Must Haves: Capital Q's Barbecue Burrito - It's Not A Taco!

Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

Sometimes, a clever twist can make a good dish great. Sometimes the right packaging can do the trick.

Take Capital Q in Chinatown. They make good barbecue. Not great barbecue, but good barbecue. Nevertheless, with a Subway next door and a Fuddruckers across the street, the tiny Texas barbecue joint is easily one of the best places to eat in the neighborhood.

Even with good barbecue, though, Capital Q has a great barbecue dish: the barbecue burrito.

You won't find it on the menu. Instead, you order a "taco." I say "taco" because the "taco" is a 12 inch flour tortilla, which makes the "taco" a "burrito," and I really like burritos. (I was honestly pissed off for a while after realizing the taco I routinely passed up was actually a burrito. What the fuck? Just call it a burrito.)

DSCN5280 Within that burrito you can have anything. Beef brisket and black beans wrapped in a warm flour tortilla? Done. Pulled pork, collard greens and corn salad? Done. Smoked turkey, mashed potatoes and banana pudding? Sure, but don't.

The point is, I can walk in anytime and order a burrito stuffed with all kinds of barbecue. And if that ain't great, I don't know what is.

Now, there's another trick to this. The guys working the counter at Capital Q are generous. If you order a pulled pork burrito with black beans, greens and hot sauce (as I often do), you'll have a mound of food piled on your tortilla. Picking it up will be out of the question, and if you're using a fork and knife you're missing the point. So the trick is to order everything on the side, including the sauce (and if you're smart, a second tortilla - you'll have plenty to fill both).

With your tray of sides and meat, grab a seat and a roll of paper towels at the front window and build your burrito(s). As you stuff that soft bundle of barbecue into your mouth you can watch the tourists jaywalk their way into Fuddruckers. Suckers.

Planet Barbecue: Raichlen offers up one more great guide for the grill

Planet BBQ Steven Raichlen's business card says "Writer."

That was the first thing I noticed when the grilling authority, instructor, television personality and all around barbecue guru handed me his card. 


It turns out that for all the notoriety that Raichlen has amassed for mastering a world's worth of grilling and barbecuing techniques, he's basically a writer. Always has been, in fact.

"I'm not a chef or a pit master. I'm not qualified to be. But I am a writer," he told me after a recent talk he gave at the Smithsonian. Thumbing through his latest barbecue book, that makes sense.

Like its author, Planet Barbecue is a work of many things. First and foremost, it's a cook book. But it's also a history text, with sections dedicated to the origins of barbecue and country profiles that show how this popular American cuisine is common around the world. Between the recipes for bacon-grilled enotake mushrooms and hanger steak with Marchand de Vin sauce, are interviews with pit masters, Spanish chefs, and Laotian women who probably know more about grilling fish than Barton Seaver.

With more than 300 recipes and pages of color-photo instructions, Planet Barbecue is very much a cook book. It just also happens to be a work of non-fiction the size of a phone book.

Planet Barbecue is Raichlen's twelfth book and his last on barbecue. The genre has been very good to him, but he's ready to move on. His next book will be a novel -- a novel with somewhat of a food theme, but a novel all the same.

So if Planet Barbecue is the barbecue and grilling cook book he's going out on, at least he's doing so on a high note.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Raicheln's earlier cook book, BARBECUE! Bible, is a must-have for anyone who enjoys barbecue and grilling and wants to improve. It was also the book that put Raichlen on the map.

Like Planet Barbecue, the BARBECUE! Bible featured an international assortment of barbecue recipes. More importantly though, it came with tips and illustrated techniques.

BARBECUE! Bible taught me how to properly butterfly pork, grill lobster and rotisserie a leg of lamb. It also covered the origins of the barbacoa, profiled a restaurant in Mumbai and dedicated 500 words to Indonesian grilling. Turns out, Raichlen has been writing about more than grilled chicken and baby back ribs for some time.

As good as BARBECUE! Bible is, I like the selection of recipes in Planet Barbecue better. Raichlen hits all the necessary American recipes, including brisket, smoked pork shoulder, burgers, whole hog and ribs; and his selection of recipes from other countries is eclectic enough to be interesting, but not so much so to pass up. So while there are tips on how to grill onion and coriander brined lamb chops like they do in Uzbekistan, there's also a world's worth of steak and pork recipes. They may have come from other countries, but many of the dishes feel familiar even if their origins aren't.

