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Jan 24, 2012 07:59 AM

Pulled Pork in a Rice Cooker?

I've been dying to try to make pulled pork at school, but I don't have a crock pot or pressure cooker, and the oven in my dorm is absolutely terrible and generally is 50 degrees off from whatever temperature it's set at. All I have is my (life saving) rice cooker.

I've found a couple poorly instructed recipes from people who've tried pulled pork in a rice cooker before, but some say it takes 2 hours for a 3lb shoulder and others say you should leave it 8 hours over night! Also I have no idea whether to turn it onto the rice (hot) or "keep warm" (low) setting after braising the pork.


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  1. Before answering your question, there's lots of confusion about what "pulled pork" is. What it is not is simply pork shoulder cooked to the point that it falls apart. Pulled pork is more than that. True pulled pork needs three elements: pork cooked until the collagen breaks down; bark on the exterior to add the textural element of crunch to play against the tenderness of the interior; smoke flavor from smoking, which adds a flavor dimension that works so well with pork in general.

    To that, you can add a fourth dimension, which is a thin vinegar based sauce that helps cut the fat. Together - tender interior, crunchy bark, smoke, and acid, make North Carolina pulled pork what it is.

    What you're trying to do is cook a piece of pork to the point that it falls apart. Yes, you can do that in your rice cooker. Conventional wisdom is that the shoulder needs to reach an internal temperature of about 195 F before the collagen breaks down. For a 5-6 pound shoulder, this will take about 8-10 hours, because you want you heat source to be about 225.

    A couple things are obvious here. 1) you're using a moist heat source - rice cooker. Meaning, moisture is trapped, so you run the risk of steaming your pork, and you certainly won't get any bark. 2) You're not smoking, so you won't get smoke. What you're going to end up with is shredded pork, which, by itself, is somewhat bland. That's why the bark and smoke are so important. This is why most people then drown their shredded pork in BBQ sauce, and the pork becomes a vehicle for BBQ sauce.

    What I'd suggest, if you really want to go this route, is to get yourself a cheap meat thermometer, and figure out the setting to keep the temperature rising very slowly. Maybe try the high setting for a couple of hours, then switch to low. It should take a 3 lb shoulder about 5-6 hours (minimum). Keep the fat side up. Measure the internal temp of your shoulder frequently, and you'll get an idea of how quick it's cooking. Slowly is the key.

    Lastly, if you want to avoid having flavorless meat, use a generous amount of rub on the shoulder. If you're not beholden to the standard NC pulled pork style rub, try Italian, or Caribbean, or Central American, or Thai, etc. style rubs, and you'll get some flavor into the meat without having to drown it in sauce.

    Good luck.