather than cornbread) and utterly scrumptious. For dessert they brought chocolate cupcakes that were also delicious, and an especially big hit with Clark, who demonstrated admirable toddler cupcake-eating protocol (the two-hand grab, the chocolate frosting all over the face, the refusal to eat anything but a cupcake).

Sarah brought a staggeringly delicious apple poppy-seed slaw (which was good enough that Carrie didn’t seem too broken up over having accidentally consumed some allergen-filled mayonnaise), and a ginger-peach cobbler that was every bit as good as it looked (especially topped with ginger chantilly cream).

Eugenie provided some profoundly tasty oatmeal raisin cookies (we were well dessert-ed, indeed!), and Jarrett brought the real show-stopper: homemade bacon. He had taunted us with some ultra-close-up pictures of it earlier in the week, but coyly refused to tell us ahead of time what he was bringing. The surprise reveal was well worth the secrecy, as Pookie and I were truly humbled. He explained the process, which involved stumbling across some uncured pork belly at the grocery store (Pookie: “Did it look like a giant meat Fruit Roll-Up?” Eugenie: “It was more like a meat danish.” Jarrett: “Definitely a meat danish. It was like a meat cinnamon bun.” Pookie: “Like Meatabon!” Jarrett, eyes lighting up: “I think there’s a market for that…”), rubbed it was a tantalizing blend of curing materials, let it cure in the fridge for three days, then baked it at low, low heat for 8 hours. The end result was… interesting. It had a marvelous flavor, but a bit of a gelatinous texture; the sheer wow factor of “You made your own what?”, though, makes up for any of its shortcomings. Furthermore, the gauntlet has been thrown — it’s going to take something really special to top that next time we get together!
Jarrett’s Bacon



Filed under Hearty Meals, Meats Meats Meats, PorkFest

24 responses to “PorkFest ’07!

  1. HG

    Wow. I think my watering mouth has betrayed my vegetarian brain. I’ve always said if I were to eat meat again, it would be pork. This confirms it. In honour (or something), I’m going to eat some smoked salmon… *sigh*

  2. Yeah, SmokedSalmonFest doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it? And yes, there’s not a lot to offer the vegetarian at PorkFest; even the tomato salad had salami in it. Last year we had a vegetarian in attendance, and I was like, “Well… there’s, um… corn?”

  3. The vegetarian was offered her choice of “corn and pork”, “pork and corn”, “corn, corn, corn and pork” or “pork, pork, pork, pork, pork and corn”.

  4. Like HG, my deeply repressed inner meat eater so wants me to go out and buy ham RIGHT NOW. But I won’t (largely because it is past midnight and I don’t think gas stations sell that sort of thing). I’ll just have this hard boiled egg instead.


  5. Okay, HardBoiledEggFest totally has the same ring as PorkFest. :P

  6. Regarding the vegetarian selection, I once went to a Curling party (where’s IPB curls??) in Plainfield, NJ. We had a delightful selection of sweetmeats including haggis. But the star was certainly the pigurken. A chicken inside a turkey inside a pig, roasted for hours. The best part of the night was when someone asked what the kosher person was going to eat, and another partygoer in all seriousness said, well there is chicken. Oh, it was divine, (PorkFest that is). Good time had by all.

  7. Paul, why have you not mentioned the piguken before!?! (If you have, and I’m just being forgetful, sorry!) We must have one of those! I wonder if Jonathan feels like the gaunlet’s been tossed down with Jarrett’s homemade bacon, he might take it upon himself to make a dairy-free pigurken for next year’s bash?

  8. Patty

    Hey! I have that cookbook! Unfortunately, I have neither a grill nor a smoker. Can something similar be done with a stove?

    I love the pulled-pork sandwich.

    (BTW, love the backsplash.)

  9. The Cook’s Illustrated pulled pork recipe actually called for a few hours of smoking, and then finishing it in the oven. I know you can smoke on a gas stove, but I think you need some serious ventilation… :P (I love that you have a grilling and BBQ cookbook, but no grill!)

    (In re: the backsplash — thanks! I’m glad to hear you like it!! I’m totally delighted with it.)

  10. Gentle readers, you’ll also notice that I bring nothing to PorkFest. And that is the sad truth, until this year when I brought my mad skillz at Guitar Hero. Please dear reader, know that it is not just a feeling, it is More than a feeling

  11. Paul, your skillz at Guitar Hero were both terrifying and inspirational. WAAAAAY More Than A Feeling!

  12. Gentle readers, I was stunned — STUNNED — by Paul’s Guitar Hero skillz. I sincerely doubt his story that he “never played it before”. In fact, I think all the time he claims to be “at work”, he’s off at the, uh… Guitar Hero gym (?) practicing.

  13. Patty

    In fact, I think all the time he claims to be “at work”, he’s off at the, uh… Guitar Hero gym (?) practicing.

    Is he one of those stage rats? (Like a rink rat? Get it?) :D

  14. Patty

    I love that you have a grilling and BBQ cookbook, but no grill!

    It’s one of those things my friends don’t like to admit about me: Just because I say I’m going to do something, doesn’t mean I’m going to do it. So when I said I’d like buy a cute little Weber grill and have my friend come over and teach me how to use it, he bought me a grilling cookbook for my birthday. Things like that cause me to be wracked with guilt.

    And it’s an excellent book, by the way. I know, because he uses it and the stuff he makes from it is amazing.

  15. I got a Weber grill for free from my aunt and uncle when they moved cross-country, and it took me, like, two years before I actually fired it up. That’s not the kind of thing you want to just jump in to! :D

  16. Is he one of those stage rats? (Like a rink rat? Get it?) :D

    I think he must be!

  17. Patty

    …it took me, like, two years before I actually fired it up. That’s not the kind of thing you want to just jump in to!

    Thank you! That’s what I think.

  18. Hey! I have that cookbook! Unfortunately, I have neither a grill nor a smoker.

    I thought all Texans were born with a grill.

    PorkFest sounds amazing. Today I bought a large pot and made another batch of chili!!

  19. Whoa, kms2 — a larger pot! You’re totally hooked on the chili! :D

  20. yes I am. But I also figured it would be good for making pasta (usually the other pot I use is filled to the brim) and Japanese curry (which I usually half to cut the water by half in order to get everything in the pot). So the larger pot will be used for other recipes, but it was mainly a necessity if I wanted to make more chili.

  21. I only have a GINORMOUS pot because it was a “free gift” when I bought my pot set from Williams-Sonoma. At first I thought it was a complete waste of space, and figured W-S was giving them away because no one was buying them otherwise. I thought the only thing it would be good for would be, like, boiling lobsters. I was wrong! A big pot is surprisingly essential!

  22. andrew

    Glad to hear the tomato salad recipe was a hit. It’s a big favorite around our house too! And, cripes you guys are serious about your pork! That stuff all looks fantastic. Makin’ me hungry!

  23. And, cripes you guys are serious about your pork!

    You should have seen the spread for Winter PorkFest ’06. Crown roast with ground pork stuffin with a side of potatos studded with lardons. It was a veritable pork-a-thon.

  24. Pingback: Mmmmm… Pulled Pork Tacos « IPB Living

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