When it came out in 1998, the BARBECUE! Bible became one of the authoritative texts on barbecue. The problem was, the book's focus on American and international barbecue recipes meant that the attention given to any one of those cuisines was a little thin. And as interesting as other countries' barbecue recipes are, they were a bit too obscure and I wanted more recipes from my own back yard. Planet Barbecue picks up where the BARBECUE! Bible left off. Add to that the detailed photo illustrations (a step up from the hand-drawn illustrations in BARBECUE! Bible) and additional techniques, and Planet Barbecue becomes the new must-have for barbecue enthusiasts.

Raichlen said he wanted Planet Barbecue to be an authoritative work, a bookend to the BARBECUE! Bible and How to Grill. With the combination of recipes, techniques and profiles, Raichlen expects this book to be used differently by different people: some will read it cover to cover, while others will only crack it for the recipes.

On the other hand, Planet Barbecue benefits from the BARBECUE! Bible. Like the earlier work, Planet Barbecue is a great cook book and an interesting read. However, I'm glad I have both books and the battery of recipes and techniques they provide. Each book is good, but both books are great.

Speaking of those barbecue recipes, in Planet Barbecue they are once again a best-of from around the globe. Raichlen covers grilled bread with DC's own Jose Andres, Balkan grilled veal and pork "burgers," and Singapore-style skate grilled in banana leaves. Each recipe includes a bit of info on where it comes from, what the ingredient is and a little info on the region or dish.

That's all well and good, but what's important is Raichlen has a recipe for Allen & Son's pulled pork, sauce and all.

Some of you just said, "Oh shit." I did, too.

I love Eastern Carolina barbecue, and Chapel Hill's Allen & Son is the epicenter of all things tangy, porky and right. Proprietor Keith Allen has finessed this beautifully simple combination of slow smoked pork shoulder and vinegar sauce into an unctuous nirvana. Given how protective pit masters and barbecue enthusiasts are about their recipes, I was stunned to see that Raichlen got Allen's recipe for that moist, tart pork. I'm also suspicious.

I mean, this might rank up there with the Colonel's 11 spices or the recipe for Coca-Cola.

I promise you, I'll be putting that recipe to good use this summer. I also promise that it'll never be as good as Keith Allen's.

Even as Raichlen traveled from country to country working on Planet Barbecue, he was already working on the novel. He will continue is popular PBS series Primal Grill, but is quick to admit that his delivery and style are better suited for writing than TV.

As middle-aged men stood in line for pictures and autographs, it's hard to think of Raichlen as anything but a barbecue authority. But Raichlen is writer and he's moving on. Fortunately for those fans, he's left them with a great body of work.

Grilled Veal Chops with Sweet-and-Sour Onions
(Where: Florence, Italy)

Excerpted from Planet Barbecue, copyright 2010 by Steven Raichlen. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York. All Rights Reserved.

1 pound small torpedo onions, cipollinis, pearl onions, or shallots (see Note)
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup balsamic vinegar, or more for taste
1 cup honey, or more to taste
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick loin or veal chops (each 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick and 12 to 14 ounces)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Peel the onions, leaving most of the stem end intact; this helps hold the onions together as they cook. Place the onions in a large, deep saucepan, add the red wine, balsamic vinegar, honey, and 3 tablespoons of the butter and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce the heat to medium and cook the onions until tender - they'll be easy to pierce with a skewer - 12 to 15 minutes. If all goes well, the wine, vinegar, and honey will cook down to a syrupy glaze at precisely the same moment the onions are tender. If not, using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a plate and continue boiling the sauce until it is thick and syrupy. Return the onions to the pan, if necessary, and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste and more vinegar and/or honey as necessary; the onions should be a little sweet, a little sour, and very flavorful. If you add more vinegar and/or honey, return the pan to the heat to let the liquid cook down. You should wind up with about 1 1/4 cups. The onions can be cooked several hours, or even a day, ahead and reheated just before serving.

Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat one zone to high.

