Slow cooker pulled pork is a versatile main dish recipe perfect for sandwiches, nachos, tacos, and more. With easy prep and lots of hands-off time, you'll love the flavor of this slightly smoky and spiced up seasoning rub.
It's a new year and I'm already crossing off a resolution from my list: share my slow cooker pulled pork recipe on the blog.
Not that that's a great big achievement or anything. I've been meaning to for years, actually, so if anything it's a sign of how successfully I can procrastinate.
But still, let's round out the first month of the year with an easy win.
P.S. If you're looking for something quicker, this coffee-rubbed (!) Instant Pot pulled pork will be more your speed.
Reasons to Love This Recipe
- The recipe prep is just about as simple as can be. Rub the meat, add everything to the slow cooker, and come back later to shred and eat. No searing in a separate pan.
- The dry rub is made with pantry staples and flavors the pork so well, you don't even need to add sauce!
- The cook time isn't finicky, and this recipe is pretty forgiving. There's no worry here of cooking it a bit too long and drying out the meat.
- This recipe makes enough pulled pork to serve a crowd, and leftovers freeze very well.
- Onions: Two sliced onions cook underneath the pork and provide both moisture and flavor. No pre-cooking is needed, just slice them and place them raw in the slow cooker.
- Broth: Either reduced-sodium chicken or beef broth will work (chicken is my preference).
- Seasoning: Your favorite store-bought rub will work, but I've included the recipe for an easy, smoky, and perfectly seasoned rub made with pantry staples in the recipe card below.
- Pork: You want a fattier cut of pork for pulled pork. Now is not the time for super lean pork tenderloin, a loin roast, or pork cutlets. Boston butt is my preference.
Meat: The Best Cut For Pulled Pork
Ideally use the Boston butt cut to make slow cooker pulled pork, also known as pork butt. This cut is from the thick shoulder region (not the rear!) and has lots of great fat marbling. More marbling means more flavor.
If you're unable to get Boston/pork butt, pork shoulder is another good option. While it has a bit less marbling than a Boston butt, it's from the same region and will cook to be nice and shreddable. Either cut is best intended for low and slow methods like crock pot cooking.
Pulled Pork Seasoning
While your favorite pre-made spice rub would definitely work, I'm partial to this blend of herbs and spices, made with all (or nearly all) pantry staples. This pulled pork spice blend includes:
- brown sugar
- kosher salt
- chili powder
- black pepper
- garlic powder
- cayenne pepper, and
It's spiced, smoky, and warm, from the tiniest bit of cinnamon. It might seem out of place adding cinnamon to a savory meat recipe, but it really ties the flavors together and adds warmth and something special.
- First stir together all of the rub ingredients in a small bowl.
- Next trim the fat cap aiming to leave about ⅛" to ¼" on the pork butt. What is the fat cap? More on that below.
Trimming the Fat Cap
I know I just said that we want the fat in our pork shoulder or Boston butt to make pulled pork, but my preference is to trim away SOME of the fat cap, which is the very thick, hard, and solid white layer of fat along one side of the meat.
Reason being is that we want the spice rub to get a chance to get in there with the meat, and this super thick layer can get in the way. There's plenty of fat marbled throughout the meat that I've never found pulled pork made with a somewhat trimmed fat cap dry or lacking in flavor.
It also doesn't break down entirely as the meat cooks, and will have to be sliced into small pieces in order to mix into the pulled pork at the end. When doing that with a full cap-on cut of meat, I usually end up discarding a portion of the fat cap when slicing because it's just too fatty.
Disclaimer: I know there are multiple schools of thought here, making do-you-or-do-you-not-trim-the-fat-cap a controversial subject. Some say leaving it on and placing it cap-side up helps baste the meat as it cooks.
Curious if I have been in the wrong for years by trimming the fat cap, I found this interesting article that digs into the science behind all things fat cap. They advocate for trimming the cap in most circumstances to between one-eighth and one-quarter of an inch. (Since the slow cooker most certainly does not produce a crisp exterior on anything, I say we're exempt from the situation where leaving it on would be beneficial.)
