This slow cooker pulled pork is made with a wet rub that has brown sugar, molasses, coffee, dry mustard, and other spices for incredible flavor. Set it and forget it for Carolina-style pulled pork that turns out perfectly every time!
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This is such an easy crock pot pulled pork recipe, and I make it in my crock pot during the winter AND in the summer! There's no oven heating up the house, no grill to monitor.
The slow cooker is perfect for pulled pork because it's something that MUST be cooked low and slow to render the fat and get that wonderful, shredded texture.
The seasoning for this recipe is fabulous because it has everything - apple cider vinegar, coffee, brown sugar, mustard, molasses - all of those flavors you want in a pulled pork rub.
Craving more crock pot comfort food? Try my Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore!
Ingredients you'll need
- Bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt: I like bone-in pork shoulder, as the bone will add even more flavor. It's also usually a bit cheaper per pound than boneless. You never want to use pork roast or pork tenderloin for pulled pork because they are far too lean.
- Apple cider vinegar: This is where some Carolina barbecue flavor comes from. It also helps to break down and tenderize the meat as it cooks.
- Brown sugar and molasses: You'll get all that roasty toasty flavor from the molasses, and gentle sweetness from the brown sugar.
- Coffee: It blends with the sugars and spices and adds depth of flavor.
- Chili powder, dry mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper: These dry ingredients are going to get mixed with the others to form a wet rub that is to die for!
Best cut of meat for pulled pork
The two most common cuts used for pulled pork are pork shoulder and pork butt.
Pork shoulder, also called picnic roast, is from the lower portion of the pig's shoulder. Pork butt, often called Boston butt, comes from the upper shoulder.
Both cuts have lots of fat and connective tissue, and when cooked low and slow, fall apart and shred beautifully, making them perfect for pulled pork or pork stew.
The two terms are often used interchangeably, and both cuts work splendidly, so don't worry too much about which is which. If you're unsure, ask your butcher to tell you exactly which cut you're getting.
How to make crock pot pulled pork
Step 1: Make the wet rub and coat the pork shoulder
First, combine all rub ingredients in a small bowl and mix together until a paste forms.
Pat the pork dry with paper towels. Reserve some of the paste mixture and set aside.
Then, using your hands (a cook's best tools), spread the paste mixture all over the pork, being sure to work into all of the nooks and crannies of the meat.
Step 2: Marinate pork overnight
Wrap the pork tightly and let marinate in the fridge for a few hours, or preferably, overnight.
Remove the pork from wrapping.
Step 3: Sear the pork and put it in the slow cooker
Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the pork on all sides and place in a 4-quart or larger slow cooker.
Add the cider vinegar and reserved wet rub mixture to the skillet and bring to a boil. Be sure to scrape the pan for any fond left behind by the pork.
Pour the liquid from the skillet over the pork, place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 6-10 hours.
Step 4: Pull the pork!
Remove the pork from the slow cooker (do not discard remaining liquid) and let it cool considerably, but not all the way to room temp.
When the pork has cooled down some, it's time to shred! I recommend using your hands, it's the fastest and easiest.
TIP At this point, many people will tell you to "take two forks and shred the pork". Um, no. This will take you forever. And wear you out. Use your cook's best tools again - your hands - and get in there and shred it up.
Once the pork is 'pulled' add it back into the slow cooker and mix it with the remaining liquid. Heat up the meat on low until it starts to simmer, then switch the heat to warm. You are now ready to eat!
- Keep the size of your slow cooker in mind when deciding how much pulled pork you're going to make. On average, you need an even ratio of quart capacity to pounds of meat. So to cook a 4-pound pork shoulder, you would need at least a 4-quart slow cooker.
- This is a great recipe to cook in your slow cooker overnight so you're ready for the party the next day. But be warned - the smell of delicious pork cooking may wake you in the night!
- I am a firm believer in browning meat before you add it to a slow cooker for many reasons. First, searing the meat first adds flavor and caramelization, and can render some of the fat. Second, food safety. Yes, a crockpot on the low setting is technically hot enough to start cooking raw meat, but this pork shoulder is a very big piece of meat. If you put it straight from the refrigerator into the slow cooker, it's going to take quite a while for the heat to start getting into the center of the meat, which can create opportunity for bacteria to grow. Be on the safe side and sear it first, which will get the cooking process started.
