How Much Water Do You Put In A Slow Cooker For Pulled Pork?

Making pulled pork in your slow cooker is a real favorite as it combines fork-tender, flavorful meat with a delicious BBQ sauce. One question that often comes up is how much water or other liquid to use to achieve perfect pork without it swimming in juice.

For slow-cooked pulled pork, add enough water or other liquids to come a third of the way up the side of the pork. This provides moisture to help cook the meat over many hours without the sauce becoming too watery.

I decided to explore the ins and outs of cooking pulled pork in a slow cooker, including whether or not it needs to be submerged in liquid and how to prepare it. Find out what liquids are best to use and what the best time is to add some BBQ sauce into the mix.

Does Pulled Pork Need To Be Submerged In A Slow Cooker?

Slow cooker pulled pork does not have to be submerged in water or any other liquid. You only need to add enough to ensure it cooks in a moist environment and to help build a sauce.

You might think that to keep your pulled pork juicy and tender over a long cooking time in a slow cooker, you need to completely immerse it in water. But surprisingly, there is no need to do this.

In fact, you only need to add enough water, cider, etc. to cover around a third of the pork. 

Unlike other cooking methods, the slow cooker’s low and gentle heat allows the pork to release its flavorful juices to add to the liquid you put in, resulting in a moist and succulent end product.

To guarantee your pulled pork remains moist in the slow cooker, make sure to use a fatty cut with plenty of connective tissue, such as pork shoulder. Make sure to let it rest once cooked which helps the texture.

Cooking with a little liquid ensures it cooks in a moist environment rather than drying out, but you definitely don’t need to submerge it to keep it moist.

Can You Cook Pulled Pork Without Liquid?

Although I wouldn’t recommend it, you can indeed cook pulled pork without using any extra liquid at all as the cut of meat will usually have a decent amount of fat and will release juices.

For this to work you need to make sure to put the pork in the crockpot with this fatty side up. As the fat renders and melts, it bastes the meat, keeping it moist and adding flavor.

I prefer to add at least some liquid to make sure there is plenty of moisture in the pot to cook the meat evenly and avoid a fire hazard. 

Related: 6 Essential Tips For Cooking Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker

How To Prepare Pulled Pork For The Slow Cooker

Before putting your cut of pork in the slow cooker, trim any excess fat and apply a dry rub mixed to your liking. While you can brown it first if you want, there is no need if you want to keep it simple.

In theory, you could just throw your pork shoulder into the crockpot without any preparation at all, but for much tastier results, there are a couple of things you can do that will make all the difference.

Firstly, consider trimming the excess fat from the meat. While you need some fat to add flavor and keep the meat moist, too much can lead to a greasy end product. Trim the fat to a reasonable level which strikes a balance between flavor and texture.

One of the best things you can do next is to apply a dry spice rub. My favorite is one containing 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, smoked paprika, pepper, and brown sugar plus 1 teaspoon of salt that I borrowed from this BBC Good Food recipe.

It’s simple to mix up and then you just rub it all over the meat before putting it in the pot.

The meat that is exposed to the air will brown with the dry rub if you cook it for long enough. This tastes great when you come to pull it apart.

What Is The Best Liquid To Use For Pulled Pork?

The best liquid to use for pulled pork is a mixture of apple cider vinegar, water, honey, and Worcestershire sauce or alternatively, you can use apple cider or juice.

While the pork shoulder doesn’t require full submersion, a small amount of liquid is still necessary to create steam and help break down the connective tissues.

When it comes to selecting the best liquid for your pulled pork, consider using a combination of flavors that enhance the overall taste. Acidic ingredients help cut through the grease.

Traditional options include a decent apple cider/juice or a combination of apple cider vinegar and water paired with Worcestershire sauce, honey, and tomato paste as used in this slow cooker pulled pork recipe from Erin Clarke

These liquids infuse the pork with a subtle sweetness or savory undertones, amplifying the natural flavors of the meat. Try experimenting with different liquids to find the perfect balance to suit your taste preferences.

Do You Keep The Juices In Pulled Pork?

Keeping the juices from your slow-cooked pulled pork is a must as you can use it for a dipping sauce or just to keep the meat moist before serving. There is so much flavor packed away in there.

One of the advantages of cooking pulled pork in a slow cooker is that it naturally retains its juices. These juices not only contribute to the meat’s succulence but also hold a treasure trove of meaty flavors. 

After the pork is cooked, allowing it to rest before removing and pulling it apart helps redistribute the juices, resulting in a moist and delicious end product.

I like to then put the meat back in the pot together with a portion of the juices to keep warm and soak up some more flavor before serving. You usually only want to use some of the juices or reduce it otherwise it’s too wet and saucy.

How To Add BBQ Sauce To Pulled Pork

Many recipes use some basic ingredients and the meat juices to make your own BBQ sauce, but you can also add a bottled variety at the end of cooking for extra flavor.

Just make sure to drain the pork from most of the juice and then adding a BBQ sauce is very much a matter of personal preference.

Some prefer to use common ingredients from the pantry (ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, and cumin are great), while others prefer to add their favorite bottled BBQ sauce afterward. There’s no right or wrong way.

My favorite method is to add a cup of good smokey BBQ sauce to a cup or so of the juices after I’ve taken the meat out. I mix it all up and then put the meat back in to stop it drying out and keep warm. 


Hopefully, you know how much water or other liquid to put in your slow cooker for some delicious pulled pork. I prefer to add just enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of the meat and many recipes suggest a similar amount.

The best way to find out what works for you is to just try it with different quantities. It’s very difficult to go wrong with slow-cooked pulled pork but just remember, you definitely do not need to submerge your pork shoulder to end up with tender, juicy meat.

Related Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Posts

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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