Pulled Porkstravaganza — The Oinkster, Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles

We here at On Sandwiches have never made any bones about our deep and abiding love for the pulled pork sandwich. In August, we are showcasing some of our recent pulled pork experiences and seeing how they stack up against one another, and against our idea of what a pulled pork sandwich should be.

Some time ago, our esteemed founder had an unfortunate experience at The Oinkster in Los Angeles. His pulled pork sandwich did not include Carolina BBQ sauce and he was left wanting. This is understandable. If you order one thing expecting another, you will usually be let down. As park of Pulled Porkstravaganza, I am here to offer my own humble take on The Oinkster’s product.

I’m something of a regular to The Oinkster. I have reviewed one of their sandwiches before and I often find myself heading there rather than Dave’s, although the two establishments are in extremely close proximity. What I have gleaned from my many visits to the Oinkster is that they often forget to include containers of Carolina sauce with the pulled pork sandwich, particularly when the order is placed for carryout. On the surface, this seems like a gross oversight. The sauce is for the sandwich. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that this is something that should be tossed in the bag without a second thought?

In truth, I probably ordered and consumed half a dozen of their pulled pork sandwiches before I ever beheld a ramekin of the rumored sauce. It didn’t actually matter to me. I find the sandwich extremely satisfying on its own merits. The pork is savory, juicy, and chock-full of delicious bark. The included onion and cabbage, which seems on the surface nothing more than something to stave off boredom, actually adds immense flavor and makes the sandwich whole. My suspicion is that these two simple ingredients trick the employees of The Oinkster into thinking that the sandwich is complete after being assembled. And you know what? They’re right.

As I said, I had eaten a good many of these sandwiches before the sauce presented itself to me. Up until that point, it was my “go-to” pulled pork sandwich. An extremely filling meal with a very pleasing flavor. I admit to having an affinity for the fries at The Oinkster, but every time I ordered the sandwich, I looked forward to it immensely.

But then…the sauce. The sauce is always served on the side, never on the sandwich, and I imagine there are many customers, like our esteemed founder, who arrive home, find no sauce in the bag, and sullenly chew their drier-than-they-were-expecting sandwich. I can further imagine there are customers who dine in, receive no sauce on the sandwich, are not given sauce on the side, and assume there is no sauce to be had. Some of these people are bound to be let down, or else are unfamiliar with the tropes of the pulled pork sandwich, or assume this is a new “spin” on an old classic.

The sauce is, in a word, perfect. Not too tangy, not too sweet. It was made just for this sandwich, and this sandwich for it. Similar to the sandwiches at Philippe’s, one may, if one wishes, apply sauce to each bite, or take one side of the bread away and pour the sauce on the whole enterprise, or hold your wrapped half of the sandwich upright and allow the sauce to work its way down into the sandwich of its own accord. It’s up to the individual.

I feel this is what truly sets this sandwich apart from most other pulled pork endeavors I have encountered: the sandwich is good with any amount of sauce, or without any at all. Depending on the amount of sauce you apply, you can have a different experience every time. This is fantastic. From the first time I encountered the sauce, this was transformed from my “go-to” to my favorite pulled pork sandwich. Try it both ways. Then try it a few more. You won’t be sorry.

 

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Pulled Porkstravaganza — The Duck Deli, Duck, NC

 

We here at On Sandwiches have never made any bones about our deep and abiding lovefor the pulled pork sandwich. In August, we are showcasing some of our recent pulled pork experiences and seeing how they stack up against one another, and against our idea of what a pulled pork sandwich should be.

Today’s pulled pork sandwich is a bit of a departure, since it does not feature pork. The Duck Deli, located in the minuscule town of Duck in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is locally famous for its in-house smoked meats. Said meats can be fashioned into meals or platters for in-house or takeaway dining, or you can simply opt to carry out an entire chicken or side of beef or whatever you desire.

I had gone into the Duck Deli with my eye on the Chopped Texas Beef Brisket Sandwich, but was informed that they were fresh out of brisket. Looking over the remaining sandwich options, I felt compelled to opt for the Pulled Chicken over the pulled pork option. Chicken that comes with a smoke ring is a rare occurrence (or at least, rarer than it ought to be).

The pulled chicken came as most pulled pork sandwiches often do: meat and sauce on a bun. No need for putting on airs. The chicken was indeed quite good and flavorful, and the sauce was just fine. The only real downside was that the bread was a bit too spongy. Good for soaking up sauce and containing a potentially messy sandwich, but bad for chewing and swallowing.

