Every year, 250 of the best competitive barbecue teams in the world gather on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi for the Memphis in May International Festival, the backdrop for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. More than 100,000 visitors come to witness this BBQ party that even Caligula would say is a bit extreme. It is the most fun, intense and absolutely crazy BBQ event I have ever attended.
The teams spare no expense in decorating their booths in the most creative ways imaginable. Just walking around looking at the various ideas is entertainment in itself.
But when the contest really gets underway, the frivolity ends and things get serious as teams focus on putting out the world’s best barbecue. I was on the Too Sauced To Pork team last year and we chose to compete in the rib category.
As you can imagine, the competition is fierce, and we work tirelessly to get our ‘que up to snuff. But, even the teams have to eat. This year, I drew inspiration from the International Festival – also happening during the Memphis in May festivities – which was honoring Panama.
I decided to fashion some sliders after pernil, a roasted pork leg which is popular in Panama (as well as most of the Caribbean and Latin America). Traditionally, it’s a pork leg seasoned with Seville (sour) orange juice, oregano, garlic and a few other seasonings.
My version is not authentic, but it is inspired by pernil. For starters, I used a pork picnic shoulder (lower half of a whole pork shoulder) instead, because that’s easier to find. To make it quicker and easier to cook, I deboned the picnic shoulder. This wasn’t hard, but it’s not exactly a snap, either, so you might want to ask your butcher to handle it for you. Alternatively, you could use a 4-5 pound boneless pork shoulder roast — but you won’t get to season the inside and you won’t get the crispy skin.
I cook it on a rotisserie so while it spins, the fat renders and crisps the skin, almost like bacon. If you don’t have a rotisserie, you can still cook this. Use an indirect set up where the roast is over a burner that isn’t on and rotate the roast every 30 minutes or so.
If you are confident with your butchering skills or just don’t have a decent butcher, here is how you debone a pork picnic shoulder.
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- For the Dry Rub:
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- For the annatto oil (optional):
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons ground annatto
- For serving:
- 12 Hawaiian-style mini-sub sweet rolls
- Pickled onions, cilantro slaw, or pepper jack cheese
- In a 2-gallon zip top bag or other large container, mix the marinade ingredients (orange juice, lime juice, oil, cilantro, oregano, garlic, onion, cumin, and red pepper flakes) together.
- Use a very sharp knife to score (cut lines into) the skin side of the pork in a crisscross pattern, about 1 inch apart. Place the pork in the bag or container and massage the marinade onto the meat. Refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.
- Preheat your grill to low heat (250-300°F).
- Remove the pork from the marinade and allow excess to drip off.
- Mix the rub ingredients (salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and paprika) together and season both sides of the pork.
- Roll the pork into a cylinder, skin side out and tie securely with kitchen twine every 1 to 1 1/2 inches.
- Skewer through the center with the rotisserie rod and tightly secure on both ends with the rotisserie end caps.
- Place the pork on the rotisserie, and allow it to cook until the skin is crispy and dark golden and the internal temperature reaches 185°F. This should take about 6 hours, depending on the size of your pork.
- If using the annatto oil, brush on after 3 hours of cooking. Remove and allow the meat to rest for at least 15 minutes, or up to 4 hours if double wrapped in foil and stored in a small cooler.
- Slice thinly and pour any drippings over the sliced meat.
- Serve on mini-sub rolls with the toppings of your choice.