This Pulled Pork recipe is wonderfully tender, tangy, sweet and smoky with the perfect kick, smothered in the best homemade barbecue sauce – and so easy in the slow cooker, instant pot or oven!
This BBQ Pulled Pork is a set-it-and-forget-it recipe, ideal for large gatherings, prep-ahead meals, freezer meals or whenever you’re craving melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork with hardly any cleanup! This easy Pulled Pork recipe is made with pork shoulder (Boston pork butt), pantry spices and Cherry Coke to tenderize the meat and then cooked in the oven, slow cooker or instant pot. The resulting pork is fall apart tender, succulently juicy and begging to be bathed in sweet, tangy, spicy, smoky homemade barbecue sauce. Serve the spoon tender BBQ Pulled Pork in sandwiches, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, on pizza etc. with a side of potato salad and Italian pasta salad for a complete summer feast!
Pork recipes from slow roasted to quick skillet dinners are some of my favorites! Don’t miss kalua pork, lechon asado (Mojo marinated pork), pork carnitas, garlic butter pork tenderloin, grilled pork tenderloin, brown sugar pork chops, Pork Loin with Sweet and Spicy Apricot Sauce and the best pork chop marinade.
HOW TO MAKE PulLed Pork Recipe VIDEo
Pulled pork rub
The Pulled Pork Rub is earthy, smoky, salty with a ginger, garlic zing. It manages to be flavorful but not overpowering, so you can still smother the Pulled Pork with barbecue sauce. You will need:
Braising the pork in a few inches of seasoned liquid helps to transform the tough pork shoulder into a tender, succulent, fall-apart masterpiece. The moist environment gently cooks the pork while the liquid continuously infuses the pork with moisture and flavor. Here’s what you’ll need:
homemade barbecue SAUCE
My homemade BBQ Sauce recipe is an intoxicating blend of sweet, tangy, spicy, smoky and ready in less than 20 minutes – 15 of those minutes are hands-off simmering! You can whip it up weeks in advance so it doesn’t require any extra time when making the Pulled Pork and I promise it is worthy every second of the 15 minutes!
The homemade barbecue sauce is made by simmering simple pantry staples of ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, seasonings and my secret ingredient of blackberry preserves to create the best barbecue sauce you ever tasted!
So, while it’s easier and more convenient to squeeze a bunch of store-bought barbecue sauce, I promise the homemade BBQ Sauce will make your BBQ Pulled Pork recipe 1000X better!
BARBECUE SAUCE INGREDIENTS
This homemade BBQ Sauce recipe comes together very quickly with just a handful of ingredients. You will need (measurements included in the full recipe below):
Recipe INGREDIENT SUBSTITUTIONS
HOW TO MAKE bbq pulled pork
BBQ Pulled Pork is the epitome of a minimal prep and maximum flavor recipe! Once you’ve gathered the ingredients, it’s a simple season, sear and cook until fall-apart tender. While the pork is cooking, I whip up an easy batch of barbecue sauce. Here’s how:
- Step 1: Braising liquid. Combine the Coke, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, orange zest and green chilies in a lightly greased slow cooker; set aside. You want to prep these ingredients first so you can transfer the pork directly to the crockpot after searing.
- Step 2: Spice rub the pork. Whisk all the seasonings together in a small bowl. Lightly drizzle the pork with vegetable oil, then rub it on the top and sides of the pork, then coat all over with seasonings, pressing to adhere. Flip the pork over, drizzle oil over the top and finish rubbing in the spices.
- Step 3: Sear the pork. Wait until the vegetable oil is smoking hot before you add the pork. I find two forks the easiest to rotate the pork to sear it on all sides.
- Step 4: Cook the pork until fall apart tender. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 to 6 hours or on LOW for 8 to 12 hours OR until the pork easily shreds with a fork. Make sure to check the pork at the early part of the cooking window and continue to cook if needed.
