Pulled pork is one of those things that many people absolutely love, but for some reason think it’s hard to do, and in reality it only takes about 5 minutes prep time, hours of hands free cook time, and a few minutes to shred. That last part can vary wildly which I’ll elaborate on later. Cooking pulled pork in the slow cooker or oven is the easiest method, but the tastiest is long and slow in a smoker.
The uses for pulled pork are immense. First thing that comes to my mind is pulled pork barbecue sandwiches piled high with meat, dripping with BBQ sauce and topped with coleslaw on soft sandwich buns. Or try our Asian twist with Pulled Pork Bao Buns. Tacos are a natural, as are enchiladas or use the pulled pork as a gourmet pizza topping. You can even take a regular frozen pizza and add pulled pork and some caramelized onions and it will taste like you were sitting in your favorite pizza parlor, it’s an easy way to take a standard frozen meal over the top.
What Kind Of Meat To Use With Pulled Pork?
Buy a pork shoulder cut, either Boston Butt (also called blade shoulder) or Picnic will do, you will find connoisseurs prefer one over the other, I typically buy the Boston Butt, with or without the bone. Again, you will have pit masters and cooks alike giving strong opinions about which cut of meat to use for the pulled pork and whether it should have a bone or not. At my house we have cooked a mind boggling amount of pulled pork and experimented with it all ways. For the slight taste differences between all of them I opt for the easiest method, which is a boneless Boston butt. Either of these cuts will work well for pulled pork in the slow cooker, oven or the smoker, the cooking method has no bearing on the cut of meat.
BBQ is a “thing” in the south, meaning abundant and delicious. We have some friends that host a Craw-B-Q party for 400 people each spring with live bands, pulled pork in the slow cooker, actually in about 20 slow cookers, and bushels of steamy hot crawfish, it is an epic party every year. Our local boy scouts have a huge smoker and hold a fund raiser every year selling the smoked Boston Butt as a meal, this was our first training ground with 30 Butts on the grill! My son expanded on that idea to raise money for his Eagle project. He sold meals to the neighbors including the pulled pork sandwiches, homemade sides of macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and chocolate chip cookies. The recipe you see below is the one my son developed for the fund raiser.
How to Cook Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker, Oven or Smoker
There are 3 methods of cooking and it really depends on what equipment you own. We have a Big Green Egg (komodo type smoker) and it is definitely the best option if you own a Big Green Egg or other smoker. But if not, any home cook can make a delicious pulled pork in the slow cooker or oven, both are fine methods, they just lack that outdoor smokey taste that only a smoker can impart.
Rub the meat with oil, season simply with kosher salt and pepper or with a homemade or store bought BBQ rub. I’ve made pulled pork with just kosher salt and pepper and it’s incredible. Keeping the flavor profile simple allows for more versatile uses of the leftover meat, especially if you plan to freeze whatever pulled pork you don’t consume right away. If you use our rub or another one it adds a depth of flavor that allows you to skip the barbecue sauce if you like. I find the meat juicy and flavorful so I skip the sauce, the rest of my family almost always adds it. That’s the beauty of this dish, it’s completely customizable to the eaters.
Once you have seasoned the meat you can cook right away or ideally, let sit for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator to let the rub do its job.
Then add some liquid, cover and cook the pulled pork in the slow cooker, oven or smoker for 6-10 hours. We use apple juice for the liquid and add some honey at this step as well. Other liquids you can use is chicken broth or beer. If you are using the oven or slow cooker it’s a good time to splash some Liquid Smoke on as well.
How to Shred Pulled Pork
Now comes the hardest part, shredding the meat. If you have cooked the pulled pork long enough then the shredding is fairly simple with 2 forks. Use one fork to hold the meat and the other fork to pull away into shreds. The shorter the cooking time the harder the meat will be to shred. When in a pinch I’ve had to slice the pork which tastes OK but is a different experience all together. As long as the meat is cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees you should be fine, but it’s really hard to overcook this type of meat if you are cooking on such a low temperature like 275 or 300 degrees. I don’t think I’ve ever had to check the temperature of the meat, simply if it shreds easily it’s done. Just remember the shorter the cooking time, the longer amount of time to shred. When shredding pulled pork in the slow cooker you can pour liquid and fat out of the crock and shred directly in the slow cooker, one less cutting board to clean. We invested in a tool for less than $15 and what a difference it has made, they are called Wolf Claws and they make the shredding of pulled pork a breeze, well worth the investment if you ask me. They are like big plastic hands with sharp, rigid teeth that shred the meat quickly and easily.
What size meat to buy for Pulled Pork?
