Pulled Pork, Boston Baked Beans and Pickled Fennel

Visiting Pitt Cue Co. got me thinking about American BBQ and specifically, pulled pork. I don’t have a smoker at home but I do have a decent Weber, which is more than capable of housing a big ol’ hunk of pig shoulder for 4 hours. In she went and out she came, alarmingly black after the allotted cooking time. This is normal. The caramelised crust or ‘bark’ is sealing in the moist, fat-bathed meat.

I gave the shoulder a good rubbing 24 hours before with a shed-load of sugar, smoky chipotle flakes, orange zest and garlic plus some ground cloves and allspice because neither ever do any wrong on the grill and they sling things off in another direction. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the rub penetrated the meat and also by how edible that crust turned out to be; crunchy umami-pork-bark.

As the meat was going to take so long on the BBQ, I made use of the oven for 4 hours too, cooking Boston baked beans. They are time consuming as the beans need soaking overnight but wow, the results are worth it.

It starts, as all the best things do, with pork. I bought a piece of smoked pork belly (readily available in Peckham but smoked bacon or pancetta would substitute well), chopped it into chunks (including the rind for extra flavour) and combined it with the beans, Worcestershire sauce, spices and molasses. The molasses is the defining feature of Boston baked beans, Boston being apparently famous for producing loads of the stuff, a fact which led to the ‘Great Molasses Disaster’ in 1919. A 2,300,000 gallon storage tank collapsed, flooding the city with a black slick, killing 21 people. Wikipedia tells us the residents claim you can still catch a whiff of molasses on a hot summers’ day.

Anyway, I can’t recommend these beans enough. They have a very ‘BBQ’  flavour from the pork fat and spices and the malty sweetness of unrefined sugars means it melds into one of the most rich and satisfying dishes I’ve ever eaten; up there with rendang and Marmite on the umami scale.

Ready to go in the oven.

At the end of cooking time, a slightly scary crust has formed on top of the beans.

Breaking through the crust to a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahhhs’.

The leftovers on toast the next day. So porky. So smoky.

That white blob in the background is the pickled fennel I made to accompany the meal. Steeped in a mixture of pink peppercorns and citrus zests, it was very welcome alongside the richness of meat n beans. We wiped the plates clean with chunks of sourdough.

This was probably my favourite BBQ of the year so far, even though it rained. There’s no need to give up hope when this happens by the way, just get yourself a chair and an umbrella…

Pulled Pork (serves 2-4, depending on appetite; mine fed 4 but we had beans)

1 x bone-in pork shoulder weighing approximately 2kg
2 tablespoons chipotle flakes
Zest of 1 orange, finely chopped
200g dark brown sugar like muscovado
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 tablespoon salt

Mix all the ingredients for the rub together well, using your hands. The night before you want to cook the meat, rub it all over, liberally with the rub. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the meat from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it. Light the BBQ and when the coals are white, bank them to one side of the grill. Place the meat on the other side so that it is not sitting directly over any coals.

Cook the meat for 4 hours. Each hour, add 8-12 more coals to the pile. This should keep the temperature fairly constant. The meat will be completely black on the outside after this time; don’t worry. Remove the meat to a plate and start pulling it apart to reveal the meat within. Use two forks to shred it. Serve.

Boston Baked Beans (serves 4 with leftovers)

500g dried white beans (I used cannelini but white kidney or haricot beans would also work)
450g piece smoked pork belly (or smoked bacon or pancetta; you want it in one piece so you can cut nice chunks), cut into chunks, including the rind.
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, cover the beans with plenty of cold water, leaving room for them to double in size. Leave to soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the beans.

Place them in a large pan or heavy casserole dish if you have one (so you won’t have to transfer the beans when you want to put them in the oven). Cover them with water. This needs to reach 2 inches above the top of the beans. Bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1

If using a saucepan, now transfer to an ovenproof casserole. Add all the other ingredients but NO salt at this point. Cover and cook for 3 hours. After this time, taste and season carefully with salt (the pork will be salty). Cook, uncovered for a further hour.

Pickled Fennel

4 bulbs fennel
500ml white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
1 orange
1 lemon
1 scant teaspoon pink peppercorns
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

Cut the fennel in half lengthways and remove the core. Slice horizontally into thin strips. Place in a colander, mix well with the salt and leave to drain for 1 hour.

Remove the zest from the lemon and orange and juice the fruits. After the fennel has finished draining, mix in the zests and pack the mix into a sterilised jar.

In a small pan combine the citrus juices, vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Heat the mixture almost to boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this over the fennel, making sure that it is all covered. Seal and allow to cool.

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54 thoughts on “Pulled Pork, Boston Baked Beans and Pickled Fennel

  1. I’ve just found your blog. by chance as was trying to find own Graves blog started years ago and left on a shelf somewhere. I’m so going to steal the pickled fennel recipe. Glorious.

  2. Hi Helen, whereabouts in Peckham do you find your smoked pork belly for the beans? Going to give this lovely lot a bash this weekend.

  3. I’ve been doing this for years on end (american-french household here), and here are some complementary recommendations:
    For the bbq, you need a water pan, And a temperature that hovers around the 225 degree mark. Make sure it is constant because the low and slow process is essential for a moist pork butt. It is not necessary to add charcoal every hour, as you will have fumes from it permeating the meat, which is something you don’t want – However, do make sure your vents after the first hour of smoking are nearly closed, this way you will only have to replenish charcoal maybe once in the whole cooking process. It’s all about the influx of air into the bbq.
    For the smoke, do start it as soon as you have put the pork butt inside the bbq – do have the vents fully open for the first hour though, as not enough air inside the bbq will just smother the wood chips and therefore not produce enough smoke.
    I also recommend an at leat 4 kilos pork butt. Do wake up early (3-4am), sounds ridiculous to a lot of people but i smoke low and slow for 12 hours but the meat will collapse when done and will be supermoist. Also, when shredding, make sure the bark is evenly distributed in the mix, so everybody should taste it – beware it is black but it isn’t burnt. One should mop the meat every hour with a cider vinegar or apple juice.
    I’ve more recommendations and tricks, should anybody want to know, email!

