So the Super Bowl is here, and the internet has spent the past several weeks telling you that your game-watching experience will be a sad, dismal, disappointing failure unless it is accompanied by a veritable buffet-table of exotic culinary delights—Great catch, Boldin! Could somebody pass me another black-truffle-and-watercress croline and some geoduck carpaccio? Oh, thanks very muOH COME ON FLACCO GODDAMMIT—in preparation for which you are expected to have spent the entire preceding week and a full month's pay. When did this become the expectation? How? Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly: Bullshit.
If you're like me, your entire life long ago completed its transformation into a ragged, shambling, wildly inefficient mechanism the sole purpose of which is the by-any-means-necessary prevention of dishwashing. All the same, it's only common courtesy to provide food and drinks if you're asking your game-day guests to remain in your home for the entire 37-hour duration of the Super Bowl. I get it: Ritz crackers will not cut it. You want to serve some nice food to your Super Bowl guests, many of whom, after all, probably don't particularly care about the football game itself and will need something to hold their interest during that 0.000000000000003 percent of the evening.
Still. Let's not get carried away, here. It's a stupid football game on television, dotted here and there with a millennium's worth of advertisements; it is not a goddamn wedding reception. It is the sort of event to which people will arrive wearing replica jerseys—and even though you will certainly do your patriotic duty by ejecting those horrible dumbasses from your home and siccing your dogs on them, their mere arrival in the first place can still be taken as an accurate indicator of the level of refinement this festivity demands of its foodstuffs.
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This is why you, in your great wisdom, are going to serve pulled pork with sandwich buns. It's easy, it's phenomenally cheap, it requires about as few dishes and pots and pans as one could reasonably expect of any large-quantity cooking endeavor more sophisticated than showing a pig a photograph of a hot oven and then eating it alive, and, done well, it is absolutely every bit as tasty and satisfying as anything that would require you to don a disguise, drive to a different state, and purchase a melon baller with cash.
The preparation below calls for you to braise an enormous wad of pork in beer for a long time; the grill/barbecue fanatics will chew their un-ironic mustaches off in fury that I am not insisting you run out and purchase a backyard smoker for this procedure, but they are just going to have to live with it. Yes, it's true, using a smoker yields smokier meat. However, this preparation is goddamn delicious, and what it lacks in smokiness, it more than makes up in compatibility with the lifestyle of the non-ridiculous.
It also takes a long time. Eight hours or so. You can start late tonight, or you can start early tomorrow. With the cooking part, I mean. The reading part you should start right away.
The first thing to do is to very generously season an enormous whole pork shoulder with salt and black pepper. This is all the prep work you're going to do to the pork itself: Don't worry about removing the bones (if your shoulder is bone-in); don't worry about trimming the fat or bundling it in kitchen twine, as recipes for pork roast often call for. You're going to do a hell of a lot of cooking to this thing; all the twine in the world couldn't hold it together through what you're about to do to it, and by the time you're done, the bones will be begging to get the hell out of there.
Now, on the stove, heat up a big Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed saucepot and brown the holy hell out of all the sides of your pork shoulder. A word here on browning. Most already know this, but for those who don't, to brown a piece of meat does not mean to start it cooking on the outside so that it turns the grey-brown color of cooked meat. To brown a piece of meat means to sear the bejesus out of it with very high heat until it looks as though it just lost a bar fight to a fucking dragon. To do this properly, you must be willing to blast the outside of your meat mercilessly; you must trust that you can do this without destroying either the meat or your pot or your immortal soul. You must embrace the smoke which will fill your kitchen. Fill your lungs with it. Blow it out through your nose. Become the dragon!
Give the big hunk of pork no less than four minutes of really, genuinely high heat on each side. You essentially cannot overdo it here, unless you incinerate your pork (do not incinerate your pork): the caramelization will make the pork taste better, and the blackened junk which sticks to the bottom of your pot will add flavor to the liquid in which the pork will be spending the next several hours.
So your pork has now been browned on all sides and is looking pretty beat-up. Using your tongs, position the pork fat-side-up in the pot, and cover it with cheap beer. Depending on just how big your pork shoulder is, and just how big your pot is, this may take a lot of beer, or it may take a goddamn ton of beer; if you don't have quite enough for this, just pour in however much you have. Your finished product will still taste just fine, but you'll have to baste it every hour or so along the way, and that's for suckers, so go the hell out and get enough beer to cover your entire pork shoulder, for fuck's sake.
