Friday, May 20, 2011

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

My little brother grew up with the nickname "Ketchup King."  He would put ketchup on anything.  Seriously, anything.  I just don't understand.  The ketchup part, that is.  Why use ketchup as a go-to condiment when you could be using barbecue sauce?  I never got a royal title to go with my love of barbecue sauce (Barbecue Baron?), but I loved it as a kid and still love it now, as evidenced by my recent Barbecue Chicken Pizza post.  Here's another recipe that puts barbecue in the front seat - pulled pork.

This post will be the first of a pair of slow-cooker pork features.  When I buy a nice piece of pork, I like to buy a nice big one and prepare it a couple of ways - the most recent favored pairing is BBQ pulled pork followed by carnitas.  Even something as delicious as a good BBQ pork sandwich can get old after eating it for a few nights, after all (though it should be noted that my girlfriend Kristin disagrees with this statement on principle).

This post will detail the whole of the process for the BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.  But, if you want to follow the BBQ-then-Carnitas model, I'll note when and how to reserve some of the cooked pork, and you can pick up that project in a soon-to-come post.

Yep, that's pop on my cutting board.  Trust me on this one.

However you want to flavor your pork in the end, I love this preparation for slow-cooker pork.  Start with a nice big hunk of pork.  Just make sure it will fit into your slow cooker.  I find 3.5 to 4 pounds is about the limit for mine, and is also enough to feed Kristin and I for a good week straight on delicious, porky goodness.  Avoid tenderloin or any other particularly lean cuts for a slow-cooker preparation, as those cuts will end up dry and tasteless.  Low and slow demands some fat on the meat.

As for the rest, we'll need a large sweet onion, a large red bell pepper, some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (found in the mexican aisle), and some pop.  Just about anything dark in color works.  Root beer is great, as is plain old cola.  This time I tried some cherry cola and really liked the result.

Peel and chop the sweet onion and array the pieces in the bottom of the slow cooker.  This will keep the pork from overcooking on the bottom if your slow cooker is a bit overzealous at times, and also impart some nice flavor to the meat.

Chop the red pepper and send it down to the bottom to accompany that poor, lonely onion.

Now for the pork.  No preparation needed, just drop it right in there.

Next, we'll need plenty of liquid.  First, open up the chipotle peppers and drain out the adobo sauce over the pork.  This will add a really nice, gentle heat to the final product.  If you like it hot, add a pepper or two.  Personally, I reserve the peppers themselves for my carnitas.  Just the adobo sauce does plenty for the barbecue preparation.

Add enough pop to cover the lot (it takes about a liter, for me).  Don't worry too terribly much if the top quarter-inch of your meat stubbornly refuses to submerge.  Also don't worry too terribly much about the fact that the contents of your slow cooker could easily stand in for witch's brew.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

I love slow-cooker dishes because I can do the preparation in the morning before I head off to work.  When I get home, the smell has utterly filled my apartment.  It's a good thing.

After 6-8 hours have elapsed, drain off all but a few ounces of the cooking liquid.  Be very, very careful in this process, as its easy to burn yourself either on the cooking vessel or with superheated soda.  Either is quite unpleasant.

You'll see that the pork has practically pulled itself just in the cooking.  This is a good thing, but we'll need to help it along.

Shred/pull the pork with a pair of forks or your preferred meat-shredding implements.  The pork ought to be tender enough to fall apart just because you look at it funny.  If the meat is at all difficult to get apart, give it another hour or so on low and try again.  Make sure to remove the bone at this point, if your cut of meat included one.

We're just about at the point of return - after this, it's all barbecue.  If you want to reserve some pork for Carnitas (or anything else, really), now is the time.  I throw about half of the shredded pork into a container with the chipotle peppers we reserved earlier.  That all goes into the fridge to wait patiently until I'm either tired of or have run out of BBQ sandwiches (Hint: it's usually the latter).

It's barbecue time.  My sauce of choice varies, but I'm fond of Bullseye, Masterpiece, and Famous Dave's.  Scoff if you will, but they get the job done.  Choose your favorite sauce, and have plenty on hand.

Sauce the meat liberally.  Tastes vary on how saucy a BBQ sandwich ought to be, so use your best judgment.  I find that if I haven't yet substantially changed the color of the meat, it can't be saucy enough yet.  Add salt and pepper to taste, as well.

You could make a sandwich and eat it right now if you wanted.  But wait, patience will be rewarded!  Instead, put the cover back on the slow cooker and give the barbecued goodness inside another hour on low.  This will meld all of the flavors and infuse the pork with truly sublime barbecueyness.  Yes, it's a word.

After an hour, or when you can no longer stand the smell, it's time.  Scoop a generous helping of meat onto a bun and go to town.  It's too early in the season for good corn on the cob, but these sandwiches go great with it.  Whatever else is on the plate, though, the pork will be the star of the show.  Expect much finger-licking and demands for seconds and/or the recipe.


Recipe: Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes   |   Cook Time: 6-10 hours   |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 10-12.

  • 2-4 pounds Pork Shoulder
  • 1 liter Cherry Cola
  • One large Sweet Onion
  • One large Red Bell Pepper
  • One can Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • One bottle Barbecue Sauce
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Chop onion and bell pepper and arrange on bottom of slow cooker.  Place pork shoulder on top of chopped vegetables.  Pour adobo sauce and cherry cola over pork to just cover.  Reserve chipotle peppers.

Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low.

Shred pork with two forks.  If pork is not tender enough to shred easily, cook on low an additional 1-2 hours.

Optional: Reserve half of shredded pork for Carnitas.  Store with reserved chipotle peppers until ready to cook.

Add barbecue sauce to pork mixture to taste, approximately 1/2 cup per pound of pork.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook an additional hour.

Serve immediately on sandwich buns.

1 comment:

  1. I tried root beer (with splenda) in a slow cooker chicken last week...but I think pork/slow cooker is much more compatible. Chicken just tasted overcooked honestly. And is the best dish for working people.