This past August, my parents rented a lovely place upstate in the Hudson Valley and generously invited me and my boyfriend Michael, and my brother Jonathan and his fiancee Eva, to come visit as much as possible. Boy, did we take them up on that. One night, it was just the four of us without the parents, and when Jonathan invited his friends Mikey and Nicole to come over for dinner, I knew we had an excuse to go all out and make something special, something our parents would never go for . We settled on pernil, the slow-roasted Puerto Rican pork shoulder. We planned on using Joshua Bousel’s version of the recipe from his grilling column on Serious Eats. I called up Fleisher’s in Kingston, New York, a finalist for Happiest Place On Earth, and placed an order for the pernil, which is often sold as a picnic shoulder (it’s the lower part of the shoulder, with skin on and bone in).
When my brother went to pick up this beautiful hunk of meat, the woman behind the counter suggested that we score the skin, rub salt and herbs all over the thing, let it sit overnight, brush off the salt, marinate for a few hours, roast in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour to crisp the skin, then finish on an indirect, low grill for 3-4 hours. This differed a bit from the original plan. Always one to trust the butcher, especially at a mecca of fine meatstuffs such as Fleisher’s, I decided to follow this recipe, borrowing from Bousel’s.
After a total of about 5 hours on the grill (plus one hour in the oven to start), the thing was just shy of falling apart tender, salty in places and just plain porky in others, absolutely perfect served with a drizzle of mojo sauce or just some lime juice–something bright and tart to cut the richness of the meat. Hands down one of the best things I’ve ever made. Click “Read More” for the pernil and mojo recipes.
Pernil on the Grill
- 5-6 pounds fresh pork picnic shoulder, bone-in, skin on
- 5 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- Mojo sauce (recipe below) or lime wedges
Using a paring knife, score the pork’s skin diagonally. Rub 3 tablespoons of the salt all over the pork. Set in a dish, covered in plastic wrap, in the fridge overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 400º. Remove the pork from the fridge. Brush off as much of the salt mixture as possible; discard any liquid that has collected in the dish.
Combine the garlic, oil, vinegar, oregano, pepper, and cumin along with two tablespoons of the salt, in a small bowl. Rub this mixture all over the pork, and let it sit out, covered, to come to room temperature.
Place the pork on an aluminum baking sheet covered with tin foil. Drizzle any excess marinade over the top of the pork. Set in the oven for 1 hour.
Light your grill. If using charcoal, follow Joshua’s instructions. If using gas, light the primary burner to heat up the grill, then lower it so that the grill’s temperature, when covered, hovers around 300º.
When the hour is up, remove the pernil from the oven and set it on the cooler side of the grill. Close the grill and try not to peek at the meat too often–you want to keep the temperature steady. Watch the temperature inside the grill; you don’t want it to get too hot. This meat needs to cook low and slow. When the internal temperature reaches 180 on an instant-read thermometer, remove from the grill. This can take as little as 3 hours, or much longer. This pernil took about 5 hours. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Remove the pernil to a platter and let cool for at least an hour. When it’s cool enough to handle, pull off the perfectly crispy strips of meat, and pull the meat apart with clean hands into small shreds. Cut up the cracklins into bite size pieces, and distribute amongst guests. Serve with lime wedges or mojo sauce (recipe follows).
This garlicky, tangy sauce goes perfectly with pernil. It’s also adapted from Joshua Bousel, though I took many liberties.
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used light mayonnaise, it’s just how I roll)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender or the bowl of a food processer, and run the machine until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning; it may need more lime juice or salt or pepper. Serve with pernil above, or chicken, or steak, or veggies, or use as a salad dressing. Addictive stuff.