Spicy (or Maybe Not So Much?) Pork Shoulder Results Sunday, Jul 11 2010 

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!

Spicy Pork Shoulder: Recipe Testing for Basic to Brilliant, Y’all Friday, Jul 2 2010 

My next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Recipes and Recollections of a Southern Culinary Journey is the lead book for Ten Speed for Fall 2011. The concept is much like my first book – simple basic recipes with accessible ingredients. I’ll have the same smattering of stories about Mama, Meme, Martha – my travels around the world and growing up in the South. What does distinguish it from Bon Appétit, Y’all is that each recipe will have a short recipe, presentation tip, or technique that transforms the recipe from Basic to Brilliant – essentially making it more chef-inspired, something that you might have if you came over and had dinner at my house. I’m really excited about the premise and testing is going great.

I’ll be testing this recipe again this weekend, fine-tuning a few things. I really like the direction it’s going. It’s some kind of good. The bourbon is a new addition, previously I used water. The alcohol will really help bring the flavor of the tomatoes to the forefront. I’m also giving it a try with beer.

I may write it up for working on the grill or BBQ, as well. If anyone does that, I’d be curious to hear about it. I think it would be somewhere around 6-7 hours at 220, but I haven’t tested that yet.

So, this recipe for Spicy Pulled Pork Shoulder needs one more round to put it to bed. And, this weekend I’ll also figure out what I want to do to make it brilliant.

I posted on facebook a query to see if anyone wanted to give it a shot, as well. It’s pretty cool, I think to see what a wide variety of people think. Well, my inbox started dinging like a slot machine! So, here’s the recipe and my testing sheet below. If you are interested and want to participate, please give it a try and send me back your notes and comments. Photos are welcome and I’ll be happy to post y’alls notes and pictures.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Best VA

SPICY PORK SHOULDER
Serves

Despite the name, pork butt does not come from the rear end of the hog–it is cut from the shoulder. The terminology for pork shoulder can vary widely depending on what part of the country you are in. Generally, the upper part of the shoulder, is often called the Boston blade roast or Boston butt, and contains the shoulder blade bone. The lower ‘arm’ portion of the shoulder is most commonly called the arm picnic.

1 8 to 10-pound bone-in pork shoulder or Boston blade roast
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup bourbon
¼ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the pork, fat-side up, in a roasting pan and using a sharp knife, score the surface of the meat with small slits. Allow the meat to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.

Heat the oven to 325°F. Combine the onions, tomatoes, vinegar, Worcestershire, bourbon, brown sugar, and red pepper in a large bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and to slightly break up whole tomatoes. Pour the tomato mixture over the pork. Transfer to the heated oven. For sliced pork, cook until the internal temperature reaches 180-185° and for pulled pork, 190-205°, 3 1/2 to 4 hours, basting with sauce throughout the cooking process.

Remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes. Slice or pull meat, if preferred. Meanwhile, place the roasting pan over medium high heat. Reduce the sauce to thicken, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with pork.

VIRGINIA WILLIS TEST SHEET

Tester’s Name
Phone Number
Email address

Date

RECIPE TITLE:
Basic to Brilliant »
Flavor grade A/B/C?

On a scale of 1-10, one being easiest and ten most difficult, how did this recipe rate?
Please make sure to mark all times and what to look for when XYZ is “done”.

From start to finish, how long did it take you to make this recipe?

Was the dish properly seasoned?

Was any portion of the recipe confusing?

Were you unfamiliar with any of the ingredients? If so, which?

Were any details missing?

What did you like least about this recipe?

Other suggestions/comments?

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