Easy recipe, succulent flavor
Mmmm, barbecue. Especially pulled pork. We can’t resist.
But this time of the year, we’re not really into hanging around outside in the cold and snow tending a smoker. We’d rather stay inside and let a slow cooker do its magic.
And “magic” is the word for this easy slow-cooker pulled pork. Just prep the meat, put it in the slow cooker, and forget about it. Then revel in deliciousness.
This recipe feeds a crowd, so it’s perfect for a Super Bowl party. And the dish is so good, you won’t even care who wins the game. No matter how it turns out, you’ll score big with your guests.
Recipe: Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
Traditional barbecue is cooked outdoors over a wood fire. The long, slow cooking dissolves some of the meat’s inner connective tissues, resulting in tender meat. And the wood smoke adds a nice tang.
It’s hard to beat the flavor of outdoor-cooked meat. But if you do it right, indoor Q puts up serious competition. We first experimented with cooking pulled pork indoors with our recipe for Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork. That’s a great recipe, and produces pulled pork as good as (or better than) you’ll find at many restaurants.
We’d also heard about the slow-cooker method for pulled pork, but hadn’t used it. So we decided to challenge ourselves. Could we develop a slow cooker recipe that produces results as good as our oven pulled pork?
The results are in, and the answer is an enthusiastic Yes! We think this pulled pork rivals our oven-made version—and even some outdoor smoker recipes. And there’s a bonus: The meat is even more tender and juicy.
For this recipe, you’ll need pork shoulder (a/k/a pork butt or Boston butt). An entire pork shoulder typically weighs 16 pounds or more—which is way too big for a slow cooker. Fortunately, however, most supermarkets sell cuts of pork shoulder sized anywhere from 2 to 6 pounds. You can get bone-in or boneless. Either works, although the bone-in has a bit more flavor (but somewhat less meat).
You’ll use a “rub” to season the meat, and it’s best to apply it the day (or night) before you plan to cook the pork. You can use a commercial rub, or make the one we describe below.
Preparation time for this recipe (making the rub and applying it to the pork) is about 20 minutes. Then the rubbed pork needs to rest in the refrigerator several hours (or overnight) before cooking. Cooking time is about 5 to 7 hours if you set the slow cooker on high, or 9 to 10 hours on low.
Each pound of meat yields about 2½ servings (the meat shrinks a bit as it cooks). Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for a few days if stored in an airtight container.
For the rub:
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 2 tablespoons dried chipotle or ancho chile powder (ancho doesn’t have a smoky flavor, but it’s milder than chipotle)
- 1 tablespoon dried ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon hickory-smoked salt (may substitute kosher or table salt)
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- ~1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional, and not to be included in the dry rub; see Step 2 of the Procedure)
- 4 to 5 pounds pork shoulder (or slightly bigger or smaller if you wish)
- 1 onion
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- 2 to 4 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)
- The night before you want to cook the pork, prepare the rub and coat the pork with it. To make the rub: Combine all ingredients (except the liquid smoke), then mix thoroughly until well blended.
- Coat the pork shoulder with the rub: Remove the pork from its packaging, then rinse it and pat dry. Trim off most of the fat, leaving on no more than ¼ inch. Cut the pork into 4 to 6 pieces of roughly equal size. Then, with a sharp knife, slash broad criss-cross patterns into the surface of the pork pieces. The knife cuts should be about ¼ inch deep, with an inch between slashes. (Alternatively, prick the pork pieces all over with a fork. In either case, you want “pockets” that the rub can cling to.) Rub the surface of all the pork pieces with liquid smoke, if using (we just put a bit of liquid smoke into the palm of our hands, then massage the pork). Next, with your hands, pat the dry rub onto all sides of the pork pieces. Then work it into the pork—work it in well, because it’s the rub that will provide most of the smoky BBQ flavor. Use at least ¼ cup of rub, but more if you wish (we typically use closer to ½ cup). Reserve any unused rub for another purpose.