When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Generously season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper. (OK, I know they add the sale after the grilling in Tuscany and they don't bother with pepper. But I still maintain you get a better crust when you season the meat just prior to grilling.) Arrange the veal chops on the hot grate at a diagonal to the bars. Grill the chops until nicely browned on the outside and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium. Use the poke test to test for doneness. Give each chop a quarter turn after 2 1/2 minutes on each side to create a handsome crosshatch of grill marks.

Transfer the chops to a platter or plates and let them rest while you reheat the onion mixture. Just before serving, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Spoon the onions over the chops and sprinkle the parsley, if using, on top. Serve the chops at once.

NOTE: Baby torpedo onions (elongated red onions), cipollinis (small, flat, round onions), pearl onions - or any small whole onions or shallots are available from Melissa's ( Although it's not strictly traditional, a few years ago I took to grilling the onions before simmering them in the wine and balsamic vinegar. This takes a little more time (although you can grill the onions at a previous grill session), but it gives the sauce an incredible depth of flavor. Brush the onions with oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill over a hot fire until browned on the outside, but still firm inside, 4 to 6 minutes per side.

Bourbon Peach Pork Chops On the Grill: A Meal Fit for Terrapin Beer

DSCN5059 Typically, when I do these posts, I come up with a theme or dish to focus on and then find a beer to pair with whatever I grill. Today, though, I'm doing it the other way around. Today, I'm starting with the beer.

Last year, we were lucky enough to see the arrival of Terrapin beer, in Virginia anyway. As the South's craft beer culture continues to develop, a few bright stars have emerged, including the Athens, Ga., brewery. It may not be as big as Abita, the granddaddy of Southern craft beer, but Terrapin is a brewery to be considered.

(Quick aside; Terrapin is brewed locally by Flying Dog in Frederick, Md., yet you can't buy Terrapin in the state of Maryland. Kinda funny when you consider that the mascot for the state university is a Terrapin. Does this mean that Maryland fears the turtle? I think it does.)

I first came across Terrapin a few years ago while living in North Carolina. At the time, the brewery's flagship beer, Rye Pale Ale, was one of the few rye beers available, at least in Chapel Hill. As a beer, it's fantastic. The malt and hops balance out that signature tart rye bite, resulting in a rather crisp ale.

It's also somewhat remarkable to have a rye ale as your signature beer. The style isn't for everyone. While challenging beers, such as Saisons, barley wines and double IPAs, are increasingly common styles for craft breweries these days, back in 2002, relying on a rye ale to be your bill-payer beer was ballsy. Sam Calagione may be known for making unique beers, but he keeps Dogfish Head's lights on with his easy drinking Shelter Pale Ale and the 60 Minute IPA.

Fortunately, Terrapin's gamble paid off when founders Brian Buckowski and John Cochran picked up a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival just six months after putting their Rye Pale Ale on draft.

Since then, Buckowski and Cochran have rolled out an impressive line of craft beers, including Gamma Ray, a barley wine made with wheat; Hopsecutioner, their big, bitter, hop-stinky IPA; and a coffee oatmeal imperial stout called Wake 'N' Bake (I have no idea what the name refers to, but I feel compelled to point out that the brilliant artwork on Terrapin's labels is done by Richard Biffle, who did cover art for such bands as the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Jerry Garcia. Again, I don't know why this is relevant.).

The only bummer here is that if you live in the District or Maryland, you're going to need to head into Virginia to find any of these beers (I bought the ones for this post at Total Wine in Alexandria). I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a Georgia beer can't cross the invisible borders of D.C. and Maryland, while I can get a beer from Denmark (WinterCoat) on draft at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown. To think otherwise could mean liquor laws are arbitrary, contradictory and antiquated.

DSCN5063 So all this is to say, Terrapin makes some fantastic beer. In honor of that -- and to have an excuse to talk up the brewery -- I decided a tribute to Georgia was in order. And you can't think about Georgia without thinking of peaches and pork. (Well, you probably can. I certainly can. But bear with me.)

Now, it would be fair to point out that we are not in peach season. That's why I'd wait until peach season to try this recipe, or use canned peaches. What you don't want to do, is use the "fresh" peaches from Chile like I did. They're completely flavorless. I should've gone with canned peaches as I initially planned. Like canned tomatoes, canned peaches can be just as flavorful as truly fresh peaches. And because the peaches are roasted and added to barbecue sauce, it doesn't matter that they're skinned.

