Making pulled pork in the slow cooker, you’ve likely seen the instruction to brown the pork before adding it to the pot. This step can result in extra pans that need to be washed and may not be necessary.
Do you need to brown pulled pork before slow cooking?
It is not necessary to brown pulled pork before slow cooking. Although browning adds color and flavor to meat, the slow cooking process of pulled pork will develop the flavors. If you plan to fry your shredded pork afterward, browned pulled pork crisps up even more deliciously.
Browning is important in many slow cooker dishes such as casseroles, stews, or roasts. Searing the meat over high heat gives the food a tantalizing color, and the caramelization imparts extra flavor.
I was always taught that browning was essential, but I’ve found it’s a step I can skip when making pulled pork. I do sometimes crisp it up once shredded though.
Although some cooks still say that browning the meat helps “seal in moisture”, this is not true. The juiciness of your meat is mostly related to the fat content.
Why You Might Want To Brown The Pork
Although I’ve said it’s a step you can leave out when making pulled pork, browning the meat does have some benefits.
- Browning your meat will add an extra depth of rich flavor, giving your meat the deep caramel brown color that makes pulled pork look so mouthwatering. Known as the Maillard Reaction, browning meat at a very high temperature (320 F) helps to break down proteins that react with sugars.
- This reaction gives you the deep malty brown of caramelization while adding complex umami notes, nuttiness, sweetness, and rich meatiness. These complex flavors are not created when you cook food at lower temperatures in a liquid, such as boiling or steaming.
- The browning step only takes a few extra minutes. Cooking the meat through is unnecessary; you only need to sear the outside.
- Crisping up the pork’s exterior also helps release the flavors of the herbs and spices you’ve used for seasoning. Although you sear meat in a dry, hot pan, the little oil will help toast any seasonings, releasing more complex flavors and aromas.
- When the meat is done and added to your pot, you can also deglaze your pan with water, stock, or wine and add the liquid to your slow cooker for an even richer taste.
What Happens If You Don’t Brown Pork First?
While searing your seasoned pork in a hot, dry pan will improve the overall appearance and taste, if you want to avoid extra dishes to clean, you can skip this step when making pulled pork in a slow cooker.
If you don’t have the time to brown your pork first, you can simply put all your ingredients in the slow cooker and leave them to cook. Your food will still taste fine – most people won’t tell the difference.
However, if you want to kick your meals up a notch, taking the time to do the extra step of browning your meat first will bring your pulled pork to the next level. And if you plan on frying your pork after it has been shredded, seared pork will crisp up even better.
Again, this is a matter of time and preference. If I’m making pulled pork for a barbeque or a party, I always season and brown the meat first as I feel the extra step makes the food taste and look better.
However, I’ll leave the step out if I’m throwing together a last-minute pulled pork in the slow cooker just before I run out the door to work.
Some people also prefer to not sear their meat first to avoid any crispy pieces in their pulled pork.
Related Article: 6 Essential Tips For Cooking Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker
How To Brown Pork If You Want To
Browning pork first can be a game-changer but it must also be done correctly to avoid soggy, pale meat that doesn’t brown.
The most important thing to remember is that this Maillard Reaction begins when the surface is hot and dry, so you’ll get your best results from using a stainless steel or cast iron pan.
Steps For Browning Pork:
- Take your pork cuts and slice into smaller sections or quarters so they can sear evenly (and you can avoid crowding your pan).
- Pat your pork cuts dry with a kitchen towel, ensuring no moisture on the surface (note: there’s no need to rinse your pork first, as it can spread bacteria).
- Season each cut with salt, pepper, and any rubs or spices you plan to use in this recipe.
- Optionally trim extra fat; although the fat will render in your pulled pork in the slow cooker.
- Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a large cast-iron or stainless steel pan.
- Avoid using a non-stick pan, as the surface coating prevents the meat from browning properly.
- Add the meat when the pan is hot—you want to hear it sizzle as it hits the surface.
- Avoid overcrowding the pan or moving the meat around. You want the pork cuts to release as little liquid as possible, as this technique relies on the moisture being burnt off first.
- Cook the meat for a few minutes on each side; enough to caramelize the outside, but not cook the meat through.
- Add the seared pork to your slow cooker.
- Deglaze your pan with liquid. You can use stock, water, wine, or any other liquid that suits your recipe. Deglazing not only makes clean-up easier but adding the deglazed juice to your slow cooker ensures an extra richness of flavor.
Extra Tip: Browning The Meat After Shredding It
One of my secret ways to make pulled pork even better—especially when using it the day after for sub fillings—is to fry the shredded meat when I want to use it.
This technique is very simple; after you’ve shredded your deliciously slow-cooked pulled pork, you can use the Maillard Process for a second time! (or first, if you decided to skip the browning step.)
Once again, you want to use a very hot pan and a few tablespoons of oil, and you want to use pulled pork that has the excess liquid removed. Add the pulled pork to your hot pan and let it sit until one side has crisped.
Flip the shredded meat over, and brown the other side.
This technique works particularly well for pork that was seared in the initial stages before slow-cooking, but it can amp up any shredded pork. Save this for the fattier pulled porks, as it can dry your meat out if there’s not enough fat.
Adding BBQ sauce to your shredded seared pork also boosts the taste and appearance.
Browning your meat adds color and a deeper flavor, much like caramelizing onions. However, this step may not be all that important when making pulled pork in the slow cooker.
The long, slow cooking time can provide enough flavor and color to your pulled pork, especially if it’s cooked in a delicious liquid or BBQ sauce.
Searing or browning the meat after it has been cooked and shredded can also add a rich taste and crispiness to your meat, especially if it comes out fattier than you would prefer.
Related Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Posts
- 6 Essential Tips For Cooking Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker
- Best Cuts For Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (How To Prepare It)
- How Much Water Do You Put In A Slow Cooker For Pulled Pork?
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