The BEST pulled pork recipe in the crock pot! Get the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork with almost zero effort from your slow cooker. It’s such an easy recipe, the results are AMAZING, and you can feed a crowd an impressive dinner lickety-split. I’m also including instructions for oven roasted pulled pork! Also try my Smoked Pulled Pork recipe. And don’t forget the BBQ Sauce!
Let me tell you the scariest part about moving to a new house. It’s not the new neighbors, it’s not the new commute, it’s not the new grocery store where I have to relearn where everything is (although that is also pretty high on my inconveniences list, not gonna lie. WHERE IS THE BBQ SAUCE IN THIS DANG STORE I’VE LOOKED ON 17 AISLES.)
No, the worst part is the fact that being in a new house, you know exactly how many times something has happened since “the move”. Some things are pleasant, like oh, we’re having our first dinner in our new dining room! Or oh, we’re having friends over to swim in the pool for the second time! How nice.
But then it gets dark. How many times have I wiped my kitchen counters corner to corner since moving here? I will tell you, not once. How many times have I vacuumed? Not a single room. I’m not telling you how long exactly we’ve been here, so that you can hold back your Judgy McJudgerson stare.
But even I’m starting to get a little squirmy over here. You mean I still haven’t yet given my 2-year-old a bath in the new house? NOT EVEN ONCE?? (In my defense, we swim in the pool every day. That’s like, totally the same as a bath for a toddler, right?)
Okay, fine. Judge me all you want for the lack of general hygiene going on over here. At least we’re not starving. I may not find time to bathe my children, but there’s always time for easy summer dinners. Bust out the slow cooker.
Pulled Pork: one recipe, three methods
I am a recent convert to loving pulled pork, but now I’m unstoppable. I CAN’T GET ENOUGH of this juicy, tender deliciousness. I’m so excited to share how easy it is to get yourself from zero to amazing, crowd-pleasing, finger-licking pulled pork glory.
Have you read my BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork post yet? Today is the sister post. The recipe for the rub and the actual ingredients are nearly identical for these two recipes, but the method is SO unique for each of them that I decided to split it into two posts to make everything more bite-size. The Smoked Pulled Pork recipe gives you all the info you need to make smoky, tender pulled pork on your gas grill, no smoker needed. Today’s post we are going over how to make super flavorful pulled pork roasted in the oven OR in the slow cooker.
Like I said, the ingredient list is almost the same for all 3 methods (grill, oven, slow cooker) but with all the process photos and explanations it was just turning into such a monster post that I decided to split. So if you have a gas grill and about 12 hours, head over to the smoked pulled pork recipe. If you are looking for oven and slow cooker methods then read on!
I’m going to go over some basic info and the first part of the recipe (which is the same for either method), then I will tell you how to make it in the slow cooker, how to make it in the oven, then go over FAQ at the end. The full recipes are both at the bottom of the post in the recipe card. Here we go!
The best cut of meat to make pulled pork
If you want the best pulled pork around, definitely buy a front shoulder cut of pork. If you think of a pig, picture the “shoulder” area of its forelegs. The top cut of the shoulder is called Pork Butt or Boston Butt, and the bottom section is called Pork Shoulder or Picnic Roast. When you go to the store, look for any of those terms and you will have the right cut.
Pork Butt in general is preferred since there is slightly more fat marbling (fat=flavor), but Picnic Pork Shoulder is a close second. This article about the difference between pork butter and shoulder over on Cook’s Illustrated has an excellent explanation if you want to take a deep dive.
Spice rub ingredients
It is so easy to make your own spice rub at home. Here are the ingredients for my favorite rub that adds TONS of flavor to this pork! Makes it melt in your mouth. Amounts are listed in the recipe below!
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- chili powder
- cayenne pepper
- dry mustard powder
- brown sugar
How to make slow cooker pulled pork
This seriously could not be easier my friends. First things first, you need to decide how long you have to cook your pork. If you leave it whole, it will take 8-10 hours to reach fall-apart-level-maximum.
If you split your roast in half, you can have it done in as little as 6-7 hours. Both ways work great, smaller portions just cook faster. Also, if you split, you get the benefit of being able to sear more edges of the pork.
Dry the pork with paper towels and rub with a little olive oil and liquid smoke, if you want. Cooking our pork indoors means we are missing out on that signature smoky flavor, so we are cheating a little. I love the distinct flavor it adds, but you can leave it out if you want. I like Wright’s brand best, the ingredients are just water and smoke, nothing else.
