North Carolina Style Pulled Pork — Elder Ward

This document is the consolidation of several posts made by Elder Ward on the Big Green Egg forum in response to an e-mail asking for detailed directions on his method of preparing North Carolina Style Pulled Pork. At one point, this information disappeared from the Big Green Egg website and I was fortunate enough to have saved it for my own use. I have posted the information here with Carl's permission, lest it get lost again, but the original can be found on the Big Green Egg website.

As for my own comments, some people take exception to the advice given here. Elder Ward explained that he is not claiming this is the only way to make pulled pork. He was asked to document how he did it, and so he documented how he did it. If you disagree with anything here, fine, go pull your pork your own way. This is simply how Elder Ward does it. so now, let's let Elder Ward have the floor, so to speak, and teach about how he does North Carolina pulled pork.

I had an e-mail from one of our own here on this forum that wanted me to write a detailed report on how I would do pulled pork North Carolina style.  I do not hold myself up as the end all on any subject, least of all this one, but in some of my more weaker moments I try to be hu, hum, humb, humbl, OK, humble there I said it.  Anyway as this kind person did not make this request on the net I will mention no names.  After reflecting on the idea it occurred to me that there might be others who would either like to read this or argue every little detail.  I am nothing if not here to please.  Since this is not easy because our mutual friend wanted details, and I am wont to go greatly into them, there will be four parts.

· Fire
· Rubs & Sauces
· Cooking
· Serving

Part I - The Fire
This part seems simple but it is the key to successful long term cooking.  Like tying on a fish hook, the details really do matter.  Clean out your egg.  Dismantle it and vacuum or sweep it clean.  Reassemble fire box and fire ring make sure the hole in the fire box is squared with the bottom vent.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use anything but lump charcoal.  NO fast start and NO briquettes.

Now you're going to think I lost it here, but open your bag of LUMP and separate the coals into three (3) piles. 1) large pieces 2) medium pieces 3) shake & dust.  This last is usually left in the bottom of the bag of even the best lump.

In your sparkling clean fire box arrange the largest chunk dead center.  This will be the last piece to burn up and, since it can't clog the bottom holes, it will allow the air circulation to remain at a relatively even rate during the entire cooking time.  Place remaining large pieces like a jigsaw puzzle until it appears as even as you can make it with the large pieces.  Next, fill in as many holes and cracks with medium pieces until it looks as even as you can make it.  Then, using the smallest pieces, fill in more of the area.  Last, take all that dust, for lack of a better term, and level out your bed of coals. (do not make a mound, just like I said LEVEL).  Fill to the top of the fire box, but not above.

DO NOT LIGHT YOUR FIRE NOW.  That will be the last thing we do prior to cooking and I will address that in great detail later.

We feel this method will start easily and burn at a controlled rate, and as the finer stuff on top turns to ash, most will remain where it was placed.  It will be hard, if not impossible, to clog your air holes until the last of your fuel is gone.  This gives us maximum cooking time and the hottest fire early when we need the unit to reach temperature soonest.

O.K. gang that is all for now stay tuned,
Elder Ward

Part II - Rubs and Sauces
Here is where we will fight the civil war of flavors till the dawn of eternity and never agree on the out come.  So here is my take on the real mystery of the smoke.  My uncle was a restaurant owner and never added his sauce till just before you ate the pig.  His was damned good pull if I do say so myself but he never thought enough of me to share his secrets.  He did mop the main guest while cooking him to keep him moist.  Since we do not have that problem with our tools I have varied my personal method two ways.  This might seem like a lot of trouble but, if you have never tried it please make both finishing sauces the first time and eat a little of both.  You may be like me and love them equally, like children, one better some days, the other another day, but you still love 'em.

You don't see mustard used in North Carolina like you do in South Carolina and, as that is JJ's and Mrs. Appledog's bailiwick, I defer that honor to them. (never used the mustard trick till I came here but that is another method, not mine.)

The Rub
  • 2 Tbs. kosher salt (NEVER use iodized salt, it ruins stuff)
  • 2 Tbs. sugar (I prefer Hawaii raw when I can get it.)
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs. ground cumin seed
  • 2 Tbs. chili powder (pure not with garlic etc. added)
  • 2 Tbs. cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. cayenne pepper (there is no substitute)
  • 4 Tbs. Hungarian paprika
  • 2 Tbs. ground sage (my secret ingredient)
Makes 1 cup

Blend all.  This you will use to cover the raw pork (we started out cooking the red coats in this country a couple of three hundred years ago and we still carry on the tradition today).  Some say to leave it on and wrap it up for hours and/or days in fridge.  Personally I have tried that but can not tell the difference when it has been on only 1 hour.  So hay, if you're into waiting, God bless you.

