Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

4.85 from 38 votes
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Slow cooker pulled pork coated in a homemade barbecue sauce. Hunks of juicy pork shoulder simmered in a spiced sauce until fork tender. You can serve this shredded pork recipe with your favorite sides or make a pulled pork sandwich.

Pulled pork in a slow cooker.

The Crock-Pot is a fantastic kitchen device that transforms a tough cut of meat into melt-in-your-mouth pieces. Hands down, it’s the most effortless way to make a slow cooker pulled pork recipe. The long cooking time and gentle moist heat favor a cut like pork shoulder loaded with chewy connective tissue.

The pork is cut into smaller chunks for more effective cooking instead of being left whole. It’s simmered in a sweet, tangy, savory pineapple braising liquid. Once the meat flakes easily with a fork, all of the delicious juices and flavors in the pot are reduced until a thickened, smokey sauce is created.

Choosing the best cut of pork

Use a boneless pork shoulder, also sold as pork butt or “Boston butt.” It’s a large roast from half of the shoulder. It contains a lot of fat and connective tissue that will soften over time, yielding juicy and tender pulled pork.

If bone-in pork shoulder is the only cut available, make sure to find a 7 to 8-pound piece to account for the weight of the bone.

Cut and trim the fat

Person cutting the fat off a pork shoulder.

Cut the meat into four pieces to fit in a 6-quart Crock-Pot. This also helps them cook more evenly and faster. The pork shoulder has a good amount of fat layer on the surface. Ensure to cut away most excess fat, leaving just a small amount for flavor. This will make it easier to remove the fat later when making the BBQ sauce.

How to make pulled pork in a slow cooker

Four pieces of pork inside a crock-pot.

I use a 6-quart Crock-Pot to cook the pork. The meat must sit in a single layer to cook evenly. Cover and cook on High for 5 to 7 hours or 8 to 10 hours on Low setting. This is great to prepare the night before if serving early the next day.

Make the barbecue sauce

Homemade barbecue sauce being whisked in a bowl.

Even before the pork begins to cook, it’s coated in a mixture of tomato paste, pineapple juice, molasses, maple syrup, mustard, smoked paprika, onion and garlic powder, chili powder, salt, and pepper.

As it cooks, the flavorful juices and drippings infuse into the barbecue sauce, making it even more rich and tasty. To switch up the flavor, try my homemade barbecue sauce.

Shred the meat

Shredding pork into smaller pieces on a baking sheet.

Transfer the pork to a sheet pan or bowl, then shred it into smaller pieces. Check out my shredding techniques to make the process quick and easy!

Reduce the sauce drippings

Pouring the reduced sauce over shredded pork inside a slow cooker.

There will be a lot of flavorful juices, drippings, and sauce left in the slow cooker after removing the pork. Remove most of the fat sitting on top to prevent a greasy sauce. In a saucepan, reduce the liquid until it becomes a thickened tomato-based barbecue sauce. It should yield about 2 cups of sauce.

Combine the shredded pork with 1 cup of the reduced sauce. Serve the rest on the side for extra saucy pulled pork.

Flavor variations

Now that you know how to make this tender and juicy pulled pork slow cooker recipe, you can customize the sauce’s flavor! Try these delicious ways to switch up the taste:

  • Spicy: Add in chopped jalapeno or serrano peppers. Increase the heat with chipotle in adobo sauce, dried chipotle powder, cayenne pepper, or red chili flakes.
  • Sweetener: Honey, agave, brown sugar, or dates make a sweet swap for maple syrup or molasses.
  • Juice: Cranberry, apple, orange, lemonade, or pomegranate can be used instead of pineapple juice to change the fruity taste of the sauce.
  • Seasoning: Add cajun seasoning for a spicer taste. Add bold spices and herbs like dried oregano, thyme, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce bumps up the meaty, umami taste.
  • Tanginess: For a Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce flavor, add in some apple cider vinegar. Use 1 teaspoon at a time until the desired flavor is reached.

Serving suggestions

Frequently asked questions

Can you overcook pulled pork?

It’s hard to overcook the well-marbled and fatty shoulder cut. However, it can become mushy due to the acids in the sauce if the cooking continues too long beyond the recommended cook times. Take a bite for the best gauge of doneness.

Do you need liquid in slow cooker for pulled pork?

No extra liquid needs to be added. The liquid in the barbecue sauce is enough moisture to help cook the pork shoulder. A lot of juices will be released from the meat as it cooks. This will generate enough steam in the enclosed vessel to cook the meat over time.

Can I make pulled pork in an Instant Pot?

Add the pieces of pork coated in barbecue sauce plus ½ cup of water or stock to the pot. Cook on high pressure for about 60 minutes, longer if needed. Natural release for 15 minutes. Degrease and reduce the sauce in the Instant Pot using the saute function.

Delicious pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw.

How does slow cooking tenderize the pork?

