Carolina Style Pulled Pork is one of those classic Americana BBQ styles that everybody needs to try at least once! Rich, savory smoked pork shoulder is topped with a vinegar based, thin sauce to bring a little bite to all that melt in your mouth meat.
Now before you get all offended about my branding of this recipe “Carolina Style,” just know that I am aware that this recipe is specifically WEST North Carolina style BBQ. East North Carolina Style is primarily whole hog BBQ with a thin vinegar sauce (no ketchup involved!) I even had somebody comment on my Instagram sneak peak of this recipe “if it ain’t clear, I won’t go near” in reference to the color of my sauce. Haha. Carolinians are very divisive when it comes to the ingredients in their BBQ sauce! That being said, this style of BBQ using the pork shoulder and some ketchup in the sauce does, in fact, come from a part of Carolina, the west part of North Carolina, and to write out the whole history in the title of a recipe is excessive. So, I’m calling it “Carolina Style” and you can ravage me in the comments section, if you please. 😉
I chose to work on this method for Carolina style pulled pork because I personally prefer the hint of ketchup and brown sugar in the sauce. This is overall a savory preparation for smoked pulled pork (in opposition to a couple other of my pulled pork recipes like Cider Brined Pulled Pork and Bourbon Brown Sugar Pulled Pork), but I still prefer just that little kiss of sweetness in the sauce. If you want to keep it extra traditional, shred up red and green heads of cabbage and use the thin sauce to dress the slaw. It makes for the most amazing crunchy element in an otherwise tender sandwich.
The key components to this recipe are actually quite simple!
-First, the meat. I stick with a bone-in pork shoulder AKA Boston butt. I used boneless a couple of times and the bone in version was always superior.
-Second, the rub. True Carolinians claim all you need is good salt. I like heat and color, so I use good Kosher salt, some coarse black pepper, and some smoked paprika. Still elemental and simple, just a little amped up.
-Third, good smoke. Traditionally, hard woods like oak or hickory are used. I cooked this on my pellet smoker and used a blend of mainly oak, with a little cherry, and maple.
-Fourth, the mop sauce. This thin sauce helps keep that beautiful hunk of meat moist while it smokes away. The sauce is very thin with only a few simple ingredients.
-Finally, the BBQ sauce. Like I said, this is West North Carolina Style pulled pork, so my sauce does include a little bit of ketchup and brown sugar (which I think makes it better! There, I said it!)
PRO TIPS: This butt isn’t covered or wrapped, so the mopping step is crucial. Keep that mop sauce on hand and use it often. Also, because the butt never gets wrapped to speed the process or retain moisture, it is very important that you use a great thermometer. I recommend investing in a Thermoworks Smoke or ThermaQ so you can monitor both the meat temperature and grill temperature. Or you can use a handheld MK4 and just check every time you mop your meat. A 6-7 pound pork butt will take about 8-10 hours at 250 degrees F, but the best way to get the greatest results is to cook by temperature and not time.