How To Improve A Pulled Pork Sandwich?
February 2, 2010 12:47 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite pulled pork recipes?

I have tried various mixtures of cola, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper and brown sugar, but I get two problems: the resulting pork butt pulls apart and is fully-cooked, but it is a bit tougher and doesn't have as much flavor as what I get at restaurants, and the sauce is thin and not very flavorful.

If you have favorite no-fail recipes for pulled pork that give a soft, moist, flavorful product, I'd appreciate any tips.
posted by Blazecock Pileon to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Well that depends. Are you smoking, grilling, or using an oven?
posted by jedicus at 12:53 PM on February 2, 2010

Response by poster: Oven.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2010

Response by poster: I could also grill, but I don't have the resources for smoking.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:57 PM on February 2, 2010

Okay, well, it just so happens that Cook's Illustrated just had a great bit on improving pulled pork made in the oven. The general principles are available for free, but the recipes will require either a subscription or activating a 14-day free trial.
posted by jedicus at 12:59 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you want something different from the usual southern pulled pork, this recipe for Vietnamese-style pork is amazing. The best I've ever made.

I think the trick to avoiding toughness is low heat for a long time. And a relatively fatty piece of meat to begin with.
posted by neroli at 1:00 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

How slow an oven and how long? And what cut of pork are you using?

The usual advice for any pulled pork is some kind of shoulder cut (butt or picnic roast) and maybe 200-225 F in the oven. If you wrap the meat tightly in foil and let it sit at least half an hour, it should shred properly.
posted by maudlin at 1:02 PM on February 2, 2010

(Sit at least half an hour after cooking.)
posted by maudlin at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2010

(Duh. You mentioned pork butt in your question. I'll go back to work.)
posted by maudlin at 1:04 PM on February 2, 2010

Best answer: This.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:05 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely trying mcstayinskool's link next time, but I've always had good luck throwing it in a crock pot for a couple of hours, pulling, and mixing in whatever barbecue sauce looks tasty. Granted, this is definitely a wet approach, but the results are always moist.
posted by valkyryn at 1:16 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My family uses the Cook's Illustrated recipe, and it never fails. IIRC, you start the meat with a packet of wood chips on the grill, and then finish it in the oven.
posted by MadamM at 1:16 PM on February 2, 2010

Best answer: The recipe in Joy of Cooking is really quite good. Simple and authentic, too.
posted by trip and a half at 1:18 PM on February 2, 2010

DUDE I just made killer pulled pork a couple weeks ago for a party. i got the recipe from

Basically, slow cook the loin w/e with a bottle *12-18oz* of root beer. Sounds nuts. Smells awesome when it cooks. Is awesome. When done you separate w/ a fork and either mix in the sauce or serve it on the side. I like to mix in the sauce for the last couple hours so the flavors mix and it cooks down really nice. I also add a bit of garlic and red pepper.

Regardless, you serve coleslaw with it, and if you're eating a sandwich, you put the coleslaw on top of it. Mmm.

I thought it was asinine but the reviews were awesome. It's really very good.
posted by TomMelee at 1:22 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's the chiababe household's recipe for pulled pork.

1. Buy Boston Butt roast on sale.

2. Place whole roast in crock pot on low at midnight. Season with garlic powder, salt & pepper.

3. Turn crock pot on high around 8am.

4. Pull roast out at noon. Shred with forks and pour on some sort of mustard based BBQ sauce. We usually buy a local brand from a restaurant here in SC.

5. Eat on rolls or hamburger buns for lunch! (and you can sell it from your trunk for profit, if you want)

It's tender and yummy and a whole roast lasts for days since it's just two of us eating. On preview: coleslaw on bbq sandwiches is an abomination.
posted by chiababe at 1:28 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like this recipe from Pithy and Cleaver, there's a nice BBQ sauce recipe at the end of the post as well.
posted by ellieBOA at 1:36 PM on February 2, 2010

I like the 4-hours-in-a-crock-pot method. Try orange juice or oranges. Gives the pork a tangy sweet-and-sour quality.
posted by AugieAugustus at 1:36 PM on February 2, 2010

I pretty much stick with the following, from Esquire's August 2005 issue by Scott Raab

"1 five-pound pork butt (or shoulder or loin or any big chunk of hog)
2 bottles of barbecue sauce

Put chunk of pork in roasting pan. Pour barbecue sauce over pork. Place lid on roasting pan. Set oven to 250. Or 275. Wait, oh, five or six hours. What you wind up with is a meat--essentially pulled pork--so moist and fork tender that you'll eat far more than you ought to."