- Step 5: Shred and braise. You can either shred the pork directly in the crockpot or it’s a little easier to remove any excess fat by shredding it on a cutting board. Return the shredded pork to the slow cooker and allow to cook for 20 minutes on LOW to soak up the juices.
- Step 6: Add barbecue sauce. Add the pork to a colander over a large bowl and strain all but about ½ cup broth from the pork. Return the pork to the slow cooker/pot and stir in the desired amount of barbecue sauce. Serve on sandwiches, pizza, sandwiches, etc. See lots of ideas below!
BBQ Pulled Pork Variations
The most important (and best!) part of making BBQ Pulled Pork is how adaptable the homemade barbecue sauce is. Like a sweet sauce? Add more sugar. Like a tangier sauce? Add more vinegar. Like a spicy BBQ Sauce? Add more chipotle. Here’s how:
- Make it sweeter: add more brown sugar. I suggest you simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, taste and add additional sugar at this time if desired (and not right off the bat); continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
- Make it tangier: add additional apple cider vinegar at the end of simmering.
- Make it smokier: add additional liquid smoke, ½ teaspoon at a time.
- Make it spicier: add additional chipotle chili powder for smoky heat or cayenne pepper for penetrating heat.
- Make the seasonings your own. Like more garlic? Use more garlic. Like more mustard? Use more mustard. You can adjust all of the seasonings to suit your tastes and even add additional seasonings such as oregano or parsley.
- Make it thicker: simmer the sauce for upwards of 15 minutes until it reaches your desired consistency, however, it is already gorgeously thick after 15 minutes so I don’t think you’ll find this necessary.
- Make it gluten-free: double check your ingredients to ensure they are gluten free.
- Homemade Maple BBQ Sauce: substitute half of the brown sugar for pure maple syrup – not the breakfast imitation kind!
- Homemade Honey BBQ Sauce: substitute the brown sugar for honey.
ways to serve leftover pulled pork
This Pulled Pork recipe is extremely versatile and can be served a number of ways – what’s your favorite? Here are just a few ideas:
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches: Stuff brioche buns with pulled pork, coleslaw and optional toppings such as fried onions, pickles, etc.
- Pulled Pork Pizza: Use my barbecue chicken pizza recipe as a guide. Top homemade or store-bought uncooked pizza dough with ⅓ cup barbecue sauce, followed with desired amount of Pulled Pork, 1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese (low moisture), 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda and ¼ thinly sliced red onion. Bake at 475 degrees F for 12-15
- Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese: Stir leftover Pulled Pork into your favorite Stovetop Mac and Cheese or Baked Mac and Cheese.
- Pulled Pork Grilled Cheese: Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on each side of each slice of bread, then top half of the bread with cheese, then Pulled Pork and then another layer of cheese. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add 2 sandwiches, cover, and grill until the bottom of the bread is toasted, about 5-7 minutes and the cheese starts to melt, checking often to see that the bread is cooking nicely and doesn’t burn. Flip and continue to cook, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and the bottom bread is toasted.
- Pulled Pork Hash: Use this recipe as a guide and swap in the Pulled Pork.
- Pulled Pork Baked Potatoes: Poke holes in washed, dried potatoes. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and the skin is crispy. Slice open the potatoes, top with BBQ Pulled Pork and cheddar then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Top with sour cream, green onions, etc.
- Pulled Pork Baked Tacos: Line stand-up taco shells in a 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle some cheese on the bottom of each taco shell and bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes (baking crisps up the shells and the cheese prevents the shell from becoming soggy). Add the BBQ Pulled Pork, top with more cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-18 minutes or until cheese is completely melted. Top with your favorite toppings such as lettuce, pico de gallo, black bean corn salsa, avocado corn salsa, etc.
- Pulled Pork Nachos: Pile thick restaurant style tortilla chips with cheese and beans and bake until the cheese is melted or use homemade queso. Top with BBQ Pulled Pork and toppings such as jalapenos, pineapple salsa and guacamole.
- Pulled Pork Fries: Similar to pork nachos but with French Fries! Pile French fries with cheese and bake or smother in queso or store-bought nacho sauce. Top with BBQ Pulled Pork and toppings such as jalapenos and guacamole.
