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Feb 1, 2011 08:16 AM

Pulled Pork

Last time I made pulled pork in my slow cooker it came out very mushy, Anyone have a good recipe for pulled pork that won't be mushy?

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  1. I've made slow cooker cooker pulled pork many times, and while it's certainly not the same as doing on the smoker, it's a good option for when the BBQ is under 3 feet of snow.

    Start with a pork shoulder, usually called Boston Butt. Make sure there's a good fat cap on it. I'll rub in a spice mixture that's mainly paprika, S&P, garlic powder, dried oregano, maybe some chipotle pepper, maybe some cumin. I generally use of one Steve Raichlen's many rub recipes, but the exact recipe isn't too important. Rub it in, wrap in 3 layers of plastic wrap, and fridge it for 24 hours. Throw it in the crock pot on high at first for a couple of hours, then down to low. Total time depends on the size of the Butt, but it's usually in the 8-10 hour range for a 5 pound hunk o meat. Every once in a while, if I can, I'll baste it with a cider vinegar based mop sauce. When it's done, I'll carefully lift it out of the crock, put it on a foil lined broiler pan, and put it under the broiler for 5-10 minutes. Gotta watch this step carefully - an extra 30 seconds can result in going from browned and delicious to blackened and acrid. This last step let's you cheat a little and get the crispy "bark" that you can't otherwise get from a slow cooker.

    Lastly, I'm going to add a new step the next time I do a pulled pork - which will be overnight on Wednesday for a Thursday workplace potluck: I received a PolyScience "Smoking Gun" for Christmas, and have used it a few times so far with excellent results on "small items". I'm going to try to blast some smoke into the crock pot as often as I can (won't be too often, given that it's going overnight...) to see if I can get some smoke flavor into the pork.

    It'll never be as good as doing it on the BBQ, to some extend because the Q is a dry heat, and the crockpot produces a wet heat. You can try cracking the lid, but if you lose too much liquid and get a dry base, you risk cracking the pot.

    That said, I've had good results with this method. Good enough that it fixes my urge for pulled pork during a sub zero Minnesota winter.

    16 Replies
    1. re: foreverhungry

      Even in NJ my BBQ is under 3 ft of snow! What if I dont have a smoking gun? Any suggestions?

      1. re: jromann

        j, you gotta shovel a path to the grill !!! No excuses when it comes to the chow. Last Thursday, we got an addional 18" of snow in New Jersey. Saturday morning, I shoveled all of my deck to acess my (no gas, charcoal only) Weber. The menu at my house Saturday night was grilled porterhouses. Baked Idahoes w/ truffle butter. Awesome.

        1. re: chefdaddyo

          WowI don't think I can even find my grill after all the snow we got last week.

          1. re: jromann

            Just pretend your paycheck is inside the grill. Somehow, I think you'll find it.....

          2. re: chefdaddyo

            Smoking a 5 pound pork shoulder at 225F in 10 degree weather isn't very practical. Babysitting a chunk of meat for 6+ hours in that weather is a little different than 10 minutes for a couple of steaks.

            1. re: foreverhungry

              agreed. anyway, i don't have a smoker. do you add a BBQ sauce after its done? any other way to get the smoky flavor without the smoking gun that you mentioned?

          3. re: jromann

            Replicating the smoke in a pork shoulder when you don't use a smoker is impossible - just like no matter how great a camera you have, a digital print lacks the same softness and quality that film has, and digital music lacks the same quality that vinyl has. You can come close, but it won't be the same.

            Even a smoking gun, which gets you some smoke flavor, won't be the same as having the chunk o meat bathed in smoke for 6+ hours. You can try adding a skooch (like a few drops) of liquid smoke to whatever mop sauce you use. That'll get some smoke flavor (which, given that liquid smoke is actually made from distilled smoke, it's actually pretty good) ON the meat, but it won't get it IN the meat, which is what a smoker does for you.

            PS - I was born and raised in Bergen County, mom lives in Brick now. I've heard you guys have been pounded this winter. At least yours melts a little before you get the next storm. Ours just keeps accumulating...

            1. re: foreverhungry

              Ours is melting and then freezing so we have nice layers of ice in the morning. Do you top with a BBQ sauce? Have a favorite? I have a guest coming who doesn't eat pork so was also going to make some pulled chicken. Thoughts on that?

