Here it is. Finally. The fabulous, knock your socks off entree you’ve been promised for a couple of days now.
Pulled pork is probably one of my favorite “barbeque” dishes. Contrary to popular belief, “barbecue” and “grilling” are not interchangeable terms. Grilling involves putting your food directly on the heat source and allowing the heat source to cook it quickly. Barbecue, on the other hand, is allowing a heat source to heat the air around your food, and the heat in the air cooks your food slowly. This is the essential process behind how ovens work, and on a much smaller scale, how slow cookers (or “crock-pots”) work. Because of this, they make the perfect barbecue cooking vessels – especially in the dead of winter!
Aside from its general deliciousness, pulled pork is also great because it’s so versatile. You can eat it by itself, on a sandwich, even in tacos. (I’m definitely trying that out with my leftovers – pulled pork tacos just sounds awesome!)
So, buckle up and hang on, because this one takes a bit of work and time, but I assure you, it is very, VERY worth it! (And it’s not difficult!) Don’t be afraid, just try it! You’ll be surprised at how easy it is!
Start by making your spice rub. I used 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tsp garlic, 1 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp celery salt (or celery seed), 2 tsp chili powder, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper. Mix this all together in a bowl until it’s combined.
Set this aside and prepare your meat. You’ll need to use bone-in pork shoulder for this (also called a “butt” in stores, but it comes from the shoulder of the pig). I used a four and a half pound cut, which fit pretty nicely into my slow cooker. If you’re flexible on when you can make this, just keep an eye on your meat department sales. Try to buy it when it’s gone on sale and resolve to make it within a day or two. I only paid $6.44 for my 4.32 pound shoulder because I tend to buy meat when they’ve put it on a severe sale because the “use or freeze by” date is in a couple of days. (And trust me, when you see how much this makes, you’ll realize that $6.44 is unbelievable considering the amount of people it will feed. Hint, it comes out to less than a dollar per person.) It should look like this.
MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Once you’ve got it out of the packaging, put it on a platter, skin side up, and use a very sharp knife to cut a crosshatch pattern through the skin and the fat cap. You want to leave this fat on the pork because it cooks down into the meat which is what makes it tender and juicy.
Now comes the fun part! Using your hands, take the spice rub you made a few minutes ago and rub it over every last available surface of the pork, starting with the fat cap and rotating all the way around. You want to get the spices into all the crevices and use ALL of that spice rub! When you’re done, chances are your hands will look like this:
And the pork should look like this:
Set this aside and let all those spices sink in for a bit. WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY, and then dice up 1 granny smith apple and 1/2 a large red onion. (Hint, use the other half of the red onion from the other day’s coleslaw recipe!)
Put this in the bottom of your slow cooker, and then carefully set the pork shoulder on top, skin side up.
If any of the spice rub is left on your platter, scrape it right off onto the top of the shoulder.
Now comes the secret weapon. A lot of barbecue cooking is done with alcohol, especially beer. This recipe is no different, but this is an apple pulled pork, so I decided to kick things up a bit and used an apple ale.
I prefer Angry Orchard, because that’s just always on hand in my house, but any apple ale would work! Pour this right overtop of your onion and apple bed, around the pork.
That’s it! Put the lid on, turn it on low, and WALK AWAY. I actually did mine for 3 hours on high and then 3 hours on low, but that’s because I work from home and knew I would be around to make that switch. If you’re going to be out of the house all day, doing it on low for 8 hours should do the trick.
MAKE OR BREAK TIP: No matter how good it looks, no matter how divine it smells, no matter how badly you want to “check on it,” DO NOT take that lid off until the cooking time is up! Any time you take the lid off, you have to add an extra HALF HOUR of cooking time. Not kidding. Don’t do it!
If you’re like me and you’re home all day, you can spend some of your waiting time by making the coleslaw and barbecue sauce to go with it. If you’re going to be out of the house all day, you can actually make the coleslaw, barbecue sauce, and spice rub the night before. (You could even dice the onion and apple beforehand, too!) If you rub the spices into the pork the night before, just cover it and stick it in the fridge overnight. This will give the spices a chance to really soak into the meat even more!
When it’s time to take the pork out, do so carefully and put it on a large plate. If you’ve done your job right and left it in there all day without messing with it, the meat should literally fall apart. This means that gigantic bone right in the middle should easily separate from the meat, so get that out of there and throw it away. You should also easily be able to scrape off the excess fat from the fat cap and throw that away, as well. When you’re done all that, you should have a large hunk of meat falling apart on your plate:
Using two forks, shred the meat until it’s all pulled apart.
Go ahead, eat a piece or two. You know you want to. 🙂
Once its all pulled, return the meat to the slow cooker to combine it with the juices and apples and onions. Leave it in there until you’re ready to serve it, and then use a slotted spoon to dish it out of the slow cooker. Put a big hunk on a toasted bun, top it with barbecue sauce and coleslaw, and serve with the roasted potato wedges that I posted yesterday.
If you were planning on serving four people, like me, chances are you’ll have plenty of leftover pork. (I can’t speak for your potato wedges or the coleslaw – those pretty much disappeared off my table before I knew what happened, but there’s enough pork there to feed 10-12 people!) Maybe sometime later this week I’ll give the pulled pork taco idea a try…
Oh, and make sure to have plenty of napkins on hand. This sandwich gets pretty messy!
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my little fantasy trip to summer in the dead of winter! Keep coming back for more deliciousness!!
Slow Cooker Apple Pulled Pork
Yield: 10-12 servings
One 4 to 5 pound bone-in pork shoulder
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp garlic
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp celery salt (or celery seed)
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 medium granny smith apple
1/2 large red onion
1 bottle apple ale
1) Combine brown sugar, garlic, cayenne, celery salt, chili powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
2) Place pork shoulder on a large platter, skin side up, and score a crosshatch pattern through the skin and fat cap.
3) Use your hands to rub the spice rub into the pork, starting with the fat cap and rotating to all the sides of the shoulder. Make sure to get in all the crevices!
4) Set aside the pork and dice up the apple and onion. Put these in the bottom of the slow-cooker to create a bed for the pork, and then put the pork, skin side up, on top of the apples and onions.
5) Pour the apple ale onto the onions and apples, around the pork.
6) Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for 3 hours and then low for 3 more hours.
7) Once the pork is finished cooking, remove the shoulder from the slow cooker and remove the bone and fat cap.
8) Using two forks, shred the meat and then return it to the slow cooker to combine with the juices, apples, and onions. Leave in the cooker for a half an hour, or until you’re ready to serve.
9) Dish the pork out of the cooker using a slotted spoon and serve as desired. Any leftovers should be covered and put in the refrigerator within an hour of serving.