I also used sweet yellow onions. Ideally, I would've used Vidalia onions (grown in southern Georgia), but we're a couple months away from their short season. In the meantime, sweet yellow onions, or red onions, are a decent substitute.

Basically, this is a post I should do in June, but have done in March. What can I tell you? I lack patience.

Setting aside my poor peach pick (ah, alliteration), the menu of grilled, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops, grilled sweet potato fries and cornbread works really well with Terrapin's Rye Pale Ale (not to mention the India Brown Ale, Big Hoppy Monster imperial red ale, and the Hopsecutioner).

The beer wasn't the only thing I headed into Virginia for. I picked up the chops at Let's Meat on the Avenue. Steve Gatward runs a great little butcher shop in Del Ray. While you can buy bone-in pork chops at any grocery store in the area, Steve will cut them as thick as you want (I chose "very") and french the rib bones so they'll look good when photographed. Good butchers like Steve are too rare a commodity.

Making a run to Virginia for pork chops and beer might seem like a bit much, but a couple pints of rye ale and a two-inch thick chop glazed with peach barbecue sauce will make the excursion seem well worth it.

And who knows, maybe one day Terrapin will make its way into D.C. and Maryland, saving me a little gas and time. With any luck, peaches will actually be in season.

Grilled bone-in pork chops with bourbon peach barbecue sauce
(Makes four servings)

DSCN5041 4 bone-in pork chops, thick cut
3 sweet potatoes
1 large Vidalia onion or sweet yellow onion
2 peaches, in-season fresh or canned without syrup
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 bourbon
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
3 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke
3 tsp. of garlic powder
1 stick of salted butter
Honey, optional to drizzle on the cornbread
Salt and black pepper to taste
Barbecue seasoning, optional

I made corn bread to go with the pork chops and sweet potatoes (naturally). I always follow the recipe for sweet cornbread on the side of the corn meal package. It has never failed me. The cornbread takes about 20 minutes to prepare and bake, so feel free to take care of it while you're waiting for your grill to come up to temperature.

If you're going to make the barbecue sauce, do so the night before. Halve the peaches, coat them lightly with canola or vegetable oil and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. In the meantime, combine the ketchup, bourbon, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and garlic powder in a pot and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the peaches should be incredibly soft. Carefully remove from the tray and place in a bowl or, preferably, a food processor. Puree the peaches or crush in the bowl. Add the rest of the barbecue sauce, combine and taste. If the peaches aren't sweet enough, you may have to add a bit more brown sugar. Adjust the seasonings until the barbecue sauce is to your liking. Once you're happy, cover the sauce and stick it in the refrigerator until you need it.

The morning of the barbecue, season the pork chops with a barbecue rub. Steve Raichlen has a great recipe for an all-purpose barbecue rub. If you don't have a rub of your own, I highly recommend his. If you don't want to use a barbecue rub, make sure to season the chops with salt and black pepper before putting them on the grill.

DSCN5036 An hour before you're ready to grill, pull the pork chops out of the refrigerator so they can loose some of the chill. If the rib bones were frenched, wrap them with aluminum foil so they don't blacken. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. This will be for your sweet potatoes. Either quarter the potatoes by cutting them from end to end, or break them down even further by halving the quarters. Place the sweet potato slices on a baking sheet, cover with a little olive oil or canola oil, salt lightly and pop them in the oven for 45 minutes. This will fully cook the potatoes. Their time on the grill will allow them to pick up some additional color and flavor.

DSCN5022 As for the grill, set it up for off-heat cooking. That means you need to have a hot spot, where the coals or burners are concentrated, and a cool spot where you can move the food after it has seared. When the grill is ready, place the pork chop on the hot spot and cook for about 5 minutes, or until grill marks form on the meat. Flip and sear the other side for about five minutes. Move the chops to the cool spot and glaze with the bourbon peach barbecue sauce. Close the lid and allow the chops to cook for about three to five minutes, depending on how thick they are (the thicker the chop, the longer the cook time).