- Pulled Pork Taquitos: Combine 3 cups pork with 2 ounces softened cream cheese, ¼ cup sour cream and 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese. Add a heaping ¼ cup pork mixture to each flour tortilla and roll up tightly. Place filled tortillas seam side down on a baking sheet. Lightly brush each tortilla with olive oil and bake at 425 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until golden or pan fry until crispy.
- Pulled Pork Burrito Bowls: Pile cilantro lime rice with shredded pork, black beans, corn, cabbage, chopped pineapple or pineapple salsa etc. and your favorite creamy topping such as sour cream/Greek yogurt or I highly recommend either Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
- Pulled Pork Quesadillas: Sandwich pork, cheese and optional black beans in between two flour tortillas and toast in a skillet to golden, cheesy perfection. Serve with pineapple salsa, mango salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo and/or avocada crema.
- Pulled Pork Burritos: Layer a burrito size tortilla with cilantro lime rice, black beans, pork, cheese, guacamole, pineapple salsa and lettuce.
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BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches
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FOR THE PORK
- 4-6 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast (Boston Butt roast)
- 1 12 oz. can Cherry Coke (1 ½ cups)
- 2 4 oz. cans mild diced green chilies
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 TBS EACH garlic powder, chili powder, salt
- 2 tsps EACH onion powder, smoked paprika
- 1 tsp EACH pepper, ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- vegetable oil
- 2 cups homemade BBQ sauce (or store-bought), more or less as needed
FOR THE SANDWICHES
- 1 recipe homemade coleslaw
- 12 -15 hamburger size buns
FOR THE FRIED ONION RINGS (Optional)
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups buttermilk (see DIY in notes)*
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp EACH salt and pepper
- vegetable or canola oil for frying
- Whisk all the seasonings together in a small bowl (garlic powder through cayenne pepper). Lightly coat pork with vegetable oil, then rub seasonings all over the pork.
- Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over high heat in a large cast iron skillet. Using tongs or 2 forks, sear pork on all sides until lightly browned. Place pork in prepared slow cooker.
- Cover and cook on LOW for 8-12 hours or on HIGH for 4-6 hours, UNTIL the pork is very tender. (Check pork at early end of cooking window and add more time as needed). Use this time to prep toppings such as coleslaw and onion strings.
- Remove pork to a cutting board and shred – don’t discard slow cooker juices. Return shredded pork to the slow cooker and cook for 20 minutes on LOW to soak up the juices.
- Strain all but about ½ cup broth from the pork. Stir in the desired amount of barbecue sauce until evenly coated, adding more or less as desired. Taste and add hot sauce/salt/pepper/brown sugar to taste.
- Prepare Coleslaw according to recipe directions. Don't make the coleslaw too sweet if your barbecue sauce is on the sweeter side. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, best if 1-2 hours after combining. If making ahead, keep dressing and vegetables separate and then combine a little before serving.
FRIED ONION STRINGS
- Whisk buttermilk and egg together. Add onions to a shallow baking dish and pour buttermilk/egg mixture over top. Press the onions down so they're submerged as much as possible. Let them soak at room temperature for 15 minutes up to an hour, stirring and pushing down occasionally. Cover and refrigerate if soaking longer.
- When ready to fry onions, fill a heavy duty fry pot (this is the exact one I use) or large Dutch oven with approximately 2 inches of oil. Heat to 375 degrees F.
- While heating, combine flour, panko, salt and pepper in a large bowl; set aside. Line a large baking sheet with paper towels; set aside.
- Test the oil with a small pinch of panko; if it bubbles and fries, then it is hot enough. If it turns black right a way, it is too hot. Using tongs, transfer a handful of onions from the buttermilk to the flour/panko mixture. Toss to coat, pressing to adhere, shake off any excess flour, then carefully transfer to the hot oil. (The coating will be thin but will crisp up.)