Sometimes I use 1 bottle of sauce. Sometimes I use a 7 pound butt. Sometimes I open the oven once an hour or so & scoop the sauce over the butt to re-moisten the top. Now, I'll admit, this isn't always perfect. I often end up slicing up a lot of the middle , but that has more to do with the fact that I'm lazy & weak & do this at 3AM than anything. I'm pretty sure you could pull it nicely. I generally dump the drippings into a pan & boil it up to have a sauce after it's all said & done.

Do you stick it in the pan fat side up?
posted by knile at 1:39 PM on February 2, 2010

I haven't tried this specific recipe but lately I have been eating as many Cochinita Pibil tacos as I can get my greasy, oniony hands on.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, but blue cheese coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches is pretty effing amazing, chiababe. (At Buckeye Beer Engine here in Cleveland...). Sounds gross but is actually incredibly awesome.

I think I might have to try that root beer thing, TomMelee -- do you have the link?
posted by at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2010

Sure thing.
posted by TomMelee at 2:01 PM on February 2, 2010

My brother and I made tamales at christmas that essentially had a pulled pork filling. It was fabulous -- and I'm not much of a meat eater.

To start, I browned the pork butt slightly, covered with water, and added an onion, a head of garlic, peppercorns, salt, and a bay leaf. Cooked it for about 3 hours, until tender, then let it sit in the fridge (still in the liquid) overnight.

The next day we made a batch of this red chili enchilada sauce. Made it hotter by adding some jalapenos. We then took the pork out of its broth (save the broth!), let it come up to room temp, and shredded it. Added it to the enchilada sauce and cooked for about 20 minutes, or until the whole thing was soft and velvety.

It was a great tamale filling, but would also be awesome with tacos or enchiladas or just by itself.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2010

Cooked it for about 3 hours, until tender, then let it sit in the fridge (still in the liquid) overnight.

Forgot to mention -- on the stove, at barely a simmer.

posted by mudpuppie at 2:16 PM on February 2, 2010

Thanks, TomMelee. And now I want pibil tacos, damn it.
posted by at 2:27 PM on February 2, 2010

Crock pot is the sure way to get moist pulled pork, but the key, if you want to do it in the oven, is to get the meat hot enough to render the fat, because there is easily enough fat in a butt to create a moist and delicious pulled pork. I use a dry rub of salt pepper cumin spices and brown sugar, cook for about 45 minutes at high heat and then, once there is a nice 'bark' on the outside, i wrap it in tin foil reduce the oven to 350 and cook for another hour and a half. voila: bits of crispy, lots of juicy pulled pork from the oven.
My summertime method for a 15 lb shoulder takes 14 hrs, but that's for another post.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:31 PM on February 2, 2010

The butt-in-a-bag technique has worked pretty well for me; for something with a Mexican flair, Tinga is really good (this isn't the recipe I use but is very close and mine isn't available on the net right now; the big difference is that I serve mine on tostadas rather than soft tortillas)
posted by TedW at 2:53 PM on February 2, 2010

This is not only my favorite pulled pork, but probably my favorite food, ever. However, my mom doesn't cook it for the 6-7 hours it says. I think she does 450 for 1/2 or 1 hour, then 300-some for a few more. (Sorry, I suppose those are the key deails you're looking for, huh?) The dry rub + wet mop combination creates a delicious, spicy crust on the outside, which is the magical part I've never come across on any other pulled pork. Also, do you have a dutch oven to cook it in? I suspect that can help a lot with the moist/tender factor.
posted by gueneverey at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2010

Best answer: I go for the Ultimate Cheater Pulled Pork. It turns out fantastic every time.
posted by sandraregina at 4:39 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I subscribe to the gordie's excuse to talk about his dog method.
posted by gordie at 4:49 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

The night before I'm cooking I cover the pork butt in Lowrey's Pork Seasoning, wrap tightly in saran wrap, and leave in the fridge overnight. The next morning I put the pork in a crock pot and turn on high. After about 4 hours I move the heat to low and let cook for 3-4 more hours. About 30 minutes before we are ready to eat I pull the pork and put back in the crockpot with a bottle of Sweet Baby rays BBQ sauce. I let that simmer and then I serve the pork with a healthy covering of Gates BBQ sauce.

It's perfect every time.
posted by COD at 5:33 PM on February 2, 2010

2nding Cook's Illustrated's recent pulled pork recipe. I think its in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue, which should still be on newsstands? No grill required - oven only. I made it this weekend and it was really easy and impressively delicious.
posted by supramarginal at 8:44 PM on February 2, 2010

Best answer: WARNING: this recipe has been clinically proven to be effective against vegetarians, dieters, and people from Missouri

In the morning, set your oven to 275 degrees

Rub your pork butt in:

4 tbs kosher salt
3 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp black pepper

Put your dutch oven (or other heavy-duty stockpot) on the stove. Fry a few strips of bacon in it. Remove the bacon and incorporate it into the morning's breakfast plans, but leave the grease in the pot (still over heat). Brown the pork shoulder on all sides, then add to the pot:

1 pint of beer (if you can find smoked beer or rauchbier, by all means, use it)
any rub that remains
1/2 cup Frank's RedHot
1 large onion, sliced thin
dash of whiskey

Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 6 hours, then uncover and cook for 1 hour.