              1. re: jromann

                Personally, I usually don't put BBQ on pulled pork, but a lot of people do. I usually chop up the pork and mix in a little of the mop sauce I used to baste the Butt - cider vinegar with a couple of tablespoons of the dry rub mix, plus a shot or 2 of hot sauce. The tartness of the vinegar helps cut the fat of the pork a little, and gives a nice tang. It allows the actual flavor of the pork itself to come through, rather than the highlight being the sauce.

                Pulled chicken - I usually don't make it, because chicken is so mild that the flavor of the meat gets completely buried in the typical BBQ sauce. But, again, lots of friends like it, so I often throw a whole chicken, or at least some bone in breasts and a few legs, on the BBQ if folks are coming over, and treat it like pulled pork. To me, it becomes a vehicle for the sauce, rather than the meat itself being the star of the show.

                One thing you might try is "Cornell chicken" - google Cornell chicken and you'll get the gist of it. It's basically putting chicken parts on indirect heat, and the chicken has been marinated in and is brushed with a white sauce that's very similar to mayonnaise. It's easy to make at home, and you can easily tweak the sauce to suit your tastes. It's different, but very good. It works with chicken really well, not dominating the flavor of the meat as can a traditional BBQ sauce, but rather working with it. Good stuff.

                1. re: foreverhungry

                  Hey, forever, please post after you try your smoking gun. I'd love to hear if it adds some flavor.

                  Have you ever tried smoking bags?

                  1. re: bear

                    Smoking bags - no, I never heard of them until now, and just looked it up. Interesting concept. Not as versatile as the smoking gun, but seems easy to use. Pretty cool.

                    I've done a smoking fun version of that by putting a food I want smoked into a ziplock bag, sucking out the air, then blowing in some smoke for a few seconds until the bag is expanded. I smoked some butter the other day - two, 1 tablespoon pats, using hickory sawdust, to use to top a couple ribeyes I was doing in the skillet. Worked out really well. I used the leftover butter a couple days ago to top a salmon fillet I broiled in the toaster-broiler. While clearly not as strong as putting a chunk of salmon in the smoker, the smoked butter added just a nudge of smoke taste.

                    Lastly, as far as the smoking gun goes, I also made a cold-smoked salmon last month - my first exploit with the gun. I followed Ruhlman and Polcyn's Charcuterie method for first curing a salmon fillet, and then put the fillet in a styrofoam cooler sitting on a perforated platform, below which was a couple pounds of ice. I popped 2 holes into the cooler, and blew applewood smoke in, on the hour, for 4 hours. A digital thermometer the I slid in at salmon-level measured the temperature. The temp was consistently between 52 and 54 the whole time. The end result was near perfect cold-smoked salmon. Same consistency, texture, and color as smoked salmon. Flavor was very good. For smallish items, it sure beats a several hundred dollar cold smoker.

                2. re: jromann

                  I do pulled chicken pretty regularly. As foreverhungry says, the chicken flavor is pretty much drowned under all the barbecue sauce, so make sure to use one you like. I prefer to use skinless thighs; the bones are easy to pull out of the slow cooker, and I've never liked the way slow-cooked chicken skin comes out. Sometimes I throw in a sliced onion, sometimes I don't; again, the sauce reigns supreme, so it doesn't seem to matter much.

                  For some reason, I always serve these with dill pickle chips. Leftovers make kick-ass pizza; I put pickles on that, too, steadfastly ignoring those parts of my brain that thinks pickles on pizza is blasphemous.

                  1. re: darklyglimmer

                    Do you cook the theighs in the slow cooker with the BBQ sauce? How long? Any suggestions for good BBQ sauce?

                    1. re: jromann

                      Yep: in goes chicken, in goes sauce. Sometimes I even stir before slapping the lid on, if I'm feelin' fancy. I cook on low for around 6 hours, occasionally going to 8 if my schedule deems it so, but generally speaking I haven't found that chicken particularly benefits from going much longer than 6 hours in the slow cooker.

