Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Laurie Sterbens on Root Beer Pulled Pork

LUCY BURDETTE: The Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America has a mentor program, in which a published writer is matched with an aspiring writer so that words of realistic encouragement can be exchanged. I’ve enjoyed meeting Laurie Sterbens so much that I thought you’d like to meet her too. She’s a former newspaper food editor with an MFA and she has a very funny voice—read on, you’ll see!

Root Beer Pulled Pork the Hard Way by Laurie Sterbens   

photo by Allen

If you cook at home and are inclined to things like pulled pork, you’ve probably heard of root beer pulled pork. Easiest thing in the world: Throw a bottle of root beer in the slow cooker, plop a pork roast in, cook. So I don’t mean to be misleading with that headline. Slow cooker pulled pork is not difficult.

However, it’s not without its issues. For one thing, root beer. Option one is to buy a six-pack of pricey craft-brewed root beer, then figure out what to do with the other five since we don’t normally drink soda, and never with sugar. Hey, we may eat pork and throw chemicals on it, but we have some rules to live by.

The other option is to buy a 2,000-pack of diet root beer, and then we end up drinking diet root beer until it’s gone, which is even worse than drinking five fancy root beers.

I found my solution when I went to a party where a friend was drinking hard root beer. You see where I’m going with this. Huge epiphany. Root beer, pork, alcohol — there’s no going wrong here, and leftover hard root beer is not a problem because alcohol.

photo by Phil Denton
Actually there is one way to go wrong here. The first time I tried this, I used a pork loin roast. This is a lean cut and, of course, healthier. It made pulled pork with a nice root beer flavor, but it was not as tender as it could have been. Use a pork butt or pork shoulder roast instead.

Serve with whole wheat hamburger buns and sweet potato fries to try to maintain some nutritional dignity.

Root Beer Pulled Pork

1 2-pound pork butt or pork shoulder roast
1 bottle hard root beer
Sea salt and and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Barbecue sauce
Hamburger buns
Shredded cabbage if desired

    Place roast in slow cooker. Pour root beer over roast. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
    Drain liquid from pan. Pull meat apart with two forks until all shredded. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir.
    Serve on hamburger buns, topped with barbecue sauce and, if desired, shredded cabbage.

Here’s Laurie's website.  It's subtitled "Good Food with a Side of Killer Fiction." Take note of her name because I think you’re going to see it on a book cover!

Laurie Wood Sterbens is a former newspaper food editor and graduate of the Seton Hill University Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. She worked as a reporter, editor, columnist and designer before completing her first novel, Black, White and Dead All Over, a mystery featuring Chrissy Rooke, an overwhelmed food editor at The Daily News and single mom of a first-grader who thinks he's a ninja. Tensions are mounting at the newspaper as employees anticipate layoffs from the cost-slashing new owner and the new managing editor. When the new boss demands that Chrissy abandon her focus on healthier recipes and focus on desserts, Chrissy's attempts to reason with him end in a loud confrontation witnessed by the entire newsroom. 
LUCY: You can imagine what happens next...Laurie will be stopping in today to chat about food, newspaper life, murder, and whatever else comes up!


  1. Am I the only person on the planet who did not know there was such a thing as hard root beer???? We aren't soda drinkers, either, but I'd certainly be willing to give that a try!

    The recipe sounds delicious, Laurie; thanks for sharing it. Slow cooker dinners are a real boon when your life is crazy busy and you'd still like to put something decent on the dinner table. One of our favorites is chicken with onions, fennel, apples, bacon, cabbage [if you like], unsweetened cider, and Applejack.

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    2. "Not Your Fathers Root Beer" with a plop of vanilla ice cream. Makes me smile!

  2. Laurie, I'm assuming that your root beer pulled pork recipe is the same one my friend recently served me, except that she uses Dr. Pepper. I was pleasantly surprised how delicious it is, and with your post here, I'm now determined to make it. I hadn't asked my friend how she fixed it beyond the Dr. Pepper, but thanks to you, I have the recipe and the tip about what cut of pork to use. I think my husband is going to be pretty happy on his birthday Wednesday if I fix it then.

