If you want to make the ultimate pulled pork in your slow cooker, follow these steps to ensure perfect results. You’ll get delicious tender pork every time by cooking your meat at the right temperature and following the time guidelines.
These tips are easy to put into practice. The best results will come from using the right ingredients and preparing the meat correctly. Follow these steps to make pulled pork that will have everyone begging for second helpings.
1. Use The Right Cut Of Meat
Step one is using the best cut for pulled pork in the slow cooker. You’ll get the best out of slow-cooking tougher joints, as these respond well to a long, slow cook time.
The bonus of making pulled pork is that the best cuts are often the most economical, as they are usually tougher and contain more fat.
Pork shoulder is the optimal cut for pulled pork, but an entire pork shoulder is usually too large for your slow cooker, so I recommend using Boston Butt. This is the upper half of the pork shoulder. The other cut that comes from the shoulder is the Picnic Roast.
Use either Boston Butt or Picnic Roast to make slow cooker pulled pork. If you prefer a boneless joint, Boston Butt is often prepared with the bone removed. Picnic roast has less fat than the Boston Butt and has a meatier texture.
2. Brown The Meat If You Have Time (Or Use A Dry Rub)
If you have the time to brown your pork before slow cooking, this step can add tons of flavor. However, if you skip this step, you will still make delicious pulled pork. Browning adds color and flavor to your meal, and the deglazed pan juices can be added to your pot.
Browning takes only a few minutes: simply sear your seasoned meat in a very hot, dry pan, using 1-2 tablespoons of oil. You only need to cook the meat for a few minutes on each side to get some color.
Another way to add flavor at this stage is to add a dry rub to the meat. This adds flavors and helps build up a brown crust while it cooks – salt, pepper, paprika, and brown sugar work great.
If you’re aiming to speed up your pulled pork by cutting the meat into smaller pieces, browning will be even easier. Since the meat is already cut into smaller chunks, you will have more surfaces to brown.
A great tip with pulled pork is that the meat crisps up even better when it’s fried after being shredded. If you’d like to crisp up the pork in the frying pan to use in tacos and sandwiches, I suggest trying this step.
3. Add Just Enough Liquid But Not Too Much
It may surprise you that you don’t need to add too much liquid when cooking pulled pork. However, adding liquid will help prevent the meat from drying out and sticking to the bottom of your slow cooker.
For best results, fill the slow cooker 1/3 of the way up the pork. Many people use a combination of flavored sauces and stocks when cooking pulled pork.
This seasoned liquid will help keep your meat moist and can also be used to create a homemade BBQ sauce or reserved to add extra flavor when reheating pulled pork.
4. Cook It Low And Slow Rather Than High
While you can cook pulled pork at high temperatures if you need it done sooner, this isn’t the optimal way to get really tender meat.
The best way to get soft and delicious pork from a tough cut is to cook it at a low temperature for a long time – even up to 18 hours!
The protein bonds begin to break down and the long process allows all the protein to denature and the fat to render. As the connective tissue breaks down, your meat will become softer. At higher temperatures, you risk the meat drying out and overcooking.
A longer cooking time also allows all the flavor to develop and become richer, leaving you with tastier pork.
At high heat, your pulled pork will cook faster in your slow cooker, but it won’t give the meat all the time it needs for the flavors to develop and the tough meat to soften the way it would with a longer cook time.
When making pulled pork, using a slow cooker to braise your pork shoulder is ideal, as the ability to set it on low and leave it for hours will result in fall-apart tender meat with very little effort.
If you’re in a rush, I suggest cutting the joint into smaller chunks rather than cooking on high to speed up the cooking process. You can also start the slow cooker on the high setting to get it to a simmering point sooner and then turn it down to low.
If you cut the pieces smaller, it’s easier for them to dry out, so adjust cooking times as necessary.
5. Drain The Juices And Add Some BBQ Sauce
Once your pork is cooked you should drain the meat from the cooking juices. When it comes to adding BBQ sauce to pulled pork you should shred it before adding the sauce.
You can make it extra tender by leaving it to rest for about thirty minutes before shredding. Resting the meat helps the liquid absorb back into the meat, increasing its tenderness.
While your meat rests, use the time to strain the fat from your liquid, then cook the defatted stock down. Add the seasonings you used for cooking, such as ketchup or Worcestershire sauce, to create a homemade BBQ sauce.
Once the pork joint has rested, you can shred it, and it should flake apart perfectly. This is where you add extra flavor – whether you make your own, or use a storebought BBQ sauce, add this to the shredded pork.
The sauce will also help the meat keep from drying out. You can also save some drained juice in reserve for reheating pulled pork.
6. Don’t Leave It Too Long And Overcook
Overcooked pork will not be tender and won’t shred nicely, instead becoming a barely edible mush.
If you leave your pulled pork too long in your slow cooker, you risk overcooking it. Depending on your temperature setting, this can take 12-18 hours as the meat juices cook down. This will leave you with meat that is stringy and dry.
How long it takes to overcook your pork will also depend on the size of the cut. A whole shoulder will take far longer to overcook than a joint cut down into chunks.
If you plan to be out for the day or to cook your meat overnight, then there are two things you can do to ensure your pork doesn’t overcook.
- Use a larger cut of pork and ensure it has a good amount of fat. The extra fat will help to keep the meat moist as it cooks.
- Cook your pulled pork on the low temp setting. This allows for a longer time to heat the meat to the required temperature. For most joints, the meat will be ready in about 8-10 hours.
Using the lowest setting and a larger, fatty joint means you could leave your pork to cook for as much as 18 hours and have an end result that is moist, tender, and fall-apart delicious.
Since smaller pieces will cook faster, it’s best not to leave them on high setting for longer than 10 hours. After this, you risk overcooking the meat.
These six steps, from using the right cut and seasonings, avoiding overcooking, and allowing the meat the slow cook time it needs to develop flavor, will result in perfect tender and tasty slow cooker pork.
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