How to easily make slow cooker pulled pork perfect for sandwiches, salads, and tacos. For a quicker version, we have also shared how to make this pulled pork using a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Jump to the Slow Cooker Pulled Pork recipe or read on to see our tips for making it.
Pulled pork is absolutely perfect for the slow cooker. It’s easy to do and is the ultimate make-ahead meal. Our recipe makes pulled pork that’s tender, full of flavor, and juicy. It’s delicious served alone or can easily be stirred into your favorite barbecue sauce.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Learn how to make the best Shredded Chicken. This is our favorite way to make shredded chicken for sandwiches and tacos. You can make it on the stove or in a slow cooker.
How to Make the Best Pulled Pork Using a Slow Cooker
The slow cooker really shines in this recipe. We start with a pork shoulder — also called pork butt or Boston butt.
It’s a relatively tough cut and does well when cooked over a long period of time. It’s also well marbled with fat, which prevents the pork from drying out while cooking. As the pork cooks, the fat melts and sort of self-bastes during cooking. Making pulled pork in a slow cooker or crock pot is easy, but we still have a few tips for you so you make it best. If you love cooking with your slow cooker, try our Ultimate Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken, it’s delicious.
INSTANT POT© UPDATE: Since sharing this recipe, we have tested it using a pressure cooker (we have the Instant Pot). Check the recipe notes section below for our method. By using a pressure cooker, you can make this pulled pork in under 2 hours.
Season the Meat
This is important no matter what you are cooking, but it is especially important in a slow cooker. Once you hit start, you really don’t want to lift the lid, so taking some time to think about flavors and seasoning up front is a good idea.
We’re pretty heavy handed with salt and pepper in the beginning and like to rub the pork with it, getting the salt into all the nooks of the meat. We also season 15 to 20 minutes before adding it to the slow cooker.
Cook on Low and Cook it Slow
After seasoning the meat, we put together a mixture of cooked onions, garlic, tomato paste and spices. That’s poured over the pork and we’re ready to cook.
When I said the slow cooker shines in this recipe, I really meant it. It’s pretty difficult to overcook pork shoulder. It’s because of this that we happily cook the pork on low for many hours. In our recipe below we call for at least 8, but you really can go beyond that. The pork should be so tender that a spoon can easily cut through it. Doing all of this in a slow cooker makes it easy. Do it overnight or while you are away from the house.
Skim the Cooking Liquid then Save it
When the pork is done, not only will you have juicy, tender pulled pork, but you will also have a rich, flavorful broth. It’s pure gold. Remove the cooking liquid from the slow cooker and skim as much fat as possible — remember, pork shoulder is well marbled with fat, so that’s all going to melt into the liquid. Discard the excess fat (which will float to the top) and then stir the liquid back into the pork to keep it extra moist and flavorful.
Another alternative is to refrigerate the pork in its cooking liquid. When it’s cold, the fat will have solidified, making it really easy to scrape off with a spoon.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Easy slow cooker chicken meatballs made with lean ground chicken, parmesan cheese, parsley, and oregano, and then cooked in a simple garlic and basil tomato sauce. Jump to the Tomato Basil Slow Cooker Chicken Meatballs Recipe.
Ultimate Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Recipe
Pulled pork is perfect for the slow cooker. Cooking the pork low and very slow is the secret to the juiciest and most tender pulled pork. This is a base recipe and while it is delicious as-is, you should feel free to stir in your favorite barbecue or other sauces at the end of cooking.
You Will Need
1 (4 1/2 to 5 pound) boneless or bone-in pork shoulder (also known as pork butt), twine or netting removed
2 teaspoons salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons neutral flavored oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped small
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ancho or mild chili powder, see our homemade chili powder recipe
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup water
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce or 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauceFor Serving (Optional)
Barbecue sauce, see our bacon bourbon barbecue sauce recipe
- Prepare Pork
- Cook Pork
- To Finish
Rub the pork with salt and pepper, and then set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. (See notes below if you plan to sear the pork first).
Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic then cook, stirring occasionally, until they are sweet and browned around the edges. Stir in the tomato paste, chili powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste turns from bright red to orange in color; about 3 minutes. Add the water, apple cider vinegar, and fish sauce and cook for about 1 minute, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Rest the seasoned pork in the bottom of a slow cooker then pour the onion and spice mixture on top. Wiggle the pork around the bottom of the slow cooker so that some of the onion and spice mixture slides underneath. Cover with lid and cook until the pork can be easily shredded; LOW for 6 to 8 hours or HIGH for 4 to 6.
Turn off the slow cooker and transfer the pork to a cutting board. If the pork has a bone in it, remove and discard it. Use two forks to shred the meat, discarding any connective tissue, and large clumps of fat.
Remove the cooking liquid and skim most of the fat from its surface. Discard the fat then set the cooking liquid aside.
If using barbecue sauce, add it to the slow cooker and stir in the shredded pork. If the mixture needs to be thinned out a little, add back some of the reserved cooking liquid. If you’re not using barbecue sauce, add the shredded pork back to the slow cooker and stir in enough cooking liquid so that the pork is moistened. Taste and season with salt, additional vinegar, or hot sauce as needed.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Can I make this Pulled Pork in an Instant Pot© or pressure cooker? Yes! Cook the onions, garlic, spices, tomato paste, water, vinegar and fish sauce as shared in the recipe above. If you have an Instant Pot, this can be done using the Sauté function. Add the seasoned pork and onion mixture to the pressure cooker/Instant Pot, seal the lid and cook on high pressure for 1 hour. Allow the cooker to naturally release (this takes 15 to 30 minutes). Shred the pork then skim and discard the excess fat from the cooking liquid. To serve, combine the skimmed cooking liquid and shredded pork.
- Fish Sauce: Fish sauce can be found in the international aisle in most grocery stores, in international markets, or online. It has a salty-sour flavor and is something we use to elevate flavors in savory dishes or dishes with lengthy cooking times. On Inspired Taste, you see us use it in our Homemade Pho recipe. If you do not have any, Worcestershire sauce is a good substitute.
- Searing the pork: Some readers have asked why we don’t sear the pork first. We’ve tried it and while it adds a bit more flavor, in this case the difference isn’t overwhelming. We skip the step. If you prefer, you can sear the outside of the pork in the same skillet you plan to make the onion-garlic mixture in. Searing will leave some browned stuck bits to the bottom of the skillet that will be picked up when you add the water later on.
- Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA Supertracker recipe calculator to calculate approximate values.