Our extended family gatherings have an unspoken rule of engagement: there will be barbecue. This Slow Cooker Pulled Pork is sweet, smoky, saucy, and inspired by the pulled pork sandwiches at one of our favorite local BBQ joints.
My sisters live in Kansas City, and whenever Ben and I visit, a stop for barbecue isn’t a suggestion. It’s a direct order.
The competition is fierce and hotly debated between top-rated spots.
Over the course of a few years, I’ve managed to try a pulled pork sandwich at every single one of them (all in the name of research of course).
My absolute favorite is made by a spot that operates out of a gas station (really!).
It’s melt-in-your-mouth tender, ultra smoky and savory, and topped with a crisp, creamy coleslaw that brightens it up.
5 Star Review
“Made this for a lake weekend and it was PERFECT. Everyone loved it and it was so easy to reheat leftovers.”— Janie —
Back home in Milwaukee, slow cooker pulled pork (and similarly, Crockpot BBQ Chicken) has become a go-to dish whenever I’m serving a crowd.
- It’s inexpensive and a crowd-pleaser.
- I can 100% prep it in advance.
- PLUS leftovers (ha!) are easy to portion, freeze, and use later in a variety of ways (ahem, Pulled Pork Quesadillas).
In our house, our favorite way to enjoy this recipe is as slow cooker pulled pork sandwiches topped with Healthy Coleslaw and a side of chips.
It NEVER fails to satisfy.
How to Make The Best Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
This easy slow cooker pulled pork (like my Chile Verde Pork) cooks away all day almost entirely unattended.
It’s easy, low-fuss, and near impossible to goof up.
The Best BBQ Sauce for Pulled Pork
The spectacular flavor of this slow cooker pulled pork comes down to a homemade BBQ sauce that will convince your friends that you are a meat whisperer.
- Instead of using bottled barbecue sauce or ketchup (both of which are usually loaded with corn syrup or similar sugar), I worked off of my easy homemade Barbecue Sauce.
- It’s made with pantry spices, tomato paste, honey, and a dash of hot sauce for some kick.
- Combined with the pork’s own cooking juices, these ingredients make for a slow cooker pulled pork taste that is lightly smoky and rich, with just the right amount of vinegar to balance it and cut the fattiness of the pork.
Which Cut of Meat is Used for Pulled Pork
Long, slow cooking is best for fattier, tougher cuts of pork such as pork shoulder, which is the traditional choice.
When preparing pork in the slow cooker, remember that fat = flavor.
- Cuts of pork with higher fat content tend to be more flavorful.
- This is because fat adds moisture. As it renders and the meat breaks down, the fat helps the pork stay juicy (and delicious).
- Pork Shoulder. If you want meat so tender you can shred it with a spoon, slow cooker pork shoulder is the way to go. (Taste Instant Pot Carnitas for further proof!) You’ll also see this cut referred to as pork butt (which for all intents and purposes is the same thing).
- Pork Loin. Leaner than pork shoulder, it doesn’t make for pulled pork that is as juicy and tender, but it is usable in a pinch. Honestly, I do not love slow cooker pork loin NEARLY as much as shoulder. If you want to use pork loin, then try this Instant Pot Pulled Pork instead! It uses pork loin, and the Instant Pot traps enough moisture to keep the pork juicy.
- Pork Tenderloin. DO NOT make slow cooker pork tenderloin. Just don’t. It’s far too lean of a cut, will very likely taste dry, and the pork will be difficult to shred. Instead, try this lovely Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin, Grilled Pork Tenderloin, or Stuffed Pork Tenderloin.
- Pork. The star of the show! For unparalleled juiciness and melt-in-your-mouth taste, make slow cooker pork shoulder. (See immediately above for an explanation.)
- Onion. It breaks down so much you’ll almost forget it’s there, but it works quietly in the background to make the pork taste more complex.
- Tomato Paste. Its concentrated flavor gives the sauce backbone.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Slow cooker pulled pork with apple cider vinegar is a MUST! The acid helps cut and balance the richness of the pork. Yum!
- Honey + Brown Sugar. Try as you might to make slow cooker pulled pork without sugar, some sweetness is essential for BBQ flavor. At the end of the day, it’s a much better option than high fructose corn syrup too.
- Hot Sauce. Spicy to balance the sweet.
- Worcestershire Sauce. The umami ingredient.
- Liquid Smoke. Such a fun ingredient to use! (I love it for Instant Pot Ribs.) It gives the pork an “I spent all day fussing over this” taste, with zero fuss at all. (If you prefer, you can omit it, but I think you’ll be happy with your purchase.)
Liquid smoke is inexpensive and available in the spice section of most major grocery stores or online here.
- Smoked Paprika + Garlic Powder + Mustard Powder. To make the sauce taste boss.
- Cornstarch. A slurry thickens up the pork’s own cooking juices and makes them a part of the sauce. You don’t lose a drop of goodness.
