I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and my first memory of barbecue was a chopped pork sandwich with slightly creamy and tangy coleslaw, also chopped, on a soft hamburger bun. The pork was bathed in semi-sweet, vinegary sauce with just a bit of tomato in it. That’s what known as “Western Carolina Barbecue Sauce.” The better-known version, with no tomato, comes from the eastern part of the state, up around Raleigh. It’s in Lexington where the transition begins. It’s all delicious.
When we decided to put pulled pork on the menu at Wood Ranch, of course it had to be the one I’d been making at home for decades. I didn’t chop the meat, but pulled the smoked pork shoulder apart after it had been smoked in hickory and apple wood for hours at a very low temperature. Instead of the usual gloppy, use-on-everything barbecue sauce you find in many places, we use our version of the vinegar-based Western Carolina sauce. The pulled pork at Wood Ranch has been a huge success. Here’s a version of it you can more easily make at home. I’m going to assume you have a smoker and know how to use it. If you don’t have a smoker, you can do all of this in your oven without the wood smoke. You’ll also want to consider getting an injector. I’ll give you a simple recipe for the sauce, injection solution and dry rub, one that most people find very easy to like.
Mix all of the ingredients well in a bowl. Apply evenly to the entire pork shoulder.
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and injet liberally, at least 12 times, on each side of the shoulder. If you like, you can add a little of the rub to this solution to flavor the meat not exposed to the smoke.
When you’re ready to cook, heat a smoker to between 225 and 250 degrees. While the smoker gets to temp, soak ½ cup each of hickory and apple chips in water.
When the smoker is at the right temp, put the wood into the smoker box. Replace with additional wood as you like.
Put the pork shoulder into the smoker. After about 3 hours, using a spray bottle, spray the pork with the apple juice or vinegar. Spray every hour or two. This will help with moisture and create a bark on the outside.
Let the pork cook until it reaches an internal temperature of between 190 and 200 degrees.
Take the shoulder out of the smoker and put in a large pan. Allow the meat to cool for at least 30 minutes before pulling apart. Once you can comfortably handle the meat, pull apart with two large forks or using your hands. Tear the larger pieces into smaller ones.
Pour about ½ cup of the Western Carolina Barbecue Sauce (recipe below) over the pulled meat and mix together to maintain moisture. Serve with the rest of the barbecue sauce on the side. If you’d like to serve in the traditional Carolina style, add your favorite coleslaw to the meat and put it all on a bun.
Melt the butter in a pot. Sauté the onions until soft, but not browned. Add the garlic and cook until soft. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool, then strain all the solids from the sauce and use only the liquid. Add the chili flakes if you’d like the sauce to be spicier.