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How to Make Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork

Pulled pork in the slow cooker? You bet! Not only is this quick and easy, there’s not a whole lot of cleanup either. Now that’s what we call a winner, winner, slow-cooker dinner!
By TBSP Susan

If you’ve been searching for an acceptable excuse to use your slow cooker all year ‘round, good news! You can call off the search. Making pulled pork in a slow cooker is one of the easiest and most delicious ways to feed a crowd, your family or yourself, no matter what time of year it is. But like anything, if you’re going to do it, you gotta do it right. We’re here to help with the recipes you can’t miss, the expert tips you can’t do without, and a few hints on how to take things up a notch.

How to Make Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker

Fact: pulled pork is just one of those recipes that you never grow tired of. It requires very few ingredients, cooks all day long in the slow cooker, and requires little-to-no effort on your part. It’s no wonder why it’s a recipe that we turn to again and again for summer dinners, large-crowd parties or for a guaranteed dinner on a weeknight.

Making pulled pork in a slow cooker is a throw-together recipe that’ll soon be easy enough to memorize, but following the steps and cooking time guidelines is essential to avoid overcooking the meat. To walk you through just how easy this is, let’s start with our recipe for Dr. Pepper™ Pulled Pork. You won’t believe how a 20-ounce bottle of Dr. Pepper or Coca Cola elevates the flavor of pork shoulder!

Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

What You Need:

  • Slow cooker
  • Cutting board

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. pork shoulder
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 3-4 dried guajillo chiles (if desired)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed 
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 20 oz. Dr. Pepper™ soda
  • Hamburger buns, pickles and barbecue sauce, if desired

Step 1: Place all of the ingredients except the Dr. Pepper in your slow cooker.

Dr-Pepper-Pulled-Pork-Step1

Step 2: Pour the Dr. Pepper over the ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 hours.

Dr-Pepper-Pulled-Pork-Step2

Step 3: Remove the pork from the slow cooker and shred using two forks on a cutting board. You know your meat is done when you can easily shred it. Carefully pour the remaining cooking liquid from the slow cooker into a large bowl and strain out any solids such as the chiles or garlic bits.

Step 4: Return the shredded pork and one cup of the cooking liquid to the slow cooker. Turn the heat setting to warm and keep covered until you’re ready to serve.

Dr-Pepper-Pulled-Pork-Step4

Serve on warm hamburger buns with pickles, barbecue sauce and coleslaw for traditional toppings.

Best Meat for Pulled Pork

It’s tempting to go for tender cuts of meat when you think about cooking it. After all, you want the end result to be tender so you may figure it’s best to start with a tender cut. Not so fast. When it comes to braising or slow cooking meat, you actually want to start with a tougher cut. If you start with a tender meat, it will easily overcook leading to a dry and tough texture. The best meat for pulled pork is pork shoulder, which is one of the most muscular parts of the pig. You may find that your grocery store only carries “pork butt” but don’t let the name deter you, it’s just another name for pork shoulder!

When you go to pick out your pork shoulder, choose a cut that’s marbled and fatty. While the meat cooks, the fat will release juice resulting in flavorful, tender pulled pork. You also should keep in mind how many people you plan to feed with your recipe. Follow your recipe’s serving size suggestion. The Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork recipe above (anchor link to How to Make Pulled Pork) calls for three pounds of pork shoulder and serves 12. If you plan to feed more, just make sure the shoulder will fit in your slow cooker! If you find yourself with leftovers (which isn’t likely—it’s that good!), pulled pork can be used in many different ways (insert anchor link to What to Do with Leftover Pork) or stored in your freezer in an airtight container.

Pulled Pork Marinades

Here’s where things get interesting! Once you’ve mastered a basic pulled pork recipe, it’s time to experiment and find the legendary recipe to make it your own—you know, the one that you’ll hand down to future generations!

Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

There are so many ways you can tweak the flavor of this recipe, thanks to interchangeable ingredients and pulled pork marinades. You could go in any direction using ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, paprika, wine, ketchup, brown sugar, soda or even beer! Like things spicy? Look for recipes that use chili powder, cumin and hot sauce.

Before you get overwhelmed with the endless possibilities, don’t worry, we’ve already tested a few surefire pulled pork marinades for you. Here’s what we recommend:

Barbecue

This is likely the first flavor that came to mind when you started thinking about making pulled pork. You can add barbecue sauce on top of your pork, of course, but why not throw it in your slow cooker so the meat can soak up all the flavor during the cooking process? You can use your favorite bottle of sauce or you can go all out with homemade barbecue like we did in in our recipe for Slow-Cooker Pulled BBQ Pork Sandwiches.

Vinegar

Cider vinegar is a popular choice, but white and red wine vinegar work just as well. It really all depends on your personal preference. This recipe for Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork uses red wine vinegar mixed with tomato paste. Seasonings are rubbed on to the pork shoulder before it goes into the slow cooker for added flavor.

Soda

This is one of our favorite ingredients to use in our pulled pork recipes to make the flavor pop (pun intended); carbonated beverages bring out the acidity in the recipe and also help to tenderize the meat. Sodas like Coca Cola™, Dr. Pepper™ and any brand of root beer work best. If you need proof, this recipe for Slow-Cooker Root Beer Pork Sandwiches will make a believer out of anyone.

Slow-Cooker Root Beer Pork Sandwiches

What to Serve with Pulled Pork

If you’re wondering what to serve with pulled pork, that really depends on how you serve it. The traditional and most popular way is to serve it as a sandwich on a hamburger bun. Pickles, coleslaw and barbecue sauce are our go-to toppings, but that’s only the beginning, friends! If you’re going the sandwich route, serve with a pasta salad and potato chips—they’re our favorite side dishes for pulled pork for a simple summer meal or when we’re throwing a party or potluck. If it’s a weeknight dinner, we recommend serving with our recipe for homemade French fries for a complete meal that works any time of year.

What to do with Leftover Pulled Pork

Now, like we said, pulled pork sandwiches are only the beginning. If you’re wondering what to do with leftover pulled pork or if you just want to think outside the bun, brace yourself: pulled pork=possibilities. First, we should point out that if you want to make a big batch of pulled pork and store it in the freezer for later use, pulled pork keeps nicely in the freezer for about two months. Simply pack it or portion leftovers out in airtight containers and label them with the date.

Ditch the bun and try a less conventional recipe using pulled pork. The ideas we swear by include, but are not limited to, piling a generous helping of pulled pork on top of nachos, French fries, pizza, baked potatoes or tacos! To get started, browse through these beyond-brilliant recipes that use slow-cooker pulled pork in never-before-seen ways:

Become a kitchen expert with our how-tos and you'll know how to make just about anything.


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