I grew up in Arkansas, in a small town that was half an hour away from an even smaller town that had the best BBQ in the galaxy: Craig’s Bar-B-Q. The food is so good there that when John Edwards was running for president he had his tour bus go out of the way to make a stop at this place. And DeVall’s Bluff (where Craig’s is located) is not the sort of town you accidentally go through. It’s out of the way no matter where you’re going. But, the BBQ at Craig’s is so good that it’s totally worth it.
It’s the kind of place that the term “hole in the wall” was made for. If you didn’t know what it was, there’s no way you’d stop there and think, “I’ll buy something from this place and put it in my mouth.” It looks like a complete dive on the outside, and the inside isn’t any better, with old dark wood panelling and tables that wobble without the random things shoved under the legs, and a general atmosphere of shabbiness.
But once you bite into one of their sandwiches, you don’t give a fig about the wobbly tables or the grease-stained walls. You just want another one.
This is my husband enjoying his Craig’s BBQ. He grew up in Pennsylvania, and had literally never had a proper BBQ sandwich before this moment. He didn’t KNOW he’d never had proper BBQ before, but he knew it the minute he bit into one of these babies. (Incidentally, why is it impossible to find decent BBQ north of the Mason Dixon line? I have never understood this. But it’s true.)
I miss those BBQ sandwiches. Fiercely. It’s probably just as well that living in the Northeast only leaves me with pale imitations of BBQ, because this way I’m not really tempted by anything. The sugars in these sauces are pretty over the top. I tried to make my own BBQ sauce without (or with greatly reduced) sweeteners, and it was just not worth it. At least not when I’m remembering the magic that was Craig’s.
So I decided to try to go a completely different route and attempt a Carolina BBQ instead.
Carolina BBQ is vinegar based, instead of ketchup/molasses based, so it’s much easier to figure out a reduced-sweetener version. Also, I don’t have fond childhood memories of Carolina BBQ embedded in my head making me dissatisfied with anything that’s not exactly authentic, so I can play around a bit more.
(If you have fond childhood memories of Carolina BBQ dancing around in your head, I have no idea how this will hold up for you. We thought it was delish. But you’ll have to judge for yourself!)
This recipe does have some whole food sweeteners in it, but not much. What makes BBQ good is that combination of sweet and tangy, and so it’s impossible to leave it out altogether. However, it’s not much, and this recipe will be just fine for people who aren’t affected as much by whole food sweeteners, or who have gotten their inflammation under control and are just maintaining now. This recipe is simple in that it doesn’t take much work at all. But it’s time consuming since it involves a lot of brining and slow cooking. So plan ahead!
First, get a pork butt roast. Pork butt is actually the shoulder, and I have no idea why they call it butt. But sometimes they actually do call it shoulder too, which is confusing. Ask your butcher if you’re not sure what’s what! The day before you want to have this for dinner, stick your pork butt in a large container with the brine. I forgot to take a picture of the brine. But here’s the empty container after it was all dumped out! Does that count?
The brine is just water, salt, peppercorns, allspice berries, honey, and molasses. The sweetener in the brine does affect flavor, but you won’t be consuming it in enough quantities to really affect you. Combine all those ingredients, whisk it together until the honey and molasses are dissolved into the water, and then add the ice cubes. (If you add the ice cubes before whisking it together the honey will get all hard and you’ll have a really hard time getting it to dissolve.)
Let it sit overnight in a cool place. It doesn’t have to be in the refrigerator (although if you have room, go ahead) – just somewhere that stays cooler, like the basement or something. The ice will have melted by morning, but the water should stay cool enough for it not to be a problem. And, besides, all the salt in the brine pretty much kills anything trying to live anyway.
In the morning, dump the brine, and pat the meat dry. Mix together paprika, pepper, salt, and 2 Tbsp of coconut sugar and rub it all over the meat. Then put it in a large crock pot on top of two onions that have been sliced in half, and drizzle liquid smoke over the top.