                      BBQ sauce: depends what you like. As northerners, and not hard-core BBQ people, we tend to go with the sweetish tomato-y versions rather than the vinegar-y variety. We've been using Stubb's or Sweet Baby Ray's, both of which we like pretty well. I've used a few of the Jack Daniels sauces, although not recently for some reason, and remember liking them. You could try making your own, but keep in mind that slow cookers generally tend to draw liquid out of food; most homemade sauces that I've tried have been considerably thinner than storebought, and they won't reduce at all in the slow cooker. However much liquid you start with, you'll end up with more at the end. I only use one bottle of sauce for my 6-qt slow cooker.

                      ETA: if you're going to use a sugary BBQ sauce, do yourself a favor and pick up a box of slow cooker liners. Your scrubbing elbow will thank you.

                      1. re: darklyglimmer

                        6-8 hrs for how much chicken. you said boneless theighs, right?

                        1. re: jromann

                          Bone-in, actually. The thigh bones are easy to retrieve afterward. To be honest, I don't know how many. Two packages, 4-6 thighs each? I just try to make sure the cooker is half-full, at least, which is a good slow-cooker rule of thumb. Mine is a 6-quart model.

          4. Well, here's what I think. Don't worry so much about the smoke. You should worry more about using that slow cooker... no "bark" on the meat that way. One fellow suggested following it up in the broiler, but...

            Why not just hit it with the rub, then into a roasting pan and into the oven, uncovered, at 225, for 8 or 10 hours?? That way you'll get a good finish on the meat. It won't dry out, if it is a butt with lots of fat. Most important: It is done when it hits about 200 internal temp. That could take 7 hrs, 8 or 10 or more. The mantra: It's done when it's done. Mushy sounds like well over 200 in the liquid in the slow cooker.

            Then, prepare a sauce of 4 cups cider vinegar, 1C ketchup, 2T brown sugar, 1T kosher salt, 1T crushed red pepper flakes. In eastern N Carolina, they skip the ketchup and sugar. Anyway, mixing this with the pork after pulling will give you a great taste, even without the smoke.

            14 Replies
            1. re: woodburner


              which do you prefer for your pulled pork......the shoulder or fresh ham/butt?


              1. re: fourunder

                My understanding is that the rear portion is essentiall the fresh ham... I have not cooked those. I don't think you will get a classic pulled pork from it, but I don't know. I think it will cook up, well, hammy!

                The front shoulder -- the whole thing called a shoulder -- consists of two parts: the picnic is the lower portion right above the hoof, and the butt is the portion between the picnic and the body. Each piece goes about 6 lbs on average, and the whole shoulder, therefore, goes about 12 or 14 lbs.

                I find the butt gives a mix of dark and white meat, while the picnic gives more dark meat. I generally do butts, cause I can get them with the skin off -- the picnics I have to remove the skin. And I always want the skin off, to get a good bark and smoke exposure on the meat.

                1. re: woodburner

                  Fresh hams work fine, you just have to treat them a bit more gingerly than you would the shoulder, which is the greasiest part of the hog. The traditional style in eastern NC and much of South Carolina is whole hog. I have heard of places in South Carolina and Tennessee that only cook hams for their barbecue.

                  1. re: Naco

                    Yeah, duh., point well taken. I've done whole hog!! Maybe its time to put a whole big-ass ham on the smoker!! thanks

              2. re: woodburner

                Plus 1 on Methodology. ~~ Also Plus 1 on leaving the ketchup in the refrigerator and the sugar in the sugar bowl ..or maybe use it to make dessert...or sweeten the tea!


                1. re: Uncle Bob

                  As long as you bear in mind that 4 cups of V&P is a hell of a lot for one shoulder. I use around 1/4 of a cup or less of sauce per pound of cooked meat.

                  1. re: Naco

                    As long as you bear in mind that a recipe calling for 4 cups + stuff doesn't mean you use it all on one butt ~~ it ages well.

                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                      Oh, I know- in fact, it improves as it steeps. But using way, way too much vinegar and pepper sauce is a classic Yankee mistake, so I always feel obliged to point out that less is more.

                      1. re: Naco

                        Keep up the good work....We don't see too many "Yankees" this far South.

