I have been a fan of slow smoking pork shoulder for quite some time now. I started out with a cheap electric cooker that was dead simple to operate. Soak some chips, put some water in the pan, and check in on it every 1/2 hour or so. Simple. Of course, this takes time (~10hrs) to get to the proper temperature so I would set my alarm to get up and get the smoke going. I would then sweat it until the proper temp was reached and then scramble to get dinner on the table it time for guests to arrive (always celebrate a good smoke!). This was fun the first few times, but I honestly started to wonder if I was just following the herd or if this was all really necessary.
So, I am always looking for a different, hopefully more efficient, way of delivering awesome results. I pretty quickly learned to smoke for the first few ours in the smoker and then transfer it to the oven to finish slow. After all, you can really only smoke a piece of meat so much before the smoke ring is as thick as it is going to be and the bark is well formed. This allowed me time to clean up outside while the pork did its thing. However, the total time was always about the same. I ended up upgrading my grill to a kamodo style one (link) and found that smoking on this beast took things to a whole ‘nother level and poor electric grill buddy went into storage. While the results were excellent, and the grill can really hold a low-and-slow temp, I found that the length of time to finish was still long and was just becoming an annoyance. I would often avoid making the culinary perfection known as pulled pork because I did not feel like being chained to the smoker all day. There had to be a better way.
Enter the Instant Pot. I know, I know, sacrilegious. Raw pork shoved into a pot and drenched in sauce, steamed under pressure, and then calling itself pulled pork. But hear me out! I wanted to combine methods to deliver an an authentic smoked pulled pork in a third of the time. I started my research and was a bit disheartened by the lack of postings on the subject. Was this a stupid idea? Undeterred, I combined ideas from various forums and came up with a plan.
1.) Prep an 8-10 lbs butt the night before I you would normally do. No getting around the prep work!
2.) Place in the smoker for 4 hours until a beautiful bark was developed.
3.) Add ~1 cup of apple juice to the IP and put in the little rack.
4.) Chop the butt into smaller chunks so it can fit in the pot.
5.) Cook on high for 30 minutes and let it naturally depressurize (takes about an hour, total).
6.) That’s it. Roughly 5 hours from start to finish. Beautiful.
I came in as an optimistic skeptic but left as an enthusiastic fan. Honestly, I am not sure I have had pulled pork this good. The smoke flavor was nice and intense and the bark ended up moist and edible. The meat was extremely moist and shredded like a dream. I got to tell you, I don’t see myself going back to the “smoker only” method. If I can’t tell a difference between the long way and the short way, I tend to go the short way. No points for needless pain. I would not invest in an Instant Pot JUST to shave time off a smoke, but if you are planning on using it for other dishes (and you absolutely should) then say go for it.
Next up: How about ribs or a brisket? I need to get on it!