When my brother got married 13 years ago, the first stop he made post-reception was Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City’s iconic barbecue joint. There, he and his new wife (who proved both her devotion and sense of humor that day) downed a saucy, tart combo while adorned in tuxedo and white tea-length gown.

Yes, my brother is a barbecue fiend. But then, he grew up in Kansas City. I remember weekly dinners at the Smokestack in Martin City — then a tiny, rural outpost of KC. We’d drive along two-lane country roads each Friday night for platters of sticky-sweet barbecue brisket or pork and hefty sides of baked beans. My brother was smitten by the food; I was in awe of the smokehouse out back.

While not as ardent a fan as my brother, I, too, love a good bbq dish. He trends more toward the vinegary ‘que of Mr. Bryant and eastern North Carolina. Me? I’ll eat the NC versions, the sweeter Texas tomato-based sauces and the iconic Kansas City brands. I have no real preference because (gasp!), it isn’t the sauce I’m concerned with.

bbq saucedIt’s the meat.

When I eat barbecue, I want to taste meat over sauce. I want the essence of the pork, the chicken or the beef to cut through whatever version of bbq I’m enjoying. I see the sauce as a condiment rather than the main event.

I love this recipe for barbecue pork. The brine (culled from a 2009 issue of Bon Appetit) permeates the meat, bringing out the full flavor of the cut. The crock pot makes the cooking almost foolproof. Best of all, you can use the finished meat any number of ways:

  • You can shred it and stir in your favorite barbecue sauce;
  • You can mix it with a roasted tomatillo sauce and stuff it into flour tortillas; or
  • You can keep the meat in big chunks and use the cooking liquid to make a mustardy, garlicy gravy.

bbq rollsOur go-to family favorite is barbecue pork sliders. I stir in either a favorite bottled sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s is my latest love) or make a quick brown sugar-and-chipotle glaze. We slather grainy mustard on tiny potato rolls, pile on the meat and top the tiny sandwiches with a creamy cole slaw or a bread-and-butter pickle. The sliders are perfect for laid-back nights in front of the television set (Super Bowl, anyone?) or as heavy hors d’oeuvres at a casual cocktail party.

I’m not sure I’d eat these in a tuxedo or white satin wedding gown. But I do believe they’d make my brother and sister-in-law happy.

Barbecue Pork Sliders

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
  • 3 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 pork shoulder (bone-in or bone-out; any size as long as it fits in your crock pot)

Stir 2 cups of water and the kosher salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking until the salt dissolves. Take off the heat and stir in the syrup, garlic, sage, bay leaves and peppercorns. Add the cold water and refrigerate until the liquid comes to room temperature.

Put the pork shoulder in a heavy-duty plastic bag. Pour the brine in and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.

Next morning, combine 1/2 cup apple juice, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup and 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard in a bowl. Whisk well and pour the mixture into the bottom of a crock pot.

Take the pork out of the brine and place it on top of the liquid. Cover the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours, turning the meat about halfway through if possible.

When done, remove the meat and let it cool. Using two forks or your hands, shred it into bite-size pieces. Place the meat in a skillet and douse it with your favorite barbecue sauce. Reheat. Serve atop sandwich buns. Freeze whatever meat you don’t use.