Are you a fan of pulled pork? Not yet? Well, after you learn how to make pulled pork in a slow cooker, most probably you’d want to use it for everything: tacos, quesadillas, sandwiches, and salads. I know I do!
Authentic pulled pork is a barbecue dish, cooked slowly, for hours, until it turns so soft that it falls apart. The idea is to be easy to ‘pull’ it with two forks and then serve it. But since not everybody has an outdoor grill, nor a garden to light a fire, people adapted new cooking techniques for pulled pork. So, you can now make pulled pork in a slow cooker or in a standard domestic oven.
You probably know that using your oven in the summer for hours is pretty unpleasant because it heats up the kitchen to unbearable levels. So, our suggestion is to use your crock pot as often as you can these days when the temperatures are rising more and more.
However, you probably don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen when outside is warm and pleasant. Unlike pots set in the oven, you can safely leave a slow cooker unattended. That’s why is a good idea to cook big batches even if you don’t have a big family. For example, making pulled pork in a slow cooker can help you improvise different delicious dishes for a few days. You can make sandwiches, tacos, wraps, salads and almost anything you can imagine with the meat. You can even freeze some of your leftovers for later. But, until then, let’s find out the basics of the slow-cooked pork.
How to make pulled pork in a slow cooker
1. Choose the right meat
No matter the method you choose, the slow cooker, the oven or the classic barbecue way, the most important thing is to buy pork shoulder because it’s the most appropriate meat for this dish. A shoulder is a muscular area but also has an optimum fat content, so it becomes really tender when cooked.
You can use any part of it. Shoulder roasts are often labeled as "pork butt" or "Boston butt," but it’s not actually pork butt, so make sure to ask your butcher about it. You can also use a cut with bones because it’ll add flavor to the meat. When you plan to make pulled pork in a slow cooker, consider your crockpot size when you buy the meat.
2. Season the meat
You can choose the simple way: rubbing the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. If you do, make sure you sprinkle a generous quantity of salt, you want the whole surface to be salted. As for pepper, we suggest you grind black peppercorns and sprinkle them all over, too. The pepper quantity is up to you.
If you want to add more flavors, just make a dry rub with one-third brown sugar, one-third salt, and one-third smoked paprika. Some cooks also recommend garlic powder, mustard powder, cayenne pepper or cumin. Note that the combos are unlimited.
When done, place the meat into the crock pot. If your cut of pork has one side with more fat, then place it that side face up.
3. Add some liquid, but not too much
You can make a perfect pulled pork in a slow cooker if you cook it in a little bit of flavorful liquid. To succeed with that, add about 1/4 cup of liquid per pound of pork.
The liquid is the one that actually adds flavor to the meat. You can make a combo of something sweet and something tart. Mix and match a few things together until you have the proper taste. You can use water, beer, orange juice, pineapple juice, and even coke. Some of your liquid can also be ketchup or barbecue sauce.
The liquid should not cover your pork! It should only come up about a quarter of the way up the sides, because the pork will produce more liquid as it cooks, and you need to leave room for that.
4. Add your favorite flavors
To add some more flavor to your pulled pork, quarter an onion and add it to the slow cooker. Also, consider adding a crushed garlic clove or two, a few bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, some dried chilies, ginger, apple cider vinegar, ketchup, barbecue sauce, depending on the flavor you want to obtain.
5. Slow cook the pork
This step is actually the easiest when you make pulled pork in a slow cooker. All you have to do once everything's in the slow cooker is to turn it on low and wait until the pork shreds easily with a fork. Usually, this takes about 8 hours on the low setting, but for extra-big hunks of meat, it can take closer to 10 hours. For smaller pieces of pork in smaller crock pots, it can be ready in as little as 6 hours.
If you stay at home, you can flip the meat once about halfway through cooking, but that’s not necessary.
6. Pull the pork
When the meat is done, remove it from the liquid and set it aside to cool enough that you can touch it. After that, use two forks to pull the meat into shreds. You can also hold the meat with one hand and pull it with only one fork, we think that’s the most efficient way. If you observe fat deposits or cartilages, discard them. You want nice chunks of cooked pork muscle, so don’t pull on it too much.
7. Make a sauce
Don’t throw away the cooking liquid; use it to make a sauce. First, separate the juices from the solid parts using a strainer. Transfer the liquid to a skillet and bring it to a boil, then simmer until it reduces by half and starts thickening. Taste it and, if you want a stronger taste, add some more of the same spices or sauces you added at the beginning in the crockpot. Just add, taste, and reduce until you make the sauce you like.
8. Serve and enjoy
The basic way is to serve the pulled pork in a bread bun, with some of the sauce you’ve made, and a coleslaw salad. You can also use burger buns, taco shells, tortilla wraps, puff pastry, or lettuce leaves.
If you’ve cooked more than you need for one meal, that's even better. You can save it for the next day or the day after tomorrow, so you won’t need to cook again. Pack the leftover pork (before pulling it) and the sauce in separate containers and place them in the refrigerator. When you want to have some pulled pork, heat up some sauce in a skillet, pull the pork meat and then add it to the sauce. Stir a little, until coated and warmed through, and, finally, assemble some sandwiches.
You can also use pulled pork on pizza, to top a layer of nachos, in enchiladas, serve it in a bowl of soft polenta, in grilled cheese sandwiches, and even in macaroni and cheese.
You can use the same tips for chicken, lamb, and beef. These meats also can be ‘pulled’.