  4. ooh, YUM-ME!

    Tori @eat-tori says it best: “the pickled fennel that has completely tipped me over the edge to the land of weeping angels.”

    This is being bookmarked for the Autumn when we will take receipt of a quarter of a pig which is being fattened up by the (mainly dairy) farmer (as a side line) down the road from us.

  5. Phew indeed!

    i couldn’t get my hands on smoked pork belly or any pork belly at the weekend so I used pancetta and added smoked paprika for the smokey flavour… Would have preferred the pork belly I think as it “melts” better. The paprika was nice though so even if I don’t get smoked pork again, I’ll use the paprika.


  6. Morning! And PHEW! That’s such a relief. Sounds like they will be fabulous on sourdough. They improve with age too as you can imagine. Out of interest, did you use smoked pork belly?

  7. Morning!!

    Well, after giving them a good simmer on the hob for about 45 mins/an hour we finally enjoyed BBB’s with chorizo sausages last night – the leftovers are happily sitting in our fridge to enjoy on my hubby’s fab sourdough bread at the weekend…

    So, 4 days and I don’t know how many hours later – SUCCESS.

    Will definitely make again (always find first time I make something it takes me forever) and hopefully I’ll be quicker next time.

    Thanks for your help…and the recipe naturally :-)


  8. I’ll let you know tomorrow! going to simmer them again tonight when I get home from work…..As they say on Strictly DIS-AS-TER! and I’m not a bad cook!!!

  9. Thanks Helen….

    As I still have them in the pot (I know, god knows what they’ll be like when I’m finished) I’ll put them on again to simmer the liquid down.

  10. Hi Alex – Nope. You don’t drain the beans after they have been simmering so there will be quite a lot of liquid left behind.

    Hi Mary – You need to simmer the beans uncovered. I should have said that sorry! You then add all the other ingredients, cover and cook for 3 hours. Then the final hour uncovered reduces them further. Does that help? That’s literally what I did.

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  11. Helen,

    Came across your fab blog via the Guaridan article recently and simply had to make the Boston Baked Beans…. however :-( I’m having a nighmare with them. Can you tell me:

    after hard boiling for 10 mins, do you simmer covered/uncovered for the next hour? I’d far too much liquid when I put them in the over for the 3 hours and still do – at this stage they’ve had hob and over for over 4 hours and I’m seriously contemplating opening a can of beans and calling it a day….

    Should I have removed some of the water prior to putting them in the oven? Your pic pre oven doesn’t look to have a lot of water.


    Thanks for brilliant blog also….

  12. Hi Helen,

    Have you left a tin of tomatoes (or some liquid ?) off the beans recipe, the photos look a bit more saucy than the recipe.



  13. Hi Jan,

    Wow, I don’t know if I can answer that as I don’t have a thermometer myself and obviously I’ve cooked it already now. I just added an extra 8-12 coals per hour of cooking. The thing is it cooks in there for so long I don’t think it matters a huge amount. If you try it, could you post a comment here with the temperature? That would be really helpful.

  14. The day after you posted this I was due at my parent’s house for dinner. My dad, he likes cooking big hunks of meat for a long time so I emailed the recipe over to him with the request ‘feed me this’.

    He did; it was AMAZING.

  15. I have a large charcoal weber so I would like to try this recipe, which sounds great by the way. I have a thermometer that measures the temperature inside the lid, what temperature should I try to maintain?

  16. I love pork n beans,,,,Gonna have to make them Boston beans sometime soon…….PS Your pulled pork was mentioned in the online Guardian today as a wonderful long cooking barbecue dish

  17. Silly question, I know, but am I right to assume that the pork is cooked with the lid of the BBQ down, and with the pork on the rack above and to the side of the coals?

  18. Robert – ah yes should have said, you can eat I straight away but it improves if left for a couple of days.

    Grace – oops, sorry! They need to be on gas 1, I can’t remember what that is in centigrade right now, sorry! (on holiday in Puglia)

  19. I’d love to make the beans, they look incredible! But the only problem is I can’t see what temperature the oven needs to be at? This is the first time I’ve commented, but I have been greedily reading your recipes for ages – love your blog!

  20. Sounds amazing, I really want to give this a try. Failing that, will be finding somewhere suitable when I get to NYC in a few weeks time. But maybe then come home and make it again!

  21. Mmm I loved the Pitt Cue co. pulled pork. Looks easy enough to replicate. But I’m curious whether the pickled fennel is supposed to be made in advance to pickle. Or is it served right away?

    Loved the idea of BBQing the pork as I used a slow cooker which produced a moist sloppier pulled pork dish.

  22. Blimey, I have to try this pulled pork out. As I’ve got a lot of Chipotles in Adobo, do you think it might be worth substituting the flakes for a couple of teaspoons of that instead?

  23. As always, WOW. [*forces mouth shut … wipes dribble from keyboard … tries to pretend to his colleagues that he’s very busy and important*]

  24. Great minds think a like, I have a pork shoulder in the fridge and I made my boston baked beans last night ready to go back in the oven tomorrow. Yours looks bloody amazing, I’m still cooking it damn it but I’ll probably blog it another time once people forget who good yours look haha!


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