Slow Cooker Pulled Pork is a true American classic! Seasoned pork is cooked slowly until tender, then coated in a delicious sweet and sticky barbecue glaze. It’s a great option for feeding a crowd or just when you want a hit of barbecue flavour any day of the week.
Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
The BBQ smokehouse style of food originated in the American deep south around a century ago and has had a real culinary resurgence in the last decade. It’s easy to understand why, the concept is all about producing really tender, flavourful meat and serving it simply.
Traditional pulled pork is made by cooking a seasoned joint of meat all day over hot coals before shredding or chopping it, and adding a fragrant sauce. It’s this long, gentle cooking method that actually makes it a perfect dish for the crockpot!
The smoky BBQ flavour can be easily imparted into the meat with a dry rub, and then slow cooking produces tender and succulent meat just right for pulling.
Why make pulled pork in the slow cooker?
Pulled pork is such a simple recipe to make with only a few steps to prepare the meat; cover in the dry rub, cook, and then shred it with some BBQ sauce. All of these steps can be done easily in the slow cooker – just leave it cooking all day and you’re done!
Here’s what you need to make pulled pork in the slow cooker.
- Pork shoulder joint – For simplicity I often use a 1.5-2 kg piece of boneless pork shoulder from the supermarket, but you’ll get a great result buying from your local butcher too. Pork shoulder is a cheaper, fattier cut of pork that won’t dry out over long periods of cooking, and works perfectly for pulled pork.
- Spice rub – A combination of sweet paprika, smoked paprika, celery salt, garlic, salt, pepper and just a hint of chilli will give the meat a deep smoky undertone.
- Sugar – Muscavado sugar is a soft, dark brown sugar with a rich taste. It’s creates a syrupy, malty undertone to the seasoning. Use regular brown sugar as an alternative.
- Onion and garlic – Add a savoury base to balance the sweet, smokiness of the rub and BBQ sauce.
- Apple cider vinegar – Vinegar helps to soften the meat as the acids break down the tissue. This variety is mildly acidic and adds a slightly sharp but sweet flavour to sauces and marinades.
- Stock – A small amount of chicken stock to keep the meat moist whilst cooking.
- Apple juice – A little apple juice with the stock adds a hint of fruitiness and helps lock in moisture.
- BBQ sauce – You can use a homemade BBQ sauce or a shop bought. Both will work well.
How to make it
Here’s how to make the best BBQ pulled pork. Simple steps and a fantastic result!
- Make a dry rub. In a bowl mix together the spices and sugar.
- Prepare the meat. Remove any string if it’s tied and pat it dry with paper towel. Next, take a sharp knife and score the meat on both sides.
- Vegetables. Slice the onions and garlic and add them to the slow cooker.
- Season. Generously cover the meat with the dry rub then place on the vegetables skin side up. Pour in the stock, vinegar and apple juice. Cook!
- Remove from slow cooker. Place on a oven tray and remove the skin.
- BBQ sauce. Pour over the BBQ sauce and add the cooked onion for extra flavour. You can go ahead and shred this now ready for eating, however I recommend putting the pork (smeared with BBQ sauce) in the oven and then completing steps 7 and 8.
- Remove from the oven. The BBQ sauce will be a richer colour and syrupy. The edges of the pork will have crisped.
- Pull. Take two forks and work through the meat until it is shredded and completely mixed with the BBQ sauce. Serve!
What is the best way to ‘pull’ pork?
The idea of ‘pulling’ meat is to create small pieces of soft and tender meat that can be easily mixed with a sauce or added to another dish. The meat should have a roughly shredded or chopped look. For this reason, it’s always best to ‘pull’ the meat by hand rather than using a processor (which would lose the texture of the meat).
A couple of downturned forks work well for pulling meat, or you can buy some meat claws that can speed things up a little. However, slow cooking pork shoulder will make the meat soft enough to break down easily whichever technique you choose. Just fork over the edges to get started then work through the rest of the joint.
There is no right or wrong answer; pulled pork is pretty versatile. The classic option is serving it in a soft brioche bun with BBQ sauce, pickled vegetables, fries, and coleslaw on the side for some sharpness and extra crunch.
Saying that, this recipe makes a generous amount so it’s good to have some alternative serving options. Here are some ideas!
- It makes a great filling for a soft tortilla wrap with shredded iceberg lettuce.
- As an alternative topping for nachos, cover in BBQ sauce and melted cheese.
- Go for the healthier option by creating a pulled pork salad bowl! Throw in some crunchy shredded carrot, red cabbage and spring onion and drizzle with a cider vinegar dressing.
- It goes really well with Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese if you want a change from serving with fries.
- A pulled pork ciabatta sandwich also goes down a treat. Lightly toast the ciabatta for extra crunch!
Top tips to make slow cooker pulled pork
- Score the meat well and push the dry rub into the cuts to get the flavour right through the meat.
- Always place the pork skin side up in the slow cooker, the skin helps to lock in the moisture of the meat and will act as an “auto-baster”.
