Teenager and Texan: My Introduction to Pulled Pork

Katie Boyts // Santa Fe, New Mexico

Editorial note: This week Pork Memoirs is being guest edited by Cassandra Renee Pena, creator of the forthcoming XWhy Project, an audio documentary sharing the stories of American men navigating the transitional notions of gender divisions in America today. She is also a New York transplant from the Lone Star State.

I was a 17-year-old Texan looking at a plate of pulled pork for the first time. The meat sat lazily, shredded and bright crimson on a soggy bun which had before my eyes, transformed into a vibrant shade of orange from the juices it cradled. The color came not from earthy swine blood, but from a tomato-based sauce that had bathed the meat for what appeared to be an endless maceration.

I bit down into the soggy mess – smoke, tomato, vinegar, salt. So this was pulled pork? In retrospect only can I say that it tasted barely of actual pork, but even then I felt like I was eating a noxious caricature, one that was wearing leather chaps and had a toothy grin.

My date sat across from me, beaming with expectation – “Don’t you love it?!” My teenage lust prevailed as I sat stunned under the gaze of his blue Texan pulled-pork-loving eyes. His freckles sealed the deal to my acquiescence. “Sure. Yeah. Delicious.”

The suits and pseudo-cowboys in that Fort Worth barbeque joint stared without subtlety at my bashful teenage legs, and I realized at that moment that this was their domain – the world of the over-sauced pig. These men marked their territory with the damp sound of burps, belly laughs and piles of once ivory napkins, now dyed orange with that electric sauce. Allowing them their domain, I gave in, retreated, but only for a moment.

At 29, the freshly smoked muscle I was carving, with my three knife wielding and welcoming male companions, had blood coursing through it just 48 hours before. The pig was raised on Oregon hazelnuts and laced with robust, but simple brine. The bites of pork I snuck in between cuts melted and endorphins spawned by the juices drummed the back of my skull. This was Picasso, this was the antithesis of that crimson caricature and the men who consumed it. Thank God for my ability to see past blue eyes and crimson dye. My companions beamed — and this time I beamed back, because I truly know the potential of pork.

Katie Boyts is the editor of The Shoofly Project, a blog about food, Mennonite food mostly, the folks who cook it, and about the path of writing a book.

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