Last weekend was the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in NYC. That name is ridiculous, so I shall henceforth refer to it as BBQ Fest. BBQ Fest is one of Logan’s favorite weekends in New York (surprise!), and naturally, I was forced to go last Sunday. Logan wanted to make an appearance on both Saturday and Sunday, but I refused to do a BBQ Fest double-header based on my PTSD.
The first and only other time that I attended this great event was two years ago. Logan and I had DTR’d (defined the relationship) the week before, and we attended our first wedding together on the Saturday of BBQ Fest weekend. Being the fun-loving duo that we are, Logan and I got fabulously wedding drunk that night, and I woke up Sunday morning with one of my uglier hangovers. Imagine my horror when my brand new boyfriend bounced out of bed and said, “You have to get up. I’m taking you to BBQ Fest!”
That statement filled me with unmistakable dread. Although I didn’t know exactly what BBQ Fest entailed, the thought of braving the 95-degree heat to eat large quantities of meat in my vulnerable state made me want to die. Luckily for Logan, my desire to appear “laid-back” and “down for whatever” at this pivotal stage in our relationship outweighed the urge to spend the day eating pizza in the fetal position. So I selflessly hauled myself out of bed, put on my game face and let Logan escort me to Washington Square Park.
Honestly, I was a hot mess of a date to BBQ Fest. Logan and I were not yet roommates at the time, which meant that I didn’t have any clothes at his apartment. Since I thought I’d be slightly overdressed in my wedding attire at a barbecue festival, Logan was kind enough to lend me some “casual clothes” for the occasion. It is a testament to the severity of my hangover that I was willing to be seen in public sporting an old pair of men’s tennis shorts with a brown plaid Western shirt and a pair of Logan’s slip on shoes. According to Logan, I looked “beautiful,” which made me think he was slightly crazy, but it was enough to get me out the door. (I wasn’t yet aware of Logan's tendency to be overly complimentary when there is barbecue on the horizon.)
Arriving at BBQ Fest was like walking into my personal hell. Washington Square Park and the surrounding streets were packed with people (many of whom were men in tank tops), filled with smoke, and lined with meat as far as the eye could see. After waiting in the world’s longest line to get a plate of ribs, I felt on the verge of collapse. I was sweaty, anxious, and there were no free tables, which meant that Logan and I were forced to sit on the sidewalk. Things shouldn't have gotten any worse.
But they did. Halfway through my second Gatorade, I heard someone call my name from above. When I squinted up from my position on the concrete, I saw two dudes that I went to college with standing over me. I mustered all of my strength to stand up, feign enthusiasm at the chance meeting, and make small talk with these “friends.” After taking stock of my homeless appearance and the dude sitting next to me on the sidewalk ecstatically eating BBQ, they asked, “Soooo, what are you up to these days???” I chose to overlook their patronizing tone and informed them that I was on summer break from a very prestigious cooking school and that my fellow street urchin happened to be my wildly successful boyfriend. When they finally left, Logan helpfully informed me that I had barbecue sauce all over my face.
The rest of BBQ Fest 2011 is a blur, but I have vague memories of Logan eating multiple pulled pork sandwiches, both of us getting pretty sick, and taking a cab the six blocks home to watch Can’t Hardly Wait on iTunes. It was a tough day. Therefore, when Logan reminded me last week that BBQ Fest was almost upon us, I was understandably nervous.
However, on Sunday morning, I gritted my teeth and returned to BBQ Fest like a champ. I was not hungover, thank God, and I was wearing my own clothes, so the day was already off to a promising start. Despite the damage that something like BBQ Fest does to The Dude Diet, Logan’s excitement was contagious, and I happily let him map out his No-Calorie Sunday without restraint. He managed to crush an impressive three full meals before 3pm (which was necessary to hit the pulled pork-ribs-sausage trifecta) in between visits to the beer garden and forcing me to pose for pictures in front of various types of meat.
Overall, BBQ Fest 2013 went off without a hitch. (Logan didn’t even get the meat sweats!) I had fun, but in all honesty, I wasn’t blown away by the food. Truth: I LOVE barbecue. Not nearly as much as Logan loves barbecue, which is humanly impossible, but I definitely have a soft spot for it. I’m particularly fond of pulled pork, and since I don’t eat BBQ on the reg, I like my indulgences to be bomb. Sadly, my pulled pork last Sunday was mediocre at best. It was overly fatty, too vinegary for my taste, and I needed about a quart of extra bbq sauce to get it moist. (Sorry for using that word). It was disappointing, to say the least.
For some reason, I couldn’t shake the craving for a good pulled pork sandwich earlier this week, so I decided to experiment with a recipe of my own. The result was everything I dreamed of and more. Allow me to introduce Easy Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Sweet and Spicy Pickles.
The pulled pork in these sandwiches is unreal. The meat is tender and juicy, and the sauce is packed with flavor from a few ingredients that you’re likely to already have in your fridge: onions, garlic, ketchup, beer, vinegar and Sriracha. Boom. That chronic combination creates a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce with a subtle kick.
Traditional pulled pork uses a fattier cut of meat like shoulder or butt, but I used tenderloin in this recipe for two reasons. First of all, pork tenderloin only requires about 40 minutes of cooking time, so you can make this pulled pork whenever a craving hits without having to invest hours of slow-cooking time. Secondly, the lean meat lightens things up significantly in terms of fat and calories, which means that you can indulge relatively guilt-free. Yes, these sandwiches are Dude Diet approved, and Logan has enthusiastically eaten three of them this week.
Easy Pulled Pork Sandwiches are delicious on their own, but adding Sweet and Spicy Pickles to these bad boys is a revelation. I’ve never had enough patience (or mason jars) to really break into the pickling world, but I figured I could get my feet wet with these quick pickles. Thinly sliced cucumbers, red onion, and red bell peppers get soaked in brine that is slightly sweet with a hint of garlic and some serious heat. The brine takes all of 5 minutes to make, and these pickles only need an hour or two in the fridge before they’re ready to go. They’re epic on pulled pork sandwiches (or any sandwich for that matter), but they’re also great on their own as a cool summer side dish. Pulled pork and pickles have never been easier, friends. You’re welcome.
Easy Pulled Pork Sandwiches: (Serves 4)
4 whole wheat hamburger buns
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup ketchup
12 ounces beer of your choice (I recommend an IPA, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
Preparing your pulled pork:
-Slice your pork tenderloin into 3-inch pieces.
-Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add the minced onions and garlic. Saute for about 3 minutes until the onions become translucent.
-Add the ketchup, beer, honey, vinegar and Sriracha and bring everything to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add the pork tenderloin pieces, cover and cook for 40 minutes.
-When cooked, remove the pork from the sauce and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred the pork using your fingers or two forks, depending on how hands on you want to get.
-Let the sauce simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes until it is thickened. Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and cook for another 10 minutes over low heat.
-Pile pork tenderloin onto buns, top with sweet and spicy pickles (optional), and go hog wild. You’re practically a pitmaster.
Sweet and Spicy Pickles: (Serves 8-10)
2 English Cucumbers, finely sliced
½ red bell pepper, finely sliced
½ red onion, finely sliced
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Preparing your sweet and spicy quick pickles:
-Finely slice the cucumbers, red bell pepper, and red onion. I recommend using a mandolin if you have one. You want these vegetables to be as thin as possible, people!
-In a small pot, combine all of the ingredients for the brine and bring them to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from the heat.
-Place vegetables in a heat safe bowl and pour the brine over them. Cover and refrigerate until room temperature or cold (depending on your preference), which should take about 1-1½ hours. Voila! Quickest pickles ever.