Unwrap the Secrets of Simple Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Recipes
Pulled pork is a quintessential BBQ dish that is beloved across the United States. When slowly smoked or cooked over many hours, tough pork shoulder transforms into a succulent, fall-apart tender meat that takes well to shred and sauce.
While traditional BBQ pulled pork requires specialized smoking equipment and a significant time commitment, you can easily replicate the flavor and texture of true smoked pork right in your slow cooker with just a dash of liquid smoke.
Table of Contents
- Unwrap the Secrets of Simple Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Recipes
- What is Pulled Pork?
- Why Cook Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker?
- How to Make Juicy, Smoky Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker
- Choosing the Right Cut of Pork
- Dry Rub Ingredients
- Dry Rub Tips and Tricks
- Why Use Liquid Smoke?
- How to Use Liquid Smoke
- Choosing Liquid Smoke
- Step-By-Step Slow Cooker Method
- Serving Inspiration
What is Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork is a barbecue dish made from pork shoulder, also known as Boston butt or pork butt. The pork shoulder is well-marbled with fat and connective tissue that breaks down and moistures the meat during prolonged cooking.
To make pulled pork:
- A pork shoulder is rubbed with spices and slow-cooked until extremely tender.
- Once fully cooked, the pork is “pulled” or shredded into smaller pieces using two forks.
- It’s then tossed or sauced to add extra flavor.
Pulled pork can be served:
- On sandwiches with BBQ sauce and coleslaw.
- Tacos, burritos, and nachos.
- Salads, eggs, baked potatoes, and more!
Why Cook Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker?
Traditionally, pulled pork is smoked “low and slow” for 12+ hours over indirect heat from charcoal or wood. This long cooking time tenderizes the meat and infuses it with a rich, smoky flavor.
A slow cooker mimics this low and slow cooking environment, allowing you to achieve tender pulled pork without the need for a smoker. Other benefits include:
- Convenience: Set it and forget it! Walk away while your slow cooker does the work.
- Consistency: The enclosed environment produces reliable, even results.
- Affordability: Slow cookers are a budget-friendly appliance.
- Flexibility: Works for both small and large cuts of pork.
How to Make Juicy, Smoky Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker
With just a few simple ingredients and techniques, you can make incredibly moist, smoky pulled pork in your slow cooker:
1. Choose the Right Pork
- Pork shoulder is the best option. Also called Boston butt or pork butt, it has the fat and connective tissue needed to break down and self-baste.
- Bone-in or boneless will both work well. Bone-in may have more flavor.
- 4-6 pounds is ideal, but larger cuts can work too.
2. Apply a Flavorful Dry Rub
- A dry rub seasons the meat and forms a tasty, textured bark.
- Use spices like salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, etc.
- Let the rub marinate for at least 1-2 hours or up to overnight.
3. Brown the Pork (Optional)
- Browning adds richer flavor through the Maillard reaction.
- Skip this step to save time and clean up.
4. Add Liquid Smoke
- Liquid smoke mimics the flavor of real wood smoke.
- Use 1-3 tablespoons depending on the size of the pork and desired smokiness.
5. Add Acidic Liquid
- Acids like vinegar, citrus, or soda help break down tissue.
- 1 cup cola, apple cider vinegar, or other acidic liquid.
6. Slow Cook on Low
- Cook for 8-12 hours on low until fall-apart tender.
- Cooking time varies based on the size of the pork.
7. Shred and Sauce the Pork
- Shred pork with two forks, removing excess fat.
- Toss or sauce to add more flavor.
- Serve on buns, tacos, salads, nachos, etc!
Choosing the Right Cut of Pork
The cut of pork you select plays a huge role in creating incredibly moist, succulent pulled pork. Choose wisely!
Pork shoulder, also known as Boston butt or pork butt, is the ideal cut of meat for pulled pork. Here’s why:
- Contains plenty of marbling and connective tissue. During slow cooking, the fat renders and the collagen melts into delicious gelatin that bastes the meat, keeping it incredibly moist.
- Well-flavored with a balanced meat-to-fat ratio.
- Sold bone-in or boneless. Either works great.
- Affordable! One of the cheaper cuts of pork.
- Forgiving. The fat and connective tissue prevent overcooking.
Look for a 4-6 lb pork shoulder. Larger cuts can work too but may require longer cook times.
Pork loin is a leaner, milder cut that can also be pulled. However, it lacks the fat and collagen needed to properly break down and baste the meat during cooking. Take care to prevent drying out:
- Cook at lower temp and use more liquid.
- Wrap in foil to help retain moisture.
- Shred promptly after cooking and toss with sauce.
Tenderloin is extremely lean with very little fat or connective tissue. It can be cooked to pull-apart tender, but there is a much smaller margin of error:
- Cook for only 4-6 hours MAX to avoid overcooking.
- Chop or shred immediately out of the slow cooker.
- Toss shredded pork with extra sauce or braising liquid to prevent drying out.
Due to its lack of fat and collagen, pork tenderloin does not replicate traditional pulled pork texture or flavor.
Dry Rub Ingredients
A dry rub is crucial for adding flavor and texture to pulled pork. While recipes vary, most rubs contain some combination of these ingredients:
- Brings out the natural flavor of the pork.
- Kosher or sea salt offer better flavor than table salt.
- Use fresh cracked for the best flavor.
- Pre-ground works too.
- Smoked paprika adds subtle smokiness.
- Sweet paprika provides flavor without heat.
- Brown sugar gives a slight crust while tenderizing.
- White sugar also works.
