Using my slow cooker is my favorite way to prepare pulled pork as it’s so easy. Pulled pork is always popular, and the best cuts to use are ones that cook down to a tender meal in the slow cooker, meaning I can ‘prep and forget’ and go enjoy myself.
The best cut for pulled pork in the slow cooker is the pork shoulder, especially the upper shoulder known as the Pork Butt or Boston Butt. It is densely muscled and marbled with fat and can come bone in or out.
The lower shoulder cut, known as the Picnic Roast or Picnic Shoulder works great too.
If you’ve been confused by what cut to buy to make pulled pork, you’ll be happy to know that pulled pork is a very forgiving recipe. Your meat should be perfect if you keep to a slow cook time. However, there are some cuts of pork meat that work best for tenderness.
Best Cuts For Slow Cooker Pulled Pork And Why
A slow cooker’s long cook time at a lower heat leaves you with juicy, flavorful meat, perfect for recipes like pulled pork.
The best pork cuts to make pulled pork are those that benefit from being cooked at a lower heat for 8+ hours. These are tough cuts with more sinew and fat, rather than lean cuts which dry out.
The top recommended pork cuts for pulled pork are:
1. Pork Shoulder
This is the entire front shoulder of the pig. This cut weighs between 12-18 lbs.
However, this is usually far too big to fit in a slow cooker, and more often, you’ll find the shoulder divided into two cuts; the Boston butt and the Picnic Roast which are the upper and lower parts of the shoulder.
The shoulder has a good amount of bone, marbled fat, joints, and collagen, which is why it is so prized for slow cooking.
2. Boston Butt
This cut is the upper part of the shoulder from above the shoulder blade. It weighs between 4-10 lbs and has the blade bone. You can recognize it by the marbled appearance of the fat.
Thanks to its rectangular shape and great texture, most cooks prefer this cut for pulled pork.
It usually has less bone than the Picnic Roast, and you can often find it boneless and skinless, but it still has plenty of fat to keep the pork moist and juicy. Skin or no skin doesn’t matter, just make sure to cook it skin-side up.
3. Picnic Roast
This cut is taken from the lower shoulder and weighs around 4-10 lbs. The picnic roast has more bone and a meatier texture after cooking.
Often sold bone-in and skin-on, this is often better suited for oven roasting than in the slow cooker. It also might struggle to fit in the slow cooker with the bone.
Picnic Roast has less fat than the Boston Butt, which can leave it with a meatier texture after cooking.
Still a great choice for the slow cooker though. Whether you choose Boston Butt or Picnic roast will depend on the flavor profile you prefer for your pulled pork.
Once you’ve chosen your cut, follow the tips below to ensure you make the perfect pulled pork:
What To Look For In Your Pork Cut
Boneless or bone-in?
Whether you prefer a boneless or bone-in cut is up to you and often doesn’t make too much difference. Depending on the size of your slow cooker, you might need to opt for a boneless cut.
Some claim if you can leave the bone in, it will enhance the flavor of your meat which has some truth. And others claim that the bone helps to evenly cook the meat, but the difference is negligible.
Skin on or off?
The skin can protect the meat and keep it moist. It also has a lot of fat locked underneath which will render down as it cooks which also keeps the meat tender. For that reason, I usually keep the skin on if the pork has it.
Some prefer to remove the skin as they can get more dry rub rubbed into the flesh this way. But I think that difference is minimal once the pork is shredded and covered in BBQ sauce.
The perfect cut of pork will have a decent amount of marbled fat. This will render, leaving you with soft and juicy meat packed with flavor.
It’s recommended that your pork cut have a layer of fat about ¼-1/2 an inch thick to prevent the meat from drying out. This fat and the collagen will break down and leave you with moist, delicious pork.
Pork shoulder cuts are usually inexpensive cuts of pork as the muscle requires longer cooking time to soften and become tender enough to shred. Pork Butt has more fat marbling than Picnic Roast, which helps the meat fall apart as it is cooked.
How Long To Cook Your Pork
For a 4lb roast, cook on low for about 8 hours or until it shreds easily.
If you cook the meat on the low setting, your guide is two hours of cooking time per pound. When cooked on the high setting, estimate a cooking time of one hour per pound. Don’t forget to let the meat rest for thirty minutes after cooking.
Whichever cut you choose, you want your pork cut to reach a temperature of 205⁰F and cook ideally for eight hours or longer. This way, you will end up with meat that falls apart, giving you the perfect, juicy shredded pork you want.
Cooking your pork at this temperature ensures the connective tissue breaks down, and you end up with meat that seems to fall apart as you shred it. Slow cookers differ in temperature so it’s best to test the meat for tenderness to see when it is cooked.
Should You Use Boneless Or Bone-In?
While both Boston Butt and Picnic Roast have bones, you may often find these cuts prepared to be boneless. If you prefer boneless, ask your butcher to remove the bones.
Using boneless cats may be easier if your slow cooker is smaller, as they take up less space. It’s also easier to cut up boneless cuts to make them fit in your slow cooker.
However, the bone may help impart an extra depth of flavor to your pulled pork, so if your cut fits with the bone still in, I recommend leaving it in. The bone will add to the cooking time, making your pulled pork more succulent.
The extra collagen in joints and bones will break down in the cooking process and add to the nutrient content of your dish, but it is not essential to use a bone-in cut to create flavorsome pulled pork.
How To Prepare The Pork For Slow Cooking
- Removing the skin is optional but its often easier to just keep it on
- Trim any excess fat if you’ve removed the skin and want a leaner meal
- If you have a boneless cut with netting, remove the mesh before cooking
- Rub your meat all over with your salt and chosen spices to get a deeper flavor
- Some cooks like to brown the meat first for added taste and browning, but this step is not essential
- Place the fattier side of your cut face up in your slow cooker
- Add your onion, garlic, bay leaves, and other aromatics to your pot
- Add a ¼ cup of your stock or flavored liquid (beer, fruit juice, bbq mix) per pound of pork. This ensures your meat doesn’t dry up in cooking and adds more flavor.
Do You Put Pulled Pork Fat Up Or Down In a Slow Cooker?
One side of your cut will have more fat (and maybe skin), so place this side facing up in your slow cooker. This fat will melt down or render as you cook.
While the fat is essential for making the pulled pork tasty and moist, collecting excess fat from the pot is easier if it’s on top.
You can use either Boston Butt or Picnic Roast to make pulled pork in your slow cooker. Boston Butt has less bone and skin and is often prepared boneless, which makes it easier to fit in a slow cooker. If you prefer less fat and a meatier texture, you can use Picnic Roast.
Related Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Posts
- 6 Essential Tips For Cooking Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker
- Should You Brown Pulled Pork Before Slow Cooking?
- How Long Should You Cook Pulled Pork In Slow Cooker? (Low/High)
- How Much Water Do You Put In A Slow Cooker For Pulled Pork?
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