    I went to your Web site, Laurie, and I was delighted to read about your familiarity with pimento cheese. I've always said that I'll never have pimento cheese as good as my mother made it, and, sadly, I have yet to taste its equal. She made it all from scratch, grinding the cheese through the old fashioned metal grinder and made the mayonnaise from scratch, too. I'm embarrassed to say that I never wanted to go to the trouble she did, so I haven't tried to make it myself. Apparently, pimento cheese is becoming popular, as I had it as a side dish, warmed, in Raleigh at Bouchercon. It wasn't the sandwich spread that my mother made, but it was a delicious side dish.

    Joan, could I leave out the cabbage on your chicken slow-cooker meal? It sounds delicious, but I'm not a fan of cabbage, except in cole slaw.

  3. Laurie, that looks delicious! As does your book! So, I'll do both. Thank you!

  4. Where do you find hard root beer? Thanks.

  5. I had never heard of hard root beer either. Joan, your recipe sounds terrific!

    Kathy, I make a mean pimento cheese, but sadly no homemade mayo. I bet that would be even better. The one time I had it hot, on a sandwich, I DID NOT enjoy. (Trying to be polite:).

    Thanks for stopping in Laurie!

  6. So nice to have you on Jungle Red, Laurie. I do not own a slow cooker, but maybe there's one in my future... I'd have to get rid of something to make room.

    This sounds great. First cousin to my pot roast which is basically beer, onion soup mix, and Heinz chili sauce dumped over a brisket and slowly cooked forever.

    Too bad it's not summer, because it's easy to get rid of 5 rootbeer if you also have a quart of vanilla ice cream in the house but rootbeer floats are definitely summer food.

  7. Hard root beer sounds great! I've made Debs' pork shoulder stew with beer twice this holiday season - great combination. I don't have a slow cooker either, Hallie, but I do have a killer Le Creuset dutch oven.

  8. Ah, well, okay then. I can see…how this would work. No slow cooker at our house, either… I always feel as if I have to be home when it's on. Because, as you say, what if. Is that true?

    And hey, how long does root beer last? YOu could keep it until summer.

    ANd hmm. Pimento cheese. I have NEVER tried pimento cheese.

    And I agree, KAthy, cabbage in cole slaw.

    SO great to see you here to day--and lucky you, working with Roberta. Pssst…what did she teach you? Or you her?

  9. Thank you so much, everyone!
    Joan: I need the chicken and cabbage recipe! I love cabbage! Is that weird? I like it best sauteed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
    Kathy: I think the NPR recipe calls for Duke mayo. Honestly, I can't tell one mayo from the other, but Duke seems to be a thing with Southern cooks.
    Gram: I got my hard root beer at Publix, but probably anywhere with a beer section should have it.
    Hallie: Your pot roast sounds great! I'm almost embarrassed to say what my pot roast is: McCormick slow cooker pot roast mix with red wine instead of water. Throw potatoes and carrots in and a loaf of bread with in the bread maker, timed to be ready just before the roast. Served that to friends on a weeknight and all I had to do was walk in the door and dish it up.
    Hank, you're right about wanting to be there. I try not to think about it. And as I wrote that I just realized I'm pretty sure I left my iron on at home. I really hope it shuts off automatically.

  10. Laurie, that recipe looks fabulous! I do a pulled pork in the crock pot with ginger ale, but I love root beer. Can't wait to try. Cabbage or cole slaw piled on top is a must, too.

    I used to live in Indiana, PA, and am well familiar with Greensburg and the Seton Hill program. I'm also married to a longtime journalist, now a digital news editor, so I will be anxious to read your mystery!

    The mentoring program sounds terrific, BTW.

  11. Hi Laurie! I'll have to try your recipe! We're fans of Nigella's Ham in Coca-cola — http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/ham-in-coca-cola-171 Can't wait for your book!

  12. Oh, yes, Susan, I've had that ham in Coca-Cola! Delicious!

    It's snowing like mad here in southern Maine (it feels like we went from October to January with nothing in between!) and today's the perfect day for a crockpot comfort food meal. Thanks for the recipe, Laurie.

    And Hank, you can get fancier slow cookers that have a timed off switch, so you can leave the house knowing whatever happens, the thing won't turn your meal to carbon.