- The slow cooker will cook the joint ready for eating, but a final blast in a hot oven is recommended to add flavour and texture, and will caramelise the sauce.
- A meat thermometer is a great kitchen tool to give confidence that the meat is safely cooked and hot throughout.
Tough joints like pork shoulder are perfect for slow cooking as the fat and sinew breaks down with the heat, creating tender meat. The rolled joints that you can buy in the supermarket come from the lower part of the shoulder. The upper part is referred to as a “Shoulder Blade Joint” here in the UK or ‘Boston Butt’ in the US and is equally good for slow cooking.
Before you start digging a fire pit outside, check your spice cupboard! It’s really all about creating the best dry rub to infuse the meat over the cooking time.
You can use skinless (with a little fat) or skin-on joints as long as you work the dry rub into the meat well, so the flavours really permeate and create a delicious dark glaze on the outer part. I like these bits a little crispy too, so usually do a last blast in the oven once the meat has finished cooking in the slow cooker.
Yes, shop bought or home made BBQ sauce both work well for pulled pork.
If you make a large batch and want to store some for another time, it will keep in the fridge for up to three days in an airtight container. Alternatively, it will freeze well for up to 3 months. Just portion it up after you have pulled the meat.
Yes, there is no gluten in the recipe. So just ensure that the BBQ sauce that you pick does not contain any gluten either.
After the meat has been cooked add the BBQ sauce before pulling it.
It’s best to braise the meat in a small amount of liquid when making pulled pork in the crockpot. I like to use a combination of stock and apple juice, this both imparts flavour and keeps the whole joint of meat soft and juicy whilst cooking.
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
- 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) pork shoulder
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 150 ml (0.75 cups) chicken stock
- 50 ml (0.2 cups) apple cider vinegar
- 50 ml (0.2 cups) apple juice
- 150 ml (0.75 ) BBQ sauce
For the dry rub
- 1 tbsp paprika (sweet)
- 1 tbsp paprika (smoked)
- 2 tbsp sugar Muscavado or dark brown sugar
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 2 tsp garlic granules
- 1 tsp chilli powder hot or mild
- 1 tsp celery salt
- ½ tsp pepper black
- In a bowl mix together the ingredients for the dry rub (spices, seasoning and sugar) and set aside.1 tbsp paprika (sweet), 1 tbsp paprika (smoked), 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp garlic granules, 1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp celery salt, ½ tsp pepper, 1.5 tsp salt
- Thickly slice the onion and garlic and sprinkle in the bottom of the slow cooker.1 onion, 2 garlic cloves
- Prepare the pork by removing any string and patting it down with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Next take a sharp knife and score the meat both vertically and horizontally to a depth of around 1cm. If the meat still has the skin, score through the skin.1.5 kg pork shoulder
- Take the rub mixture and smear it all over the pork, work it into the knife scores to ensure the flavour is infused into the meat. Place the pork into the slow cooker resting on the onion and garlic. Ensure the pork is skin side up, this will trap the moisture in the meat whilst cooking.
- Pour the chicken stock, apple juice and cider vinegar into the slow cooker. These should be added to the side of the meat rather than over the top of it so that the rub is not washed off the meat by the liquid. Cook for 8 hours on low or 6 hours on high.150 ml chicken stock, 50 ml apple juice, 50 ml apple cider vinegar
- Once the pork is cooked (see recipe notes 2-4 below), the skin will pull away easily from the meat with a knife and fork. Cut off any additional excess fat.
- Remove the pork from the slow cooker and place in a roasting tin along with some of the onions for extra flavour. Pour over the BBQ sauce.150 ml BBQ sauce
- (optional) Cook the pork for 20 minutes at 200°C (390°F). This will caramelise the sauce and crisp the edges of the meat.
- Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before shredding (see recipe notes). The cooked BBQ sauce will mix with the meat as it is pulled, however more can be added to taste. Serve!
- Pork shoulder or butt joints are usually sold skin on, which is fine for the slow cooker as the layer of fat and skin locks in the moisture and bastes the meat as it cooks. For maximum flavour score the skin with a sharp knife so that the rub is worked into the meat below. The skin can be easily removed once the meat is cooked and should peel away from the meat without too much effort.
- Once the meat is cooked in the slow cooker it will be tender, hot throughout and soft and a light brown pink colour with clear juices. It should come apart easily if pulled apart with a fork. If the meat still feels firm and resistant then allow to cook for longer.
- A meat thermometer is always useful when cooking joints in the slow cooker as it allows you to see that they have reached a safe internal temperature of 75°C.
- There can be variances in cooking times due to the difference sizes, brands and types of slow cooker. Cooking times given are a guide.
- The pork can be cooked from start to finish in the slow cooker so it’s fine to forgo giving it a last blast in the oven – it will still taste great. That being said, a final cook in a hot oven creates amazing crunchy bits of seasoned pork and makes the sauce extra thick and sticky which is delicious!