Smoked pork is, in the world of barbecue, the ultimate gimme. Cheap, boxy, and big enough to withstand growing pains while you master the smoker of your choice. You legitimately just need, like, salt and heat and patience to make a killer pork if you’re chasing that Aaron Franklin dream of stainless-steel simplicity.
As a result, you can get pretty good pork anywhere. I can and have enjoyed delicious smoked pork at old man bars, heavy metal clubs, and more gas stations than you’d guess. But it gets a bit samey. Imagine my delight last time I was in Nashville and saw “Nashville Hot Pork” on the menu at one of my regular haunts: pork shoulder marinated overnight in hot pepper mash (basically the precursor to making fermented hot sauce). I have this personal rule where if you see something surprising on a barbecue menu, you must order it. Thanks, Past John!
I still think that “Nashville Hot Pork” is a bad name (for a lot of reasons we can yell about in the comments), but the effect was incredible and I’m a convert. Juicy, smoky pork with a tremendously compelling depth of heat and fermented pepper brightness. If you’ve ever made your own hot sauce, you’re 90% of the way to the forbidden knowledge. If you haven’t, none of this stuff is hard, so take heart.
This is a really good sandwich, and most of the work is passive. It feels like cheating to get to write this all down.
There’s a goodly amount of salt in this compared to the salt by weight you’ll see recommended for hot sauce recipes. That’s because we’re seasoning a whole-ass pork shoulder with it. You can also season the pork separately if you prefer, or mix in some pickle brine right before marinating. Both methods work, but this is easier.
- 1 big ol’ pork shoulder (test batches were 5-7 lb. shoulders) and enough time to cook it
- 2.5 lbs. hot peppers (ghost peppers, habañeros, red jalapenos, and Anaheim chiles all work well at varying heat levels), stems removed
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 60 grams kosher salt
- Chop up your peppers and garlic by pulsing in a food processor or blender until coarse but consistent. Note to all you high-end blender people: take care not to overheat the mix and ruin your fermentation chances.
- Add the salt and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a clean airlock jar (you can use a regular mason jar if you off-gas daily, but otherwise these are a great option), weighing down the peppers and leaving at least an inch of headspace.
- Place in a cupboard or a closet or somewhere generally temperate and without light. Check daily for fermentation activity and make sure the peppers remain covered in brine.
- Hang out for a week, doing cool stuff. You want at least a week of fermentation, though you can go for two if you’re a super-planner.
- Marinade time: Blend and strain. You don’t necessarily have to do this, but you’ll end up with a lot of charred pepper skin confetti on your pork if you don’t. I learned!
- Place your pork in a zip-top bag, pour the marinade over, push out the air, and seal. Place it on a sheet pan in the fridge, unless you trust the store-brand bag implicitly. Marinate overnight, turning a couple of times if you get a chance.
- Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and get your water pan in place. Smoke for about 2 hours per pound. Spritz it if that’s your thing. When it attains what you, in your wisdom, know as The Magical Jiggle (usually close to 195-205 internal temp) then it’s time to rock.
- Serve with buns, sauce, pickled onions, and jalapeños—all that fun stuff. You’ll probably want beer too.