  13. My favorite kind of recipe: dump two things into the slow cooker, turn it on, walk away for the rest of the day. Bonus: alcohol.

    Thanks, Laurie! And lucky you, to sit at Roberta's knee, so to speak.

  14. I love crock pot meals, and this one sounds like a winner, as does Black, White and Dead All Over. I also write a series that features a newspaper reporter facing the pressure of downsizing in the newsroom - as a former journalist, I'm sure you know plenty about that.

    Thanks, Laurie!

  15. Kathy, you can definitely leave the cabbage out; the only change you might need to make is that you'll need less apple cider.

    Laurie, here's the recipe:

    Crock Pot Apple Chicken
    1/2 pound Applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
    3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut each into medium-sized chunks
    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    2 cups chopped onion
    1-1/2 cups chopped leeks [about three medium-sized leeks; use the light green and white parts only]
    1 bulb of fennel, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
    2 apples, cored, peeled if desired, and cut into smallish chunks
    2 tablespoons fennel seeds
    1/2 cup Applejack, or other apple brandy
    1 cup apple cider
    1 head cabbage, cored and chopped into medium-sized pieces, if desired

    Cook bacon until crispy, about 6 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
    If desired, brown chicken pieces to the pan and cook until nicely browned, three to four minutes. [I've done it both ways, browning the chicken before putting it in the crock pot and not browning it. The bacon, however, really needs to be cooked first.]
    Place all ingredients except cider, Applejack, and cabbage in crock pot; stir gently.
    Add Applejack and cider.
    Cook on low for two hours.
    If you are using cabbage add cabbage and cook for approximately one additional hour, until cabbage is soft.

    To make this dish without using the Crock pot, cook the bacon in a Dutch oven; remove to drain on paper towel.
    Brown chicken; remove from pan.
    Cook onions, leeks, fennel until soft, about five minutes.
    Add 1/2 cup apple cider and half of the cabbage; stirring until slightly softened, about five minutes. Add remaining cabbage and continue cooking until slightly softened.
    Return chicken and bacon to pot; add spices, stir gently.
    Add remaining apple cider and Applejack; bring to boil. Cover and simmer fifteen to twenty minutes until chicken is tender, adding apple cider as necessary to keep from cooking dry.
    Serve in shallow bowls; if desired, garnish with fennel fronds.

    This is yummy with warm bread and a glass of wine.

    For variety, we’ve added smoked sausage to this recipe [cut in size similar to the chicken; cook with the chicken or just add to crock pot]; it’s a nice, versatile recipe.

  16. Sounds great! The recipe and the book. Best of luck. And slow cookers - my lifeline to eating some days...

  17. yes, but what if the switch fails, right Hank? We have to worry about something...

    Karen, you're very sweet. Laurie's a dynamo all on her own--she just needs someone to buy this book!

  18. Hi Ramona -- Ginger ale! That has me thinking. How would that be with a pork loin, or pork chops with cinnamon and apples? Now I want to go cook. The mentoring program is the best thing! Everyone should do it! Although I have to say I did get super lucky because Roberta is a great mentor.
    Susan, I would love to try ham in Coca-Cola! That has to be amazing. My husband and son won't eat ham. I know, crazy. That would be so good with black-eyed peas, which are going in my slow cooker on Friday.
    Karen in Ohio: LOL
    Brenda, unfortunately, I know all about downsizing firsthand. On the upside, it did make me want to kill some people off -- fictionally, of course. :) And it looks like it's going to keep getting worse so we'll all have plenty of inspiration.

  19. I've done pulled pork with Dr. Pepper and root beer. Both are fabulous, but I'll have to give a slight edge to Dr. Pepper. Root beer is one of the few soft drinks I consume. And I have a 13-year old boy, so not hard to get rid of the extra Dr. Pepper, either.

    Hank, as mentioned, you can get a slow-cooker with a timer. I did bbq pork chops in mine last night; threw in the chops, bbq sauce, and a little soy sauce before I went to The Boy's basketball game and it was done four hours later when we got home. Of course my girl was home, but I'd have done it even if she wasn't. I've left the slow cooker on low for 8 hours unattended without any issues (and come home to best smells and tenderest roast EVER).