The Traditional North Carolina Sauce (A) I grew up with.
This would be from my mothers side of the family who are a bunch of flatlanders near the coast.  We only came down out of the hills to see them just enough to keep the peace in the family and my mother from running back home for good.  She hated the mountains.  We all loved her folks.

  • 1 C white vinegar
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sugar (Hawaii style when you can)
  • 1 Tbs. cayenne pepper (fresh ones split 2 of em instead soak 2 days or more is best)
  • 1 Tbs. Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cracked black pepper
Makes 2 Cups

Place in a bottle with small neck that will allow you to shake it out a little at a time.

Western North Carolina (Piedmont) style sauce (B)

  • 1 C ketchup (Hot type)
  • 1 C water (bottled plain if you have fluorinated/treated) yuck:~(
  • ¼ C apple cider vinegar
  • 1 onion chopped fine
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic or 1 clove elephant garlic from Gilroy, CA
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs. molasses (How can y'all have Mo lasses if you ain't had lasses da furst time?)
  • 2 Tbs. dry mustard (Coleman's English double fine is good)
  • 1 tsp.. cayenne or one fresh cut into ringlets seeds and all.
Simmer for twenty minutes over low heat.

OK.  With (A) you can do two things.  If you are going to use a rack and drip pan directly under pork place 1 cup of sauce in the drip pan.  Not my favorite method, but hay, it has applications and you will not have to lift the lid to mop.  Use the balance to eat just before serving.

(B) Also has two uses.  The last 10 minutes of cooking time you can use it as a glaze.  Again not my favorite but it looks good and taste good, I like to put it still steaming in the middle of the table and dip my piece of pork into it — kind of fondue style.

More about this later.  Next time I'll be talking about the actual cooking of the pork in as much detail as I can stand. Well good night for now,

Elder Ward

Part III - Cooking
Well here we go.  This is really the easy part if you're lazy, or the hardest thing you'll ever do if you are a type A personality.

The purist will use an open pit and hickory wood burned down to coals with an entire hog laid wide open and flipped every 3-6 hours with no rub and using a vinegar base moping sauce to keep meat moist for say 16 to 24 hours.  That's OK and God bless em.  You and I can't eat that much meat and besides we all own Eggs or K's.  Now that I have eliminated most of the purist out there, we will talk about how we can have as good, or in my opinion, better pulled pork than them boys.

This process is best done between 11PM to 1AM due to the cooking time required.  You can expect to eat about 5 to 7 o'clock PM the next day.  If you want to remain as pure as possible don't use the rub.  I use the rub and I like the way it tastes.  Hey, advice is like a house guest you have to listen to when they are there, but you don't have to ask them back.  Cover the pork as thickly as you can on all sides with the rub.  Set it aside to rest (You, not the pork, this is supposed to be fun, not work.)

Take a couple of sips of whatever you're drinking and try to remember that this stuff won't cook if we don't go light that load of lump we put into the egg about a week or so ago.  Oh yeah! (You thought I forgot didn't you!)  This is the great part as there are many ways up the mountain. I like two methods:

  1. Using a 1 inch square of fire place lighter, placed it in the middle and on top of the lump. Light it.
  2. Use a chimney and put a fist full of lump in it, place newspaper under it (the second most useful thing news paper was made for, the first being the bottom of bird cages) Light it.
When the coals in the chimney are going good, or the fire place starter is burnt out and you have about a fist full of coals glowing you're ready.  Some folks like to place pieces of chunk or chip, soaked or dry, into the fire now, and some spread it around so they get smoke over different times while cooking.  I prefer to use a single fist size piece of dry hickory placed dead center and on top of that little fist size of coals we just fired up.  I think that too much smoke takes away from the delicate taste of pork and have found that this one piece will cold smoke the pork and leave a good size smoke ring in the meat because I'm going to place my pork on the grill now.  If you're going to use a heat defector e.g. pizza stone and bottom rack, place them on now and put the fire ring in place.  If you use the suspended type drip pan or the stones on top, do it.

Close the lid on Mr. Egg, open the bottom vent all the way and open Miss Daisy all the way.  Let's stop here and explain why I have done it this way.  The smoke will flavor the meat before the heat sears the meat and seals in the flavor.  Since the fire is small, and Mr. Egg cool, we will get maximum smoke for a long time if the top vent is kept narrow (for those using slide metal vents).