- Look for powder with multiple chile peppers for depth of flavor.
- Adds mild heat.
- Use powder, not fresh garlic, which can burn.
- Provides an aromatic flavor.
- Dried onion flavor without the moisture of fresh.
- Use granulated rather than onion salt.
- Commercial blends like chili seasoning are an easy shortcut.
- Cajun or creole seasoning also works well.
Dry Rub Tips and Tricks
Apply a flavorful dry rub to your pork shoulder to take your pulled pork to the next level. Follow these tips:
- Mix your own or use a store-bought blend – both work great.
- For homemade, stick to 5-7 spices for ideal flavor balance.
- Rub generously so the pork is fully coated on all sides.
- Really massage it into the meat’s nooks and crannies.
- Let the rub marinate for 1-2 hours, or refrigerate overnight to let the flavors penetrate fully.
- The salt in the rub seasons the meat while also drawing out moisture to help form a flavorful, textured bark or crust.
- Balance sweet, savory, spicy: Brown sugar for sweetness and tenderness. Smoked paprika for savory depth. Chili powder for subtle heat.
- Avoid large chunks like whole peppercorns that can burn. Use finer ground versions of dried spices.
- Store leftover rub in an airtight container away from light and moisture. It will be kept for 3-4 months.
Why Use Liquid Smoke?
Traditional pulled pork gets an incredible smoky flavor from cooking low and slow next to a fire or smoldering wood chips. Liquid smoke lets you easily replicate that flavor in your slow cooker pulled pork.
Here’s how it works:
- Made by condensing and capturing the natural smoke created from burning wood like hickory or mesquite.
- Adds powerful smoky essence without needing a true smoke source.
- A little goes a long way. Use sparingly to avoid overwhelming.
- Comes in a concentrated liquid that’s easy to add by the drop or dash.
- Provides smoky depth to any slow cooked meat like roasts, beans, and even cocktails!
How to Use Liquid Smoke
Liquid smoke couldn’t be easier to use. Just follow these tips:
- Start small – a little liquid smoke packs a big punch! Begin with 1-2 tsp.
- Use 1-2 tbsp for a 5 lb roast for pulled pork. Scale up for larger cuts.
- Add liquid smoke directly to the slow cooker. No need to mix with other ingredients.
- Stir and coat pork with smoke flavor early in cooking.
- For stronger smoke, add another dash halfway through cooking.
- Go easy! It’s easy to overdo. Add gradually and taste.
- Try adding to braising liquid for roasts or baked beans.
- Use a mister to spritz veggies, protein, and even cocktails!
Choosing Liquid Smoke
There are a few options when it comes to liquid smoke products:
- Hickory – robust, bacon-like flavor good for pork or beef
- Mesquite – bolder, woodier smoke note for chicken or fish
- Applewood – milder, fruitier, more versatile
- Regional blends like Texas or Bourbon
- Flavored versions like chipotle or bourbon
Stick to reputable brands found near the barbecue sauce. Avoid versions with added “natural” flavors.
Step-By-Step Slow Cooker Method
Follow this simple step-by-step method to turn out incredibly moist, flavorful pulled pork from your slow cooker every time:
1. Prep the Pork
- Select a 4-6 lb pork shoulder. Rinse well.
- Pat dry, then apply dry rub all over the pork.
- Allow rub to marinate for 1-2 hours or overnight.
2. Brown the Pork (Optional)
- Sear all sides in a hot skillet to develop a browned crust.
- Transfer browned pork to slow cooker insert.
3. Add Liquid Smoke and Liquid
- Add 1-3 tbsp liquid smoke.
- Pour in 1 cup cola, broth, cider vinegar, or other braising liquid.
4. Cook on Low
- Cover and cook for 8-10 hours on Low (or 4-6 hours High).
- Cook times vary based on the size of the pork shoulder.
5. Remove and Shred Pork
- Use two forks to shred and pull pork apart.
- Discard excess fat.
- Briefly return to the cooker to soak up juices.
6. Toss and Serve Pulled Pork
- Toss with BBQ sauce or more liquid to moisten.
- Serve on sandwiches with slaw or enjoy tacos, salads, nachos, etc!
What size pork shoulder should I use?
- A 4-6 lb pork shoulder is ideal for most slow cookers.
- The size directly correlates with cooking time. Larger roasts need longer cooking.
How long does pulled pork take in a slow cooker?
- Cook for 8-10 hours on Low or 4-6 hours on High.
- Cook times vary based on the size of the pork shoulder and appliance.
Do you add liquid BBQ sauce?
- Wait until the pork is fully cooked and shredded.
- Then toss with BBQ sauce to coat pieces and add flavor.
Can you make pulled pork from tenderloin or loin?
Yes, but the shoulder is better. Loin and tenderloin lack the fat and connective tissue needed to keep the pork moist. Take care not to overcook.
Beyond classic pulled pork sandwiches and tacos, try serving your easy crockpot pulled pork in these fun ways:
- Loaded baked potatoes
- Breakfast hash with eggs
- Pizza topping
- Casserole bakes
- Salad topping
- Stuffed peppers or mushrooms
- Omelets or breakfast burritos
- Risotto or fried rice
Mix up flavors by using different BBQ sauces, spice blends, and mix-ins:
- Carolina Gold – Mustard sauce
- Korean BBQ – Gochujang and sesame
- Hawaiian – Grilled pineapple
- Memphis – Classic sweet tomato-based
- Texas – Smoky with warm spices
- Mojo – Citrus, garlic, cumin
The possibilities are endless! Be creative.
More pulled meat recipes ideas:
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