Slow Cooker Pork Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

I’m still in a Greek mood over here at SS&N (check out my last post, Warm Greek Salad with Chicken, if you missed it!) so I’m continuing the theme with another very much Greek-inspired dish!

Gyros are one of the most well-known parts of Greek cuisine. You’re probably familiar with them – a grilled pita filled with either chicken, pork, or veal, along with various condiments and veggies. Traditionally, the meat is roasted slowly on a spit over a constant heat. I’ve deviated a bit from tradition here, mainly due to my lack of a vertical turning spit for meat, and decided to do mine in the slow cooker. One of my most popular posts was my Apple Pulled Pork, and this definitely gives a nod to that method, but I’ve switched up the spices and cooking liquid a bit to make the dish definitely Greek.

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Start by dicing 1/2 a red onion and 2 stalks of celery and put them in the bottom of your slow cooker, to create a bed for the pork. Next comes the ever-important spice rub, which as always, starts with brown sugar. To the brown sugar, add 1 tbsp sat, 2 tsp of pepper, and about a teaspoon each of garlic powder, basil, oregano, celery seed, and dill weed. Rub this liberally all over your cut of pork. For mine, I used a 2 pound pork loin, and it turned out SO tender! If you’re needing to serve more than 4 people, you can use a pork butt (also called a pork shoulder) like I did in my original pulled pork recipe. If you get one that’s 4 pounds it should easily serve 8 people. (Obviously, double the quantities of everything listed if you go that route!)

Carefully place your pork on top of the bed of celery and onion.

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The last thing you’ll need before you set this thing a-cooking is your braising liquid. It’s so simple, you almost won’t believe it. Just combine the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 cup of dry white wine, and 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar. Pour that around your pork, put the lid on, and cook on high for 4 hours (or low for 7-8).

After the pork is cooked through, take it out of the slow cooker and use two forks to shred the meat, then return the shredded meat to the slow cooker and let simmer on low for another 15-30 minutes… essentially as long as it takes to do the rest of the prep for the meal!

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To make the tzatziki sauce, dice 1/2 a cucumber, salt liberally (perhaps 2 teaspoons or so), and then add them to a blender or food processor, along with 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, the zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon, and a teaspoon each of pepper, dill weed, and mint. Blend until smooth and then dish out into a small bowl.

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Finally, no gyro is complete without vegetables! Julienne 1/2 a red onion and 1 green pepper and saute with olive oil over medium high heat for about 3-5 minutes, or until they become tender and pliable. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic, saute for one additional minute, and then remove from the heat.

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Once everything is done, use a slotted spoon to dish the pork out of the slow cooker, ensuring that you let most of the liquid drain off. Serve the pork, sauce, veggies, and some feta cheese in warmed pita bread. Pita bread comes with a handy little pocket for filling, but for the pictures, I just piled all my filling on top! 🙂

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Enjoy with a glass of dry white wine. Cheers!

Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Pork Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Yield: 4 hearty servings

Ingredients:

Pork:
1/2 red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp each garlic powder, basil, oregano, celery seed, dill weed
2-pound pork loin
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Tzatziki Sauce:
1/2 cucumber, diced
2 tsp salt
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 lemon (juice and zest)
1 tsp each pepper, dill weed, mint

Gyro Assembly:
4-6 pieces pita bread
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green pepper, julienned
1/2 red onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
Feta cheese, for topping

Process:

1) Make a spice rub for the pork. Combine brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, celery seed, and dill weed in a small dish. Rub liberally all over the sides of the pork.

2) Place diced onion and celery in bottom of slow cooker. Carefully lay rubbed pork on top.

3) Combine lemon zest and juice, white wine, and balsamic vinegar, and then pour around the pork. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7-8 hours.

4) Once pork is finished cooking, remove from slow-cooker and use two forks to shred the meat. Return the meat to the slow cooker and let simmer on low for another 15-30 minutes.

5) To make the tzatziki sauce, salt the cucumbers with the 2 tsp of salt and add to a blender or food processor. Also add the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, pepper, dill, and mint. Blend until smooth and pour into a small dish for serving.

6) Saute julienned green pepper and onions in olive oil over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes or until beginning to become soft and translucent. Add garlic and saute for one additional minute, then remove from heat.

7) Warm the pita bread and then cut open and fill with sauce, pork, and veggies. Top with feta cheese and enjoy!

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Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Loin

Slow cooker recipes are always the best, so here’s another for you that may shock you! I grabbed a 2 pound pork loin on sale the other day and I was trying to decide how to make it different and interesting … Obviously the first way I decided was to cook it in the slow-cooker instead of the oven, but the second was to use a balsamic vinegar based cooking liquid.

Let me tell you, it was some kind of amazing! Super tender, so much so that I couldn’t even slice it nicely for photos – it just fell apart! And oh-so-flavorful… and oh-so-easy!

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The cooking liquid is important, of course, but the key to really flavorful meats is the spice rub. I always start pork spice rubs with brown sugar (about 3/4 cup) and then build up from there. For this one I added 2 teaspoons of salt, and then a half teaspoon or so each of black pepper, celery seed, oregano, thyme, cumin, and cayenne.

You might have to cut the pork loin in half before rubbing it (I did), but once its an appropriate size to fit in your slow cooker, rub it on all sides with the spice rub until it’s entirely gone.

Into the bottom of the slow cooker, add half a diced onion and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, then carefully place the pork on top.

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For your cooking liquid, in a small glass bowl or measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 cup cranberry juice, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Whisk it together and then carefully pour it around the pork in the slow cooker.

