Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder

Cooked over charcoal in the Weber
It's been a fairly intense month with family visiting from Australia combined with a massive work catch up after our summer holidays. I was uncertain as to whether I was going to meet my self imposed target of a minimum of one article per month, for the first time ever.

Luckily, a traditional Sunday roast and some locally made charcoal saved the day. I had a large shoulder of pork in the freezer, ideal for cooking outside in the Weber kettle barbeque. My Mum and parents-in-law were our guests so I planned a roast pork meal with all the trimmings.

Firstly, some musings on charcoal. Lumpwood charcoal is my preferred cooking fuel despite the number of branded barbecue briquettes on the market. With charcoal, you know what you are getting, or so I thought. I recently stopped at a garage on a country road for fuel and spotted bags of British charcoal for sale in unfamiliar packaging. The garage owner informed me that it was supplied to him by a couple of guys who had some local woodland. It was a large bag and reasonably priced. I did notice however that it did feel lighter than I would have expected for its size.

As usual I made a plan; light the charcoal at 2:15; start the roast at 2:45 and so on with view to serving the meal at 6:30. Then I read the lighting instructions. Ten minutes from lighting to cooking? I was more used to 20 or even 30 in colder weather. No fire starters or tinder required either? This was unexpected. Instead I was to select a handful of small pieces, scrunch them up with one piece of newspaper, light it, and then build more fuel on top. This stuff lit so quickly it was scary, and also a bit worrying in so far as how long was it going to burn for? For a good roast you need a hot starting temperature and a fairly slow burning fuel that doesn't give off too much smoke. This was going to be interesting.

Reading the packaging I discovered more. Ninety-eight percent of charcoal used in Britain (52,000 tonnes in 1992) is imported. The source wood is harvested mainly from mangroves and tropical forests with scant regard for regeneration. My charcoal however was made from coppiced wood in well managed local broadleaf woodlands, a practice that goes back as far as 6,000 years. So, the nice dense slow burning charcoal I had become so accustomed to wasn't so nice after all.

So what did this all mean? Mainly, that I was going to have to constantly top up the fires during the cooking time and use more charcoal than I would normally expect. The main consequence of this is that it was going to be a fairly smoky affair because normally you would allow the charcoal to become white before cooking after the initial smoky starting stage. And smoky it was. With each charcoal top up, smoke was pouring out of the top vent in the Weber and I frequently had to lift off the lid and fan the fire to accelerate the initial burn. I was planning to cook this pork for at least three hours.

All that said, let's get back to the pork. My 2.5kg shoulder had been defrosting over night and was the only thing to be cooked in the Weber. The potatoes, squash and stuffing went in the oven, and the broccoli and carrots in the steamer on the gas hob.


- 2.5 kg pork shoulder with rind scored with a knife
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 heaped tspn of salt
- 4-5 large sprigs of fresh rosemary, still on the stalks


Prepare two indirect fires in the base of the Weber (know your charcoal!). Rub the olive oil all over the rind and then sprinkle on the salt. Make a bed of rosemary stalks in the base of a roasting dish and rest the pork on top. Check the pork (and the fire) from time to time and baste the fat over the skin. After about two hours cut any string, and remove the rind from the meat with a knife. This will guarantee that the crackling will turn out soft and crumbly. At this point, I left the pork in the Weber for a further hour and put the crackling in the oven over the top of the roast potatoes. The extra heat is needed to finish it off properly. About half an hour before serving the pork, remove it from the Weber and cover with foil to rest before carving. Pour off most of the fat, and remove all the juices from the roasting dish with boiling water for the gravy. I thickened the gravy with some plain flour and added chicken stock to ensure there would be plenty.


Put the pork in a deep sided roasting dish as above and roast at 150 deg C for at least two hours before removing the rind. To get a crispy rind, finish the roast off at a high temperature (220 deg C). Cover the pork with foil towards the end to keep it moist for carving, while allowing the rind to become perfect crackling.

Ours was delicious, and worth all effort. The smokiness from the charcoal had subtly flavoured the meat and gravy, and the crackling was intensely flavoured and crumbly. The pork itself was deliciously moist and tender. Lucky there were some left overs, because writing this is making me hungry and I'm about to snack on them right now!

I'm still left with the charcoal quandary. The local stuff is easy to light and quick burning, ideal for open grill type barbecuing where food is being cooked fairly quickly. It would also be perfect for my open fire rotisserie, but it's got me thinking regarding slow cooking in the Weber. Extra effort and a smokier roast might just be the way forward.
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