November 17, 2006

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Yesterday I made shredded BBQ pork sandwiches for the family. Although M is too picky to even try the stuff, K ate some of it while Maggie and I really enjoyed it. In my estimation it was the slow-cooker best pulled pork I've ever made.

The the thing about pulled pork is that if you really want the good stuff, you have to have a smoker. The kind of pulled pork you get at a BBQ joint tastes amazing even without any BBQ sauce. However, you can make an excellent substitute at home that is unbelievably easy, as recipes go.

The key is to use a slow cooker (aka. crockpot). I love my slow cooker and I don't think we use ours enough. With the right recipe, a slow cooker is like magic. You put the ingredients in, do nothing for hours, and dinner is served. There's some cleanup, but aside from that it's almost like someone else made dinner for you. And since slow cooking accentuates flavor, if you start with a good recipe, you end up having tons of flavor at the end.

Slow cookers are not a pricey piece of equipment. I saw a rather large very good-quality cooker at Macy's yesterday for under $40. You don't need anything too fancy, but I recommend the type which have a removable ceramic crock, because it's easier to clean. A glass top cover is better than a plastic one, but alas, ours is plastic. The thing still works. And they're versatile, since you can use them to cook stew, meatballs, beans, soup, sauces, pork roast, pot roast...

While this recipe doesn't smoke the pork for you, it does get you something that, in my humble opinion, is as good as the meat in the sandwiches at Trinity Brewhouse. So, if you like those, you'll probably like this. (Their horseradish mayo is something I have not attempted to duplicate, however)

I based my recipe on this recipe at

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

4 lb pork roast
2 medium onions, sliced to about 1/4 inch
10 whole cloves
light beer (room temp)
water (warm)
1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
1/2 tsp gravy master (optional)
1/2 tsp Italian spices (optional)
1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)
16 oz chipotle BBQ sauce (or your favorite BBQ sauce)

Late on the night before you're going to eat it (I was up at midnight) slice the onions. Line the bottom of the pot with the slices from one of the onions.

You can trim the roast of excess fat, I didn't go too crazy with this step. It's extra work and you're going to cook off the fat anyway.

Stick the cloves into the meat. You'll be fishing these out later, so put them somewhere they'll be easy to get to. No need to bury them deep.

Place the roast in the cooker on top of the onions.

Dump in the liquid smoke, gravy master, Italian spices, garlic powder. Since you'll be using BBQ sauce later, this is not all that important if you don't have these ingredients. Feel free to skip this step.

Put the remaining onion slices on top of the roast.

Now, use a combination of the beer and water to fill up the slow cooker 2/3 of the way up the side. If you've got plenty of beer, use all beer. If you don't like beer, use all water. I use a light beer because I think a hoppy beer is too strong for food that's being slow-cooked. Slow cooking tends to make flavors stronger.

Put the cover on and set the thing on low (or just "on" if you only have one setting) and go away. Alternately, I like to set it on "high" for an hour and then switch to "low." This helps get the ingredients up to temperature quicker. (It doesn't help the slow cooker heat up faster, but it will cause the slow cooker to reach a higher temperature, which means it will take less time for the internal temperature of the roast to hit that desirable level.)

Let it sit for 8 to 12 hours. More than 12 is not a problem if the thing is on low with a lid on it. The lid is supposed to keep moisture in, and hopefully the roast will be fairly swimming in its own juices by that time. You have a lot of time flexibility once it's safely cooked. More cooking is better in this recipe, which is why I did it overnight.

If you don't want to start it the night before, you can do this: start it in the morning as early as you can and let it go for a few hours on high. An hour on high is usually worth 2 on low. So starting at 6 on high and switching to low at 8 means it's had the equivalent of 12 hours by the time 4 PM rolls around.

When the roast is cooked, it should be basically falling apart. Very little is holding it together anymore, since you've cooked away all the fat and connective tissue. Remove the roast with a large spoon and fork. It's hot, be careful! It should break apart. Remove the cloves and any bones. And chunks of fat that remain can also be discarded. All that's left is fairly lean and delicious pork.

Shred it with a fork. This should be very easy if the roast has cooked for 12 hours.

Dump all the onions and liquid out of the slow cooker.

Place the meat back in there. Add the BBQ sauce. If dinner is still hours away, add some water to moisten the mixture and keep it moist. Use your judgement here. Salt and pepper to taste.

At dinner time, serve on your favorite rolls.

Serve with fresh cole slaw.

A nice garnish can be made by slicing another onion and softening the onion rings in a tsp of butter and a tsp of oil. The stringy onions can be added atop the shredded pork on each open-faced sandwich.

It's really, really good. Especially for a recipe where the most work you did was sticking the cloves in there and pulling them back out. And waiting.
Posted by James at November 17, 2006 10:12 AM
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I *HEART* pulled pork, and Im always searching for the perfect recipe. Will give yours a shot. Thanks!

As an aside, we love our slow cooker. Its pretty painless. Spend 10 minutes in the morning, turn it on, and forget about it. Done when Martha gets home from work.

Posted by: at November 17, 2006 10:37 AM

Generally I agree that slow-cooker cooking is painless, but this past Monday morning I was trimming the fat off a corned beef brisket to put in the CrockPot when the knife slipped and ended up in my finger with the resounding "thud" of an axe going into a tree trunk... but other than that, it was an easy-to-cook dinner for us ;)

Thanks for the recipe, will try it soon!

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at November 17, 2006 10:42 AM

Yeah, I'll give this one a pass. Put me in M's camp. I don't like pulled pork. (Or cole slaw for that matter.)


Posted by: Chuck S. at November 17, 2006 11:24 AM

We don't actually know if M doesn't like pulled pork. She wouldn't try it. I assume she would like it if she tried it. She's very stubborn.

I have trouble wrapping my brain around someone not liking pulled pork.

Of course, I say I love the stuff and then I forget to bring my lunch (of leftover pulled pork) in to work.

Posted by: James at November 17, 2006 11:34 AM

My appetite is still lousy, but I've made a note to drool over this at a later date.

Posted by: Julie at November 17, 2006 12:39 PM

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