- Add the onion, tomato paste, vinegar, honey, and spices to the slow cooker.
- Whisk together.
- Season the pork with salt and pepper.
- Add the pork to the slow cooker and spoon the sauce all over the top.
You can put raw pork in the slow cooker, but it does need to be thawed first. If it isn’t, it can become unsafe to eat, because the pork will spend so much time at room temperature as it thaws.
- Cook pulled pork on HIGH for 5 to 6 hours or LOW for 8 to 10 hours.
- Remove the pork. Add the cornstarch slurry, stir, and cook for 20-30 minutes until it thickens. Shred the pork and stir it together with the thickened BBQ sauce. ENJOY!
For easy entertaining, let your guests serve themselves right out of the slow cooker.
Like this Italian Beef, people can make sandwiches to their preferences (no bun, extra slaw, etc.), and you’ll have your hands free to enjoy the gathering.
What to Serve With Pulled Pork
- Easy Baked Beans. CLASSIC with barbecue.
- Slaw. The Picnic Slaw in The Well Plated Cookbook is fresh and fabulous.
- Grilled Vegetables. Perfect for a summer meal! Grilled Corn Salad would be a popular choice. For some green, try Grilled Asparagus or Grilled Brussels Sprouts.
- Sweet Potato Salad. A unique and scrumptious cookout classic. Plus, bacon! You can also stick with classic Healthy Potato Salad too.
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover pulled pork for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm over the stovetop or in the microwave, with a splash of water or chicken broth to keep the pork from becoming too thick or dry.
- To Freeze. Portion the pork into airtight, freezer-safe containers of your desired size. Freeze for up to 3 months (I’ve gone even longer). Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Meal Prep Tip
Crockpot pulled pork reheats beautifully! You can make the shredded pork up to 1 day in advance. Reheat it in the crockpot with a splash of water or broth added to thin the sauce as needed.
Pulled pork is delish for more than sandwiches!
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Glass Mixing Bowls. Stackable, durable, and microwave-safe.
- Magnetic Measuring Spoons. So easy to keep organized in your kitchen drawer.
- Whisk. Smaller size for easier storage and less splashing when mixing.
Keep this crockpot pulled pork recipe handy.
Once you try it, I suspect it will become a go-to in your family too!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Video
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Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Aim for about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid per pound of pork. You want enough to keep the pork moist while it cooks without it swimming in liquid (remember we’re slow cooking not boiling the pork).
Technically yes. However, if you’re using a fatty, well-marbled cut of pork (like the shoulder) it’s really difficult to overcook the pork in a slow cooker. You’ll know if your slow cooker pulled pork is overcooked if it becomes mushy. This happens when the acid (e.g. vinegar) in the sauce breaks down the meat too much.
While this pulled pork recipe will be delicious cooked on either HIGH or LOW, you’ll typically always get a more tender, moist, and flavorful result when cooking crockpot pulled pork on LOW as opposed to HIGH.
No. Unless the pork shoulder is very large and you’re concerned about even cooking, generally it’s not necessary to flip or rotate slow cooker pork shoulder. Just set it and forget it!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
FOR THE PULLED PORK:
- 1 small yellow onion finely chopped
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha or hot sauce of choice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus additional for the pork
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke optional but super good
- 1 3-to 4-pound boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
- Ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch plus 3 tablespoons cold water to create a slurry
- Healthy Coleslaw
- In the bottom of a 6-quart or larger slow cooker, whisk together the onion, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, water, brown sugar, Worcestershire, smoked paprika, garlic powder, mustard powder, sriracha, 1 teaspoon salt, and liquid smoke (if using), until smoothly combined.
- Season the pork all over with a generous amount of kosher salt and ground pepper.
- Add the pork to the slow cooker and spoon the sauce all over the top to cover it.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 5 to 6 hours or LOW for 8 to 10 hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender. Transfer the pork to a large bowl, leaving the cooking liquid in the slow cooker.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons cold water to create a slurry. Pour into the slow cooker, then whisk to combine. Cover the slow cooker and cook on HIGH, whisking every so often, until the sauce is thickened to your liking, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- While the sauce thickens, shred the pork with two forks or, if it is cool enough to handle, with your fingers.
- Stir the shredded pork back into the thickened sauce in the slow cooker. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired (you may need an extra pinch of salt or some additional hot sauce if you enjoy a kick). Spoon pork on top of buns with coleslaw and pickles to create a sandwich, or serve it any way you like.
- TO STORE: Store slow cooker pulled pork for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: To reheat slow cooker pulled pork, warm on the stovetop or in the microwave, with a splash of water or chicken broth to keep the pork from becoming too thick or dry.
- TO FREEZE: Portion the pulled pork into freezer-safe containers of your desired size. Freeze for up to 3 months (I’ve gone even longer). Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
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