    And yes, leave the cabbage for the slaw.

  20. Hank, my daughter and I have both used slow cookers for years, and--so fan, anyway--have not burned down our houses.

    Laurie, I'm making this recipe tomorrow! Two ingredients, no browning the meat!!!! And I love root beer. It's the only soda I'm ever tempted to drink. I've seen hard root beer in the stores (both grocery and liquor stores) so looking forward to trying that, too.

    Joan, will try your chicken recipe, too.

    Hank, maybe pimento cheese is a southern thing? My grandmother made it from scratch; so did Rick's. And my mother made homemade mayo, too, which is not hard if you have a food processor. I'm just lazy. But I can tell a big difference in brands of mayo, and only buy Hellman's. My grocery store now carries in their deli Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese, and boy, is it good...

    Laurie, good luck with your book. You certainly have a great mentor!

  21. Hank, yes, if you get a slow cooker, look for the kind with a timer. '

    They are also invaluable when you're entertaining. I've made chili and other soups in them, and then kept them warm for parties, along with other dishes, and even mulled wine or cider.

  22. Debs, smoked Gouda pimento cheese does sound good. I'll have to start looking for that.

    Laurie, I meant to say that I'll be checking out your book, too. Black, White, and Dead All Over is a great title. And, lucky you to work with Roberta.

  23. I think pimento cheese is a Southern thing, Hank — but our own Lucy has a great recipe in one of her books -- which one is it? I made it for company and it's fantastic!

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  25. I can tell everyone's hungry today:). thanks Susan, I love pimento cheese. Got started on it after my niece's dad made it for her graduation in NC. Here's my tweaked recipe:


  26. Pimiento cheese has gone west too. When we lived in El Paso years ago I could buy it at the grocery. Their version was spiced up with jalapenos and it was GOOD! I am ashamed to say I've always had an aversion to root beer. Nice way of saying I hate it! What would be a good substitute? Crockpots are wonderful. I will need to throw black eyes in mine Friday too, along with a ham hock or something.

  27. It's a good thing I ate lunch before reading JRW today, because I think I'd have fainted from hunger after reading all these recipes!

    Laurie, I'm pulling out my notebook and writing down your name so I can add your books to the very shaky TBR pile.

    According to my mom, my grandmother made root beer when my mom was a child. Sometimes (please know that I don't have the foggiest idea of how to make ANY kind of root beer!) it would "accidentally" become "hard" root beer. Mom loved root beer for her entire life, and often commented on how much she missed my grandmother's home-made version.

    A few months ago I almost broke down and bought a slow cooker. Two things kept me from going through with it: I could not pick up ANY of the slow cookers in the store, including the smallest, and I have no idea where in my tiny kitchen it would get stored. I've lived many decades without one, and I think I'll continue to do so!

  28. Joan, thanks for that chicken recipe! I can't wait to try that!
    Deborah, I can't believe there is smoked gouda pimento cheese. In the deli. I'm not going to get my hopes up, but I'm going to be on the lookout. And p. cheese is definitely a Southern thing. A while back there was a great book by Julia Reed called Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties, and she wrote about it in the epilogue and has three recipes. And the one that specifies the mayo says Hellman's.
    Lucy, I thought you had a recipe and couldn't find it when I was doing that post! (Late at night in a rush.) I can go back and fix that!
    Re storage, I have to keep mine out in the garage, with the bread machine, the waffle maker, all the cake decorating stuff ... Of course we can't fit the cars in there, but we eat pretty well. :)
    Thank you everyone for all the kind comments! And yes, I am obviously lucky to have had the chance to work with Roberta/Lucy!

  29. Never hear of Hard Rootbeer.........so I go search (of course) and find a nice article..Seems Hard RB is very popular, big $$$$ spent on it in 2015


    I'm not a huge fan of pork, bur DH loves it - I may give in and make it for him - our friend is a pork fiend also, between the two of them I'm sure they could devour it.

    I have always been told - cheaper cuts of meat with fat in them when slow cooking - a chuck roast all day in crockpot falls apart

    Aha - Light bulb flashing !!!! I could use a chuck roast instead of pork, yummm

    Thank you Laurie for recipe

    off to search for your book

    Happy roasting ladies !!