Set aside about 3 tablespoons of your spice rub and save it for later. Rub the rest on your pork, reaching eeeevery nook and cranny. Get in there. I like to sprinkle the rub with one “dry” hand and rub with the other “wet” hand. Then seal it up and marinate for at least 6 hours, or up to 48 hours. When you are ready to make it, rub with the remaining 3 tablespoons spice rub.
Now it’s time to sear! This process is essential for getting that browned flavorful edge! (This browning process is known as the Maillard reaction). The spices and edge of the meat get toasty and crisp, while the inside of your pork stays raw, ready to be cooked slowly to perfection.
Keep the heat on medium high and sear all the edges of the pork, turning it with tongs every couple of minutes. After it’s done searing, place it directly in your slow cooker. Put the lid on and set to low heat. DO NOT try to cheat by cranking up your crock pot to “high”. Your meat will be cooked at the end, but it will not be tender and juicy. The secret ingredient in this recipe is time.
How long does pulled pork take to cook in the slow cooker?
Slow cook for 6-8 hours if you split the meat in half, and about 8-10 hours if you left the pork butt whole.
The trick to good pulled pork is cooking low and slow! We want all the collagen and connective tissues to break down and give us that tender, delicious texture.
Make sure you check with a meat thermometer toward the end to make sure it doesn’t go above 200 degrees F. Higher than that and the meat gets dried out and stringy. (Forgive me for this terribly blurry photo, I was very excited to dig into this for lunch!!)
Remove the pork from the slow cooker and let rest a few minutes before pulling.
Here is my slow cooker pulled pork all rested and ready to shred. You can see that it is so tender that I’m lifting the bone out with no resistance. The meat just falls right off.
Add the pork back into the juices in the crock pot and voila! Dinner is done! See serving suggestions below. Now I’m going to show you how to do this in the oven!
How to make oven roasted pulled pork
I love me some slow cooker pulled pork, and you can’t beat it for convenience. But shhhh….I love me some oven roasted pulled pork even better. The crispy blackened edges on the outside of oven pulled pork (called “bark”) is just unstoppable. You can’t get that from a slow cooker. (The meat from the slow cooker is still great. We’re just talking about the edges.)
To get started, first we are going to split our pork butt into 3 equal pieces. The more edges, the more blackened flavor. The smaller the pieces, the faster they cook. Win-win.
Follow the same method described above of drying off with paper towels, rubbing with a little oil and liquid smoke (if you want), and rubbing with most (but not all) of the spice rub.
Set a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet, spray with nonstick spray, and crank up your oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the pork butt pieces on the cooling rack (this keeps the pork crispy on the bottom). Add about a cup and a half of water to the pan to let our pork cook in a humid environment.
Here’s the pork after 30 minutes at 425. Starting to get beautiful brown edges already!
How long does pulled pork take to cook in the oven?
Now for the low and slow part. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and keep cooking the pork for another 3-5 hours. We need all the collagen and connective tissues to break down slooooowly; that’s what gives us the tender, juicy texture we want.
Do not rely on times for cooking this pork, rely on your meat thermometer. The pork is done when it reaches 195 to 200 degrees F. 200 degrees is what we are shooting for, but remember that the internal temperature of the pork will rise a few degrees even after you take it out of the oven.
You might think this pork looks burned. You are wrong. This is the gorgeous, blackened, incredibly flavorful “bark” on the outer edge of oven roasted pulled pork. It’s divine! Ready to shred??
How to pull pork (how to shred it)
Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest for about 10-20 minutes, to allow the juices to redistribute.
Now it’s time to “pull” your pork, or shred. I like to use two big forks. It’s very satisfying if you’ve cooked it properly! It just falls apart at the slightest touch.
Do not ruin your pulled pork: keep the fat
I’m going to get bossy here for a minute. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE FAT.
I’ve actually seen instructions on other recipes, “remove the crusty fat cap and discard.” Ummm I’m sorry, what? You want me to just throw away this crispity-porky-blackened-bark goodness?? Who do you think you are?
One time, many moons ago, before I was a cook, we were camping and I was cooking bacon. My brother-in-law found me over the trash can, peeling off the strips of fat on the bacon that hadn’t crisped up. He yelled, “What are you doing! Do you not understand bacon??” No, no I did not.
