Food & Drink

Cooking from the Bar Cart: Applejack-Braised Pork Butt

A classic pairing gets a spirited dose of flavor thanks to a hit of apple brandy

photo: Blueline Creative Group

American settlers were making applejack, an apple brandy, well over a hundred years before the American Revolution. George Washington was known to distill the wine he made from orchard fruits at Mount Vernon into a more refined and potent brandy. Even John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) had an inadvertent hand in the rise of apple spirits in America. Planting thousands of apple trees from seed on the new frontier was his entrepreneurial way of improving parcels of land so that he could turn around and sell them to settlers for a profit. The bitter fruit of his seed-grown trees, unlike the fruit of grafted ones, wasn’t good eating, so it typically got mashed for booze instead.

Like fat, alcohol is a carrier of flavor, and using hard cider or apple brandy in the braising liquid for pork shoulder adds an intensity you simply can’t get from cooking the meat with fruit alone. I’ve been making iterations of this recipe for years. The method comes from the brilliant Atlanta biochemist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher. The pork enters a blasting hot oven that gets reduced to a super low temp as soon as the oven door closes. Don’t even think about opening the door to take a peek or you’ll lose the perfect climate you’ve just created to transform a tough cut into meltingly tender deliciousness.

Whether you shred it to pile high on a bun or serve it with grits and greens, don’t forget to douse the meat with an ample dose of the braising liquid before serving.


See other recipes in our Cooking from the Bar Cart series.


Ingredients

  • Applejack-Braised Pork Butt (Yield: 8–10 servings)

    • ½ cup dark brown sugar

    • 2 tbsp. paprika

    • 1 tbsp. onion powder

    • 1 tbsp. kosher salt

    • 2 tsp. ground mustard

    • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 1 tsp. ground coriander

    • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

    • 1 (5-lb.) bone-in Boston butt

    • 1 (5-oz.) bottle Worcestershire sauce

    • ½ cup applejack, such as Laird’s

    • 1 ½ cups apple cider

    • 1 to 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar, optional


Preparation

  1. Combine the brown sugar, paprika, onion powder, salt, ground mustard, pepper, coriander, and cayenne in a bowl. Place the pork in a dish and coat it on all sides with the Worcestershire sauce and spice blend. Refrigerate the meat, uncovered, for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

  2. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 450°F. Transfer the pork and any accumulated juices from the dish to a Dutch oven. Pour the applejack and apple cider around the pork, being careful not to displace the spices. Place the Dutch oven over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and place it in the preheated oven. Immediately lower the temperature of the oven to 225°F. Cook for 4 hours without opening the oven door. Remove the pan from the oven. Gently spoon the braising liquid over the pork several times. Return the pork to the oven to cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

  3. Remove the meat to a cutting board, pull it off of the bone, and shred it with two forks; cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Skim excess fat off of the braising liquid. Add a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar to brighten, if desired, and spoon the liquid over the pork to serve.

Katherine Cobbs is a cookbook author and editor. Her most recent books are Pantry Cocktails (2021) and Tequila & Tacos (2020), published by Simon & Schuster. She also developed recipes for Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook – Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories.


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