Crash Test Kitchen: Pulled Pork BBQ Chili

There are two culinary schools in America I enjoy more than most. One being the Mexican and Tex Mex traditions of the South-western USA, the other being the barbecue tradition of the South.

One day I got to thinking: What if I could have the best of both worlds? What if I could combine the two? What if I could combine my all time favorite dish from each school of cooking? What if I could make a pulled pork BBQ chili con carne?

See, I bet I got you wondering too now!

Well, not really being the one to let questions go unanswered, and not the kind of person to let a culinary challenge go by, I set out to figure out.

Alright, I’ll be honest with you, it all came about out of necessity. I was playing host to poker night for a couple of the boys and I wanted to serve them chili con carne for dinner. Not being a fan of ground beef and the distinct lack of flavor it renders to a dish, I usually cook my chili using larger, preferably bone-in cuts of beef with lots of connective tissue that I end up braising forever along with cumin, oregano, tomatoes, various chilies and other spices to get every bit of flavor out of them before shredding the meat, adding beans, chocolate, beer and what have you and bringing the dish together.

But alas, poor Johan, on the very day I wanted to start my chili, it seemed that every store and every butcher in town was fresh out of beefy slow food favorites. However, they were pretty much one and all offering up pork shoulder at ridiculously low prices.. So what was a boy with a healthy imagination and a little too much time on his hands to do? Well, he was of course to go “what if..?” and dream up the pulled pork BBQ chili.

What follows now is an account of making said chili. If you’re looking for a recipe for the now legendary Pulled Pork BBQ Chili, I’m afraid I’ll have to let you down. See, I don’t do recipes, measurements and such things very well, so what follows below is more of a procedure, really.

Home-made tex-mex style spice rub with a bit of Balkan love thrown in, in the shape of dried chilies straight off a Serbian farmer’s market

So, to the corner store he went on Thursday night and got himself a five-pound pork shoulder roast. Returning home, he unwrapped the roast, patted it dry and threw together a quick dry rub consisting not of your classic BBQ rub ingredients, but rather of a mix of sweet and smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, freshly ground pepper, salt and a relatively mild chili powder his friend picked up at a farmer’s market in Serbia. He generously applied the rub to the pork, wrapped the whole thing back up in cling film, stashed it in the fridge and went to bed.

Pork shoulder receives a genereous rubbing down with the dry rub

Some 24 hours later, after returning from work Friday afternoon, he retrieved the pork shoulder from the fridge and let it come to room temperature all while he ventured outside to fire up his trusty Weber charcoal grill. He then mixed and matched a whole bunch of fresh chilies sourced from near and far including his own urban garden, his secretary’s greenhouse and the local supermarket. Those chilies, he sliced up and added to a roasting tray along with some sweet peppers and heirloom tomatoes also sourced from local sources.

Home-grown hot peppers (and one mild), the foundation of any good chili

The final mix included home-grown jalapeños both green and red, Habaneros, a few bird’s eye chilies, a dried Bhut Jolokia (also known as ghost chili, presumably to make people think it’s deadlier than it really is), a home-grown chocolate bell pepper, a few unknown varieties, yellow sweet peppers and a few odd heirloom tomatoes, the only reasonably recognizable specimen being a San Marzano hybrid of sorts. On this fiery bed, the pork shoulder was placed before being carried to the grill.

A bed of hot and sweet peppers, time to roast!

On the grill, the happy little piggy was placed over indirect heat and a generous amount of soaked hickory and apple wood chips were added to the party and left to smolder away all night.

Pork shoulder on top of bed of peppers and tomatoes, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

In total, the happy little piggy spent about six hours smoking away over constant low heat. This gave Johan more than enough time to go out and have a beer with a friend and then return home to cook up a relatively standard batch of chili con carne which, given the beef shortage, had to be made using ground beef but received some character from a homemade ox tail stock, a proprietary spice blend and Johan’s ungodly mix of chocolate, stout, coffee and other things that generally don’t belong in a chili con carne.

Pork shoulder after six hours on the grill, things are starting to look quite good

With bedtime rapidly approaching and Johan not being a firm believer in unsupervised overnight grilling, the piggy was evacuated off the grill at about the six-hour mark. Of course being neither done nor pull-able at the time, the pig received a thorough basting with a slightly tex mex’ed BBQ sauce containing ketchup, tequila, oregano, honey and a few other bits and pieces,  then went in the oven at a low, steady 75 degrees and was left there for another twelve hours

The fiery bed of peppers and tomatoes on which it had spent the last six hours, had taken a lot of character from the smoke and from the meat drippings, so it was blended and was then very slowly and carefully added to the beef chili. Clocking in at well over 100,000 Scoville units, the stuff was pretty hot to the standard palate. The beef chili was then taken off the heat, cooled down and left to chill in the fridge over night while the Johan rested and the piggy sat roasting in the oven.

Roasted, smoked peppers drenched in pork drippings.. Finger licking flaming goodness!

On the morning of day three (I never claimed this was a fast and easy project), Johan woke to the smell of pork all throughout the house. He staggered wearily from his bed and, having made arrangements to eat breakfast with friends before acting as a representative for a few micro breweries at National Beer Day, he started off the day brushing teeth and then, immediately afterwards, pulling pork. Luckily, the pork came apart effortlessly, and was then as a nod to BBQ tradition, laced in apple cider vinegar and left to cool. All while Johan took off to have breakfast, pour samples, do publicity and rant about beer for a good six hours.

Smoked, roasted peppers get a spin in the blender and become hotsauce. I love how this doesn’t look dangerous AT all!

Finally, on Saturday evening, the pieces came together as the chili was very gently reheated and mixed with the pork and more ox tail stock, the whole mess was simmered together for a few hours, allowing the pork to basically melt into the chili, creating a thick, rich, smoky, lip-smackingly good kinda sauce with all the characteristics of a chili con carne and the smoky, rich gelatinous juiciness of BBQ. Already at this point, things were getting interesting to say the least, but everybody knows a chili needs at least 24 hours in the fridge for the flavors to settle and mingle. So back in the fridge it went, thus allowing the pulled pork chili con carne project to cross the 96 hour mark. Slow food? Indeed!

The verdict

So, how was the pulled pork BBQ chili experience, then? Well.. When serving day arrived, I whipped up a quick homemade salsa and some guacamole as tradition demands, I also made some pretty standard Spanish rice to go alongside the reheated chili con carne. I put the whole mess in front of my poker buddies with complimentary beers and tortilla chips and, uh, they pretty much devoured the whole thing like the hungry animals that they were. Which is to say that out of the seven guests I’d planned for, three showed up and they still managed to barely leave a few measly leftovers for the next day.. Hmm!

Pulled pork BBQ chili, Spanish rice, salsa, guacamole and chips.. Life is good!

It was pretty good, though, if I dare say so myself. The smokiness of the pulled pork complimented the spiciness of the chili well and gave it that bonfire sort of feel that you expect from a true chili con carne. The textures blended nicely as well and the richness of the pork added a certain succulence to the dish. The vinegar from the pulled pork and the onslaught of heat from the 100,000+ Scoville units hot sauce cut through the meatiness quite well with neither getting too over-powering while the long slow cooking process and the host of unusual ingredients added unparalleled depths of flavor and aroma. If anything, the whole thing may have been a little too rich and heavy, but I see ways of avoiding that next time around..

Yes, next time around! I’ll definitely be making this again.. If ony I could find ways of making the recipe a little more elaborate and time-consuming. Hmm..

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