Unless you're a weirdo German who keeps his beer warm, the beer you added to the pot likely cooled things down dramatically. While you're waiting for the heat to return, add other stuff to the pot. Chop a big yellow onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a jalapeño and chuck ‘em in there; stir in a can of tomato paste; dump in a tablespoon or two each of powdered cumin and smoked paprika. Maybe some mustard powder, what the hell. Don't be afraid to cut loose with the spices, here: there's a lot of liquid in the pot and that pork shoulder is the size of a car battery. You're unlikely to overwhelm it with spice unless you're applying the stuff with a snow shovel.
I'd advise you to add one or two bay leaves, too, but I think we both know that's going to be a huge pain in the ass at the end of the line when you have to fish those damn things out again. You can do some crazy kitchen commando shit, like tie fine-gauge razor wire to the stems of the leaves and secure the wire's other ends to the door-handle of your refrigerator, which will ensure both the extraction of your bay leaves at the end of the cooking process and also the gruesome bisection of any marauding vikings storming through your kitchen … or you can just leave the bay leaves out. It's really your choice: bay leaves, or colonization by Norway.
So you've added all that stuff to the pot; now you're going to bring the liquid to a boil, reduce it back down to a very low simmer, slap a lid on there, and walk away for a very long time. Absolutely no less than five hours. Check on it at the six-hour mark; by now, it'll likely be softened enough for some determined fork-shredding if that's how you want to go, but if you wait eight hours or longer, you'll get to a point at which the meat just slides apart when you pull at it with your tongs.
Back from your eight-hour tanning session, Mr. Boehner? Your pork is done cooking. You'll notice it has shrunk somewhat. You'll also notice that the smell coming from your kitchen has caused the other structures in your neighborhood to uproot themselves and move closer to your home. Using tongs or a pair of big chef's forks or spatulas or, worst-case scenario, a pair of clean-ish basketball shoes you are pressing into service as heat-resistant mitts, haul that big, slippery, unwieldy hunk of pig out of the pot and into a big bowl or baking dish.
Almost done. Using your tongs or a pair of forks, pull the pork apart into shreds, removing the bones and any extraordinarily large sheets of pig fat as you go. Don't spend too much time with this; pull and pull for a few minutes until you don't see any shreds of pork in your vessel that are thicker than, say, your little finger and ring finger pressed together. Now, adding a little bit at a time, tossing and tasting as you go, add more salt, plus some of the braising liquid, until the pulled pork is as salty and juicy as you want it. Or, if you prefer, toss the pulled pork with a few glugs of your favorite bottled or homemade barbecue sauce.
So now the pork is cooked and pulled and prepared. Open two bags of hamburger buns; put out a bowl or other vessel of warm barbecue sauce; yank the lid off of a container of shitty store-bought coleslaw and drop a spoon in there. Open some bags of potato chips and a tub of dip. You are finished.
I'm very sorry to say that your Super Bowl guests will be deprived of the opportunity to ooh and ahh at any fancy French words used to describe for them the exotic delicacies being served at your get-together—not only because you are not serving the kinds of exotic delicacies that require the use of French for their introduction, but also because those guests will be far too busy maniacally jamming pulled pork sandwiches into their various facial orifices to bother much with oohing and ahhing. Don't worry that you have missed an opportunity to make some grand statement of self-expression with your cooking—in fact, you haven't. You expressed yourself quite clearly. You said I like things that are good, and everyone is reading you loud and clear.
And the best part is that, if you had the wisdom and foresight to serve this food on paper plates with plastic cups and cutlery, the only dirty dishes you've left yourself are the big pot in which you cooked the pork, the bowl in which you shredded and served it, the smaller bowl in which you served the barbecue sauce, and the tongs or chef's forks with which you wrangled the pork. That's an easy enough cleaning job: it only takes a few minutes to fill the big pot with hot soapy water, dump the bowls and utensils into it, and then to load it into the back of your car, drive down the street, and deposit it into the woods.
Enjoy the game.
Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.