                    2. re: Naco

                      Agreed. What would result in 5+ cups of sauce would be enough for 20+ lbs of shoulders on the smoker. For a 5-6 pound shoulder, about 1 cup of a vinegar + pepper flakes + a few spices (or whatever your favorite combination is) should be more than enough - about 1/4 cup or less used in mopping, and about 3/4 cup cut into the meat when it's done. 5 cups of sauce with 4 pounds of meat (if you're lucky, you'll get 4 pounds of meat after cooking a 6 pound shoulder) = tangy soup.

                  2. re: woodburner

                    In the spirit of the poster, he/she asked specifically for slow cooker. If you're going to ignore the slow cooker part, why not suggest doing the best way, in a smoker outside, rather than in the oven?

                    Are slow cookers ideal for something like pulled pork? Obviously not. Then again, if I want to make pulled pork on a work day, I'll use a slow cooker rather than leave the oven unattended for 8-10 hours while I'm at work. While a better choice than a slow cooker under ideal circumstances, sometimes the circumstances are less than ideal. Perhaps that's why the OP specifically mentioned slow cooker.

                    1. re: foreverhungry

                      It's not the best idea to leave a slow cooker unattended for that long, either.

                      1. re: foreverhungry

                        HI- I'm the poster.Certainly not married to the slow cooker but definitely not making it out to the grill. Sounds like Oven is better than slow cooker, is that right? 225 for 1.5-2 hrs per pound until temp of meat gets to 200. I saw a recipe that suggested brining first. What do you think?

                        1. re: jromann

                          If you can use the oven, use the oven. It's the difference between the dry heat and wet heat - oven will mimic the dry heat of the BBQ, and as the poster above suggested, gives you a much better bark. Yep, 225 to 250 is great, which is the temperature range you shoot for on the smoker outside. The exact temperature doesn't matter a whole lot, as long as you're in that low 200 range. I shoot for an internal meat temperature of 195, then let it rest for a good 20 minutes. I've always had very good success when shooting for 195, but there's nothing wrong with going to 200 - except it'll take longer to get those extra 5 degrees than it did to increase 5 degrees from 190 to 195. So part of it depends on when you started it, and when you want to eat. For me, if you hit 195, you're good to go. Mop it occasionally with a cider vinegar and pepper sauce as described above - some folks add ketchup, some don't. Honestly, I don't think it matters a whole lot (I'm not from North Carolina, so I can get away with that).

                          I tend to brine lots of stuff (wet and dry), but I wouldn't brine a pork shoulder. You're letting the combination of slow heat + fat + broken down connective tissue accomplish what brines do for leaner cuts of meat - tenderize it. Given that you're slowly cooking it until it falls apart, brining is not necessary.

                          Lastly, really firstly, I would coat (rub it in vigorously) a dry rub mix onto the shoulder, wrap tight in several layers of plastic wrap, and let it sit in your fridge for 24 hours, or longer. I've found that the combination of spices and the drying effect from the dry spices and salt really makes for a very tasty bark - whether done on the BBQ or the oven. There are tons of great recipes out there that are easy to make, or buy one. I usually add a couple Tbs of the rub to the vinegar I use as a mop sauce, but to each their own.

                    2. Before anyone jumps down my throat for not being authentic, I need to tell you that this recipe is a hit at every party/gathering I've done it for. Super easy. I usually serve it with slider-sized rolls. Most of the time I up-size the quantity of meat & then freeze leftovers.

                      The recipe is based on a recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking, a website that is really great if you want to make more use of your slow cooker. There are tons of recipes, and a lot of very useful tips.

                      The Ingredients.

                      * 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or boneless pork loin. I usually buy a whole pork loin & cut it into manageable pieces. If it’s more than 4 lbs, I increase the ingredients below accordingly.
                      * 2 onions (or more), sliced in rings & sautéed until slightly golden
                      * 2 cups ketchup (a 24oz bottle seems to be exactly 2 cups. weird.
                      )* 1/2 cup warm water
                      * 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
                      * 1/4 cup brown sugar
                      • 1 teaspoon gluten free Worcestershire sauce
                      * 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or another hot sauce
                      * 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
                      * 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

                      The Directions.

