Last weekend, just before the holiday, I gave a call out on Facebook, Twitter, and in this blog asking for folks to participate in a recipe test for Spicy Pulled Pork Shoulder.

WOW. I was overwhelmed with the response! So many people responded. Thank you so much! I was blown away.

The results were overwhelmingly positive. Lots of grade A, grade B+ were bestowed. I don’t think we had the first C.

Of course, the funny thing about asking so many people to do this at once were the difference in comments. One tester commented, “It was delicious, but not spicy at all” and suggested I rename it “Savory Pork Shoulder” and to the opposite end of the spectrum was a very apologetic, “I really thought it was really too spicy.”

Part of my job has always been recipe testing. My first “job” as apprentice involved recipe testing for Nathalie Dupree . I’ve written about learning how to recipe test from Anne Willan and as TV Test Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart I was ultimately responsible for all the food on the show, and believe you me I made sure those recipes worked before Martha made them on set.

Recipes aren’t meant to be a ball and chain, but when actually testing a recipe to write it so the whole wide world can follow it and duplicate it without difficulty, instructions must be followed to the letter, that’s my approach and how I learned to do it over the years. When I test recipes for articles and books, I test and test eliminating variables and try to be as detailed as possible so instructions are clear. If I hire people to help me and assist me, that’s the attention to detail I expect.

My name is on the cover of that book.

Sometimes people try a recipe from book and the recipe fails. The cook thinks he or she has done something wrong, when the truth of the matter is the less-than-honest writer hadn’t really tested the recipe. That’s the wildcard of using recipes off the internet. The internet is only as good as the source.

There’s always going to be some differences in recipe testing. Pots differ, BTUs for stovetop power differ, some ovens aren’t properly calibrated. My medium tomato might be a little larger than your medium tomato, but for the most part a professional recipe tester tries to eliminate those nuances.

Some folks took the time to fill out the test sheet, including Katherine, Scott, Jane, and Heather. Wow! I was so impressed by the level of detail. Really cool experiment, you know. It was pretty much out of my control, which, um, sometimes, um, I struggle with.

Well, a good many of the “tests” that came in didn’t actually follow the recipe.

Gulp.

But, you know what? I loved it! Woo-hoo! Freedom!!

I got SO many great ideas and garnered so much great information by NOT following the recipe the way it was written! By doing exactly what I DON’T do!

One tester ran out of Worcestershire sauce and used Picka Pepper, instead. Many, many people tried it on a low and slow grill or Big Green Egg, a cooking method I have still yet to try. Someone from South Georgia used a fresh ham (from the back leg) instead of a shoulder (from the front leg). We had beer used instead of bourbon, muscavado sugar instead of dark brown, and ketchup instead of whole tomatoes. I got a note from Lance who’s testing it today in the UK, I can’t wait to see what he says!

Some folks, like Otis from Columbus, clearly thought it needed more bourbon. Or maybe he needed more bourbon… that wasn’t clear in his notes… well, maybe there’s my answer.

At the end of the day, I learned a lot. This was my first foray into rampant, unbridled, lawless recipe testing. It was enough to make me blush.

I can be a bit hemmed up with things sometimes, so it was good for me to stretch my boundaries and try something new, too.

Of course, I’m taking all those comments, suggestions, observations and writing out another recipe and testing it again.

I just can’t help myself.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS Here is the original Spicy Pulled Pork Shoulder that was posted last weekend, just in case anyone wants to give it a try!