Put your Polder probe half way into the thickest part of the meat. Place the main guest on a rack, pan or take him directly to the grill.  I use the rack and a pan to keep the grease from dripping onto the fire/stone and causing excess smoke and flare ups. Now some put an amount of water or part of the Vinegar sauce in the bottom of the pan for moisture and flavor, not me.  Lift the lid place the meat inside and close the lid.  Plug in the polder and set the temperature alarm for 200°.

You're working way to hard, sit down and stare at the dome temperature gauge and sip some more of that Jack Daniel's, or what ever sissy drink you happen to have, until the thing reads about 195°.  Close the bottom vent until the heat stabilizes around that heat level.  Remember this is pulled pork (low and slow), not steak (hot and blast furnace).  That is the tricky part because it could be wide open or only about ¼ inch.  I can't tell you this part because it depends on many factors. (wind, temp outside, whether you used heat deflectors, size of pork, etc.)  This is better known as the type A personality test. If you have to ask you already are one.

Now you may either party all night long or like me go to sleep.  I definitely am not type A.  When you wake up in the morning look at the dome temperature gauge to see if it is still about where it should be.  If it is, look at the Polder if it says 185-195° you are either cooking a very small piece of pig or you have a gale force wind blowing directly up the bottom vent.  If your fire is out go back and reread my post II of IV on how to build a fire and this time follow the direction and plan on eating late that night or tomorrow.  For the rest of us, some time later on in the day the internal meat temperature will stabilize around 175 to 185°.  At that point kick open the bottom vent and throw caution to the wind.  Even if it reaches 275-300° in the dome you ain't going to hurt that meat.  Some time later, and believe it or not it might be hours later, the internal heat will reach 200°.

Remove pork now and wrap it in foil until you are ready to eat.  By the way, after you put the meat into Mr. Egg, and close the lid.....LEAVE IT SHUT STUPID until the meat reaches 200°.  Barbeque will not cook by you looking at it.  This is like religion, you will just have to trust that it is so.  I'm only hard on you because I love you, and it is for your own good.

OK, next time we wrap this puppy up with how to serve pulled pork and some normal side dishes.  Happy trail to you until we meet again,

Elder Ward

Part IV - Serving
There are at least three traditional dishes served at almost every pulled pork joint I can remember.  There is a fourth that I personally like.  The first is Cole slaw and if you don't serve it, it surely is a sacrilege.  This needs to be made 12 or more hours ahead of time, not that it isn't good or eatable when fresh, its just not right.  There are a lot of great ones out there and here is my favorite.

Mary Lee's, "I Fought the Slaw and The Slaw Won"
These are from the Jack Daniel's old time Barbecue cookbook by Vince Staten. (with an Elder Ward twist)
  • 3 LBS. cabbage
  • 3 ribs of celery
  • 1 onion (yellow)
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 C sugar (Hawaiian when you can get it.)
Shred, chop or dice all and mix with sugar. Set cabbage mixture aside.

  • 1/2 Cup of white vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup of Apple Cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C olive oil (my twist)
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp (kosher salt)
Bring all to a boil and pour over cabbage mixture and chill overnight.

Mamaw's German Potato Salad
This is the one non traditional dish

  • 4 C cooked potatoes, cubed
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked crisp (important for flavor) & crumbled
  • 1 C celery, chopped fine
  • 3 green (spring) onions chopped tops and all
Combine all ingredients and put in baking dish.


  • ½ C mayonnaise
  • ¼ C white vinegar
  • 2 tsp sugar (Hawaiian)
  • 1 tsp mustard (French's of other liquid cheap)
  • 1 tsp salt (kosher)
  • ¼ tsp cracked black pepper
Combine all and pour over potato mix and bake @ 350* for 20 min.  Egg or K is best but oven will do. As an aside: My Grandmother and Grandfather on my fathers side lived on Barcus Creek outside of the small town of Whitter, NC.  We knew them as Mamaw & Papaw (This is Cherokee for your grandparents if I remember correctly and has nothing to do with the recipe).

Hush Puppies

  • 2 C cornmeal
  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • ¼ tsp baking soda (Arm & Hammer)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 eggs (chicken type) B^)
  • 1 C buttermilk (no 2% stuff here)
  • 1 TBS butter unsalted, melted
  • Peanut oil (enough to fill a cast iron skillet at least 3+ inches deep)
Combine all ingredients except the oil.  Peanut oil is my favorite to cook this in and here is the important part, make sure the oil is hot enough to evaporate a drop of water when it is dropped in the oil. You must use high heat and never cook too much at one time or it will cool the oil and the hush puppies will be soggy. :~(

When the oil reaches temperature, take a teaspoon and scoop enough dough mixture to create a ball that is just a hair to big to eat in one bite.  Carefully drop this into the oil.  When it floats and is golden brown, use a wire strainer to lift out of the oil and place on paper towels to drain.  Break the first couple open to be sure that they are done inside if not cook a little longer this is a feel thing but not hard to get.  (THIS IS THE LAST THING YOU DO BEFORE YOU EAT AS THEY ARE AT THEIR BEST PIPING HOT AND GO DOWN HILL FROM THAT POINT ON.) They are not bad cold or cool just not great.

