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Pulled pork pushes menu options

Noodles & Co., known for its globally inspired noodle bowls and salads, introduced its first sandwich LTO in October. Pork was the protein of choice for its cross-functionality and global popularity.

The pork came first

Perfecting the pulled pork was the first step. “I’m from the South and grew up eating a lot of pork,” notes Tessa Stamper, Noodles’ executive chef and director of culinary. “I wanted a whole muscle cut that could be pulled into shreds for soups, bowls and sandwiches. It had to work well with our existing menu and be a springboard for new items,” she explains.

Narrowing down choices Stamper zeroed in on pork shoulder, then identified sous vide as the technique that would retain the most moisture and flavor. The vendor applies a dry rub to the naturally raised shoulder, then it’s seared and cooked sous vide for five hours. “Once it comes into each unit, we continue braising the pork low and slow in its juices, then hand shred it to get the size we want,” Stamper adds.

The sauce and the slaw

The goal was to find a BBQ sauce with broad flavor appeal, since Noodles has 314 locations all over the U.S. Another supplier partner helped develop a product with a hint of sweetness and smoky background notes. “It has less regionality in taste but we got the recipe right where we wanted it.”

Housemade cole slaw tops the tender pork for a crisp contrast. The dressing for the slaw was an existing SKU. “I wanted a round, balanced flavor in this sandwich—not too sweet, salty or tangy,” Stamper explains.

Completing the build

Stamper chose ciabatta—another existing SKU—for the bread. It’s crispy on the outside, tender inside and great toasted. “All the sandwich components work well together. Neither the sauce nor the dressing overpowers the pork.”

Trial and error

Cost, national availability and, ultimately, flavor drove ingredient decisions. Noodles went through multiple pork cuts and 25 to 30 BBQ sauces before nailing the two. What didn’t work:

  • Pork medallions and sliced pork; both dried out too much.
  • Sauces that were too vinegary or too sweet.
  • Flatbread in place of ciabatta. It didn’t offer the same toasty notes.

Next application for the pulled pork shoulder: Perhaps an Asian noodle dish, soup or grownup mac ’n cheese.

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