When I was growing up, my dad would occasionally have to travel to Greenville, South Carolina, for business. When he returned home, he always brought a cooler full of pulled pork, coleslaw, and a variety of sauces. Thus began my love affair with southern cuisine—more specifically, barbecue.
While I love trying out different barbecue joints, I also enjoy making my own at home. The thing is, I don’t have a smoker (at least not yet!), and smoking meats on our charcoal grill is a pain in the ass, so I came up with this recipe. It’s a mashup of several I have found over the years: a barbecue sauce featured in a Jamie Deen recipe for ribs, a spice rub from Southern Living’s Big Book of BBQ, and a “low and slow” oven braised pulled pork recipe by Gina and Patrick Neely, which I adapted for my Crockpot. While you certainly can use the barbecue sauce and spice rub of choice, I really like the way these particular recipes come together. If you want a nice smoky flavor with your meat, add a tablespoon of liquid smoke (found with the barbecue sauces in the grocery store) to the brazing juices. This is completely optional and it’s delicious either way.
4 tsp salt
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of ground ginger
Combine all the ingredients together in a small bowl. The spice rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cup ketchup, preferably Heinz
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized saucepan. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the remaining ingredients to the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning and salt and pepper as needed.
The barbecue sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Spice Rub recipe (above)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, plus more for serving
1/2 cup apple juice or cider
A dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
A dash of Worcestershire sauce
A dash of soy sauce
1 Tbsp liquid smoke, optional
Using your hands, cover the pork shoulder with the spice rub mixture. Take the time to really work the spice rub into the meat—it’s called a rub for a reason. Wrap the pork shoulder in plastic wrap and place it in a baking dish. Put it in the refrigerator and let it rest overnight, or up to 24 hours. Remove the meat from the refrigerator an hour before you plan to begin cooking.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Meanwhile, using paper towels, pat the pork dry. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the pork shoulder to the skillet and to sear, about 3-5 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, turn your slow cooker onto the warm setting to prepare it for the seared pork shoulder—you should always heat your slow cooker if you are adding warm or hot ingredients to it.
As your slow cooker warms up and your meat sears, mix together the barbecue sauce, apple juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, and liquid smoke.
Once you have finished browning your meat, place the pork shoulder, fat-side up, in the warmed slow cooker. Pour the barbecue sauce-apple juice mixture over the pork. Place the lid on the slow cooker and adjust the setting to low. Cook for 8-10 hours, depending on the size of the pork shoulder—the larger it is, the longer it cooks.
Once the meat has cooked, it should be incredibly tender and falling apart. Using a large spoon, scrape the fat from the top of the meat and discard. Using meat-pulling claws or two forks, shred the meat, removing any bits of solid fat you come across. Toss the meat with the cooking juices.
Serve the meat warm with barbecue sauce, coleslaw, and cornbread. Other great sides include fried okra, sweet potato fries, stewed collard greens, macaroni and cheese, or green beans with bacon.
🐖 To make pulled pork sandwiches, spread the cut sides of sliced brioche or Kaiser rolls with softened, unsalted butter, and broil in the oven for about 1 minute. Pile the pulled pork on the lower halves of the toasted rolls. Drizzle barbecue sauce over the meat, then top with coleslaw. Place the top halves of the toasted rolls and enjoy!
Deen, Jamie, Goto, Andrea, Beaudy, Brianna. Jamie Deen’s Good Food. London: Kyle Books, 2013. Page 92.
Rusch, Vanessa Lynn. Big Book of BBQ: Recipes and Revelations from the Barbecue Belt. Des Moines: Oxmoor House, 2010. Page 49.
Neeley, Pat, Neely, Gina, Volkwein, Ann. The Neely’s Celebration Cookbook: Down-Home Meals for Every Occasion. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Page 163.