Open the grill, flip the chops and glaze the other side. Now, place the sweet potatoes directly over the heat and close the lid for three minutes. Lift the lid and check the sweet potatoes pieces. When char marks form, turn the pieces. Also, flip the chops and glaze again. Close the lid and cook for another three minutes.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, the pork will be ready. Remove, plate and eat. Just make sure you do so with a Terrapin.

Succulent smoked pork butt: 24 hours of ease

Image034 I barbecued last weekend. I didn't grill. I didn't satay. I stuck nine and a half pounds of pork butt in a smoker for 23 hours.

I barbecued.

And let me tell you, there are few endeavors easier and more satisfying than taking the time to slow cook a large piece of meat. Every phase of the process -- from the preparation to the cooking -- is simple. But because we live in a world of instant gratification, the idea that you'd spend a full day and night cooking one thing is unfathomable to many people. Of course, that's why it's so damn impressive.

I will admit that once you start barbecuing, you're committed to barbecuing. Sure, you can crack a couple beers and zone out in front of the TV for a while, but you're not going anywhere. At least you shouldn't.

Barbecuing is a pretty laid-back endeavor, but you should stick around while it's going on. After all, you do have a fire smoldering in your backyard. This style of cooking is great for special occasions (again, investing that much time in a single meal is impressive) and weekends you know you'll be hanging around the house.

Image021 In my case, my brother and niece were in town. So the day before they flew home to Florida, I hosted a barbecue in my backyard. A few friends, a few cold beers (more on that below) and several pounds of succulent pork, pulled from the smoker a few hours before the first folks arrived.

As has been well documented in any number of cookbooks and Food Network specials, there's a whole culture surrounding barbecue. It's regional, technical and at times competitive. Again, barbecuing a piece of meat is easy. The difficulty is in the details.

Barbecuing can be as easy as buying a $12 pork butt (which comes from the shoulder) and a bottle of commercial barbecue sauce at the grocery store. Slow cook the pork for 20 to 24 hours at around 225 degrees and sauce the smoky meat when you're done. It can also be as difficult as making your own rub and sauce, sourcing your Berkshire pork from a particular farm or butcher, using injections, mop sauces and fussing over the wood and whether it's wet or dry, pine or maple.

All that extra work will produce pork that tastes better than the shoulder that was smoked naked and slathered with Stubb's. But that difference might be important to you. It sure is to me.

I tend to fall somewhere between lazy and obsessive. I make my own sauce, use Steven Raichlen's Memphis rub recipe, inject my pork with apple cider and keep a pan of water and apple juice underneath the shoulder to keep the exterior of the meat as moist as possible during the long cook time. That might sound like a lot, but it really isn't. The hardest part of smoking is getting up in the middle of the night to stoke the coals and add a little more wood (which you should do every three to five hours).

In the end, I have an unctuous pile of moist meat that I slather in homemade barbecue sauce and slap on two pieces of bread (no coleslaw, please.). It's a hell of a meal that requires little more than time and wood.

Image057 Because I was hosting a summertime barbecue, I had to go with a summertime beer. In this case, I played favorites: Great Divide's Titan IPA. There are few IPAs on the market better crafted than this bold, rich, hoppy IPA from Colorado. At 6.8 percent ABV, it's a bit bigger than some IPAs, but it's well balanced and delicious. Some could argue that Titan is too rich, too bitter for an out-doors event in July, that a wheat beer or pilsner would be a better fit. All that may be true. However, Titan is delicious any time of year, and the smoked pork butt covered in a spicy barbecue sauce has a lot of big flavors that Great Divide's IPA stands right up to. I understand that this is the season of lagers and limes, but I can't support fruiting the beer. No sir, I need a Titan.

Smoked pork butt
(serves many)

Photo 1 8 to 12 lb. pork butt (make sure to factor in the weight of the bone)
1 1/2 cups of rub (As I said, I like Steven Raichlen's barbecue rub. But don't be afraid to play with the ingredients if it's not to your tastes. You want more brown sugar? Add more brown sugar. Want more salt? Add more.)
1/2 gallon apple cider
1/2 gallon apple juice
3 cups of barbecue sauce (I make my own, but feel free to use your favorite commercial brand.)
Enough aluminum foil to wrap the pork butt
Wood, lots of wood (Depending on your smoker, you either need a mixture of logs, wood chunks and chips, or charcoal, wood chunks and chips. If you have a barrel style grill and smoker, you'll need several logs, and about 2 bags of large wood chunks and 3 bags of wood chips available at any hardware store. If you have a smaller bullet smoker, go with a bag of charcoal, 3 bags of large wood chunks and 3 bags of wood chips.)

