You’ve seen the most delicious pulled pork on social media for years. Usually, a charcoal barbecue or special smoker is used. But all you have is a gas grill. Can’t you make pulled pork? Of course, you can. With a few handy tricks and some free time, you can make really good pulled pork on a gas grill.
What meat for pulled pork
Pulled pork is generally made from a pork shoulder or part of it. Beautiful meat with a good ratio of fat and connective tissue. Pork shoulder makes excellent pulled pork that especially tastes very good. This is due to the large part of connective tissue that converts into gelatin.
In America, they talk about the Boston Butt or the Picnic. The Boston butt is a smaller cut of the pork shoulder to fit let it fit precisely in a small barrel. Such a barrel was also called a butt. The Picnic is cut even smaller and has more neck meat in it.
A pork shoulder or Boston Butt is not very consistent in structure. You have the fattier part with a lot of connective tissue higher in the shoulder and more lean meat lower in the leg. This means that the meat must be prepared much more carefully for the best result. But because of the fat and connective tissue, pulled pork from pork shoulder is very tasty.
We’re going to make it a little easier for you. We’re using a pork neck this time. This is the cut the butcher cuts his pork chops from. Beautifully marbled meat that has a more even structure from front to back.
The marbling makes the cooking a lot simpler. That fat protects the meat from overheating, so it doesn’t dry out so quickly. In addition, a pork neck is often smaller than a pork shoulder. That makes it a cheaper cut, and it cooks faster. This way, you don’t have to get up at 6 am and hope you’re ready by dinner.
This is a Livar pork neck weighing almost 3 kilos. Livar is a heritage breed of pigs comparable to Iberico. And 3 kilos is maybe more than you need at the moment. But that is not a problem. You can freeze pulled pork and use it for a lot of other recipes. All we do with the meat is slice off a few loose pieces of fat and meat here and there. These pieces will only dry out and burn.
We used a basic dry rub for pulled pork on this pork neck. The rub contains all the classic barbecue flavours such as pepper, salt, sugar and paprika powder that you expect on real pulled pork. We rub the meat with a bit of Tabasco and then sprinkle an even layer of the rub over the meat. The Tabasco ensures that the rub sticks. And we think we can taste the Tabasco in the final result. You can also just use olive oil or mustard if you prefer.
What kind of gas grill can you use to make pulled pork on
First of all, a grill with a full gas tank. Nothing worse than finding out that after 4 hours, the tank is empty. Or not find out and after 8 hours find out that the meat is still, or again, cold.
How much gas you need depends on your grill. In any case, make sure you have a second gas tank on hand if you need it. If you do run out of gas, make sure you know it on time, so you can put the meat in the oven to finish.
After that, you need at least 2, preferably 3 or more burners. You want to cook the pork neck indirectly. This means that you heat the meat without it being directly above the heat.
If you now leave one of the burners off and place the meat above that burner, the other burner will provide indirect heating. If you have 3 burners, you can open a burner on both sides for more even heating.
In general, we recommend cooking pulled pork at a temperature between 100 and 120°C (212 to 248F). Because our pork neck has a good ratio of fat and meat, we are going for a faster cook at 150 degrees (302F) this time. The extra intramuscular fat of Livar meat ensures that we do not get dry pulled pork even at this high temperature.
We do not recommend a higher temperature than 150. The sugar in your dry rub would burn and become bitter.
On our Weber Genesis II EX-315, we place the pork neck on a rack in a roasting tin. Then we put the tin in the middle of the grates on the grill. The roasting tin ensures that no fat ends up in the barbecue. That saves a lot of cleaning up. In addition, the tin provides extra protection against direct heat.
We fill the tin with water. That water provides extra moisture in the kettle and a more stable temperature. Water will retain the heat a little longer if you open the lid in between to peek. Then the barbecue is up to temperature faster after you close it.
The water can also help to give a better smoky taste. When the water evaporates, it falls as condensation on the colder meat. During condensation, it more readily absorbs the smoke that we are going to add.
How do we smoke on a gas grill
For smoking, we make small packages with wood chips. In this case, cherry wood because it gives such a beautiful colour to the meat. We put a handful of chips in the middle of a piece of aluminium foil and fold it shut. Then we poke a few holes at the bottom and top with a knife. This will allow the smoke to escape.
We place this package above the burners that are on. It depends a bit on the thickness of the foil and the heat above the burners how much smoke will be coming out of the package. It may even be necessary to place the packets directly on the flavor bars to make them hotter.
It works differently on different grills. It is helpful to test this first without having meat on the grates to avoid stress.
Don’t expect too much from the smoke you add on a gas grill. The lid of a gas barbecue never closes completely, so smoke escapes too quickly without getting time to hit the meat. We are already pleased if we get a nice smoke colour and a light smoke taste on the surface.
