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~ Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled-Pork Shoulder ~

IMG_4783My experiences with Cuban food, all good ones, are limited to a few trips to Miami.  I know that "mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it specifically applies to a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.  I also must say that without more than a few well-written recipes in the seven Cuban cookbooks, that I purchased during my visits to Florida, I'd stand little chance of bringing the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen -- they've all contributed to my recipes:

IMG_4812Pulled pork is popular in many parts of the Caribbean, and, when cooked in the traditional manner, just like throughout The Barbecue Belt here in the USA, they go:  whole hog, low and slow, over carefully-tended wood-fired heat sources for a long period of time.  That said, depending on where you are in the Caribbean, it is seasoned and/or sauced differently.   The first time I ordered Cuban-style pulled pork, which arrived in the form of their signature Cubano sandwich, I ordered it because I like pulled pork.  What I didn't know was how uniquely-different it would be from the Southern-style barbecue I was used to.  The difference between a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich and a Cuban-style pulled pork sandwich is astounding -- the bold citrus (in place of vinegar) and herb flavors were right up my alley. I knew I needed to figure out how to make it at home -- in a manner that didn't require an entire hog or building a barbecue pit.

Pork_101_final_b-fixedA bit about the pork:  "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog.  It got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork shoulder, then packed the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies. Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, "the butt's from Boston", evolved into the cut's name "Boston butt".

IMG_4670For the meat and marinade:

1  7-8  pound bone-in Boston butt pork shoulder roast, untrimmed (do not remove fat cap)

3/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

3/4  cup orange juice, preferably freshly-squeezed with the zest from 1 orange stirred in 

1/2  cup lime juice, preferably freshly-squeezed

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, some stem included is fine

1/4  cup minced, fresh mint leaves, leaves only

2  tablespoons minced, fresh oregano leaves, leaves only, no woody stems

8  large garlic cloves, run through a press 

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano leaves

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4673 IMG_4680~ Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed, placing in a 2-gallon Ziplock bag as you work.  Briefly toss marinade to combine, then, add pork to bag.  Seal and marinate in refrigerator overnight, stopping to flip bag over (to turn roast) as often as possible/whenever convenient.  Overnight is best.  Remove the bag from the refrigerator and return the roast and marinade to room temperature 1-2 hours.  Preheat oven to 320º-325°.

IMG_4683 IMG_4686 IMG_4690 IMG_4720 IMG_4715~Step 2.  Remove roast from bag and place it, fat-side-up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Reseal bag and refrigerate remaining marinade until roast is out of the oven and resting.  Roast meat, uncovered on center rack of preheated oven, 7-8 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer placed several inches into the thickest part of the meat in 2-3 places reads 190°-195°.*  Remove from oven, seal pan with foil, and allow roast  cool enough to be manageable to pull with your fingertips (about 1-1 1/2 hours). Reminder from Mel:  Remove the marinade from the refrigerator during this rest period.  

*Note:  After the first 60-75 minutes of roasting, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the fat cap (after it is nicely-browned).  This will shield it from over-browning or burning.

IMG_4726 IMG_4729 IMG_4731 IMG_4732 IMG_4736 IMG_4743 IMG_4739~Step 3.  Remove and discard the foil and transfer the roast to a large carving board.  Pour the drippings from the bottom of roasting pan into a fat/lean separator.  Add the lean portion of the drippings, about 1/4 cup, to a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan.  Add 2 cups diced yellow or sweet onion to the saucepan, adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-high and cook until there is almost no liquid left in the bottom of the saucepan and onions are beginning to caramelize, 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly, to avoid scorching, during the last 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the marinade to the onions.  Adjust heat to a steady, rapid simmer and cook, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.  Remove mojo from heat.

IMG_4747~ Step 4.  Using your fingertips or a pair of meat claws designed to pull or shread meats (available on Amazon), do as follows:  Begin by pulling the roast into 5-6 large chunks and pieces that have naturally formed during the lengthy cooking process, meaning, if you tried to pick the entire roast up, it would almost naturally fall apart into 5-6 pieces.  Next, pull each chunk into large, succulent, strands, doing your best to keep them bite-sized (not small and stringy).  Some folks prefer to use a cleaver to chop the meat into pieces -- the choice is yours.  While working remove and discard any pieces of gristle, but, hang onto all the caramelized, crispy, full-flavored and fatty brown exterior bark.

Drizzle w/mojo sauce & serve w/mojo black beans & rice:

IMG_4801Side-Dish: Cuban-Style Mojo Black Beans & Rice:

IMG_4804Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled-Pork Shoulder:  Recipe yields 8+ cups pulled pork/8 servings/8 pulled-pork sandwiches/16 Cubano sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; citrus juicer; garlic press; 2-gallon Ziplock bag; roasting rack; roasting pan; instant-read meat thermometer; aluminum foil; carving board; fat/lean separator; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan

IMG_7003Cook's Note: The Carolinas hold a unique position in terms of Southern barbecue because theirs is believed to be the oldest form of American barbecue.  For a period of time I had family who lived in both North and South Carolina, so I became familiar with "their many styles" of pulled pork.  There's more.  No two cook's make their sauce the same and everybody is a critic.  ~ My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ (Oven Method) ~ is:  my recipe, the way I like it.  It's been tailgate tested and tailgate accoladed too.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)


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