Fat = flavor. Say it with me now. Pork tastes good because it has lots of fat. If you’ve ever had bacon, you are literally eating pork fat. AND IT’S DELICIOUS. Get over yourself and your fat hating ways.
Discard any gristle you find, any bits and pieces that are unpalatable, but please do not discard every bit of fat you find. Shred it up and toss it in with the pork. THIS is what makes pulled pork so flavorful. You will not regret it!
What is the best sauce for pulled pork?
Barbecue sauce, of course! I have a fabulous recipe for easy Homemade BBQ Sauce that I’ll be sending your way shortly (update! It’s live!), but until I get it posted, I recommend Stubb’s Original BBQ sauce. It has a classic black-pepper-molasses flavor that I absolutely love. It was the inspiration for making my own recipe! (I still love Stubb’s, but after testing and retesting, I like my own homemade BBQ Sauce better :)
You can stir in about 1-2 cups BBQ sauce with your shredded up pork, or you can pass it at the table for people to add to their pork individually.
Pulled Pork Sandwich
Here’s where things get fun. Once your pork is ready to go, it’s time to make the best pulled pork sandwich of your life.
Get a brioche hamburger bun, a good one, nice and soft. Slather it with butter. Then heat up a skillet over medium heat and add a dollop of butter to the pan. When that has melted, add the bun, butter sides down, and heat for 2-4 minutes, until they are getting just slightly browned and toasty.
Then pile on your tender, juicy, hot pulled pork. Add some BBQ sauce…
But DO NOT SKIP the Favorite Coleslaw. It’s essential for this sandwich!!
And there you have it my friends! THE BEST pulled pork of your life, in the slow cooker or oven, or smoked on the grill. Whew! Now for some more helpful info:
Frequently asked questions:
How to store leftovers
Pulled pork makes for about the easiest leftover meal ever. Let the meat cool to room temperature, add to a glass container with a lid that seals well, and move to the refrigerator. You can absolutely use plastic if you don’t have glass, just be aware that some plastic containers can be stained by the sauce, especially if you warm the meat in the container.
Can you freeze pulled pork?
Freezing pulled pork is so simple! Just let it come to room temperature, add to a freezer ziplock bag, seal with as much air removed as possible, and then stick it in the freezer. That’s it! It should be good in the freezer for about 4-6 months. To reheat, defrost the bag on a plate in the refrigerator. Once thawed, follow these same reheating methods:
To reheat a single serving, add some pork to a bowl and microwave, covered, on 50% power for a minute or two until warm. To reheat a large amount, you can follow the same microwave instructions for a longer amount of time, or put it in a pan on the stove with a lid and 1-2 tablespoons water until warm (stir occasionally), or put it back in the slow cooker on the warm setting until warmed through. Add a sprinkle of water so it doesn’t dry out.
How to get tender pulled pork
There are actually two secrets to getting the most tender pulled pork. First, you gotta start with the best cut of meat: go for the Boston Butt, aka pork butt! (“Pork shoulder” cut is a close second) Despite its name, pork butt is a shoulder cut with lots of fat marbling, a uniform shape, and lots of muscle that makes it ideal to cook down into fall-apart deliciousness.
The second secret is cook time. The shoulder cut comes from a part of the pig with lots of connective tissues and fat. If the meat isn’t cooked long enough, those tissues will stay intact and you’ll have tough pork; your teeth will have to do the work, no thank you. We want low and slow heat to melt these connective tissues over time, leaving behind perfectly tender meat!
What’s the difference between shredded pork and pulled pork?
For most people, there is no real difference between shredded pork and pulled pork. They’re both slow cooked pork broken up into small bits. However, there definitely are some BBQ enthusiasts who will tell you that shredded pork has been separated into strings of meat with no clumps or chunks, whereas pulled pork has some larger clumps or chunks of meat mixed in with the shreds. Not really a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, so as far as this recipe goes, just pull or shred the meat to how you like it.
What temperature do you cook pulled pork to?
It doesn’t matter what your cooking method is for pulled pork–you can smoke it, slow cook it, or oven roast it–the final internal temperature of the meat should be about 200 degrees F. Once it reaches about 195 degrees, you can remove it from heat, because the pork will continue to rise in temperature a few degrees after you take it off. If you let the temperature go any higher than about 203, you run the risk of the pork drying out.
A decent meat thermometer is absolutely essential for making pulled pork! You cannot rely on the clock; the range on times is way too high. Get yourself a meat thermometer and once you are approaching internal temps of about 185, check the temperature of the pork about every 15-30 minutes.
