NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

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August 14, 2013

Mastering true North Carolina-style barbecue

This is the dish that started my love affair with grilling and barbecue! North Carolina-style pulled pork!

Because when I moved away from my home state of North Carolina, I realized that I was going to have to teach myself to make pulled pork or only enjoy it once a year when I went home to visit.

In North Carolina, barbecue is a noun, and it is defined as pulled pork with a distinctive tangy vinegar sauce or “dip,” as it is called in some parts of the state. No sweet tomato sauce allowed! The pork is either “pulled” into pieces or chopped with a meat cleaver, and dressed with the thin, peppery sauce. The succulent pork is spooned onto a plate or on a classic white hamburger bun — no sesame seeds, ever! — and topped with slaw. And the slaw is as straightforward as the pork — chopped green cabbage tossed with the same vinegar sauce.

The first time that I made it, I cooked a couple of pork butts on a gas grill using indirect heat and a low temperature. A couple of soaked hickory wood chunks scented the meat, and I cooked the butts until the fat was completely rendered and the top resembled cracklins.

I also improvised and created my own vinegar dip to sauce the pork as I pulled it. I had no idea what the proportions were, and I literally made it by taste memory.

Apple-cider vinegar was the base, and a touch of ketchup sweetened and colored the sauce that was hot with three kinds of pepper — black, white and red pepper flakes. The flakes are the sign of authentic North Carolina dressed pork, as they stick to the meat and pepper it with mild heat and red color. White sugar and kosher salt balance the heat and the tang of the vinegar. Dark brown sugar adds a depth of flavor.

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