Braise-then-roast pork butt: just zany enough to work, or just zany?
March 14, 2015 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I've got a 3-lb boneless pork butt braising in the oven right now for pulled pork. The guy I bought it from at Whole Foods recommended that I roast it after braising to get a good crust. It sounded awesome at the time but now I'm losing my nerve - is this a recipe for deliciousness or sadness?

My ultimate goal is delicious pulled pork sandwiches with nice tender meat along with those lovely chewy/crusty bits. I've done the braising method before and it's turned out fine - I know how to do a basic pulled pork pretty well - but I'm always up for trying something new. Searching around online, however, I can't find anybody recommending this braise-then-roast method (closest I could find was a braise-then-broil one, for a different type of meat) so I'm wondering if it'll work or just dry out my meat - any thoughts? I'd assume it'd be somewhat akin to finishing braised ribs on the grill ... maybe?

So far I've dry-rubbed my butt (heh), seared it, stuck it in an apple cider/chicken stock braising liquid, then covered it tightly with tin foil and stuck it in the oven at 295. I'll let it sit in there and think about what it's done for a few hours (until it's tender), but then comes the moment of truth: do I accept the tender porky goodness as it is then, or do I try flying that much closer to the sun with a bit of roasting? The Whole Foods guy suggested about an hour or so at 350 to get the outside nice and texturesome, but will that just wreck my butt or is he onto something here?

Whatever I end up doing, I'll be sure to report back so we can all share in the porky goodness. Thanks for any advice you can provide!
posted by DingoMutt to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: D'oh, forgot to add: whether or not I roast after braising, the final step will be the same: shred that butt, then let it mingle with some bbq sauce for a while. So either way it'll end up pretty saucy - again, I'm just wondering if adding that roasting step is a good idea or not.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:56 AM on March 14, 2015

I shred it, add the sauce and then put it under a broiler to get a nice crust. It is under there for only a few minutes so it is still very juicy but with a nice crunch.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:10 PM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't know about roasting, but I have also done braise-then-broil for pork butt when I'm making carnitas and I can testify that that works. What I do is, when the pork is done braising, I'll take the pork out and pull it, and separate the rendered fat from the braising liquid. Then I mix the pulled pork with its rendered fat and finish it under the broiler for 5 minutes or so. Not the healthiest thing ever - though I think that ship has sailed once you start cooking up a bunch of pork butt - but it definitely works well.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ok, so I'm Mexican, so obviously when I hear "crispy crunchy braised pork," I think carnitas, which is cubed and deep fried. If was going for what you're going for, I'd brown it in a pan, not be shy about the oil, maybe throw the ovensafe skillet in a hot oven for like, a blink. I'd really focus more on frying though.

I'd also wear sleeves, a high neckline, and an apron; I got a really awful blister on my décolletage while flipping a pork shoulder I was browning in oil for cochinita pibil.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, if you're going for crust, I can't think of what roasting would do that broiling or frying wouldn't accomplish more efficiently.
posted by neroli at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2015

I do that, but with a crockpot. First braise in the crockpot for 6 or 7 hours, cool slightly so I can stand the temp to shred, then mix with some of the sauce reduced, spread in a sheet pan and crisp it up a bit.
posted by cecic at 12:40 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So my understanding is, when people talk about meat "drying out" there's two things they might mean.

One is what happens when you cook lean beef or a lean hamburger to well done, and it's not a good thing. But what's wrong there isn't really a lack of moisture (i.e. water) — it's a lack of the fat and broken-down collagen that give good braises their texture. With pork butt that won't be an issue. You've got loads of fat and collagen, and neither one is just going to evaporate. So don't worry about that.

The other is what happens when you make beef jerky, where the meat really does lose enough water to change texture — and a small amount of this kind of drying-out is actually a very good thing. This is what happens to the very outermost layer of a piece of barbecued meat: it's where the "bark" on the outside of a smoked brisket comes from. Those browned, partly-dehydrated bits are fucking delicious mixed in with moister and fattier meat. And there's no risk that you'll dry out the entire pork butt like this. (After all, the reason beef jerky is made in small strips is that big chunks would take impractically long to dehydrate all the way through.) So I say go nuts, as long as you're roasting the butt whole: the inside will be protected.

If you were going to shred the meat first and then roast it, you might need to worry about going too far with the second kind of drying-out. A quick trip under the broiler, pan-frying or deep-frying would all be safer options.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:31 PM on March 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

All of the folks advocating a carnitas-like technique of braise, reduce juices to a sauce, and broil till crisp have the right idea. Something along these lines.
posted by pheide at 1:56 PM on March 14, 2015

This is the technique for Momofuku's bo ssam - low and slow, the WHOOSH hot.
posted by rtha at 2:03 PM on March 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

I agree with nebulawindphone.
If you are braising then remove the lid and crank the oven high, you will get a crust without affecting the moisture inside the butt.
If you shred or chop it before crusting, you are going to be more likely to dry the meat out.
posted by Seamus at 2:24 PM on March 14, 2015

That bo saam recipe produces incredible crust. That's the kind of thing you want: a heavy coat of brown sugar and salt, then super-high heat for a short time. An hour at 350 is too low and too long to do anything good.
posted by neroli at 2:50 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: Lots of helpful advice here - thanks, everyone. Decided I wanted to give the roasting method a try after all, but didn't want to risk ruining the whole roast (this was before I saw nebulawindphone's answer, which - in addition to teaching me the marvelous meat-related application for the term "bark" - also reassured me that I wasn't going to dry out everything), so after it was nice and tender from the braising, I cut it in half and stuck one half in the oven for maybe 30-40 minutes before shredding. The other half got pulled apart, hit with a little reduced braising sauce, and then broiled with a bit more pork fat until it was nice and crispy.

The result was two delicious piles of meat, each with their own strong points. The roasted meat did indeed have an awesome "bark" on it with a succulent and tender inside, while the broiled meat had more overall crispy, caramel-y bits. The DingoWife and I both agreed that if we were going to eat it on its own, we'd have given a slight edge to the half I'd roasted after broiling, but once we applied sauce and put it on sandwich buns both were equally fantastic.

So I guess the moral of the story is that pork butt is awesome, roasting after braising is indeed one of many excellent ways of preparing it, and I need to make it more often in all its delightful forms. Thanks for helping me eat this baby, everyone!
posted by DingoMutt at 3:52 PM on March 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

By the way, it's called "bark" down here in the south.
posted by raisingsand at 7:39 PM on March 14, 2015

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