What is pulled pork or beef?
What is pulled pork or beef?
What is pulled pork, or beef, or anything? And why on earth can some meat be pulled effortlessly, while some it is impossible to pull?
So let me start by answering the first of our puzzles: exactly what is pulled pork/beef/chicken/[insert meat after the word 'pulled'?
Without trying to sound too matter-of-factly - it's exactly what it says. But unless you know the pulling process, you would be forgiven for not realising this. The method is simple: take a cut of meat that has been cooked to 'pulled' consistency, get two forks in hand, and wrench at the meat in opposite directions. As the meat fibres separate, the meat becomes stringy.
So why do we do this? Two reasons come to mind.
The first is that the texture is soft, playful, and pleasant to eat. Pulling the meat apart makes it easier to chew through, and allows you to manipulate the shape of the meat to fit into all kinds of gaps and holes (pulled pork jacket potatoes, pulled beef tacos, etc.).
Secondly, the string like meat sucks up sauces and flavours brilliantly compared to a solid joint of meat. All the brine, curing, rubs, marinating, and cooking liquor in the world on a intact joint won't substitute for a good dollop of BBQ sauce once the meat has been pulled.
Why do some meats 'pull' and others don't? Pork shoulder and beef brisket pull amazingly, while others like leg of lamb or chicken thighs won't. The difference is how the muscle fibres are made up, and the amount of collagen within them.
ork shoulder, for instance, contains TONS of collagens throughout (and fats, which also help). The collagens are what make it such a tough cut of meat. Every muscle fibre is wrapped up with these collagens, much like a sock round a foot. As we cook the meat over a long period of time, we break down and melt these collagens into gelatine, meaning all them fibres become loose and free. This is what gives us our 'pulled' string texture.
The less collagens within the meat, the far less likely it is the meat will 'pull'. Most simply won't pull at all (without pure brute force).
So what about pulled chicken? This is an anomaly really. Pulled chicken isn't melting collagens at all - it's exploiting a feature of VERY overcooked chicken meat. Perfectly cooked chicken should not pull. The muscle should be soft, juicy, and still very much intact. But as it overcooks, the fibres start to tighten up together, squeezing out the juice, and eventually solidify into their muscle fibre groups, which is what we recognise as pulled chicken.
So how do I cook pulled pork/beef/etc? Low and slow! Collagens need a lot of time (and heat) to melt, so give them every chance they have to turn into gelatine by cooking it for long periods of time over relatively low heat.
I'm Martin! This blog is me asking food and cookery what's going on, while sharing some of my creations and ideas. I'd love to hear your own 'why's?' so please share every question you have!
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