In the old days it was common for the kitchens to be built a good distance from the main house on the plantations down south to keep from burning them down.  They were wild times and all folks kept hound dogs running lose in the yard to keep away unwanted guest and for protection against the less savory type known to steal and kill.  The poor slaves and servants of that time had to navigate the area between the kitchen and the main house.  This involved carrying large amounts of food that could be a handful and no one was there to keep the packs of dogs out of the food or from jumping up and knocking them down and you can bet that the owners didn't care for a loud ruckus for no reason at all.  You can imagine who was held responsible if that occurred.  Hint it weren't the dogs.  So the slaves use to make these corn balls up, place them in their apron pockets, and as they walked toward the main house with the food they would throw them to the dogs and say "hush puppy hush puppy".  The rest is history and after trying these you'll see how lucky those dogs were.

One last thing, here is my twist.  If you're a chili head, or as we us to say, a real man, try chopping up 1 jalapeño pepper, seed and all, per cup of dough, or if company has a mild taste, fix half with half without.  Boy howdy!

The third thing that is ALWAYS served is ice tea presweetened with sugar.  People out here in California make some great dishes but what they call ice tea, well, suffice it to say that it does have tea in it.  Boil 2 C water, when it is roiling, drop in 6 family size tea bags.  Cover with a lid and shut off heat source.  Find something to do for an hour but don't you dare lift that lid until it has sat there at least one hour.  Add one cup of sugar, stir, and place in gallon container.  I like to add as much ice as I can to finish cooling it down.  Fill glass with ice pour in finished tea.  Enjoy.

The last item is the all American dish, French Fries.  I like em and I eat em but with pulled Q it is the last thing I touch on my plate.  So if you will forgive me I'll not go into any detail here about fries.

Well what about old Porky Pig we have been writing about for weeks now, what do we do with him? You will need a chopping board or block, a large knife or clever, and a large pan to hold the finished product.  Two other items I find useful are, a large fork of the carving type, and a trash can with liner installed.  If you have dogs you will not need the later item until they are stuffed.

No matter how you serve your pulled pork, it ain't pulled unless you pull it.  If your a real woman you probably can place your hands in boiling water and still smile, not me, and hand pulling hot pork is only slightly worse in my opinion.  Use that giant fork and shred the pork in a raking manner with the grain.  This will leave string like pieces of meat in piles.  When and If you come across pockets of fat or there was and is a cap of fat on the outside, you have just found the dogs first serving or the reason that we have the trash can.  Continue to shred the meat and feed the dogs or trash can all the excess fat and any bones that you find.  Try to refrain from drinking beer or other expensive drinks during this time as your hands will be extremely slick.

When this task is complete there are only two more things to do; one, cut the pulled meat into either 4-5 inch long pieces or into 1/2 inch pieces.  If you're making sandwiches you'll enjoy them more in the smaller cuts and if you're eating it on the plate the longer will do much better.

1) Sandwiches have to be served on the cheapest white bread buns money can buy.  Remember the pork is the thing here.  When you use the vinegar finishing sauce here is how you do it.  While the meat is still hot, drench it with the sauce in the holding pan and let it set for a few minutes.  This will let the meat absorb the flavor and moisture of the vinegar sauce.  Place as much pulled pork as you can place on the bun without losing it.  Then scoop half as much of that seasoned cold slaw on top of that then cover and eat it NOW!  With all the ice tea you can stand.

2) If you're serving the vinegar sauce style pork on a plate just serve it like any civilized person then pig out.

3) For the piedmont style sauce, treat sandwiches like number one above.

4) Piedmont style in a plate; place the steaming hot sauce in a common pot center of the table and it's every man, woman and child for themselves.  If you're an avid reader of Miss Manners, you may wish to place a small bowl of sauce at each place setting for the convenience of your guests, but to keep them in check you had better preserve it instead of letting each dish out what they want as some body will go wanting.  Or you could make a triple recipe.

Well I hope you derive some form of enjoyment from the time we have spent together either in the reading but hopefully in the savoring of this fine traditional food that is truly American, and that had its origins in the great state of North Carolina.  You may thank Spin & Mrs. Spin for their encouraging me to attempt this endeavor.  They are first class people.

Well good night and God bless,

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