- You might be tempted to start pulling the pork while it's still pretty hot. (Because it's so delicious and we want it NOW!) But give it more time. The longer you let it cool, the better the fat will distribute throughout the meat. That said, it still needs to be warm, don't let it come all the way to room temperature.
Plan for ½ pound of meat per person before the pork is cooked. The pork shoulder will lose about 40% of its weight during the cooking process, and take into account the weight of the bone if you buy bone-in pork shoulder. So if you buy 4 pounds of pork, you'll have about 2 pounds once the cooking is done, which would feed 4-6 people. HOWEVER - it seems like pulled pork keeps dividing into more and more meat the more you shred it! So, really that 4 pounds could feed more like 8-10 people, depending upon how you are serving it. Pulled pork tacos are going to use less meat than pulled pork sandwiches, etc. Err on the high side, and the meat freezes well, so you can just save leftovers for later.
Leave the pork shoulder in the slow cooker on low for 6-10 hours, depending on the size of your piece of meat. Longer cooking time at a lower temperature is always better for pork shoulder! You'll know the pork is done when it falls off the bone and it pulls apart easily.
Your hands are your best tools for shredding it. It's so much easier and so much faster than using two forks. Just make sure the pork is cool enough to handle.
Yes! Due to the high fat content, pulled pork freezes very well. Freeze in an airtight container for up to two months.
Allow to thaw completely in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Place the pork in a pan covered tightly with aluminum foil and cook for 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount of pork you have.
Slow cooker pulled pork can be served many ways! Serve as a main course with Pampushky garlic rolls on the side.
Make pulled pork sandwiches and top them with mango slaw for a fun twist. Add pulled pork to tacos or quesadillas.
What to serve with slow cooker pulled pork
Slow cooker pulled pork would pair well with something light and acidic, like a fresh salad, or more traditional barbecue side dishes.
- A salad works as a side in any season. Try a Roasted Vegetable Salad, a Brussels Sprouts Salad or a Zucchini Salad.
- You can never go wrong with Dill Potato Salad.
- Pair slow cooker pulled pork with Succotash for a knockout Southern recipe combination!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Recipe
- 3-6 lbs pork shoulder depending upon the size of your slow cooker
- apple cider vinegar use ¼ cup per pound of pork
- 1 tablespoon strong coffee use instant expresso if desired
- 2 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika I used smoked, hot or sweet is also fine
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoon molasses
- Combine all rub ingredients in a small bowl and mix together until a paste forms.
- Pat the pork dry with paper towels. Set aside about ¼ of the paste mixture and refrigerate.
- Using your hands (a cook's best tools), spread the paste mixture all over the pork, being sure to work into all of the nooks and crannies of the meat.
- Wrap the pork tightly and let marinate in the fridge for a few hours, or preferably, overnight.
- Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the pork on all sides and place in a 4-quart or larger slow cooker.
- Add vinegar and reserved paste mixture to the skillet and bring to a boil. Be sure to scrape the pan for any fond left behind by the pork.
- Pour the liquid over the pork, place the lid on the cooker and cook on low for 6-10 hours. I usually go the full 10, especially if you are cooking a larger piece of meat.
- Remove the pork from the cooker (leaving remaining liquid in the cooker) and let it cool considerably, but not all the way to room temp. The longer you let it cool, the better the fat will distribute throughout the meat.
- At this point, many people will tell you to "take two forks and shred the pork". Um, no. This will take you forever. And wear you out. Use your cook's best tools again - your hands - and get in there and shred it up.
- Once the pork is 'pulled' add it back into the slow cooker and mix it with the remaining liquid. Heat up the meat on low until it starts to simmer, then switch the heat to warm and serve.
- Be sure the pork has cooled enough to handle before shredding it with your hands.
- The longer you let the pork cool before shredding, the better the fat redistribution. Just don't let it get all the way to room temperature.
- Be sure to read the post above for answers to FAQs and serving suggestions.