Setting Up the Crock Pot
- Slice the onions and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Pour the broth into the slow cooker.
- Rub the combined spices on all sides of the pork butt and place it in the slow cooker.
- Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on LOW heat for 8-10 hours or HIGH heat for 7-8 hours, or until the butt reaches a temperature between 195-200°F and it's tender enough that a fork can easily be inserted to break it up into shreds. The size of the meat and the quirks of your particular slow cooker will determine precisely how long it takes.
- Transfer the cooked pork butt to a cutting board (some pieces may separate out as it's fall-apart tender!). Using two forks, shred the pork into bite-sized pieces, discarding excess fatty bits and the bone, if using a bone-in cut.
- Pour the cooking liquid through a strainer (reserving it), then add the onions back to the slow cooker.
- Add the shredded pulled pork back to the slow cooker. Skim some of the fat off of the cooking liquid before pouring some of the cooking liquid back into the slow cooker. Toss with the onion and pulled pork, then serve as-is, or with your favorite BBQ sauce.
- If you're looking for a quicker way to shred slow cooker pulled pork, place the cooked meat in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and "mix" on the lowest speed until the pork is broken up into small shreds. Cover the stand mixer with a pouring shield or clean kitchen towel so you don't burn yourself on the hot shreds if they fly out.
- If your slow cooker is on the smaller side (4 - 4.5 quart) you may want to choose a boneless Boston butt as it will be smaller than the bone-in varieties and will be easier to fit in the slow cooker.
- While low heat is generally recommended for cooking crock pot pulled pork, I have made it on both low and high heat numerous times and honestly don't find it dry or lacking in any way using high. This is a long cooking recipe even on high heat, so shaving off 2-3 hours can make things easier.
Just like with grilled chicken drumsticks, we want to go beyond the minimum food safety temperature here for ideal texture. While the minimum temperature for fresh pork is 145°F (per foodsafety.gov), we want to aim for the pork roast to register in the 195-200°F range so that the connective tissues have broken down sufficiently and the pork can easily be shreddable.
This amount will vary depending upon how you're serving it. Count on one-third cup of cooked pulled pork per person (think a nice scoop for a slider). Keep in mind that a raw pork butt will shed fat and liquid during the trimming/cooking process, so it's not a straight "every one pound of raw pork will feed three people" calculation. A 4 ½ pound pork roast will yield roughly 8-10 cooked pulled pork servings.
Eating the same pulled pork sandwich over and over again can get a little boring. Adding pulled pork to nachos (like in these loaded BBQ pulled pork nachos) is one of my favorite things to do with leftovers. I'll eat these for dinner with a side salad. Adding pulled pork to quesadillas is also an easy meal, but if you want something more unconventional, check out this pulled pork breakfast bowl. Perfect for savory breakfast lovers.
Delicious Pulled Pork Sides
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 cup reduced-sodium beef or chicken broth
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 - 4 ½ lb Boston butt (pork butt) or pork shoulder, bone-in or boneless
- Thinly slice onions and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour in broth over the onions.
- Add brown sugar, kosher salt, chili powder, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon to a small bowl and stir to combine evenly.
- Trim some excess fat from the fat cap (the thick solid white layer of fat along one side of the Boston butt), aiming to leave an ⅛"-¼" layer on the pork. Rub all sides of the Boston butt well with the spice mix, then place it into the slow cooker on top of the onions.
- Set the slow cooker on HIGH heat for 7-8 hours, or LOW heat for 8-10 hours, or until it reaches 195-200°F and a fork can easily pierce the meat to pull off into shreds.
- Remove cooked Boston butt to a cutting board and shred using two forks. Discard any excess fatty bits and the bone if you have a bone-in cut.
- Strain the liquid in the slow cooker, then add the onions back to the slow cooker. Add the shredded pork back to the slow cooker, too.
- At this time you can toss the pulled pork with your favorite BBQ sauce, or use some of the reserved liquid. If using the liquid, skim off the fat that rises to the top before adding a little bit to the slow cooker and tossing, until it's moist to your liking.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer
Method with slicing the onions/base spice rub adapted from chowhound.