I’m cooking pork shoulders today for a party I’m having tonight for our worship teams. I really enjoy the science, chemistry, and art of cooking shoulders! It reminds me of Dad, and is part of the legacy he left for the rest of us.
It doesn’t take a lot of work to cook shoulders, just a lot of time and patience. I cook them the way Dad did, which is not the way people cook them here in Oklahoma. But that’s ok- Dad didn’t do a lot of things the way others did them.
I like the process of cleaning the grill, preparing the grate for the meat. I like selecting the shoulder by weight, fat content, and color. I have a special charcoal recipe that usually will give the meat a nice hickory flavor without being too smokey or too hot.
After my Dad died, I bought a special grill just for shoulders. It will hold three picnic shoulders, two large full shoulders, or four picnic roasts. It has a fire pit with adjustable height, which allows me to control the amount of direct heat. It has a pull-out tray for charcoal ash, making cleaning the ashes an easy proposition.
I start the fire 40 minutes before I put the meat on the grill. The coals are orange-white hot, no flame, but lots of heat. I level those coals in the bottom of the grill. I then slip on my dad’s leather cooking gloves and hoist the 20lb. shoulder onto the grill. It is comforting to know that my Dad used those very gloves for years, on the same hands that offered help to the needy, that served discipline when my sisters needed it, that pulled me out of the river, and that held his worn Bible when he read scripture in church. The hands that are now physically at rest, but in Heaven, are certainly getting used in praise and worship.
I check the thermometer every 15 minutes or so, never letting the temperature get above 325. Dad checked his about every 45 minutes. He had cooked enough that he had his pattern down pat. Me, I’m still learning….
After 4 hours of hickory smoke and heat, I wrap the shoulders in a double layer of heavy-duty foil. I don’t really know why- but because Dad did it, I do it too. I think it helps keep the juices inside the meat better. At least that is what I tell myself.
I have to keep hot coals ready at all times, in case the coals on the grill are drowned out by grease, or just go out from lack of fuel. I keep my feeder coals in a grill that my sweet family bought me for Father’s Day several years ago. Dad kept his feeder coals in an old galvanized percelain sink. It was weatherbeaten, rusty in spots from years of abuse, and on the ground. Dad had to lean down to gather a shovelfull of coals and bring them up to waist level for use in the grill. I can’t tell you how many times he dropped some hot coals on the ground, catching whatever was laying there on fire. I stomped out many patches of grass over the years!
I’ll turn the shoulders with their foil dressings about once an hour for 8 more hours. Now, though, I can maybe nap just a little. The last time we cooked together, we didn’t nap at all. We knew it was probably the last time we’d cook together. No, there was no sleep; there would be plenty of time for that later.
After about 13 total hours, I’ll check the shoulders by pushing- through the foil- on the bone of the shoulder. When the bone slips around loosely, the shoulder is ready to take up. I’ll let them cool for a good while before unwrapping the meat. Time for a nap.
When the meat has cooled, it is time for the big reveal. I carefully unwrap the meat, freeing it from the foil container that has kept juices from excaping the meat. The shoulder, still well over 170 degrees, is alomost too hot to touch. But as the meat falls apart into the pan prepared for it, it is easy to tell if this has been a successful cook. For Dad, it was the best time of the entire experience, followed by the worst time.
It takes quite a bit of time to pull the tender meat from the shoulder. The strips are placed into a glass bowl, salted, and mixed with a little bit of Dad’s secret recipe sauce. Yes, I still have some, and will serve it tonight with my friends.
The very best time comes when it is time to eat. For 30 years, I have always compared every bar-b-que sandwich I have ever eaten with the flavor of the bar-b-que that my dad makes- used to make. I will compare the flavor of this meat tonight with his. I can cook for another 30 years, and will always compare the flavor of my bar-b-que to his; my sauce to his; my life to his.
Some people play golf, some cards, some bet on horses. My dad cooked bar-b-que. We called it Bob-a-que. It was the best.