Why This Recipe Works: Porketta sandwiches are as ubiquitous as hamburgers in Minnesota’s Iron Range, but they are virtually unknown elsewhere. Hoping to introduce this heavily seasoned shredded pork specialty to a wider audience, we started by infusing a boneless pork butt roast with the signature porketta spices—fennel and garlic. To maximize the seasoning’s penetration and to shorten the roast’s cooking time, we butterflied the meat and cut a crosshatch pattern into both sides. We rubbed a mixture of cracked fennel seeds, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic into the meat before wrapping it in plastic wrap and refrigerating it for 6 hours. The pork butt’s licorice flavor was reinforced when we spread chopped fresh fennel over its surface just before roasting. The roast was tender and ready for shredding in about 3 hours, and after we tossed the bite-size pieces of meat with some of the drippings, our flavor-packed porketta was fit to serve. This sandwich was almost too good to share—but we decided it was high time this Iron Range mainstay made its big debut.
Pork butt roast is often labeled “Boston butt” in the supermarket. This recipe calls for granulated garlic, which has a well-rounded garlic flavor. It is golden and has the texture of table salt. Garlic powder is paler, with the texture of flour, and can be acrid. Don’t confuse the two or substitute garlic powder in this recipe. To crack the fennel seeds, spread them on a cutting board, place a skillet on top, and press down firmly with both hands. The porketta tastes best when the raw meat sits in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours with the spices.
3 tablespoons fennel seeds, cracked
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 (5‑pound) boneless pork butt roast, trimmed
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and chopped
8 crusty sandwich rolls
1. Combine fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, and granulated garlic in bowl. Slice through pork parallel to counter, stopping 1/2 inch from edge, then open meat flat like a book.
Cut 1/4‑inch-deep slits, spaced 1 inch apart, in crosshatch pattern on both sides of roast.
Rub roast all over with spice mixture, taking care to work spices into crosshatch. Wrap roast tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap meat and place in roasting pan, fat side down. Spread chopped fennel evenly over top of roast. Cover roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast until meat registers 200 degrees and fork slips easily in and out of meat, 3 to 4 hours.
3. Transfer pork to carving board and let rest for 30 minutes. Strain liquid in roasting pan through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator; discard solids. Shred pork into bite-size pieces, return to pan, and toss with 1/2 cup defatted cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide meat among rolls and serve.
Italian Roots in Minnesota Soil
If you follow food media, you’d think that porchetta has been popularized in recent years by Brooklyn’s hipster food elite. Well, Hibbing, Minnesota, might have something on Park Slope. We went out to Minnesota to meet Mark Thune, president of Fraboni’s, which has been making porketta (a cousin of porchetta) since 1968. The wholesale meat company was the offshoot of a grocery store that founder Leo Fraboni’s parents opened at the turn of the last century. The locally famous recipe was his mom’s and called for fresh fennel—easy to find in her native Italy but much harder to procure in Hibbing at that time. To ensure a steady supply, Leo grew his own, and one year, when the fennel crop failed, Fraboni’s refused to make porketta at all. Today, they still grow their own fennel; it’s harvested over the summer and frozen for use in porketta year-round. That’s the kind of thrift we admire.
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