Tender pulled pork makes for an affordable and yummy yet easy-to-prepare meal. Usually, barbecue pulled pork is prepared by slowly smoking the meat over a wood-fired pit, but for those of us who don't own an offset smoker, pulled pork can be made in an oven, slow cooker, Instant Pot, or ceramic cooker, like the Big Green Egg.
For sandwiches, all you have to do is butter some brioche buns and brown them under the broiler for pulled pork perfection, but besides sammies and sliders, pulled pork is great in Mexican dishes like tacos, nachos, and enchiladas. It also freezes really well. Simply thaw it and reheat it at 350-375 degrees for about five minutes and future you will thank past you for the effortless weeknight meal.
Ready to get low and slow? Before we share our favorite recipes, here's the rub on picking the perfect porcine portion.
It may sound like we're talking about two different ends of the pig, but pork shoulder and butt are both come from the shoulder cut. The unappetizing name came from the large wooden barrels that the cuts of meat used to be packed and shipped in. High in fat and connective tissue, the shoulder is a tougher cut, making it the most flavorful part of the hog.
The smaller the cut, the faster it will cook. Plan for 1/3-1/2 pound of pork per person. Bone-in pork shoulders will only yield about 60% of its weight when cooked. To estimate of how many people it will serve, multiply the pork shoulder's weight by 1.5. A five-pound bone-in pork shoulder will yield three pounds of meat, which serves six to nine people.
Because weight and cooking techniques vary so much, pulled pork needs to cook to temperature instead of for a certain amount of time. Invest in a digital thermometer with an alarm so you can set it and forget it. The thermometer stays in the meat (in the thickest part of the shoulder, not touching the bone) and the digital reader sounds the alarm when you've reached the desired internal temperature. Obviously, if you're cooking in an Instant Pot or slow cooker, you'll have to use a regular meat thermometer. For tender, melt-in-your-mouth shredded pork, the ideal temp is 200 degrees.
One more pro-tip: A pair of meat claws can make shredding a cinch. Now, here are our favorite ways to make pulled pork.
An Instant Pot makes quick work of what is usually a fairly lengthy process. Prepare our Perfect Instant Pot Pulled Pork in under an hour and a half! This recipe uses a classic spice rub of brown sugar, smoked paprika, and mustard powder, but feel free to spice it up with some chili or cayenne powder. Pair it with potato salad and pack a picnic.
Put your pork in the slow cooker first thing in the morning and it'll be ready to eat by the time you're off work. Here's How to Make Perfect Pulled Pork in your crockpot. The only downside with slow-cooking is that you don't get burnt ends. If you need your burnt ends like me, then give your pork shoulder a quick sear in a Dutch oven on the stovetop in a couple of tablespoons of EVOO for a minute or two on high on all sides before placing it in your slow cooker. Allrecipes Texan version adds garlic and onions to the mix. Those of us who still consume high fructose corn syrup can sweeten it up with a can of Dr. Pepper.
Instead of soda, Delish uses beer in their recipe for Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork. Then the pan drippings are turned into a barbecue sauce, made with ketchup, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Heads up: it says the total time is three hours and 20 minutes, but it actually takes four to five hours.
Ree Drummond also uses the pan juices to make barbecue sauce in her Pulled Pork recipe. Here's the rub for Pioneer Woman-style pulled pork: brown sugar, chili powder, cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Back on the ranch, the Food Network mogul puts her pork in a large pot on a bed of onion halves before baking for about seven hours in a 300-degree oven.
Kevin and Amanda do things a little differently in their recipe for fall-off-the-bone tender Perfect Pulled Pork. First, they let the shoulder brine in a solution of salt, brown sugar, water, dry rub, and bay leaves in a two-gallon Ziploc bag in the refrigerator for a whole day and night to make it tender, juicy and flavorful. While many recipes (even ours) say to cut off the layer of fat, Kevin and Amanda cook the shoulder with the fat layer on (facing up so that all the juices run down into the pork), then remove it before shredding.
This recipe is the definition of low and slow. At 225 degrees in the oven, it could take your pork over 15 hours to reach temperature (200 degrees), depending on how big it is. FYI: If your oven has touch pad clock controls, it may have a setting to automatically shut off after 12 hours.
Another trick? Letting the shoulder rest for a couple of hours before removing it from the oven to retain all that tasty juice.