Serious Eats: Recipes

Grilling: Pernil

"In the world of pork shoulders, this was a totally different beast from the pulled pork I'm so familiar with, but held its own."

[Photographs: Joshua Bousel]

20100520-pernil-small.jpgAfter years of perfecting my pulled pork, I fancy myself a bit of an expert at cooking pork shoulders low-and-slow to just the right tenderness. But when I decided to tackle pernil—a Puerto Rican favorite of pork covered in a garlicky marinade, then roasted—I felt a bit like a fish out of water.

First off, unlike pulled pork, where the pork butt is the cut of choice, pernil is most often made with the picnic—the lower half of the pork shoulder—which has a little bit more connective tissue and is sold with the skin on. Secondly, the pork is roasted at 350°F, compared to 225°F for barbecue pulled pork, and all of my learning has taught me that a long and low cook is needed to effectively melt away the fat and leave only the juicy meat. Despite going against my usual ways, I knew that pernil is seriously tasty business, so I ventured forth with the classic preparation.

I started by cutting slits all over the shoulder, then rubbing it down with the marinade, making sure to get as much of the good stuff into those holes. Then after a day in the fridge, it went into the smoker (sans smoke) and roasted until the meat hit 180°F, about five hours. Then after a little rest, I pulled it like I would any pulled pork.

Although not quite as fall-off-the-bone tender as when cooked low-and-slow, the meat had just the slightest of resistance to pulling, but the juicy factor was up there as a solid contender against my normal pulled pork. So feeling pretty good about what I had going, I gave it a taste, and boy was I blown away. The outside was crisp and deeply garlicky, which elevated the texture and flavor of the meat to something really spectacular.

In the world of pork shoulders, this was a totally different beast from the pulled pork I'm so familiar with, but held its own as one of the top ways to prepare the magical swine.

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Oh, and not to forget one of the best parts—whatever skin didn't completely crunch up during the roast got thrown into a 350 degree oven until it became some of the best cracklings I've ever had.

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