Can you overcook pulled pork?
For as much as I’ve emphasized cooking long and slow, be aware that yes, it actually IS possible to overcook pulled pork! Bear with me through some quick science here. As it’s cooking, when the pork butt reaches about 130 degrees, the fat starts to render (melt) and braise the meat from the inside out (yum). Then, once it hits about 160 degrees, the collagen (connective tissue) starts to break down and melt into the meat as well (double yum). But, when the temperature reaches about 210 degrees, the muscle fibers themselves start to toughen up and dry out – leaving sad, chalky, chewy pork. Noo!! This is why I HIGHLY recommend a meat thermometer to get it juuuust right.
How much pulled pork to make per person
In general, plan on about ⅓ lb of meat per person/sandwich. If you have lots of small children in your crowd or have several different sides to accompany your pulled pork, you can get away with more like ¼ lb per person. If you have several people who will have more than one sandwich, maybe up the amount a bit. The nice thing about pulled pork is that any leftovers will freeze beautifully and you can enjoy the fruits (meats?) of your labors at some point down the road if you have extra. You best believe I have a buttload of delicious pork in my freezer right now after testing all these methods a hundred times! No regrets!!
Don’t forget, if you have a gas grill and about 12 hours, definitely try out this recipe on the grill, here is the post with all the details: Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe. Do it, DO IT!!! Enjoy your BBQ my friends!
What to serve with pulled pork
What’s a BBQ without the sides?! In addition to the essential BBQ Sauce, here are some of my favorite side dishes to go with pulled pork:
- My Favorite Coleslaw << a decent coleslaw is the ESSENTIAL side for pulled pork. Like salt n pepper.
- Easy Broccoli Bacon Salad << with plenty of bacon!
- The Only Macaroni Salad You Need << small chop is the secret to this recipe
- Pineapple Spinach Salad << so easy and classy
- Italian Tortellini and Pepperoni Pasta Salad << a total crowd favorite
- Bacon Baked Beans << smokey, bacon-y goodness
- Santa Maria Pinquito Beans << these have such a smooth, distinct flavor!
- The Best Potato Salad Recipe << perfect balance of flavors
- Literally the Best Mac & Cheese I’ve Ever Had << I love pairing mac & cheese with BBQ!
Check out my bbq holidays recipe section for even more ideas!
More slow cooker recipes you will love!
I love the ease of making a main dish meat in the crock pot and simply adding sides.
- Slow Cooker Pork Tacos with Mexican Coleslaw << this is a great pantry meal
- Honey Balsamic Slow Cooker Pork Ribs << ribs in the slow cooker just may become your favorite, hello easy
- Bacon Blue Cheese Brisket << you will win many friends with this one
- Brown Sugar Balsamic Pork Tenderloin << slow cooked til tender, finished in the oven with a perfect glaze
- Cafe Rio Sweet Shredded Pork for Burritos << I’m telling you, Cafe Rio KNOWS WHERE IT’S AT
Pulled Pork Recipe: Slow Cooker or Oven Roasted
- 5-7 pound pork butt or pork shoulder, leave the fat cap on
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, for rubbing on meat
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke*, optional, for rubbing on meat
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for searing, more as necessary
For the rub/marinade
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, use 2 and 1/2 teaspoons if using table salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
Slow Cooker Instructions
- Choose your pork. A pork shoulder is great, but a pork butt (sometimes called Boston Butt) is better. They are similar cuts of meat and have all the fat and connective tissues we need to break down into a tender and juicy pulled pork (Butts have just a little more). Use a bone-in butt or shoulder if you can find it, but boneless if fine too. Choose one that is well marbled with white fat.
- Marinate with spice rub. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons onion powder, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder, and 1/3 cup packed brown sugar. Measure out 3 tablespoons of this mixture and set aside in a small ziplock or covered bowl; you will need it later.
- If you would like to speed up the cooking process, use a sharp knife to cut the pork in half. This will increase the surface area of meat that you are able to brown on the stove (increasing flavor) and shorten the crock pot time to about 6-7 hours. (It's totally okay to leave the pork butt whole, it will cook in about 8-10 hours.)
- Use paper towels to dry off the pork as best you can. Massage 3 tablespoons olive oil into the meat, making sure it's well distributed. Drizzle 1 teaspoon liquid smoke over the pork and massage it in. This step is optional but I like the smoky flavor it adds, which helps make up for the fact that we aren't cooking this pork in a smoker or on the grill.
