American style pulled pork has become a very popular dish. With it’s combination of tender, juicy meat and big flavours, it has the bonus of being able to feed a crowd with very little effort, so it’s great party food.

My Easy BBQ Pulled Pork recipe is one that I’ve made a number of times for friends and family, always receiving great comments. You can see it in these Pulled Pork Tacos and I’ve used it on everything from pizza to a salad.

A plate and two forks with freshly shredded cooked pork

Just pulled and ready for the sauce!

What is pulled pork

Pulled pork is a cut of pork that is cooked very slowly over low heat until the meat can be pulled apart. I like to use the pork shoulder – in the US, this cut is called the Boston butt.

Slow cooking pork shoulder yields a wonderfully fall apart and melty kind of meat due to it’s perfect ratios of meat to fat. I use a boneless piece of meat for convenience but some people swear by using a cut with the bone in for more flavour.

You can cook the meat a number of ways – oven, slow cooker / crock pot or barbecue for instance – but just be sure to cook it very slowly. Cooking pork shoulder too quickly will result in a very chewy dinner.

A frying pan filled with shredded pork with bbq sauce in the background

The flavours

The flavour in this recipe, aside from the meat itself, comes in two forms – a dry rub and a BBQ sauce. Both are made from scratch, using store cupboard ingredients and are simple to prepare.

The pulled pork dry rub

This rub is a combination of brown sugar, garlic, paprika, dried herbs, onion powder, salt, cayenne, cumin, fennel seeds and pepper. These are all simple ingredients to have on hand and I keep this in my spice rack at all times.

You can make a big batch of the spice rub, place it in a labelled airtight container and have it ready to go next time you feel the urge for a delicious slow cooked dinner.

The pulled pork BBQ sauce

The second flavouring is the BBQ sauce. This is made by combining some of the amazing cooking liquor with tomato sauce and paste, red wine vinegar, sugar, paprika, mustard powder and a little salt. It’s thick, sweet and full of flavour and coats every strand of the meat.

The BBQ sauce is reduced in a saucepan until thick and then poured over the shredded pork for the last part of the cooking process.

A tray of 3 pulled pork tacos

How to cook pulled pork in slow cooker

For me, the choice is always the slow cooker. My slow cooker is my best friend at times, gently cooking something all day long and filling the house with it’s gorgeous aromas, while I relax or run errands. This pulled pork will take around 7-8 hours on the low setting. For very best results, I don’t recommend cooking it on high.

Start by mixing together the spice rub ingredients and then massaging them well into the pork (photo 1). Now heat a little oil in a large frying pan and just brown the meat all over.

Pork shoulder coated in a spice rub ready to cook.

Transfer it to the bowl of a slow cooker with some carrot, celery and onion (photo 2) and let her cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Browned pork in a slow cooker dish ready to slow cook.

To make the pulled pork BBQ sauce

Stir some of the pork cooking liquor, together with the other sauce ingredients together in a saucepan over low heat. Let it come to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom, until it’s very thick.

Once the pork is cooked, shred it using 2 forks, pushing and pulling until you have a big bowl full of pulled meat. Return it to a frying pan with a good few spoonfuls of BBQ sauce and cook it on high until you start to get some caramelised bits. Serve it with the remaining sauce.

What to do with pulled pork leftovers

One of the best parts of making pulled pork is there is often the opportunity for leftovers.

  • Freeze it in an airtight container for another dinner later on
  • Turn it into tacos, burritos, hash or a pasta bake.

There are endless opportunities.

Can pulled pork be frozen and can it be reheated?

Yes, it can. You can freeze pulled pork in an airtight container but make sure to divide it up into dinner size portions first so you only need to reheat what you need. Thaw it in the fridge overnight and reheat it in a pan with BBQ sauce (store-bought is fine if you have none of your own prepared).

Substitutions

  • Spices – try to use all the spices in the recipe for the best flavour but if you don’t have fennel seeds you can leave them out. Use whatever chilli powder you have if you don’t have cayenne and while brown sugar is best, you can substitute regular white granulated sugar.
  • This style of cooking is not reserved for pork. I’ve used this exact same method, rub and sauce on beef. It would also work well on chicken breasts and thighs, however being a less fatty meat, I would suggest adding ½ cup of stock to the slow cooker prior to cooking and only cook it for 4-5 hours.

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A birdseye view of a frying pan filled with BBQ pulled pork

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A pan filled with BBQ pulled pork with BBQ sauce in the corner.

Easy BBQ Pulled Pork Recipe

5 from 1 vote
Tender, juicy pulled pork is one of the ultimate comfort foods. This Easy BBQ Pulled Pork recipe takes very little effort with the help of a slow cooker and you can be feeding a crowd a delicious meal.

Ingredients

FOR THE PULLED PORK

  • 1 whole red onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1.8 kg 4lb boneless pork shoulder (notes)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (notes)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sweet / mild paprika (notes)
  • 3 teaspoon dried herbs (thyme & oregano work well)
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oil (notes)

FOR TH BBQ SAUCE

  • 2/3 cup of the liquid from slow cooker (or beef stock, notes)
  • 2/3 cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked)
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Place the roughly cut onion, carrots and celery into the base of a slow cooker.
  • With a sharp knife and being careful to cut away from you, slice the skin off the pork (trying not to get any of the meat). You can discard this or roast it until crackled to serve with the pulled pork.
  • Mix together the brown sugar, garlic, and all the spices (paprika, dried herbs, onion powder, salt, cayenne, ground cumin, fennel seeds & black pepper) in a small bowl, then massage them into the pork all over, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies and use it all up.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat then add the pork, sealing each side before turning. This step does not aim to cook the meat, just sear the outside to seal the juices into it. Then transfer the pork to the slow cooker on top of the vegetables. Cook for 8 hours on low (check at 7 hours).
  • At around the 7 hour mark, check the pork for doneness – if it is already easily falling apart it is done and you can put it on the warm setting while you organise the sauce.
  • In a large, heavy-based saucepan over low to medium heat combine all the sauce ingredients. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then turn the heat up to medium. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook stirring regularly for 15-20 minutes until reduced by a third and thickened.
  • Take the pork out of the slow cooker and place it on a carving board. Use two forks to push and pull at the meat to shred it.
  • Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil to frying pan over high heat. Add the shredded meat and around 1/3 cup of BBQ sauce (or more to your taste). Cook the meat, stirring and turning, until some pieces start to get crispy and browned.
  • Serve the pork with any remaining BBQ sauce, coleslaw and cornbread or in tacos.

Notes

  1. I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (= 4 teaspoons worldwide)
  2. If using beef stock in the sauce, add 1/2 teaspoon onion powder and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder as well. Plus 1/4 teaspoon cayenne if you want it spicy
  3. If you don't mind a little extra effort, a piece of pork with the bone in will yield even more flavour - make sure to get a heavier piece (around 2.1kg) to allow for the bone.

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A pan of just cooked BBQ pulled pork