This was a slightly above-average sandwich, but showed the pulled meat genre often stands on its own. You needn’t add bells and whistles to have a satisfying sandwich. If the meat is the star of the sandwich, you oughtn’t drown it in a gimmicky sauce. One needs to have confidence in the ingredients. You’ll find, more often than not, that they will sort out the rest.

 

Pulled Porkstravaganza — Dave’s Chillin’ and Grillin’, Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

We here at On Sandwiches have never made any bones about our deep and abiding lovefor the pulled pork sandwich. In August, we are showcasing some of our recent pulled pork experiences and seeing how they stack up against one another, and against our idea of what a pulled pork sandwich should be.

We visited Dave’s Chillin’ and Grillin’ not too long ago and tried one of his unorthodox daily specials. The pulled pork at Dave’s is another daily special, made once per week. Dave slow-cooks the pork in-house for hours before adding to it his homemade bourbon barbecue sauce and spicy slaw. The week I stopped by for a pulled pork sandwich, the bourbon of choice was Wild Turkey.

The sandwich was very tasty, but really wasn’t exemplary of what a pulled pork sandwich can be. I feel that, if you’re going to the trouble to get up well before sunrise and make your pork in-house, you should really let the pork itself be the star of the show. Unlike some eateries, you can have bragging rights. “Hey, you like that pork? I made it with my own two hands.” I have first-hand knowledge that there really is nothing like pulled pork that has been made with care. The spicy slaw and the bourbon sauce were good, and either one on a sandwich would be a lovely grace note. You pair both of these strong flavors with the pulled pork, and the sauces become the star of the show. That’s all well and good, but that isn’t what a pulled pork sandwich should strive to be.

Dave is a fan of his spice, as we found with the Surf and Turf. Sometimes it works in his favor, sometimes it works against the sandwich, and sometimes, like with the pulled pork, you have a perfectly acceptable sandwich that perhaps falls short of its potential.

Pulled Pork Sandwich – Subway

The pulled pork sandwich from Subway.

Well meaning friends and associates have, in the past, suggested I write about subway. Each time I have declined to do so. The topic is a challenging one for me, a point where my passions intersect with a sincere desire to minimize snobbishness. I fear I cannot address the topic in a rational, restrained manner. But my esteemed colleague is addressing pulled pork sandwiches soon and I have felt a certain dismay over Subway offering one, so the time has come.

Let’s start with the sandwich. I’m a man who thinks that things have rules. They can (and should) be bent or even broken, but always for a good cause. Here’s a rule: pulled pork comes on white bread. Sliced loaf, roll, that part doesn’t matter, it just has to be white. The
point of a pulled pork sandwich is to savor laboriously prepared pork and (ideally) a sauce with a history. The bread should say as little as possible.

Subway doesnt have white bread. They have honey oat, the have 9-grain, they even have a Hearty Italian that might be close, but no straight white. So when the sandwich artist asked me what kind of bread I wanted, the first step in any Subway sandwich, I was at a bit of a loss. Ideally, this wouldn’t even be a choice. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, white bread should be available and they should know to use it. Thinking that the “hearty” in Italian might be too much, I went with sourdough.

The pork sits in a small tray like any other ingredient. A portion of pork was scooped out and placed on my sourdough, and then I was asked what kind of cheese I wanted. Cheese? What kind of cheese did I want? I was struck. If the bread is a slip-up, cheese is heresy. I try to remain open to all ideas but I cannot accept this. There is no cheese in a pulled pork sandwich, full stop. It doesn’t belong and it’s presence will only hurt the sandwich. I declined cheese, but who knows what everyone else is doing. By now I could have had BREAD and CHEESE, a ghastly pair to bring to a pulled pork sandwich. “So what?” you ask. “Why not try it?” Because it won’t be any good. Because some questions
have been asked and answered. You respect that people have eaten a lot of lousy sandwiches by accepting their conclusions. Pulled pork goes on white bread and it doesn’t involve cheese*.

More of the same followed as I was asked what toppings I wanted. The rules are more loose here. There are different things you can try, but there are limits. Coleslaw is a fine thing to add, sliced cucumber is just weird. I opted for a bit of red onion and said that was enough. I got a strange look for being satisfied with a sole topping. A few days after eating the sandwich I looked closer at an advertisement.

Look at all that lettuce! A good pulled pork sandwich is a savory, chewy affair. A bed full of watery shreds isn’t needed, it isn’t needed in the slightest. I’m left shuddering with thoughts of pulled pork with mounds of lettuce, limp tomatoes, banana peppers and god knows what else. How does the line go? It was not my strength that needed nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing. Next came the sauce, dispensed from a squeeze bottle like every other subway topping. You can see this is how the sandwich is represented in the ads, with a layer of sauce on top.