We are going to start
When we are entirely ready to close the lid, we insert the probe in the centre of the meat and connect it to the Weber Connect that comes standard in the newer Weber smart grills. With the Connect and the app on your phone, you can keep an eye on the meat without having to open the lid.
Every time you open the lid, you will lose heat, and the cooking time will increase. So keep the lid closed for at least the first 3 hours and keep an eye on the temperature in the grill on your phone. Try to keep it at or below 150 degrees (302F) as much as possible.
Wrapping the meat
After 3 hours, you can go and see what the pork neck looks like. You want to see a dry surface where the dry rub is nicely attached to the meat. That is the sign that you can start wrapping the meat to speed up the preparation.
If you don’t wrap the meat, the following happens: Between 65 and 75°C (149 to 167F), the connective tissue will be converted into gelatin, and the fat will melt. Then the moisture in the meat will also be forced out. That moisture will end up on the outside of the pork neck and cools the meat down. Think of the sweat on your skin when you stand in the wind.
Cooling down can take a really long time and ensures that the core temperature in the meat will not rise, if at all. They call that period the zone, and it’s pretty frustrating. In a gas grill, where the lid never closes as well as with other grills, this zone can last extremely long.
So that’s why we’re going to wrap the meat. Air can then no longer flow past the meat, which cools it. As a result, it will move through the zone faster.
Wrapping is done with aluminium foil or butcher’s paper. We have noticed that the crust of the dry rub stays intact better with butcher paper. This has to do with the breathable nature of paper. If you only have access to aluminium foil, that’s no problem. Wrap the meat tightly and put it back on the grill. Pierce the probe of your thermometer through the paper or foil and close the lid again.
Now we just wait until the meat is 90°C (194F). It may take a while, so go do something else. If you are asked, you cannot do any shopping. You will have to/want to stay near your grill. Not because things can go wrong. If all is well, you have already set the temperature in the kettle correctly. Grab a beer or two and a good book. Do nothing for a while. You deserved that. Barbecue is hard work.
What core temperature should pulled pork have
After about 3 to 4 hours, the Connect app indicates that the meat has a core temperature of 90°C (149F). That doesn’t mean you’re done, but you’re close. This is the time to check the meat. The inserted probe may be pierced in a piece of fat so that you get a lower temperature. Check with a separate thermometer through the foil or paper the core temperature in the rest of the meat. But then you also want to know what that temperature should be.
That is a difficult question to answer. The desired core temperature is somewhere between 90 and 99°C (149 to 210F). What you want is tender but still juicy meat, and that will be different with every preparation and type of meat. We know from experience that this Livar pork neck is at its best at a core temperature of 93°C (199F). And that is also very personal.
The longer you cook the meat, the drier the meat becomes, but also more tender. The sooner you pull the meat out of the barbecue, the juicier it will be, but it will not be pulled easily. Test the tenderness here and there with the same thermometer while you’re at it. If the probe goes into the meat without resistance, you know that the meat is tender. It’s that simple.
Let the meat rest
Now comes the most challenging part of the cook. And not because it’s so much work, but because you’ve already seen how fantastic the pork neck looks. You have to let the meat rest before you pull it.
As you know, the moisture in the meat was forced out during the heating. That is now mainly on the outer edges of the meat. If you start pulling the meat right now, a considerable part of that moisture will evaporate quickly. This way, you end up with dry pulled pork. While resting, the moisture will redistribute over the entire pork neck.
You can let the meat rest for half an hour, but you can also leave it longer in a cooler. That can be useful if it takes a while before dinner time.
We first let the pork neck evaporate for a while and then wrap it up again with a fresh piece of butcher paper. Then the whole package goes into a cooler. Because you let the meat rest in the cool box, you can leave it for hours without the meat cooling down too much. You will notice that the meat is still too hot to handle even after 3 hours.
When the meat has had enough rest, you can finally pull it. We do this in a roasting tin. That can be the same one you used during the cook that you have now cleaned.
With your hands or two forks, if the meat is still too hot, you can easily pull the meat apart. As you can see, no smoke ring has formed. We didn’t expect that either. As mentioned, smoking on a gas grill is challenging. There is, however, a light smoky taste, especially in the bark of the meat. So as far as we’re concerned, the mission was accomplished.
Freezing pulled pork
Now you have about 2 kilos of pulled pork. Do you happen to have a party where ten friends come, then it’s gone in no time. Don’t worry about that. If this is not the case, you can freeze pulled pork well.
Divide the pulled pork to have approximately an equal proportion of meat, fat and crust in each part. Then put it in a ziplock bag and squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before closing it.
Then wait until the meat has cooled enough that it can go into the freezer. This way, you can keep the pulled pork for three weeks until you need it.
Now it’s your turn
Now that you know how to make pulled pork on your gas grill, it’s time to get started. If your pulled pork worked out great, let us know in the comments below. Or better! Take a photo and post it on Instagram. Tag @bbq.heroes so we can see what you made.