Crispy, juicy pulled pork, a sauce made from brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, quick pickled red cabbage, and fresh greens on a pretzel bun. How could it possibly get any better? These sandwiches are a sure crowd-pleaser, and guess what? The meat practically cooks itself, it is that easy.
The idea for this sandwich was born when my brother-in-law made his legendary carnitas for us a couple of weeks ago. Carnitas (English: little meats) are basically the Mexican version of pulled pork. Pork butt (pork shoulder) is cut into cubes and slow-cooked in lard until it is melt-in-your-mouth tender. I wanted to change things up just a little bit and came across an amazing recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt. If you want to read more about the science behind making carnitas, check out his in-depth article on Serious Eats.
Now that I knew how I wanted to cook the pork shoulder, all I had to do was tweak the recipe just a tiny bit to make everything come together nicely. I decided to brine the meat overnight and add a brown sugar glaze/sauce to add a little bit more flavor and make sure the pork comes out extra juicy and crispy.
If you really want to blow people away, make your own pretzel buns and quick pickled red cabbage, too. If you don’t have the time or patience, don’t worry, you could also combine the meat with other rolls, veggies, and sauces. The possibilities are endless. The pulled pork can be prepared a couple of days in advance. Simply skip the crisping step and keep it covered in the fridge. I recommend baking the pretzel buns the same day you want to make the sandwiches. The sauce and meat can easily be prepped and re-heated.
Are you ready for this?
Here is what you’ll need to feed 6-8 people:
For the brine (start the evening before):
- 3 cups (700 ml) of water
- 1/4 cup (70 g) of salt
- 1/4 cup (50 g) of brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
For the meat:
- about 4 pounds of pork butt (ask your butcher to remove the bone)
- half an onion
- 1 organic orange
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
For the glaze/sauce:
- 1/2 cup (100 g) brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the sandwiches:
- 12 pretzel buns (or other rolls)
- quick pickled red cabbage (or your favorite coleslaw)
- micro greens (alternatively baby spinach or other greens)
- Cut the pork into 2-inch-cubes and place it into a large Ziploc bag. Add the brine ingredients, push as much air out of the bag as possible and close it tightly. Shake well and place it in the fridge overnight.
- Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 275°F.
- Wash and dry the orange and cut it into quarters. Peel and quarter the half onion. Peel and crush the garlic cloves.
- Remove the meat from the brine and place it in a medium casserole dish. It should be a nice tight fit. Squeeze the orange juice over the meat and add the spent halves, onion, garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves. Pour the vegetable oil over the meat.
- Cover tightly with tin foil and place the casserole dish on a baking sheet to catch any excess oil. Place in the oven and cook for about 3.5 hours.
- About 20 minutes before the meat is done, combine the brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, cornstarch, soy sauce, and water in a small saucepan. Stirring consistently, bring to a boil and let simmer for about 5 minutes until it thickens to the desired consistency. Add salt and garlic and set aside.
- When the meat is done, carefully remove it from the casserole dish (it might fall apart already) and transfer it to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
- Using a fork, start shredding the meat into little bits. It should be so tender that you can simply “crush” it with the fork. Using a spoon, skim the liquefied fat from the casserole dish and add it back to the pork. Season with salt.
- Lightly brush the pork with some of the glaze. Adjust the oven rack to the top position and turn the oven to broil. Return the meat to the oven and broil for about 7 minutes until the tips are nice and crispy.
- Now all that’s left is to assemble your sandwiches. Cut the pretzel buns in half, add meat, drizzle with the remaining glaze, then add the red cabbage and greens. Serve them on their own or with a simple salad.
The great thing about this pulled pork is how versatile it is.
Have any leftovers? Heat up the pork in a small pan, warm up some tortillas, squeeze a little bit of lime juice over the meat, maybe throw in some cilantro or other greens, and drizzle with your favorite hot sauce.
It’s super quick and absolutely amazing!