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Pulled pork is a form of pork barbecue which involves cooking over low heat for an extended period of time, slowly softening the connective tissue of the meat so that it can be pulled apart by hand. Several culinary traditions have a history of this dish, and many people associate this barbecue style specifically with the American South, where it has been refined to an art form. In the South, many barbecue establishments offer pulled pork, and it is also a common dish at parties and celebrations. Making this dish at home is time-consuming and it requires a smoker, ideally, although some people use slow cookers or even prepare it in their ovens.
The defining point of pulled pork is the softness of the meat once it has finished cooking, but the dish can be prepared with a wide range of sauces and rubs. Depending on the region, you may see pulled pork with spicy sauces, sweet mellow sauces, or tangy sauces inspired by regionally available spices. The pork can be eaten plain with a side of vegetables, shredded and included in sandwiches, or used in a variety of other ways, depending on personal taste.
In the South, pulled pork is cooked over a smoky fire on low heat. The slow cooking at a low temperature encourages the connective tissue to gently dissolve, creating a tender finished product. The smoke from the fire adds a rich, smoky flavor. It can take hours to prepare pork in this way, not including the time required to marinate the meat in a sauce of choice. Some cooks prefer to use slow cookers or even ovens on low settings to prepare pulled pork, since these requires less attention as the meat cooks.
The cut traditionally used for pulled pork is pork shoulder, sometimes called pork butt or Boston butt in a reference to the large barrels that meat was once packed in for storage and transport; “butt” is another term for barrel. This cut often includes the shoulder blade of the pig, and it tends to be extremely flavorful. In addition to Southern cuisine, pulled pork also shows up in Polynesia, many parts of the Caribbean, and parts of Southeast Asia, thanks to abundant pig populations in these regions.
Because raw pork comes with a risk of food borne illness, it is important to make sure that all of the meat reaches a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) during the cooking process. Most cooks also allow the meat to rest for around half an hour after cooking; during this resting period, the internal temperature of the meat can rise significantly, ensuring that it will be safe to eat.