Whatever will fit in your cooking vessel easily. I buy 7-8 pound boneless Boston Butt, if you buy bone-in add a pound or two, same goes for the picnic cut, and this will feed a large family or small crowd, making 15 heaping sandwiches. For pulled pork in the slow cooker you may have to buy a smaller roast like 4-5 pounds due to the size of the slow cooker crock. Sam’s Club sells even larger Boston Butts packaged as 2. Oftentimes I’ll cook both and then freeze the meat I’m not using right away. Do this by flash freezing, see here for freezing instructions.
Pulled pork in the slow cooker, oven or smoker is really that simple. Little work, long cooking time, delicious meal!
How to Cook Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker, Oven or Smoker
5 minutes hands on time to season, hours to cook, time to shred meat and then you have a delicious all American meal
- 7 Pounds Boneless Boston Butt add a pound or two if buying bone-in
- 2 Tablespoons Canola oil or any neutral tasting oil
- 2 Medium Onions peeled and quartered, optional
- 1 Cup Apple Juice or chicken broth or beer
- 1/4 Cup Honey no need to measure, just squeeze over the meat
- 1 Cup Barbecue Sauce Optional, extra for serving
- 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
- 2 teaspoons Chili Powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Black Pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Paprika
- 1 teaspoon Cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder or 8 minced medium garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Rub meat with oil and then our Southern Rub all over the surface. Or if you want to keep it simple then just rub with 3 Tablespoons kosher salt and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or preferably overnight to let the seasoning do its job. If you are in a hurry you can cook the pulled pork right away, you'll just be missing a depth of flavor that the sit time invokes.
Remove from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker
Lightly oil the slow cooker crock or spray with non stick spray. Add juice to slow cooker, place meat, add honey slowly to keep flavoring on the meat, place quartered onions around the meat. Cover. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 hours. Test the meat at the end of the cooking time with 2 forks and see if it shreds easily. If not and you have the time, cook for an additional couple of hours until you like the consistency of the meat. As far as safety the meat will be fine to eat whenever the internal temperature reaches 160, but you can go all the way to an internal temperature of 195 and then the meat will be much easier to shred.
Pulled Pork in the Oven
In roasting pan, lightly oil the inside of the pan or spray with non stick spray. Add1/2 cup juice to pan, place meat, add honey slowly to keep flavoring on the meat, place quartered onions around the meat. Cook at 300 degrees for 4 hours.
Add the rest of the apple juice, squeeze a little more honey over the meat, cover with foil and cook an additional hour or two.
Test the meat at the end of the cooking time with 2 forks and see if it shreds easily. If not, and you have the time, cook for an additional couple of hours until you like the consistency of the meat. As far as safety the meat will be fine to eat whenever the internal temperature reaches 160, but you can go all the way to an internal temperature of 195 and then the meat will be much easier to shred.
Pulled Pork in the Smoker
The least messy way to cook the pulled pork is in a disposable aluminum pan. If you don't have one then wrapping in heavy duty foil will work but the meat is harder to handle this way and the foil sometimes springs a leak.
Fire up your smoker to 275 or 300 degrees. If you have the time 275 degrees is the preferred way but will add a couple of hours to the cooking time. We like to use wood chunks as opposed to chips because they last for this long cooking time. Follow directions according to the wood chip or chunk manufacturer.
Set up the smoker for indirect heat. I use a Big Green Egg so that means using the convEGGtor which will keep the bottom of the pulled pork from burning, it's like an outdoor convection oven. It helps the smoke circulate around the meat adding flavor and keeping it juicy.
Cook for about 6 hours or until the meat registers 140-160. This really isn't rocket science, as long as you keep the temperature low enough you can do most of this by feel and taste.......you do have to taste as you cook, right?
Add 1 cup apple juice,onions and honey to the meat, cover with heavy duty foil and cook an additional hour or two or more, until you reach the consistency of the meat that you desire. Meaning is it falling apart and easy to shred, that's my barometer for when the meat is ready.
For All Three Methods of Cooking
Let the pulled pork rest for about 30 minutes then transfer to a cutting board. If you have cooked it long enough to be falling off the bone this may be a messy job, just be careful of the hot juice. Some of the juice can be used to moisten the meat. It will be very fatty so you may want to let it congeal and throw away the top fat layer.
Now it's time to shred the meat. You can use two forks, using one to stabilize the meat and the other to pull away. Using these tiny utensils adds time to the process, I like using the Wolf Claws of bigger serving forks to make this step faster.
For those that want barbecue sauce toss the meat with some sauce to moisten the pulled pork and set out the remaining sauce to add more to sandwiches. Personally I love the pulled pork just the way it is and don't add any sauce.
Warm the buns by wrapping in foil and putting in the hot smoker or oven. Top with that succulent meat, sauce if wanted, coleslaw and enjoy!