                      Use a 6 quart crock pot. Trim meat, and place into your crock pot. You can cut the roast into pieces that fit – you will be “pulling” the pork later anyway. Add sliced onion. Squeeze in 2 cups of ketchup, and then pour 1/2 cup warm water into the ketchup bottle and shake. Pour the ketchup-y water into your crock. Add vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire, Tabasco and salt.
                      Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until meat shreds easily with a fork. Remove meat from pot, shred as desired, then return to pot & mix with the liquid.

                      Feel free to play with the seasonoings. I usually prowl my cupboard and add other stuff that looks good.

                      1. This is awesome & so easy. As long as you're not serving a pit boss, your guests will be happy.

                        Cheater BBQ - Reprinted from Cheater BBQ: Barbecue Anytime, Anywhere, In Any Weather by Mindy Merrell and R. B. Quinn

                        One 5- to 6-pound boneless Boston butt pork roast or same weight of boneless country-style pork ribs
                        1/4 cup Cheater Basic Dry Rub (recipe follows)
                        1/2 cup bottled smoke
                        Barbecue sauce of your choice

                        1. Cut the pork butt into medium (2- to 3-inch) chunks (the ribs don't need to be cut up).
                        2. Put the pieces in a large slow cooker (at least 5 quarts). Sprinkle the meat with the rub, turning the pieces to coat evenly. Add the bottled smoke.
                        3. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours or on low for 10 to 12 hours, until the meat is pull-apart tender and reaches an internal temperature of 190 F.
                        4. Using tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a rimmed platter or baking sheet. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Pull the meat into strands. It should shred very easily. Serve the barbecue piled on buns with your favorite barbecue sauce.
                        5. To serve the barbecue later, cover and refrigerate the meat when it has cooled. Pour the meat juice into a separate container and refrigerate. Before reheating the juice, skim and discard the congealed fat layer on the top.
                        6. To reheat the barbecue, place it in a saucepan moistened with some of the reserved juice. Gently heat the meat on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Or, place it in a covered casserole with some of the reserved juice and heat in a 350 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
                        7. While the meat warms, combine the barbecue sauce and some of the additional reserved meat juice in a saucepan. Heat through and serve with the barbecue.

                        Cheater Basic Dry Rub
                        Makes about 2/3 cup
                        1/4 cup paprika
                        2 tablespoons kosher salt
                        2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
                        1 tablespoon garlic powder
                        1 tablespoon dry mustard

                        1. Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to blend.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Snorkelvik

                          Good gosh -- 1/2 cup of liquid smoke!?! I had to go check the pantry, I have a 4 oz. bottle that we've had prob for 15 years, still half full. (Is that stuff safe for 15 years? I should probably check that out.)

                          Maybe a bit too smoky for me. Otherwise, quick and easy. :)

                          1. re: DuchessNukem

                            I know, right? The first time I made it I wrote "liquid smoke not overpowering but could use 1/2 smoke, 1/2 water." I just made it again this week & used those proportions and it came out great.

                        2. Thanks for all these great recipes. Now what to serve with it. I was thinking of this sweet potato and black bean salad. Other ideas:

                          Roasted Sweet Potato Salad With Black Beans and Chili DressingPublished: September 25, 2009 Twitter

                          . . Time: 45 minutes
                          Related The Minimalist: A Potato Salad of a Different Color (September 30, 2009)

                          4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
                          1 large onion, preferably red, chopped
                          1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
                          Salt and freshly ground black pepper
                          1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh hot chili, like jalapeño
                          1 clove garlic, peeled
                          Juice of 2 limes
                          2 cups cooked black beans, drained (canned are fine)
                          1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
                          1 cup chopped fresh cilantro.

                          1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.
                          2. Put chilies in a blender or mini food processor along with garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.
                          3. Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day.
                          Yield: 4 servings

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jromann

                            Red and Green Cabbage Slaw w a buttermilk dressing..2 to 1 milk to mayo + salt, pepper, sugar to taste and maybe even a bit of red wine vinegar. Excellent sliders or sloppy joes. Pulled pork + BBQ sauce + slaw...everybody has their own taste. Slaw on the side, slaw on top...

                            Saur Kraut - take from container and put in a skillet and heat up - add chicken stock (half cup water with bullion or straight up stock) and some white wine to REDUCE THE BITTERNESS...salt and pepper...pork and kraut always go well together.