Pulled pork is actually meat that is pulled into pieces using two forks. The key is to start with a cut that has ample marbling and connective tissue so it softens as it slowly cooks, becoming so tender that it easily pulls apart. Pork shoulder is a good option. Cook the pork in a smoker or oven, on the grill or stove top, or in a slow cooker without much hands-on attention. Check out our recipes for using a smoker and a slow cooker here, and try some of our other recipes listed below.
Pork shoulder is, confusingly, the top portion of the front leg of the hog. Some recipes may call for parts of the shoulder. The lower portion of the shoulder is often called the arm picnic and the upper part of the shoulder is called the Boston blade roast or Boston-style butt, which contains the shoulder blade bone.
If you have a smoker, this well-seasoned pork sandwich recipe is for you. It makes 14 to 18 servings so invite the neighbors and pick up enough buns and condiments. While the prep time is about 15 minutes, plan on a smoke time of 4 to 5 hours.
1. Make the Seasoning Rub
In a small bowl stir together 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Tip: You can stir the rub together days ahead of time and store in a sealed container in a dark place.
2. Prep the Pork
Start with a 5-1/2-pound boneless pork shoulder roast. You can trim the excess fat from the outside of the meat with a sharp knife. Place the meat on a platter and sprinkle the seasoning rub evenly over the meat. Use your fingers to rub the seasoning rub into the meat.
Tip: You can season the meat with the rub up to 24 hours ahead. Just cover the seasoned meat with plastic wrap and chill. Remove the meat about 30 minutes before adding to the smoker or allow a little additional time for smoking the meat from a cold state.
3. Smoke the Pork Until Tender
- You will need 6 to 8 hickory wood chunks or 3 cups hickory wood chips. For the most smoke production, soak the wood chunks or chips in enough water to cover for at least 1 hour before grilling. Drain wood chunks or chips before using.
- In a smoker arrange preheated coals, wood chunks, and the water pan according to manufacturer's directions. Pour water into thepan. Place the seasoned meat on the grill rack over the water pan.
- Cover and smoke for 4 to 5 hours or until the meat is very tender. Add additional coals and water as needed to maintain thetemperature and moisture in the smoker. Do not add wood after the first 2 hours of smoking because too much smoke can give the meat a bitter taste.
4. Pull the Pork & Serve
- Remove the meat from smoker and cover with foil. Let stand for 15 minutes, which gives it time to redistribute the juices. Using a large carving knife, cut the meat into large pieces.
- To shred, insert two forks into a piece of meat and pull in opposite directions to get long, thin shreds. Repeat with remaining meat.
- Place pulled pork in a large bowl. Add about 1-1/2 cups Vinegar Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below) or desired barbecue sauce. Stir until slightly moist, adding additional sauce if necessary.
Tip: To make ahead, prepare through the steps above and cool the pork to room temperature. Cover and chill for up to 3 days. Or place in a freezer container; cover, label, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator. Reheat in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- To serve, pile the pulled meat mixture onto 14 to 18 split hamburger buns. Serve with remaining Vinegar Barbecue Sauce or additional desired barbecue sauce.
Tip: Other optional condiments to serve with the sandwiches include mustard, bottled hot pepper sauce, dill pickle slices, coleslaw or shredded lettuce, and/or tomato slices.
Vinegar Barbecue Sauce
This is a tangy-sweet, no-cook sauce for the Smoked Pulled Pork Shoulder recipe above but can be used for any pulled pork preparation.
- In a clean 1-quart jar with a screw-top lid combine 3 cups cider vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 2 to 3 teaspoons crushed red pepper, 2 teaspoons bottled hot pepper sauce, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper. Cover and shake well.
How to Slow-Cook Pulled Pork
A slow cooker allows you to enjoy pulled pork any night of the week, because it can cook all day unattended. Season the pork with your favorite purchased barbecue sauce or a double recipe of Barbecue Sauce.
1. Prep the Pork
Start with one 2-1/2- to 3-pound pork boneless pork shoulder roast, which makes about 10 sandwiches. You can trim the excess fat from the outside of the meat with a sharp knife. If necessary, cut the meat to fit into a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker.
2. Season the Pork
Season the meat on all sides with a sprinkling of salt and ground black pepper. In a small bowl stir together 1/2 cup water, 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon ground cumin or chili powder. Pour the water-vinegar mixture over the meat in slow cooker.
3. Cook the Pork Until Tender
Cover the cooker and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours or until the meat is very tender.
4. Pull the Pork, Reheat & Serve
- Remove the meat from the cooker and discard the cooking liquid. Using a large carving knife, cut the meat into large pieces (see photo, above).
- To shred, insert two forks into a piece of meat and pull in opposite directions to get long, thin shreds (see photo, above). Repeat with remaining meat.
- Stir in 2 cups purchased or desired barbecue sauce. If using low-heat setting, turn to high-heat setting; cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until heated through.
- To serve, pile the pulled pork mixture onto 10 split kaiser rolls or hamburger buns. Serve with about 1-1/2 cups additional purchased or desired barbecue sauce.
To Bake Pulled Pork: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare as directed above in the slow-cooked recipe, except place the 2-1/2- to 3-pound pork roast in a roasting pan and increase the water in the water-vinegar mixture to 1 cup. Cover the pan and bake for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until very tender.