JayPo’s Penalty Boxed Lunch: Carolina Pulled Pork

Who wins the battle of North versus South?

Welcome to JayPo’s Penalty Boxed Lunch where we explore food from around the country! This week’s 10th official entry comes from two states who both lay claim to the proper style of the iconic pulled pork sandwich. There are hundreds of ways to prepare a pulled pork sandwich and each of them are delicious.

Food History!

The traditional process of roasting/smoking a whole pig to “pull” it is a very American tradition with history going back to Native Americans and the early settlers. It became widely popular in Southern states, but probably none as popular as the Carolinas. The Northern state has two specific styles of pulled pork:

Eastern style

Eastern-style barbecue is a whole-hog style of barbecue, often said to use “every part of the hog except the squeal”.[4] Eastern-style sauce is vinegar and pepper-based, with no tomato whatsoever.[7] Eastern sauce is mostly used as a seasoning after the cook (although it can also be used as a mop sauce while the hog is cooking).[8] The coleslaw served with eastern-style uses mayonnaise (or whipped salad dressing) almost universally.[9]

Lexington style

Lexington style barbecue (also called Piedmont or Western style) uses a red sauce, or “dip”, made from vinegar, tomatoes, and usually red pepper flakes, along with other spices that vary from recipe to recipe. [10] It is most common in the Piedmont and western areas of the state. This style uses only the pork shoulder section of the pig. As with other styles of barbecue, the recipes vary widely, and can include many different ingredients, and range from slightly sweet to hot and spicy. The sauce also serves as the seasoning base for “red slaw” (also called “barbecue slaw”), which is coleslaw made by using Lexington-style barbecue sauce in place of mayonnaise. Hushpuppies are usually consumed with pork shoulder and slaw.[10]

The Southern state does things a bit differently. They do a quite different take to the “sauce” than their Northern counterpart:

South Carolina mustard sauce – Part of South Carolina is known for its yellow barbecue sauces made primarily of yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar and spices. This sauce is most common in a belt from Columbia to Charleston.

How I Made It!

First off, I couldn’t go “whole hog” and roast an entire pig as I wasn’t properly equipped with either a smoker or grill to accommodate that process. However, I did get a whole bone-in picnic pork shoulder and did a slow roast in the oven over 8-10 hours. Seasoned with only salt and whole garlic cloves, it was basted in its own juices. It was tender and pull-apart deliciousness. I tried two different style sauces, the Northern vinegar and the Southern “Gold”. I’m not generally a mustard guy, but I was blown away by the Carolina Gold Sauce and honestly was much more flavorful than the heavy vinegar style. Yes, I didn’t put any cole slaw on these. I’m not much of a slaw guy, especially a mayo based one. Shoot me.

What Does A Local Think? (Thanks to Cody from Canes Country!)

Do you think the pulled pork sandwich represents your state accurately?

First and foremost we need to get one thing out of the way. Around here nobody calls it a Pulled Pork sandwich. It’s simply a BBQ sandwich and depending on which side of the state you live on will depend on how you make it. There is Eastern NC style and Western NC style (and in South Carolina there’s South Carolina style). BBQ is a way of life and a very divisive one at that around here. But to answer your question, a BBQ sandwich most certainly represents the Carolinas accurately.

How do you make your sandwich?

So this really depends on which part of the state you are in. From Greensboro west, it’s all about the pulled pork with a thick BBQ sauce and a ketchup based slaw (Lexington Style). In the Eastern half of the state (including Raleigh where the Hurricanes play), we like the pork to be chopped finely, doused in a tangy vinegar sauce, and topped with a sweet mayo based slaw.  The process for cooking the meat is similar in both styles, you slow cook a whole-hog or a pork shoulder for 8-12 hours and covered it with a blend of spices such as red pepper, vinegar, salt, and more. The difference is all about how the meat is served at the end along with the slaw.

How did I do?

Yours looks a little more like a Lexington style sandwich but you forgot the slaw! No matter whether you are team East or West in NC, you have to have a slaw on it. That’d be like getting a Philly Cheesesteak minus the onions and peppers.  I’d give your sandwich a B-

Where do you order your favorite pulled pork sandwich?

My absolute go to place in a tiny hole-in-the-wall shack in Greenville, NC called B’s BBQ. This place looks like one good wind would blow it down, and you certainly do not want to look at the sanitation rating, but boy does their food make your mouth water. Around Raleigh, go to a place called Sam Jones BBQ. They specialize in whole-hog chopped BBQ and their pit-master Sam Jones has been on multiple BBQ TV shows.