Sichuanish BBQ: Crispy Sichuan-Pepper Pulled Pork
Sichuan BBQ Pork Candy
Here’s the extent of this Sichuan-ish BBQ recipe for crispy Sichuan-pepper pulled pork: Get a pork shoulder with a nice fat cap; score the fat in a diamond shape; rub the whole thing generously with kosher salt, sugar and freshly ground Sichuan pepper; put it in the oven at very low heat, and leave it there. Take it out many hours later, pull it apart with some forks, and marvel at its perfect mix of moist, tender meat and crispy, spicy fat.
Really, there’s not much more to it than that. I’m only writing up a recipe after I posted a pre-dinner photo of it on Instagram one night and lots of folks wanted the recipe. Instagram is a good recipe-testing ground in that way, letting me know what people find appetizing. People were drawn to the obviously slow-cooked and crispy-browned hunk of meat, but the part that Instagram and photos can’t convey is the smell that perfumed my home for the hours that it was slow roasting: sweet, fatty and spicy, like I was baking a pork cake.
The well-known versions of Chinese roast pork, namely Cantonese crispy pork (siu yuk) and BBQ pork (chasiu), are not cooked nearly as long as this, as they are meant to be sliced. But I went the non-traditional route and cooked the shoulder until it was fork-tender and easily pullable, like the pulled-pork BBQ we favor here in the South. All I had to do to make it Sichuan-ish is cover it in copious amounts of freshly ground fresh Sichuan pepper.
But even though this slow-cooked pork has a real Sichuan taste from the generous rub, it is super versatile. Craig and I ate it stuffed in bao the Chinese way, Fongchong treated it Korean with a gochujang sauce, and its resemblance to carnitas made it a perfect taco filling the next day. So in other words, I encourage you to make too much—it will get eaten, in one form or another.
I’ve made this Sichuan BBQ dish with various size pork shoulders, from 2 pounds to 4 pounds, and eventually settled on a 3 pound version for the recipe. Cooked low and slow at 300° Fahrenheit, it normally takes about 2 hours per pound of meat. If you cook a much larger pork shoulder, you will probably want to cut it in half and make two smaller pieces.
You can serve the pork only slightly pulled in chunks for people, like Fongchong, who want to eat it on rice. She made a gochujang-vinegar-honey sauce to go with it, which also would have been great stuffed inside butter lettuce as Koreans do with BBQ.
Alternatively, you can pull or chop it into shreds for easy filling of baos, buns or tortillas.
If you have any leftover rub, it can pull double duty as a dry brine for cucumbers. Just toss some thinly sliced cucumbers in the mixture and let them cure and drain for a bit, then mix in some white rice vinegar to taste for a spicy, acidic accompaniment to the pulled pork.
Stuffed in a bao, this crispy Sichuan-pepper pulled pork and the quick pickled cucumbers were a dream. The only thing better would be if I had made bao from scratch, which is miles better than the store-bought variety, but this was designed as a hands-off meal. And hands-off it was! There has never been so much payoff for so little work.
Sichuanish BBQ: Crispy Sichuan-Pepper Pulled Pork and Quick-Pickled Cucumbers
(Ingredient sizes revised August 2021)
- one 3- pound pork shoulder (aka Boston butt)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1½ to 2 tablespoons freshly ground Sichuan pepper (see note)
Optional cucumber accompaniment
- 1 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
- Leftover rub mixture
- 1 Thai red chili, thinly sliced
- white rice vinegar to taste (not sushi vinegar)
- Score the fat cap of the shoulder in a diamond pattern, cutting through the fat just to the meat. Combine the salt, sugar and ground Sichuan pepper in a small bowl, and rub the mixture onto the fat, in the crevices and on all sides of the butt, covering the whole thing generously. (You may have some leftover rub.)
- Let the shoulder marinate at room temperature for an hour or two. Then transfer to a rack placed inside a roasting pan.
- Pre-heat oven to 300° Fahrenheit and cook uncovered shoulder for approximately 6 hours, or 2 hours per pound. If pork becomes too brown toward the end, loosely tent it with foil. Test it by pulling at the side with a fork. When the meat breaks loose easily, it is done. [Every piece of meat is different, with different ratios of lean to fat. I recently revised and simplified this recipe, but some pieces of meat will require extra time.]
- Remove pork from oven and let rest before shredding with two forks or chopping with a cleaver. Serve with rice, steamed bao, tortillas or butter lettuce, with or without a sauce of your choice.
- To make the pickled cucumber accompaniment, place slices in a colander and rub some of the remaining salt-sugar-Sichuan-pepper mixture into the cucumbers (taste as you go to determine how much). Let cucumbers cure and release their juices for about a 20 minutes. Combine cucumbers with chilies in a bowl and add white rice vinegar and a bit of water, to taste.
I tried this recipe and it came out delicious! We had a lot leftover of the salt rub so I saved it for future cucumber salads on hot days. My kids even loved it!
Happy to hear this! I love that it enticed the kids. I also agree that the recipe makes a bit too much rub, depending on the size of the pork shoulder. But it could definitely be used on other roasts as well.
Easy enough. But more importantly, Mala Pot – Spicy Cumin Fish. Recipe?
No. But it sounds delicious! Will keep an eye out.
Would using an instant pot or slow cooker rob this recipe of it’s crunchy charm?
I believe it would. Though I suppose you could try broiling/browning the top afterward…? I haven’t tried that.
I absolutely love this, and I’ve cooked it maybe ten times now. I think my only difference from your version is I normally tent it with foil an hour or so into the 250 degree portion of the cooking. (Oh, and I don’t do the pickled cucumbers — think I may have deleted them entirely from my copy of the recipe!)
So glad to hear you’ve made it your own! I make this pretty often too. It’s so easy.