Monday, May 20, 2013

Pulled Pork Tacos

Pigs were first brought to Hawai’i by the original Polynesian settlers some 1600 years ago, and folks here still do love their pork. Among the popular dishes one is apt to see on local menus are kalua pork, laulau, Spam musubi, fried pork chops, char siu pork, Portuguese sausage... Well, you get the idea. As my friend Nancy likes to say, “Oink, oink!”

the “best pork chops” we had last week at the Manago Hotel in Kona, 
with their sides of rice, tofu, onions and macaroni salad

Figuring it would be well-received by my guests, I therefore decided to serve pulled-pork tacos at our recent lanai-warming party. (Being a good Santa Cruz gal, though, I also provided a pot of vegetarian beans).

This is an great party menu, because the pork and beans can be made the day before (and are, in fact, better if they are made in advance), and then on the day of the event, all you have to do is cut and chop the toppings and set up the buffet.

Start by cutting a pork shoulder (aka a Boston butt) into large hunks, slicing cross-hatches into the thick layer of fat so that it renders faster during the roasting. Smear the meat liberally with chopped garlic, and sprinkle it with cumin powder and salt and pepper. (Use chili powder too, if you want the pork to have some heat spice.)

Place the seasoned pork in a baking pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and roast it at a low heat for a LONG time. This low heat and long cooking time is one of the secrets to fall-off-the-bone-tender pulled pork. I had three pans of pork, and baking it at 225°F, it took almost 7 hours for the meat to be tender enough for my taste. (With only one pan it should only take about 5 hours.)

Once tender enough—and it truly should be falling apart at the poke of a fork—remove the pieces of meat to a separate pan for cooling. You will see that there is a LOT of liquid left in the roasting pan.

Pour all of this liquid into a heat-resistant (e.g. Pyrex or steel) pitcher or bowl, and let it cool enough so that the fat rises to the top. Skim the fat off, and save the broth. (You can freeze the fat for other uses, e.g., frying vegetables, making gravy, etc.)

Once the meat is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to shred (i.e. “pull) the pork, discarding any unrendered pieces of fat you encounter. Then pour the reserved broth over the pulled pork and mix it all up, so that the broth is absorbed back into the meat. (This is the other secret to good pulled pork: If you don’t skim off the grease, the meat is so fatty that it’s unpleasant; and by adding the degreased broth back to the meat, you ensure it will be nice and moist.)

I made my pork the day before the party, and reheated it (covered) in the oven at 225° for about an hour. Once hot enough, it can sit in the oven at 200° until time to eat.

Here is the taco bar I set up for our guests, which consisted of (from left to right):

pulled pork
heated flour and corn tortillas
pinto beans cooked with cumin, garlic and onions
finely chopped cabbage tossed with olive oil, lime juice and S&P
a mixture of grated cheddar and jack cheese
finely chopped onions
chopped tomatoes
sour cream
lime wedges
chopped cilantro

We also provided chips and salsa and, of course, cerveza con limón!

Having a buffet is nice because (a) you, the host, don’t need to plate up the food; and (b) folks can make their tacos exactly as they like them:

The party was, as they say in these parts, good fun time! Here’s the beautiful new lanai (built by Robin—yay!), with all the happy party goers.

even the neighborhood dogs were invited
(photo: Laura Karst)


  1. Living the high life, I'd say. It's a good thing I have my leftover Crepe Place crepe warming up, or I would be going stark raving mad at the sight of that meal.

  2. It was a great lanai-warming. Got to meet Laura...Laura-at-last! Learned the secret of degreasing (I believe this explains why this pig-lover often dislikes/regrets kalua pork). Watched "puppies" at play! Oink! Oink!

  3. And I got to meet N...N-at-last! Such a pleasure. Oink oink indeed!