- Fry onions until lightly golden brown (just 1-2 minutes), watch closely! – they will continue to darken after they're removed from the oil. Remove fried onions with a spider fry strainer or fine mesh sieve to paper towels. Repeat with the remaining onion slices.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Working in batches as needed, line top and bottom buns on a baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until warmed and lightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Don’t over bake or they can become dry – we don’t want croutons!
- When ready to eat, pile toasted buns with pulled pork, coleslaw, fried onion rings and/or any desired toppings. Dig in!
- Cherry Coke: Use regular Cherry Coke, NOT diet! Dr. Pepper is the closest substitute for Cherry Coke. The Coke not only adds flavor (contains flavoring approximates of dark spices like cinnamon, clove, allspice, cardamom, pipal, nutmeg, citrus zest, etc.) and caramelized sugar but is also highly acidic which balances the flavor and most importantly, tenderizes the meat. Cola is such a great tenderizer because it typically has a pH of about 2.7—for comparison, lemon juice has a pH of 2—making it acidic enough to break down the tough proteins without dissolving your meat.
- Liquid smoke: If you aren’t familiar with liquid smoke, it really is liquid smoke! It is a very common ingredient and should be easy to find next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store. You can use mesquite or hickory, but I prefer mesquite in this recipe.
- Pulled Pork in the Oven: Cover and cook the pork roast at 325 degrees for about 6 hours or until very tender.
- Pulled Pork in the Instant Pot: Cut the pork into large chunks if needed to fit into the instant pot. Cook on high pressure for 70-80 minutes (depending on size). Once time is up, let pressure release naturally for 25 minutes, then manually release any remaining pressure and open.
- *DIY Buttermilk: Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar to a 3 cup+ measuring cup. Add enough milk to equal 2 cups. Give it a stir then wait 10-15 minutes for it to curdle, then give it another stir before using. If you only have 1% milk, then add a splash of heavy cream before filling the rest of the measuring cup with milk.
- BBQ Pulled Pork: Cook the pulled pork all the way through adding the barbecue sauce. Transfer the pork to the refrigerator directly in the ceramic crockpot insert or Dutch oven. The next day, warm the pork in the crockpot on LOW for 1-2 hours or gently warm on the stove. Add a splash or additional barbecue sauce or water if it seems dry after it’s warmed through (it will release juices as it heats up).
- BBQ Sauce: Transfer the cooled barbecue sauce to an air-tight container. Store for up to two weeks in the refrigerator or freeze for up to 3 months.
- Coleslaw: Homemade coleslaw will last about 3 to 4 days in the fridge, but is at peak freshness within the first few hours of combining.
To make ahead further in advance, thinly slice the cabbage, shred the carrots, and slice the green onions. Store in separate airtight containers in the fridge for up to 5 days. The dressing can be whisked together and refrigerated up to 5 days in advance. Combine when ready to use.
- Onion Strings. You can slice the onions a day ahead of time and refrigerate in an airtight bag if you aren’t ready to fry right away. This will cut down on the onion prep significantly. For fried onions, let them cool COMPLETELY before transferring to an airtight container. Store onions at ROOM TEMPERATURE for up to three days.
HOW TO STORE
- Pulled pork: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The buns can be refrigerated or frozen to prolong their shelf life. The pork can be frozen for up to three months.
- Onion Strings: Let onions cool COMPLETELY before transferring to an airtight container. Store onions at ROOM TEMPERATURE for up to three days.
- Coleslaw: Homemade coleslaw will last about 3 to 4 days in the fridge, but is at peak freshness within the first few hours of combining. The cabbage will soften over time and the dressing will become runnier. The carrots and red cabbage will also alter the color of the dressing the longer it sits.
- To reheat in the microwave: Warm the pork in the microwave for 1 minute then at 20 second intervals until warmed through.
- To reheat on the stove: Rewarm the pork gently over medium-low heat, adding a splash of water if the pork seems a little dry after warmed through.
- To reheat in the slow cooker: Reheat in the slow cooker for 1-2 hours on low.
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