- Wrap each piece of rubbed pork in shrink wrap, then refrigerate overnight.
- The next day—right before you want to cook the pork—position a slow cooker on the kitchen counter. The cooker will be plugged in and operating for several hours, so make sure it’s in a place where it will be out of the way.
- Peel the onion and chop it coarsely. Place it in the slow cooker. Unwrap the pieces of rubbed pork (from Step 3), and place them in the slow cooker. Add the chicken stock and cider vinegar (it won’t cover the meat, but that’s OK). Add the liquid smoke, if using. Cover the slow cooker and turn it on. If you set the cooker on high, the pork should be done in 5 to 7 hours. On low, it will take 9 or 10 hours.
- When the meat is done, remove it from the slow cooker and place it on a cutting board or metal sheet pan. (You can discard the cooking liquid at this point, but see Notes). Let the meat cool for about five minutes, then shred it with 2 forks (or your hands, if you have asbestos fingers). Serve the pulled pork with barbecue sauce (see Notes).
- There are several brands of slow cookers available. The Crock-Pot brand is probably the best known, but they all work pretty much the same. Just use one big enough to hold all the meat (a 5- or 6-quart size should be sufficient).
- Why cut the pork shoulder into several pieces (Step 2) rather than leave it whole? Because you increase the surface area of the meat by cutting it into pieces. More surface area means more area for the rub to cling to. Which means more flavor (the rub contributes much of the smoky flavor). But if you prefer to leave the pork shoulder in one piece, you can do so.
- This recipe calls for liquid smoke to help flavor the meat during the cooking process. Good liquid smoke is a natural product, containing nothing but water and natural smoke concentrate. So don’t be afraid to use it. But read the label—some brands of liquid smoke contain other ingredients, and you may want to avoid those.
- The rub in this recipe contains both pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) and dried chipotle chile powder (made from smoked and dried jalapeño peppers). The naturally smoky flavor of these ingredients helps flavor the pork.
- BTW, the quantities specified for the rub ingredients are flexible. Feel free to add more or less of any ingredient, or omit an ingredient entirely if you wish.
- Hickory-smoked salt has terrific flavor. But it's often hard to find in grocery stores. If you’d like to try some, you’ll find good information via Google (and the reviews at Amazon). We bought a pound of hickory-smoked salt, and store it in the freezer to help preserve its aroma.
- The recipe for the rub makes more than you’ll use for this dish. You can store the rest in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks. It will keep even longer if you refrigerate or freeze it.
- When the pork is finished cooking, we often remove the fat from the cooking liquid and keep the liquid for storing leftover pork (we just pour the liquid into the same container that we use for the leftover meat—it helps keep it moist).
- Alternatively, you may want to use some of the cooking liquid to moisten the pork for serving. The cooking liquid can be quite flavorful—though if you used a great deal of liquid smoke in cooking, you may find the smoke flavor too strong. So taste it first.
- What barbecue sauce should you serve with pulled pork? We recommend our Tangy Barbecue Sauce. But your favorite store-bought barbecue sauce will work just fine.
- Pulled pork goes great with any number of side dishes. It’s terrific with Garlic Coleslaw. And Mustard Potato Salad. Or Easy Baked Beans with Bacon. And cornbread is a natural—we’re particularly fond of our Jalapeño Cornbread.
“Oink!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This pulled pork has big flavor. And it’s so tender.”
“Makes me squeal in delight,” I said. “And it’s so easy to make.”
“Good thing,” said Mrs K R. “Because I think we’ll want to pig out on this again.”
“Yup, this is so good, I could hog it all,” I said. “So, did you ever think of becoming a vegetarian?”
“When pigs fly,” said Mrs K R.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribss
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef Brisket
Tangy Barbecue Sauce
Mustard Potato Salad
Easy Baked Beans with Bacon
Or check out the index for more recipes