Cubanos are a traditional Cuban sandwich that includes thinly-sliced marinated roast pork shoulder. Pork shoulder can be cooked low and slow for BBQ sandwiches, carnitas, or chili, but for Cubanos, the cooking and doneness temperatures yield juicy pork that still holds together when sliced rather than falling apart for pulled pork. Keep reading so you can cook up a taste of Cuba that will knock your socks off!
Higher Temperature Roasted Pork Shoulder vs Low and Slow Pulled Pork
Cooking and Doneness Temperatures for the Right Texture
Many cooking methods for pork shoulder use a low cooking temperature with a final doneness temperature of 190-205°F (88-96°C) (see our post, Smoked Pulled Pork: Delicious Results in Almost Half the Time). The long cooking process of BBQ and other “low and slow” methods gives time for the normally tough meat fibers of pork shoulder to become more tender and for the collagen-rich connective tissue in pork shoulder to dissolve into silky gelatin.
But for Cubano sandwiches, we need a pork shoulder that is tender without being fall-apart tender. We need to be able to slice the pork shoulder (you could never slice pulled pork) and yet still have juicy succulent pork when we bite in. This calls for a higher cooking temperature of 300°F (149°C) that speeds up the process, keeping the muscle fibers more firm. We’ll use a pull temperature of 165°F (74°C) followed by a quick high-heat (500°F [260°C]) sear.
Fat still renders and connective tissue is able to begin dissolving, but just not to the same degree as with BBQ pulled pork. Your sliced pork will be juicy and tender enough to bite through easily but will hold together nicely in this layered sandwich.
Beyond that geographical regions of Tampa and Miami, Florida, it can be difficult to find these pork sandwiches—so you’ll need to make your own. True Cuban sandwiches include the following essential ingredients:
- Slices of roasted pork shoulder marinated in mojo
- Thin slices of ham
- Swiss cheese
- Thinly sliced sandwich pickles
- Cuban bread (soft French bread is an acceptable substitute)
Some Cuban sandwiches include slices of salami, but that inclusion is a variation on the original, not an authentic ingredient. Genoa salami was added by Italian communities in the Tampa area of Florida. It’s a nod to the two cultures that lived next to each other.
What is Mojo?
Mojo is an intensely flavored sauce that can be used as a marinade, dip, or for basting. Traditionally, it is made with fresh orange juice but can contain lime juice, as well. Plenty of fresh garlic adds bold flavor, while fresh herbs such as mint and cilantro give the sauce a bright and fresh quality. Don’t rush the marinating time. Your patience will pay off. The powerful flavor of the mojo is an important component in the overall success of the sandwich.
Cubanos Recipe (Cuban Pork Sandwiches)
Recipe based on: Binging With Babish: Cubanos from Chef
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder
- 4 cups orange juice
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup spiced rum
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 stems each coarsely chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Zest and juice from 3 oranges
- Zest and juice from 6 limes
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tbsp cumin
- Cuban loaves of bread
- You can find Cuban loaves at Latin markets, or substitute with soft loaves of French bread
- Yellow mustard
- Thinly sliced ham
- Sliced Swiss cheese
- Thinly sliced sandwich pickles
- Thermapen® Mk4
- Plancha (see this type of sandwich press in the above video), panini press, or cast iron pan dutch oven
- Trim excess fat away from the fat cap. Score the fat cap in a crosshatch pattern. Place the pork shoulder into a bowl or other container for brining. Trimming and scoring allow for better penetration for the brine and marinade.
- Note: Trimming the fat cap is optional. If you leave the skin on, you’ll have an extra-crispy crust on the outside of your pork shoulder. Yum!
- Mix together all brine ingredients until well combined.
- Pour the brine over the pork and cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
Make the Mojo Marinade
- Combine all marinade ingredients and stir well.
- Remove pork shoulder from the brine and pat dry.
- Place the pork in the marinade and massage the marinade into the surface of the pork. Then marinate for 3 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Cook the Pork
- Preheat your oven to 300°F (149°C).
- Remove the pork shoulder from the marinade and place onto a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Baste the pork shoulder with some of the excess marinade.
- Place ChefAlarm probe into the thickest part of the center of the meat, avoiding bone.
- Set your ChefAlarm’s high alarm to 165°F (74°C).
- Place the roast into the oven and cook until your ChefAlarm’s high alarm sounds.
- Once the high alarm sounds, plunge the probe of a Thermapen Mk4 into the pork shoulder and pull it back through the center, watching for the lowest reading, to be sure that the lowest temperature in the pork is 165°F (74°C).
- Remove the pork shoulder from the oven and increase the oven’s temperature to 500°F (260°C).
- Once the oven is preheated, place the pork shoulder back into the oven to form a crisp, brown crust—about 10 minutes.
- Remove the pork from the oven once the crust has developed to your preference, and let it rest, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes.
- Once cool enough to handle, slice the pork into 1/4″ thick slices against the grain.
- Slice Cuban loaves in half lengthwise.
- Heat a plancha, flat-top grill, or cast iron pan to about 350-400°F (177-204°C) (you can use an infrared thermometer like the IRK-2 to verify the pan surface temperature). Melt butter in the pan and toast the bread cut-side down in the butter until brown and crisp.
- In the buttered pan, cook slices of ham and roasted pork until browned.
- Spread mustard on the bottom half of the bread.
- Start with a layer of roasted pork, then ham, slices of Swiss cheese, then 3 slices of pickle.
- Spread mustard on the cut side of the top half of the loaf of bread and place on top of the sandwich.
- Spread butter on the top of the sandwich bread and melt butter on your plancha, flat-top grill, or cast iron pan.
- Press the sandwich and cook until heated through, the cheese is melted, and the bread is golden brown and crisp.
- If cooking on a flat-top grill or in a cast-iron pan, heat a Dutch oven on the stove top and use that to press down your sandwich. Turn over and cook until the sandwich is heated through and both sides of the bread are brown and crisp.
- The sandwich should be pressed enough that the final result is quite flat and thin.
- Slice diagonally and serve immediately.
Pork shoulder is a versatile meat and this cooking application with a higher cooking temperature rather than one that is low and slow is perfect for these Cubanos. The right texture and a brine and marinade with bright, colorful island flavors meld perfectly with the other ingredients for a truly memorable experience. Temperature is everything with this roasted pork. Mind your temps for the best taste of Cuban culture.