The BIG PIG JIG!!! - 5th Place Pork Shoulder 2012
See all the shots of our Competition Whole Hog HERE
If you were to be a Memphis Barbecue Network (MBN) Judge, you'd want to be a shoulder judge. It is the single largest act of decadence in the trifecta of competition pork offerings. In an MBN contest every judge will sample out of the same Hog, everyone will get a slab of their own ribs and that is not out of the norm of regular eating. Baby back ribs are smaller so it's easier to consume an entire slab. But each and every shoulder judge gets THEIR OWN SHOULDER!!!! That's insane! The average shoulder can feed up to 20 adults. This would be akin to us having a cake baking contest and every single sampling judge getting their own multi-tiered wedding cake.
The amazing part is that the shoulder itself has multiple tastes and textures for you to sample. Within the shoulder muscle itself there are 7 main muscles. Some are rich and dark, some are white and lean - so much so you'd think you were eating a ham. Everyone has their own favorite part of the shoulder. My personal favorite comes in the "pull test". In the pull test you twist and yank out the long straight bone of the lower part of the shoulder known as the "picnic". When you do the pull test, the bone must pull out clean. If you have to scrape the bone your meat is not done. When the bone is pulled out you'll see a little nugget of meat attached to hollow of the joint surrounded by collagen. THIS is the sign of perfectly cooked meat. The flavor is rich and that sticky melting collagen is still on the joint to be gnawed on - the most perfect bite on the shoulder. This goes with the old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin - "Closer the bone, sweeter the meat". Now I wouldn't call the meat "sweeter" but in terms of lip smacking decadence, you won't find many peers. If you over cook your meat, all the collagen will be melted away and while the overall product will be good, you won't have that nugget.
Lonnie showed off what he called "BBQ Cocaine", namely this lasagna like strands of meat suspended between two layers of soften fat. This is found on the butt end of the shoulder (the upper blade). If the meat is over cooked, the fat will completely render and the meat will simply blend in to everything else. It's presence signifies a perfectly cooked shoulder. It reminds me a lot of slow cooked pork belly, that is, the spaghetti like texture.
And if you're a Shoulder judge, it's ALL yours. You get to sample every texture, a bite of the best portions of the meat, and you don't need to share. Is there a better judging gig?
Tips for Shoulders
- Discover your favorite portion of the shoulder. Every top shoulder competitor has a favorite part and is able to pitch it like a stock broker. I love my joint nugget. Lonnie loves his BBQ cocaine. Chris Lilly, a GOD in shoulder cookery, likes to show off the bicep nugget (at least that's what a student of his told me) and I can understand why as it contains the dark texture of the butt coupled with solid texture of the picnic with enough exposed flesh to develop a deep bark.
- Shoulders really do seem to benefit the most from low & slow cooking. Even Myron Mixon, who is the leading proponent of cooking "hot & fast" seem to prefer doing his shoulders nice and slow throughout the night vs how he powers through his brisket. The little treasure of muscle get lost in rapid cooking. Now in a commercial setting this is not an issue because everything gets mixed together. But again, here every judge get's their own wedding cake. This doesn't necessarily mean you want to be in the arctic zone of 225 degrees like many books tell you.
- I live close to a large Latino-American population, which means there's an abundance of picnic shoulders available. Picnics, I've found, are harder to cook than butts and I've only very recently got my process down after much anguish. It is worth your while to really master picnic cookery because from there you can truly appreciate the whole shoulder and not simply the butts.
Here are some snap shots and of course click the link above for all the food porn.