The night before you get started, add the rub to the pork butt, cover and return to the fridge. The next day, pull the pork out of the fridge and inject it with as much apple cider as you can (probably a cup of cider or so). When you're done, leave the pork on the kitchen counter and get started on lighting the smoker.

With my old bullet, I liked to begin with charcoal and then add the wood chunks. This gets the wood burning really well. When the fire dies down and the wood coals are hot, fill the liquid tray 3/4 full with a 50/50 mixture of water and apple cider, put the top grate back in place, stick the pork in the smoker skin side up and close the lid. Every 3 hours or so when you check your fire, add a few charcoal briquettes and another handful of wood chips. This will envelop the pork butt in smoke for a good 10 minutes, which is ideal. Remember, you want the meat to be seasoned with the smoke, not taste like a Marlboro.

Image001 If you're using the larger smoker, get your wood started. Once it's burned down a bit and you've started a respectable bed of coals, place a pan underneath where you'll be placing the pork (the far side of the smoker from the fire), fill the pan with the 50/50 mixture of water and apple juice, and place the pork on the grate above. Once the pork is on and the lid is closed, toss a handful of wood chips on the fire and walk away.

Whenever you check the fire (and make sure the temperature remains around 225 to 250), check to see how much liquid is still in the pan. If it's low, add a bit more. Repeat every few hours.

If you're smoker runs a little hot, 20 hours may be sufficient. The pork is probably cooked in a few hours, but it takes much more time to reach fall-apart tender. If you end up hovering around 225 or less, shoot for 23 to 24 hours. In either case, for the final two hours, wrap the pork butt in aluminum foil. This will give the meat a last minute steam that'll make it a little more succulent.

Once the pork is done, remove it from the smoker and let it rest covered in foil for at least 30 minutes. After that, open it, pull it and eat it.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sandwich I am from the South (Georgia to be exact) and in the South, we take our barbecue very seriously.  Each region within the South has their own take on barbecue and family feuds have begun on the simple premise of whose barbecue is better.  In North Carolina alone there are two main varieties of barbecue:  the Eastern Carolina vinegar based barbecue and the more ketchup based barbecue in the Western parts of the state.  I grew up on the ketchup based barbecue popular in Southern Georgia and could never really grow to like the Eastern Carolina style of barbecue I encountered when I lived in North Carolina.  The one thing all Southern barbecue has in common, however, is the slow roasting technique.   To get that tender, fall off the bone barbecue, the meat must cook for a long time over a low heat.  I have done this an endless amount of times in a smoker, in the oven and even on the stove in a Dutch oven.  However, it never occurred to me to use my crock pot to make any kind of barbecue…until now. 

When a fellow foodie friend of mine mentioned he had made slow cooked pork in his crock pot, I was struck.  Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?  The crock pot was invented for slow cooking and barbecue was the epitome of slow cooking.  It was easy enough to figure out the cooking time for a six pound pork shoulder, but I had a harder time deciding how exactly to cook it.  I was used to making a homemade ketchup based barbecue sauce and allowing the pork to cook in it for hours.  But while I was talking to a friend back home in Georgia, she told me to use a simple spice rub on the pork shoulder, let it sit overnight and then cook the pork in the crock pot.  She even assured me there would be no need for barbecue sauce if I cooked the pork as she suggested.  Uhmmm, what???? No need for barbecue sauce on BARBECUE?  I almost hung the phone up because of such blasphemy.  But my curiosity got the best of me and I jotted down the spices she rattled off for the rub. 