- Use your hands to rub the spices (all but 3 tablespoons) into the meat, getting every nook and cranny and under every flap. Place in a large ziplock bag and seal (I love these 2 gallon bags).
- Marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or up to 48 hours.
- Remove the pork from the ziplock and pat dry if it is wet. Rub the remaining 3 tablespoons of the spice rub mixture into the pork.
- Set a large dry skillet on your stove over medium high heat. Let the skillet preheat for at least 3 minutes on medium high. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. The oil should shimmer immediately.
- Add the pork and sear for about 2 minutes until well browned. Use tongs to flip the pork and sear the other side until browned. Flip again onto its side, until all the outside of the pork is seared. Add more oil as necessary. Repeat with the other piece, if you split it in half.
- Place the seared pork into your dry crock pot. Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours if you split it in half, and about 8-10 hours if you left it whole.
- Do not overcook your pork. You only want the temperature of the meat to reach about 200 degrees, so start checking it with a meat thermometer at the lowest recommended cook time. It's tempting to set it and forget it, but your pork will taste dried out and stringy if you leave it in too long. Rely on your meat thermometer. You can remove it from the slow cooker anywhere between 195 and 200 degrees F, since the meat will continue rising in temperature even after you take it out of the slow cooker.
- Remove the pork from the slow cooker and let rest on a cutting board for about 5 minutes, tented with foil.
- Shred the pork using two forks. It should be just completely falling apart. Remove any gristle, but do not discard all the fat! Shred it up and toss it in with the meat. Fat=flavor, and that slow cooked fat is part of what makes pulled pork so amazing. (You don't throw out the strips of fat on bacon, do you? I think not. Show your pork some respect.)
- Add the shredded pork back into the crock pot (or whatever you plan to serve in) and toss with the cooking liquid.
- You can stir about 1 to 2 cups homemade or store bought BBQ sauce into the pulled pork, or serve it with BBQ sauce as an optional topping. Serve warm on sandwiches (more instructions on that below), top a salad, use for meal prep, whatever your little heart desires.
Oven Pulled Pork Instructions
- Cut your pork butt or shoulder into 3 equal pieces. This is to speed up the cooking process and to increase the amount of edges that will get browned in the oven. Hello flavor!
- Follow the same instructions above for preparing your pork: pat dry, rub with 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional), then rub with all but 3 tablespoons of the spice rub. Place in a large ziplock and marinate for 6 to 48 hours.
- Remove the pork from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for about an hour. This ensures more even cooking in the oven. Nobody wants a dry outer edge.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Let it heat up for at least 20 minutes.
- Place an oven-safe wire cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Spray with nonstick spray. Add 1 and 1/2 cups water to the bottom of the pan, to provide a humid environment while the pork is cooking.
- Remove the pork from the ziplock and rub each piece with the remaining 3 tablespoons spice rub. Place the pork on the cooling rack, making sure the pieces are not touching each other. Fat caps should be on top, if you can.
- Roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 425 degrees. This initial blast of heat is to help sear the edges of the pork. After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Open the oven door for 30-60 seconds to cool the oven down a bit. Close the door.
- Roast at 300 degrees for another 3-5 hours, depending on how large the pieces are. Add more water to the bottom of the pan as necessary. Rely on your meat thermometer to test for doneness. Take the pork out of the oven when a meat thermometer reads 195 to 200 degrees F. Do not let the meat go above 200 degrees, as the temperature will keep rising a few degrees after you take it out of the oven.
- Remove the pork from the oven and let rest for about 15-20 minutes, tented with foil. Transfer the pork to a cutting board.
- Shred the pork using two forks. It should be just completely falling apart. Remove any gristle, but do not discard all the fat! Shred it up and toss it in with the meat. Fat=flavor.
- Make a sandwich: To make the best pulled pork sandwich of your life, butter both sides of a brioche bun. Heat another tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat on the stove. Toast the buns for 2-4 minutes, until lightly golden.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.
- Pulled pork freezes very well. Seal in a ziplock bag (with or without BBQ sauce mixed in). It will freeze for up to 4-6 months. Let thaw in the fridge overnight. Heat leftovers in the microwave, or place in a tin foil covered pan, sprinkle with water, and bake in an oven set to 300 for about 20-40 minutes, depending on how much there is.