02 August, 2006

The Mail Bag - Slow Pork Taco Recipe

[Dear SMAC,]

Ha! I did find a 3# pork shoulder chunk at the ShopRite on Monday. I'd like to do a rub/marinade and grill it the next day for tacos. No achiote seeds on hand but I have everything from Bittman's carnitas recipe in the Times last week. Any suggestions on the marinade? Should I try to add some wood for smoke when I grill it? What temp am I shooting for internally? Do I need to add something to make steam when I grill it?


sweatin' and grillin'
West Orange, NJ

Dear SWAG:

There’s always a wise guy out there tryin’ to break yer shoes. I’m sure you could find a three pound piece of shoulder in the crammed, family of six studio apartment dwelling, environs of NYC; there is only so much you can fit into one of those Holly Hobby Easy Bake Ovens. But all jabbin aside, how about that heat? Do not try to make sausage in this kind of weather it’s just too hot, but my order of Fermento and Dextrose showed up today so we are going to get down to business soon.

Now about grilling three pounds of pork shoulder. First about the Bittman article, seriously, it looks like page 298 of Rick Bayless Mexico, One Plate at a Time except no achiote or banana leaves. Go to the library and check it out.

But anyway, following the carnitas recipe I suggest the following changes:

For the marinade I would replace the lemon juice with fresh squeezed lime juice and bump it up to at least ¼ cup up to ½ cup. Bump up the salt too, A heavy tablespoon. I not sure about the authenticity of coriander, it is good for Italian sausage but tacos? Skip that , Instead put in some cloves, less than ½ teaspoon. Double the cumin and double the peppercorns. Put some cayenne in too. After toasting toastable spices (toast only whole spices), grind that all up as powdery as possible. Take your powder your garlic and your juice, and blender until smooth. Put the meat a Ziploc pour in the marinade, message well, and let it go overnight in the fridge.

Now for cooking. Since I know SWAG has a kettle grill (Weber 22”), that will be our weapon of choice. It is actually a perfectly good tool for smoking, especially with such a small piece of meat. First let’s set up the grill: Get some aluminum foil. You are going to build a small charcoal pile (I dunno 15-20 briquettes) on one side of the kettle. Build a wall of foil to sequester the pile with a little room to add more charcoal. Now the foil is not as much a retaining wall, but a heat shield, and a reminder to keep the fire small. Now you can buy some Charcoal Briquet Holders for that fancy pants look, but foil will work just fine. Try to line the rest of the charcoal grate with foil or use a drip pan because it is going to get messy. Fire up about ½ chimney of coals throw that on top of your little pile coals, a couple small chunks of wood (Hickory, I know you have some, I try to avoid bark) and see if you can get your fire to stabilize between 250 and 300F. How do you know when your grill is at temp? Go get a thermometer. For my mom’s kettle I picked up a Weber Grill Food Thermometer and ran it through a cork and stuck it in the vent as pictured here. If I want to control venting, I use balled up pieces of foil.

Arrange the cooking grate so that the handle is over the fire; there will be enough room to feed the fire without removing the grate. Or again, for that fancy pants look, you can get a hinged cooking grate ( I got one of those for my mom too). When cooking like this, I do like to put a pie tin of water over the fire for a little steam. I haven’t done any research and since the meat (a particularly fatty cut anyway) has been marinating, I don’t know how much difference the steam makes, probably not much. I figure it is not too much trouble( make sure it is a pie tin the old lady doesn’t care about, sorry mom), and the water helps regulate the temperature, so what the heck.

It is going to be around 3 hours to get 3 lbs of shoulder “Fork Tender.” What Internal temp is fork tender? 200F. Just cook it as long as you can stand it and look for it to be done anywhere between 190 and 200F. Now I am not positive about this smaller cut of meat, but you may find it races to 160F, then plateaus, and crawls the rest of the way to 200F. Try to keep the temp constant, and throw on another chunk of wood if it isn’t smoking.

Mac’s Modified Slow Roast Pork for Taco Recipe Ingredient List

10 cloves garlic, peeled

3 pounds pork shoulder, preferably boneless and in one piece (whatever)

1 Tablespoon peppercorns

1 teaspoon (or more) dried Mexican oregano (or Greek, don’t bother with fresh unless it is in your garden, which it should be)

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

½ teaspoon whole clove

½ teaspoon cayenne

1 Tablespoon salt

2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice

¼ to ½ cup fresh lime juice.

Now I just made this up. I haven’t tested it, tune it to whatever makes sense to you, but it sounds good to me. And do the pickled onions, they are really good. Bayless' onion recipe calls for 3 red onions sliced, 1 1/3 cups lime juice, 2/3 cup orange juice. Marinate overnight. With a three pound roast, you could cut that recipe in half. And add some sugar. For pictures of an 8 pound roast marinating and the pickled onions, see the South Side Tacos post.

Thanks for the question, keep em coming, and SWAG, send us some pictures of your baby roast!


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