As mentioned in the most recent Men's Health magazine, Philadelphia is a great sandwich town. While cheesesteaks and hoagies are among the most popular sandwiches with many of our tourists, there is no doubt that a tender, juicy roast pork sandwich is a fan favorite with most locals.
Earlier this summer, as we do every year, we hosted a grill-out party with our family to celebrate both of our daughters birthdays. This year I decided to change up the usual menu a bit and serve up grilled pork sandwiches as the main course. While I had the flavor of a traditional porchetta sandwich in mind (savory roasted pork seasoned with garlic, rosemary, fennel and other Italian herbs), I wanted to prepare and serve it pulled pork style (shredded, but without the messy barbecue sauce). With a little internet research and some helpful advice from my friend Jay (who is a guru of slow cooked and smoked meats), I was able to put together a recipe for a delicious grilled Italian pulled pork sandwich.
5-7lb boneless pork shoulder (excess fat trimmed with thin layer left intact, bone removed and set aside)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
1 cup dry white wine
1 beef bouillon cube
The first step of arranging this meal is selecting and preparing the meat. You want to use a 5-7lb pork shoulder (I used 7lbs for 12 guests). You can buy it with either the bone still in or removed. The bone is going to add flavor, but you have to deal with the task of removing the bone yourself. What I decided to do was have my butcher remove the bone, but set the removed bone aside for me instead of discarding it (more on that in a bit). A 5-7lb pork shoulder is a large, solid chunk of meat, so you'll want to season the pork a day ahead of time so the seasoning is absorbed throughout.
Stir fennel seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until slightly darker in color and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer seeds to spice mill and cool. Add kosher salt, peppercorns, and dried crushed red pepper. Grind to medium-fine consistency (not powder). Place pork in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Make 1-2" deep slits around various parts of the pork shoulder. Rub garlic all over pork, then coat with spice mixture. Be sure to get the spices and garlic into the slits as well. Loosely cover pork with waxed paper. Refrigerate overnight.
Note: I don't have a smoker at home, so I cooked the pork on my gas grill using indirect heat. If you are interested in smoking a pork shoulder, there are plenty of great recipes available online. Also, you are looking at a good 7-8 hours of slow cooking on the grill, so be sure that you are working with a full tank of gas.
To prepare your grill for indirect heating, you'll want to use at least a two burner grill so the pork does not sit directly over the flame. My grill is a three burner, so I had the two side burners on low and sat the pork in the middle of the grill, with the middle burner turned to OFF. Before placing the the pork on the grill, you'll want to remove the grate where the pork will rest (I removed the middle grate of my three burner grill) and place an aluminum drip pan filled half way with water just below the area where the pork is going to sit. An aluminum pan purchased at a Dollar Store will work fine for this. The pork shoulder is going to produce a lot of tasty juice that makes for an incredible gravy. By placing the pan below the pork, the drippings will mix with the water to make the gravy. For additional flavor, throw a beef bouillon cube into the water. Remember the bone that the butcher set aside for you? That bone holds more flavor than you could imagine. Throw the bone into the water filled drip tray as well! Place the grate back onto your grill. Turn your two side burners on and get the grill up to about 300º. Set the burners to LOW and keep the grill lid closed to maintain a 280º-300º window.
Remove the pork shoulder from the refrigerator and drizzle some olive oil all around so the pork is lightly coated. Place the pork on the grate that is sitting above the drip tray. Close the lid, leave it alone and let the magic happen. Check on the pork QUICKLY once every hour, turning just a bit so the pork evenly cooks. Then close the lid and keep it closed until the next hourly check. No matter how much the smell tempts you to sneak a peek, keep the lid closed to maintain that heat.
At around the 7-7/12 hour mark, the internal pork temperature should reach 160º. When it's at this temperature, and you are easily (and carefully) able to shred the pork, it's time to remove the pork from the grill. Place the pork on a dish, cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes before you shred it. Remove the drip tray from the grill. Be VERY CAREFUL when doing this. The pan and the juices will be very hot. Wear oven mits and use tongs to help lift the tray from the grill. Discard the bone and pour pan juices into a sauce pan. Spoon off fat that rises to top. Pour in the white wine, bring to boil over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes. Whisk to blend. Pour pan sauce into a large bowl. Cover and set aside. Shred roast with a fork. Add the shredded pork to the sauce, and you are ready to go!
The final and most crucial stage of this glorious sandwich is the assembly. Like a street corner doo wop group singing a five-part acapella harmony – which is another Philly pop culture staple, by the way – the classic porchetta sandwich also relies on five major parts to create the perfect taste: quality pork, a good roll, sharp provolone cheese, broccoli rabe and peppers. I'll allow you to have your choice of roasted red, sweet or hot peppers...I like to go with the roasted red myself. Slice open a roll, load it up with some shredded pork, baste it with some of the juice, then pile up the cheese, rabe and pepper...and you, my friends, will be in sandwich heaven.
Mangia and enjoy!