HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


What is a proper Pulled Pork Sandwich?

I'm not sure I've ever had one. A proper one that is. I had one yesterday that was terrible. Dry pork (pretty sure it was boston butt) with no real spice or smoke flavor on a very wimpy bun. If not for the sauce it would have had no taste at all. As I was talking to a friend about it I realized I didn't really know what a proper or traditional Pulled Pork sandwhich should be. What part of the pig is used? What are the spices. How is it cooked? What kind of bun? I realize there are probably 50 ways to make one, but there must be one that is considered the Mother recipe.



  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. re: ferret

      Thanks that was a good start. What kinds of spices are used?


    2. I'm a member of the bbq-brethren.com on line community, an incredible group of bbq competitors and enthusiasts. There, the overwhelming consensus is that pulled pork is almost always pork butt and occasionally shoulder. The meat is liberally coated with a rub for flavor and bark, and cooked on low or medium heat until a skewer inserted goes in like buttah. It might be injected with apple cider and seasoning though usually not. The meat is frequently smoked in an open foil pan which may be covered late in the cook. The collected juices may be defatted and mixed with cider vinegar, red pepper flakes and other seasonings before being added into the pulled meat. To sauce or not beyond that is up to personal taste, though if it's prepared well there is no need for sauce in my opinion. I like it served any number of ways.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Cameraman

        isn't pork butt and shoulder the same cut?

        1. re: thew

          Not technically.

          A more fuller explanation:

          "What is commonly sold as a "pork butt" or "Boston butt" are the same cut of meat--the top portion of what is considered the "whole shoulder" of the hog. This cut is very marbled and often sold skinless, with a large portion of fat on top. The "butt" can be sold boneless or bone-in, and weighs on average between 6 lbs. and 9 lbs. bone-in, or between 4 lbs. and 7 lbs. boneless. In comparison, the "shoulder roast" or "pork picnic" is the lower portion of the shoulder below the joint and above the shank (leg). It is smaller than the "pork butt" and also contains more fat, bone and connective tissue. It is often sold complete with skin and is rarely sold boneless. These smaller roasts usually weigh between 4 to 5 lbs."

          Read more: The Difference Between Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/list_7446645_diff...

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Interestingly, in my neck of the woods, I can only regularly find whole shoulders, with skin, weighing between 9-13 lbs. I just learned how to properly make cracklings from the skin, so no loss.

      2. I'm guessing you don't live in the southern US, because BBQ joints are on every corner here. I have rarely had a bad one.
        You really need a big ol' smoker and hours and hours to make Proper Pulled Pork.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jmcarthur8

          Before I got my Weber Smokey Mountain I smoked a slew of butts offset in my Weber kettle. It takes a little work to keep the fire regulated but it's a great introduction to fire and smoke.

        2. Most important is that it be topped with coleslaw

          1 Reply
          1. Pulled pork is only as good as the care and effort put into it. I hope this helps because it's an art well worth perfecting. Have fun and make it your own! http://www.smoking-meat.com/pulled-po...

            1. We take pork shoulder rub it with an array of spice including brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, etc. Let it sit overnight in the fridge then slow mesquite smoke in an electric smoker for up to 18 hours. Then we pull it apart toss it with our chiptle bbq sauce put in on a homemade roll with coleslaw on it. It is yummy!!

              1. If by "proper" you mean "traditional North Carolina style," a basic definition is pork shoulder cooked over hardwood, seasoned with a vinegar-based sauce or dip and piled on a squishy white hamburger bun and topped with coleslaw.

                Reputable pitmasters may cook directly over the fire at up to 280 degrees or so; my home method is low and slow, 225-230, for up to 18 hours depending on the size and number of shoulders. I use mesquite lump charcoal and hickory (mesquite burns hot but I have taught myself how to get it and keep it low over the years- it's the highest-quality lump in my area).

                The sauce/dip may be nothing more than vinegar, salt and red and black pepper, perhaps sugar (Eastern NC style), or contain ketchup as well (western, Piedmont or Lexington style). In South Carolina and elsewhere, mustard is a favored ingredient.

                The slaw may or may not contain mayonnaise, and in the west they double down on the ketchup factor by adding the sauce to the slaw ("barbecue slaw').