When braising a large pork roast in the slow cooker, it’s ideal to cook the meat for a long period of time. Holding it between 160 to 180ºF (71 to 82ºC) for at least an hour. This ensures that the collagen in the connective tissues transforms and melts into gelatin. This will tenderize the meat and keep it moist.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Slow cooker pulled pork coated in a homemade barbecue sauce. Hunks of juicy pork shoulder simmered in a spiced sauce until fork tender.
4.85 from 38 votes
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time6 hours
Total Time6 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 4 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • ¾ cup tomato paste
  • ¾ cup pineapple juice
  • cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions 

  • Prepare the Pork – Trim the excess fat from the pork shoulder. Cut into four pieces. Transfer the pork pieces to a 6-quart slow cooker.
  • Make the Barbecue Sauce – In a medium bowl, whisk together tomato paste, pineapple juice, maple syrup, molasses, mustard, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder, and salt. Pour the barbecue sauce over the pork, turning to coat the pieces.
  • Cook the Pork – Cover and cook until pork is very tender and easy to separate with a fork, 5 to 7 hours on the "High" setting, or 8 to 10 hours on the "Low" setting.
  • Shred the Meat – Transfer the pork to a sheet pan or bowl and shred it into smaller pieces. Cover with foil to keep warm.
  • Degrease the Sauce – Use a spoon to skim and remove the excess fat from the surface of the sauce. The sauce can also be transferred to a fat separator or bowl to remove the grease.
  • Reduce the Sauce – Add the defatted sauce to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to about 1 ½ cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
  • To Serve – Transfer the shredded pork to the slow cooker and combine it with 1 cup of sauce. Serve the remaining sauce on the side with the pulled pork.

Notes

  • Using Bone-in Pork: If using bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt, purchase a 7 to 8-pound cut to account for the weight of the bone.
  • Storing: Store cooled pork in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Reheating: Cover and microwave in 15 to 30-second increments until hot. 
  • Freezing: Place in a resealable plastic bag for up to 4 months. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 414kcal (21%)Carbohydrates 22g (7%)Protein 59g (118%)Fat 9g (14%)Saturated Fat 3g (15%)Cholesterol 153mg (51%)Sodium 507mg (21%)Potassium 1379mg (39%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 17g (19%)Vitamin A 880IU (18%)Vitamin C 8mg (10%)Calcium 56mg (6%)Iron 4mg (22%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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15 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Janet Henderson says

    Hi Jessica!!
    Can I make this the day before? If so, what is the best way to reheat it?
    Thanks!!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Janet- Yes you can make the pulled pork the day before. You can reheat in the microwave or stovetop over low heat. Or add it back into the slow cooker to warm up if serving later. I recommend adding the sauce the next day instead. It soaks into the meat so if you add it the day before, you might not have as much sauce. Unless you serve it will more BBQ sauce on the side.

  2. Soren Reynolds says

    I just made this in the instant pot. Yum!!! 40 minutes in the pot did the job. I love the recipe. I added a little apple cider vinegar to the sauce. Didn’t have pineapple juice, so I subbed orange juice. My 10 year old and I loved it! Next time I’ll add some heat (maybe add some dried Chile de Arbol to the pot before pressure cooking.)

    Another home run! Way to go Jess!

  3. Judy Evert says

    This recipe sounds so good. Can I cook in slow cooker without sauce and transport in metal container next day, put sauce on it and warm in an oven – if so, what temp would you advise

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I would cook the pork in the sauce for flavor. You can then place it in the metal container, and reduce the sauce after cooking the pork. Rewarm the pork in the oven at 325 degrees until warmed through. Warm up the sauce in a pot and pour it over the pork right before serving.

  4. Roberta Soon says

    I made this last night. Tried it as I misplaced the family’s favourite recipe. Well, this is now the family’s favourite & they told me not to bother looking for the lost recipe. Didn’t plan to change the anything, but I didn’t have all the ingredients. I must admit that I used orange juice ( didn’t have pineapple) & omitted the chilli powder. I did add in 2 chopped up sweet potato ( prepared it for the lost recipe). Turned out great. Shredded & Mashed everything in the slow cooker. The sweet potatoe blended in so well. So easy. Next time, I will have the pineapple juice. Thanks for sharing a wonderful recipe.

  5. Jesse says

    This was a phenomenal meal. I’ve made several meals from your recipes and all have turned out amazing. I really appreciate the level of detail and science you put into your cooking. It’s great for a newbie like me. I did not have a fat separator, so I did a lot of extra trimming with my chef’s knife on the front end which helped. One mistake I believe I made was, after cooking the pork, not waiting long enough for the fat to separate to try to skim the fat off the top with a spoon or something. How long would it normally take to separate? I have a fat separator ordered for future endeavors.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great job Jesse! Once the fat cools, you’ll see the separation much easier. It could take 20 to 30 minutes to cool down. You could always transfer the liquid to the refrigerator or freezer to speed up the process next time as well, even with the fat seperator.