Bring back onto stove on medium heat, and shred with a fork. Then add:

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup RedHot

let simmer until desired consistency.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:06 PM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't have a recipe, but it was too good to not mention it.

There was a place in Jersey that had pulled pork mac & cheese. It looked like they took the pulled pork and really pulled it. No big chunks. Mixed with some good mac & cheese.

The flavor? Smokey mac & cheese with a hint of the pork. Best "fancy" mac & cheese I've ever had.
posted by damionbroadaway at 9:11 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to all for your comments. I marked some as best answers that seem like good candidates for a second shot this weekend. I can't do any smoking as my grill is too small, but I might, one day, so thanks for those comments, too.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:20 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: (I also wanted to stay away from recipes that relied too much on store-bought sauces, preferring to try to control the ingredients that go into the end result.)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on February 3, 2010

I know I'm late, but I love this recipe and everyone I know raves about it.

My friend made 2 roasts of this for my small bridal shower and they were almost completely gone.
posted by thejanna at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2010

A friend of mine had us over for dinner last month when he was inspired by this Chowhound post on brisket tacos. Particularly this part:
As for the gravy, it's not a white gravy--it is hardly more than the cooking juices of the brisket. If you cook the brisket in a slow-cooker with the same idea as the "Chili Gravy" recipe using chile powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper as a rub, some broth or water, and add some stewed tomatoes and sliced onions, but no flour or oil, you will have something very close to Mia's brisket tacos.
So my friend did them in his slow cooker and added tomatillos (the kicker, essential I'm sure) and oranges. This sounds sacrilegious and weird, but he happened to have a gigantic bag of oregano too, so he dumped a ton (!) of it in and then proceeded to get nervous as the whole house smelled of oregano.

When the meat was practically melting and the entire house had an herb-y fug goin' on, he pulled the meat apart and served 'em with really good fresh tortillas and sliced avocado. I was shocked at how good it was. It was one of the best things anyone has cooked for me.

I confess I was a little bit skeptical, because frankly I've never had much luck with slow cookers--the food always comes out so bland for me--but his were incredible, and very much like the best pulled pork dishes. I think you could do the exact same thing with pork and it'd be amazing.

Also, this month's issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for pulled pork tostadas that looked worth a shot.
posted by ifjuly at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I tried the Pioneer Woman recipe that mcstayinschool linked to and it was just absolutely amazing. So tender and flavorful. It was miles better than any pulled pork I have made before.

Some observations:

1. The cumin, brown sugar and chili powder are a good mix. Next time, I would probably multiply the quantities by 1.5x to make a stronger sauce.

2. I covered the shoulder/butt with aluminum foil inside the dutch oven to help preserve juiciness. This helped a lot.

3. I used a fat separator at the end to make a cleaner sauce. There was a lot of fat that had melted off the meat.

4. Next time, I would roast the butt flesh-side up, instead of skin-side up. Either that or trim the layer of fat on the outside of the butt. Roasted fat looked nice but didn't seem to add much flavor. I suspect roasted meat would have tasted a bit better.

I served this with both fresh tortillas and lightly toasted whole wheat buns. It was good either way. We didn't bother with any sour cream, cilantro, etc. Just a pure sandwich. It was heavenly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: Chris Lilly's Six-time World Championship Pork Shoulder (Chris Lilly is the pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson BBQ in Decatur, Alabama) is the best pulled pork I've ever had.

It does require a smoker, though (and 12-14 hours!). But the smoke (and the resulting "bark" is the primary reason your crockpot recipes don't turn out as good as what you get at a good BBQ restaurant.

Your grill might not be too small: I actually just use my Weber Kettle, with the charcoal arranged in a circle around a pan of water (leave a little space, light one end and it will burn slowly around the ring), and keep the bottom (and top!) vents almost all the way closed. Get some Polder probe thermometers (one in the butt, one hanging down the top vent) and fiddle with the vents (more air = more heat) to maintain 225-250F. Check back approximately twice per hour, and turn once halfway through.

Here are some photos of how one of mine turned out.
posted by joshwa at 8:47 AM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: My grill is too small for smoking, sadly. When we get a bigger place one day, we'll be getting something a bit larger.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:19 PM on February 9, 2010

Since there is still some activity here I just thought I would chime in one more time and say that the Cooks Illustrated recipe others have cited is the same tingas recipe I used, so definitely give it a try.
posted by TedW at 7:01 AM on February 10, 2010

« Older Tickets tickets, that is.   |   Où est le t-shirt qui est l'envie du monde entier? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.