On Saturday, I headed out to the Falls Church farmers market with the idea for the pulled pork in the back of my head.  Since it was such a lovely day out, there were quite a few people were milling about the market.  Unlike my first visit, during one of the coldest days in January, I wasn’t in a rush to get back to the warmth of the car.  So I was able to meander around and visit just about every stand.  Sunnyside Farms had some lovely baby spinach heaped in big silver tubs and a mound of russet potatoes, both of which I needed for my lunch and dinner options for the week.  As I was picking up my now weekly container of Greek style yogurt from Blue Ridge Dairy, the vendor began talking about the market during the Spring and Summer seasons.  He mentioned that the Spring and Summer vendors start showing up around the first of April, pushing the market from one end of the parking lot to the other.  He also mentioned that a few of the prepared foods vendors left the market during the Spring and Summer, to be replaced by more produce vendors.  Although not as big as Dupont Circle’s farmers market, I thought the Falls Church farmers market was a nice sized market, especially considering the time of year.  To hear that the market grew even larger during the growing season only made me want April to come faster.  Feeling experimental, I picked up a container of Blue Ridge Dairy’s famous applewood smoked mozzarella for a flatbread pizza I had in mind. 

Pork Boston Butt @ Market I had previously bought a lovely pork butt from Valentine's Country Bakery and Meats, so it was only natural for me to get the pork shoulder from them as well.  I randomly picked an ice chest to open and right on the top was an almost 6 pound pork shoulder roast, patiently waiting for me to pick it up.  I also grabbed a slab of their bacon, curious to see if fresh bacon tasted any different than the natural stuff I buy from Whole Foods.  I finished up the rest of my weekly grocery shopping with some fruit and nut granola bars from Atwater’s, some fresh tagliatelle and pesto from Cavana Pasta, a gallon of milk from J. Wens Farms & Dairy and some crimini mushrooms from Mother Earth Organics.  And the cherry on top?  I completed my entire week’s grocery shopping at the farmers market and spent less than $80. 

Before I went to bed on Saturday (and right after I moved my clocks up an hour – thanks Spring for stealing that lovely hour away), I threw together the spice rub, slathered it over the pork shoulder and placed it in a large Ziploc bag.  I placed the now clay red pork shoulder in the refrigerator still a bit wary of my friend’s claims.  Doubts aside, on Sunday morning, I dutifully placed the pork in my crock pot and set it on low.  My doubts came back in full force when I checked on the pork after an hour.  The shoulder appeared to be cooking too fast and the meat wasn’t even in the same time zone as tender.  Great, I’ve ruined a beautiful cut of meat on an experiment, I thought to myself as I poked the meat in desperation.  I rotated the meat around a little and placed the lid back on the crock pot.  I repeated this process (panicked thoughts and all) about an hour later, still finding the shoulder to be a bit tough. 

But by hour four, the meat started to soften and a nice looking sauce started forming at the bottom of the crock pot from a combination of the spices and the small amount of water and fat from the pork.  By hour six the meat was so tender, it started falling apart on its own.  I didn’t even have to really shred the pork at all.  I stirred the shredded meat around in the lovely sauce and realized my friend had been absolutely right:  there was absolutely no need for barbecue sauce in this dish.  The spices were permanently imbedded in each shred of the pork, rendering the need for another sauce irrelevant.  When I called to tell my friend how well the pork turned out, I asked her where she got the recipe for the spice rub.  At first she tried to claim it was a family recipe, but considering the fact that I have had her mother’s cooking (and it’s scary to say the least), I wasn’t buying it.  She finally confessed she’d gotten it from Cook’s Illustrated, which considering we were Southern girls, seems almost wrong.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

1-6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
1/4 cup water (optional – depends on how much sauce you want to form)

For the spice rub (from Cook’s Illustrated):
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (or up to 2 tsp if you like it spicy)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Mix together the spice rub in a large Ziploc bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.  Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.  Place the bag with the pork shoulder in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (the longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be). 

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the Ziploc bag and place it in the crock pot.  Add the ¼ cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.  Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for an hour.  Turn the pork shoulder over after an hour and continue to cook for another hour.  Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another four hours.  After six hours, check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize.  If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during the slow roasting.  Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour (depending on your crock pot).  You can serve the pulled pork by itself or with a barbecue sauce (but honestly, it's not necessary).

The Falls Church Farmers Market is open year round with Winter (January 3 through April 25) hours running from 9 am to noon.  The farmers market is located in the city hall parking lot at 300 Park Avenue.