This is also less than ideal. Tf you’re going to involve sauce, toss the meat in it. The pork obviously isn’t prepared in house, so an additional bit of adulteration is only one more on the pile. (It occurs to me that they might avoid adding sauce to give you the option of
adding something like their chipotle southwest sauce. Oddly enough I would be ok with that, because at that point youve got a chipotle pork sandwich and I don’t care what the hell you do.) This is a pulled pork sandwich in the classic barbecue pulled pork sense, and tossing the meat in the sauce would be the best option.

The most important question here, apart from all of my uptight ranting, was whether or not the sandwich was any good. It was…it was alright. The pork was juicy enough, the sauce could have used less sugar and more smoke. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it. Meh.

There are a lot of subway restaurants. To foster growth, Doctor’s Associates was willing to accept a lower franchise fee than other major franchisors, and they were willing to put franchisees closer to each other than might seem wise. This was intentional, they had a goal of having more subway than there are mcdonalds and they achieved that goal. But this is not an abstract,”hey did you know” point. The hack jokes people told about Starbucks are accurate descriptions of subway and this has consequences. If you’re so hung up on being the biggest, being the best is an afterthought.

Subway doesn’t make terrible sandwiches. I think they’re pretty salty, but they aren’t outright bad. But they aren’t good either, and there is no worse place to be than the middle of the road. I can forgive aiming high and falling short, as in the Mad Maple at Joe Davola’s. But I cannot forgive lack of effort. I used “meh” for a reason. It represents a deliberate unwillingness to care, a 21st century rejection of enthusiasm. It is the perfect summation of Subway. There is no greater sin than being boring, and this was a boring sandwich.

This, in and of itself, isn’t worth getting worked up over. There are scads of mediocresandwich shops; long winded rants about each one wouldn’t be interesting to read or write. But Subway is ubiquitous. For a lot of people, Subway is sandwiches and that is what I cannot stand.

Subway is aiming above boring. A pulled pork sandwich is a departure for them, as is the recent promotion of the turkey with avocado. But they’re setting out to make these sandwiches with the same pattern, skills and effort they bring to everything else. Honey oat bread, add swiss cheese, dump the sauce on top. If it was good enough for the sweet onion chicken teryaki, it’ll be good enough for everything else. Meh got them here, and meh shall carry them through. This is the middling effort I cannot forgive. If you aren’t going to do pulled pork right, don’t bother. Spare us your sputtering attempt. Stick to ham and swiss, the Italian BMT. We’ll find pulled pork elsewhere.

*This argument ignores the grilled cheese with pulled pork that has become popular recently because that’s a grilled cheese first and the pork is not the central element as it is here.

Pulled Porkstravaganza, Part One — Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ, West Chapman Avenue, Orange, CA

 
We here at On Sandwiches have never made any bones about our deep and abiding love for the pulled pork sandwich. In August, we are showcasing some of our recent pulled pork experiences and seeing how they stack up against one another, and against our idea of what a pulled pork sandwich should be.

Lucille’s Smokehouse is a chain of BBQ restaurants in California, Nevada, and Arizona. They smoke their meats in-house and offer fine, traditional barbecue fare with ample portions. I have eaten there before and been extremely pleased.

Lucille’s offers three different pulled pork sandwich options: Original, Memphis Style, and Carolina Style. As we shall get into in future Porkstravaganza posts, the type of sauce offered with a pulled pork sandwich can, more often than not, tell the entire tale. I opted for Carolina Style, and I believe this is where I made my mistake.

I am a fan of spicy foods, although it must be in moderation. I am not one of those types who seeks out “the hottest hot sauce known to man” as a lark. Nor am I the type of person who, seeing a menu where the hot sauce options are presented in a graph resembling a thermometer, would motion anywhere near the top third when making my selection. Lucille’s billed their Carolina Style pulled pork sandwich as being tossed in a “tangy” East Carolina BBQ sauce.

When I think of the word “tangy,” it does not begin to describe what occurred when I took my first bite of this sandwich. I inhaled sharply, my eyes watered, and I fumbled for my water glass. This was beyond “tangy,” my friends. The sauce was so overwhelmingly hot, that I could scarcely finish the sandwich. The smoked pork, although fine, was lost in the heat of the sauce. It was a decent sandwich, and would have been just the thing if I were in the mood for an overwhelmingly spicy meal, but I will stick to less “tangy” options in the future.