For this to be REALLY good BBQ, you really need to smoke the meat. I do not have a smoker. If you do, then you can smoke it after putting on the rub, and then after that go on to the crock pot step. Since I don’t have a smoker, nor do I have the time or patience involved in smoking meat, I cheat by using the liquid smoke. It’s not as good as the real deal, but it comes in a close second!
Mix together the sauce by combining apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, red pepper flakes, dry mustard, garlic powder, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Now, the Worcestershire sauce is a problem – the ingredient list on most isn’t that stellar. So if you’re afraid of it you can just leave it out.
Pour 1/4 of the sauce over the meat, and store the rest in the refrigerator. (It won’t look like much, and you’ll be tempted to put more in, but the roast will make all sorts of juice while it’s cooking so this is more for flavor than anything else. Just 1/4 of it is fine.) Pop the lid on and cook on the low setting all day, 8-10 hours. If you start this before leaving for work in the morning, it should be ready by the time you get home at night.
When it’s done, it looks like this. All falling apart and everything.
Remove the meat, and pour the liquid into a 2 cup glass measuring cup, or something similar. There will be a lot of fat that rises to the top.
Take a spoon, tilt the measuring cup, and scoop the fat out as much as you can. After you get most of it out, you can put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes, and the fat will have started to solidify on the top and be easy to remove.
While you wait for the fat to harden in the freezer, shred the meat using two forks (or your fingers if it’s cool enough to handle) to pull it apart.
Pour on the rest of the sauce you made in the morning. Then get the juice from the freezer, remove any fat that solidified on the top, and pour that on too.
Mix it up and taste it. The recipe here is pretty safe as far as tartness goes. If you like more of a vinegar bite, then just pour some more in at this point and mix it together.
We like to serve it on sprouted grain rolls, or in bowls with multi-grain chips.
This isn’t Craig’s BBQ. Not by a long shot. But, it’s still really good! Everyone loved it, and the enormous pot full was gone in just 2 days because everyone kept going back for more! It’s definitely a crowd pleaser! (I don’t know if it’s good enough to bring John Edwards to your door…but maybe that’s a good thing.)
- 5-6 lb pork butt
- 1 Tbsp hickory liquid smoke
- 2 onions, quartered
- 1½ gallons water
- 2 trays ice cubes
- 5 peppercorns
- 5 allspice berries
- 1½ cups salt
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup blackstrap molasses
- 2 Tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup worchestershire sauce (optional - leave out if you're worried about the ingredient list)
- 1½ tsp crushed pepper flakes
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp blackstrap molasses
- ½ tsp dry mustard
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp pepper
- The day before you want to serve this, combine all the brine ingredients except the ice in a large container (I use a 9.5 liter Rubbermaid container). Whisk it together until the honey and molasses are dissolved.
- Add 2 trays of ice cubes and the meat, cover, and let sit in a cool place overnight.
- The next morning, dump the brine, remove the meat, and pat it dry.
- Combine the ingredients for the rub together, and rub it all over the surface of the meat.
- Cut 2 onions in half and put them in the bottom of a large crock pot, and then place the meat on top of the onions. Drizzle 1 Tbsp liquid smoke on top of the meat.
- Combine the ingredients for the sauce, and pour ¼ of it on the meat. It won't look like a lot of juice, but much more will accumulate as the meat cooks. Put the rest of the sauce in the refrigerator.
- Put the lid on the crock pot and set the heat to low. Cook all day, about 8-10 hours. The meat should be falling apart when it's done.
- Remove the meat from the crock pot, and pour the juice out into a 2 cup glass measuring cup, or something similar.
- Skim as much of the fat off the juice as possible, and then put the measuring cup in the freezer to solidify the fat that's left.
- While the juice is in the freezer, shred the meat using two forks or your fingers to pull it apart. Put the meat back into the crock pot or into a separate pot as you shred it.
- When the meat is shredded, get the juice out of the freezer and remove any solidified fat. Pour it over the meat along with the rest of the vinegar sauce.
- Mix it all together, taste, and adjust as necessary. This recipe makes a mild sauce. If you want a stronger vinegar bite you can pour more vinegar over the meat and mix it together.
- Serve on rolls, or in bowls with tortilla chips.
(Shared on Real Food Wednesday)