How to Use a Slow Cooker for Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is a much-loved dish among meat eaters. Cooked in many ways and served at many establishments, the dish is beloved. But if you're doing it right, you're not buying it as a dish at a restaurant; you are making it at home and enjoying days worth of pulled pork for a fraction of the cost.
In regards to the cost, it's no joke. I usually use a pork shoulder and purchase my meat between .89 and 1.19 a pound. For roughly $10 I get about 8 pounds of pulled pork. To be honest, though, the cost is not the main reason why you should be making your pulled pork at home. It's just better in terms of taste.
There are many ways to cook pulled pork. I have smoked it, baked it, and cooked it in a slow cooker. All of them have been better than the pulled pork I get at restaurants. No joke, I spoiled myself, and I cannot go back! Also, when you have 8 pounds of pulled pork, you don't just make a sandwich, you can make any number of dishes including a crowd favorite, pulled pork nachos!
Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker
In this article, we will focus on preparing pulled pork by the easiest method, the slow cooker or crockpot. Even as a journeyman cook, I love my slow cooker. It is a true "set it and forget it" machine. For St. Patrick's day I made my corned beef and cabbage in it, just before that I made a vegetarian chili and now I will make pulled pork!
I should mention, my preferred method of pulled pork is smoking it, but I had a busy day, and I needed to get this taken care of with as little time constraint as possible. The morning of my cook, I went to the store and got an 8.5-pound pork shoulder (bone-in) and began my work. I had the rest of the ingredients at home already.
I don't have a preference on brand of slow cooker, so I won't make any suggestions here, the only thing I would recommend is buying a bigger one that you think you will need. Nothing is worse than starting a meal and realizing that your slow cooker is too small to make the meal! I almost ran into this problem for my recipe!
As you can see from the picture above, the pork shoulder barely fit in the slow cooker. I could have trimmed some away, but instead, the just pressed it all the way in (it will shrink slightly when cooking).
I chopped up a white onion, threw in some minced garlic, liquid smoke, yellow mustard and topped it off with Dr. Pepper. Really, the Dr. Pepper doesn't do that much. You will get some slight flavors from everything you add in, but ultimately, the flavor that will matter most - at least when slow cooking your pork shoulder - is going to come from the sauce you add at the end.
I would be curious if people agree or disagree with this regarding using the slow cooker for pulled pork. Have you found a combination that you add to the slow cooker that gives it good flavor right out of the pot? I haven't found this yet, so I would love to hear about it in the comments. Anything to help me make a better dish!
Many people use just water, or a broth/stock, or even root beer. I used Dr. Pepper because I wanted to see if it would make much of a difference. With all those ingredients I was hoping it would add a great unique flavor. It didn't. But hey, you still need liquid, and Dr. Pepper is as good as anything else (plus I like it!)
I love the video above. The sound of the Dr. Pepper seeping to the bottom and fizzing back up to the top! I guess it's just a weird calming thing to me, but I wanted to share it.
Now that you have everything in the slow cooker you begin the waiting game. This is a BIG pork shoulder for my slow cooker, so I will start my slow cooker on HIGH for 4 hours, then reduce it to LOW for another 4 hours. Also, I started the pork shoulder fat side up, but around halfway through I am going to flip it to get a more even cook. The pork shoulder tends to float, and you want to make sure it is evenly cooked.
Except for the temperature change and flipping the pork shoulder there is not a lot to do, and in all honesty, you could just set it on low and cook for 8-10 hours and be fine (especially if you needed to head to work for the day). I am glad I was home for this one though, since the slow cooker was so full it spilled over multiple times and required some cleanup. Nothing big, but something I would rather take care of immediately instead of having a huge mess on my hands.
At around 5-6 hours your house is going to smell amazing. Nothing more to that, it's just a fact. And as everything continues to cook, it is only going to get better.
Pull That Pork!
Now you need to pull the pork. My pork shoulder didn't fall apart exactly as hoped, but it was fully cooked, and with a little forking I was able to get it completely pulled.
I have a friend how has a drill attachment for his pulled pork. He once made about 30 pounds and once, threw it all in a bucket and drilled-pulled it. All done in under 30 seconds! It was pretty awesome. If you are interested look into it, but it's really something that you need to be making a lot of meat to be useful.
Either way, hand pulling the pork worked well for me and next we will add the sauce!
Adding the Sauce
While the video above of just stirring the sauce into the pulled pork may not be needed, I ended up keeping it because, for slow cooker pulled pork, the sauce is the key! This is where most of your flavor is going to come from.
For my sauce, I started with Sweet Baby Ray's Original BBQ sauce, added some yellow mustard and sriracha. Pretty basic, but it will have a nice balance with a spicy finish!
Mix that in thoroughly and you are good to go!
There are other steps you can take to make your pulled pork more tailored to a dish you are creating, but for the article, you have just finished making pulled pork that will be great on sandwiches, nacho's, heck, even a pulled pork salad!
The pork will also freeze well if you cannot finish it all at once. I personally made this on a weekend when I was home alone, so I shared with friends and STILL had a few pounds left over.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. What do you add to the slow cooker to make your pulled pork just right?
What is you favorite way to prepare pulled pork?
- 8 pounds Pork Shoulder, Bone-In
- 1 Bottle Dr. Pepper
- 1 White Onion, Sliced or Chopped
- 2 TBS Minced Garlic
- 1 TSP Liquid Smoke
- To Taste Pepper, Salt, Yellow Mustard
- 10 oz BBQ Sauce of Choice
- 2 oz Yellow Mustard
- 2 oz Sriracha Sauce
- Add Pork Shoulder, Onion, Dr. Pepper, Garlic, Liquid Smoke and other ingredient to taste or preference to slow cooker. Set slow cooker on HIGH for 4 hours.
- Set slow cooker to LOW and carefully flip the Pork Shoulder.
- Drain slow cooker (maintain onions) and put pork in a large bowl and start pulling!
- Create your BBQ sauce by adding the BBQ mix, yellow mustard and sriracha together. Mix well.
- Add sauce and onions back to the pulled pork and mix well. Serve and enjoy!