                The generic, squishy white bun is absolutely key. To quote John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, authors of an excellent scholarly tome on the topic, "Holy Smoke:"

                "There's not much to be said about the bread, except don't get fancy. You want a cheap, commercial white bread bun...The bread's role is mostly structural. It's just a medium; the barbecue is the message."

                The sandwiches for dinner at my house tonight will consist of shoulder I barbecued for about 13hrs then pulled (with the exception of the"money muscle," which I chunk and serve separately), a slaw which includes mayo, and Piedmont-Lexington style dip from Jim Early's "The Best Tar Heel Barbecue," on store-brand hamburger buns.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Pius Avocado III

                  No I don't live in the south. :) BBQ up in this corner of the world is most often disparaged by southern transplants. I have a CharGriller offset and have cooked ribs low and slow, but have yet to try a larger piece of meat. Well that's not entirely true, I did cook a whole pig last year in a home made china box, but that is an entirely different technique. I was looking for a traditional recipe that I could start with and modify to my liking. I realize that "traditional" is a moving target and it can change from state to state, region to region, hell even from street to street. It's just a starting point. There seems to be some commonalities. Low and slow, the cut of meat, spice rub, cheap white bun topped with coleslaw and some kind of sauce. Seems the main piece that can be played with is the spice rub. I was hoping to get some more specific recipes. When I first did ribs I slathered them in store bought BBQ sauce. I have now been working on a rub that I use sans sauce. Below is the ingredients from the link above in shecrab's post.

                  1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
                  1 cup Paprika
                  1/2 cup Celery Salt
                  2 Tbsps. Granulated Garlic
                  1/2 Tbsp. Mustard Powder
                  1/2 Tbsp. White Pepper
                  1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
                  2 tsps. Ground Thyme
                  1/2 tsp. Salt

                  For my taste that's a whole lotta paprika. Here's my current rub.

                  1/4 cup dark brown sugar
                  1 tsp salt
                  1 tsp garlic powder
                  1 tsp onion powder
                  1 tsp ground mustard
                  1 tsp ancho chili powder
                  1/2 tsp paprika
                  1/2 tsp oregano
                  1/2 tsp chili peper flakes.

                  This makes enough for one large baby back rib. I have yet to try making my own BBQ sauce or a mop sauce. Are mop sauces and dipping sauces the same thing?


                  1. re: JuniorBalloon

                    "Dip" is just a Tar Heel word for sauce- you definitely would not want to mop with it alone, although I've diluted my Piedmont-style sauce with apple juice and mopped with that. Another good trick is to put some of your rub in apple juice for the mop.

                    Somewhat lazily, I have been using Plow Boys commercially-available rub on my butts of late. When I do my own it typically consists of coarse salt (red Hawaiian when I have it- you should see the color that gets you on the bark), turbinado sugar, fresh coarsely ground black pepper and Aleppo pepper.

                    Paul Kirk's "Championship Barbecue" has a base sauce that would be a good place to start- his bare bones are a good starting point for your own variations.

                    The money muscle is a strip of loin on the narrow end of a butt opposite the blade- it is markedly tastier than the rest of the shoulder and because it is on the exterior also has the best bark.

                    1. re: Pius Avocado III

                      So a mopping sauce should be much more watery than a BBQ sauce. Got it.

                      I'll take a look at Pul Kirk's site.


                  2. re: Pius Avocado III

                    Also meant to ask, what is the "money muscle"?


                    1. re: JuniorBalloon

                      JB you really need to poke around at www.bbq-brethren.com. All your questions and those you didn't you had will be answered. I guarantee it.

                      1. re: Cameraman

                        I've regged, I'll poke around. Thanks.

                    2. re: Pius Avocado III

                      Whole hog in eastern NC, shoulders past Raleigh. "Dip" is Lexington lingo. And no one says "pulled pork", it's just barbecue.

                      1. re: Pius Avocado III

                        +1 on everything Pius said. I have learned this from Mr. travelmad478, who is a NC native, and believes that the above-described sandwich is the only thing that one can refer to as "barbecue." I disagree, and think the NC-style pulled pork sandwich on a cheap hamburger bun with BBQ slaw dumped on it is pretty nasty, but there you go. I'm from New Jersey.

                      2. Obviously expecting anything but mediocre-to-bad food from Subway is foolish, but the commercials for their new pulled pork sub really take the cake. Lettuce, tomato and onion? Really, Subway?

                        See: What is not a proper pulled pork sandwich