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That’s it! Cover and set the slow cooker to low and leave it alone for 4-5 hours. Once it’s ready, carefully lift it out and attempt to slice it – if it doesn’t really work, just pull it apart!

Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Loin

Yield: About 4 servings

Ingredients:

One 2-pound pork loin
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup cranberry juice
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced

Spice Rub:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne.

Process:

1) Combine ingredients for spice rub in a small dish and rub onto all sides of the pork until it’s all been used.

2) Add onion and fresh thyme to slow cooker; carefully lay pork loin on top of the bed of onion.

3) In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, cranberry juice, mustard, and garlic until combined. Pour over the pork loin and then cover. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or until cooked through and tender.

Slow Cooker Wine Braised Pork Spare Ribs

Just about everyone loves barbecued pork spare ribs. However, I already did a great barbecued pork recipe in the slow cooker (see Slow Cooker Apple Pulled Pork). So, when pork spare ribs were the best deal in the meat department this week, I had to decide on another way to cook them – perhaps a more “sophisticated” rib recipe.

Well, there’s nothing more sophisticated than cooking with wine, so that was the basis for the thought process on this tender, fall-off-the-bone rib recipe. Just school yourself away from the good ole barbecue rib route for a bit and I promise you’ll find these are another fabulous way to use pork ribs!

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There are many different ways to prep meat for cooking, but this recipe uses a technique called “brining” which essentially means soaking the meat in a salty liquid for several hours to infuse flavor.

In a large baking dish, combine 3 cups of water, 1 cup brown sugar, 4 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed), 2 tbsp of salt, and 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and then add about 4 pounds of pork ribs cut into individual ribs (about 8 large ribs), cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, make a spice rub from 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cumin, 2 tsp coriander, 2 tsp thyme, and 1 tsp cayenne pepper. Set this aside, and then dice 1 small onion and add it to your slow cooker, along with 2 cups of white wine (I used white zinfandel since that’s what I had on hand, which is technically a blush wine, but any semi-dry white would do) and 2 cups of chicken stock.

Liquid

Once the meat has brined, discard the liquid and pat the ribs dry with paper towels. Rub each rib with your spice rub, making sure you use all of it, and then put them one by one into the slow-cooker. Add 3 bay leaves, cover, and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 hours.

In cooker

Once the ribs are done, they should easy pull apart and be practically falling off the bone. Use tongs to plate them all on a serving dish and serve immediately! (These would be great with roasted red potatoes!)

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Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Wine Braised Pork Ribs

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

4 pounds pork ribs, cut into individual ribs (about 8 ribs)
3 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 cups white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 small onion, diced
3 bay leaves

Process:

1) In a large baking dish, combine water, 1 cup brown sugar, garlic, 2 tbsp salt, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine and then add pork ribs. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2) Make a spice rub in a small dish by combining 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tsp salt, cumin, coriander, thyme, and cayenne pepper.

3) Add onion, wine, and chicken stock to slow cooker. Remove meat from brine, discard the liquid, and pat each rib dry with paper towels.

4) Rub the spice rub onto each rib and add them to the slow cooker. Add 3 bay leaves, cover, and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 hours.

5) Once ribs are done, they should pull apart easily. Use tongs to plate them on a serving platter and serve immediately.

Honey Teriyaki Slow Cooker Chicken with Fried Rice

When you cook for large groups of people as often as I do, slow-cookers really do become your best friend. I swear. It’s like the greatest cooking tool ever invented.

My last visit to the slow cooker was to make last week’s amazing apple pulled pork. If you happened to miss that, seriously, go read it, and mark a day to make it. It’s the most popular post I’ve ever written, by a long shot!

This week, however, we’re paying homage to the other side of the world and tipping our hats to Asian cuisine, with a little bit of a twist. This requires almost no work at all, seriously, so there should be nothing keeping you from tackling this one!

Start by making your sauce right in the slow cooker itself. Dump in 1 cup teriyaki sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup honey, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp thyme, and salt and pepper (about 1 tsp each). Use a whisk to combine it all (it may take a minute or two to fully break up the honey and dissolve the brown sugar).

Sauce

Take 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them up into bite size pieces. As you cut each breast, put the pieces right into the slow cooker.

Chicken

Stir the chicken a little to ensure every piece is coated, put the lid on, set the slow cooker to low, and walk away for 4 hours.

After the time is up, the chicken should have darkened in color from absorbing the sauce. It should also be super tender and pretty much fall apart if you try to stab it with a fork. Use a slotted spoon to dish the chicken out, and then serve with fried rice (recipe below) or stir-fried veggies. (Tip, use the leftover sauce from the chicken to flavor your rice and/or veggies.)

Finished Dish

I have done several variations of cooking with this honey-teriyaki concept and this is by far the one that is the least work, but they are all delicious! When it gets warmer out, I’ll post the grilled version – it still has an Asian flair but is definitely much more home-town barbecue-esque!

Depending on the size of the breasts you use (the ones I used were fairly large), this should feed about 5-6 people, bearing in mind that it’s meant to be combined with rice or vegetables to make a full meal.

Full Recipe:

Honey Teriyaki Slow Cooker Chicken

Yields: 5-6 Servings when served with rice or vegetables.

Ingredients:

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Process:

1) Combine all ingredients except chicken in slow cooker; whisk to combine.

2) Add chicken to sauce in slow cooker. Put the lid on and cook on low for 4 hours or until chicken is cooked through and darkened in color.

3) Remove chicken from slow-cooker with a slotted spoon and serve with fried rice or vegetables.

For those interested, here’s a quick process on how I do my fried rice:

Yield: 5-6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups uncooked rice
4 cups water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 green, orange, or yellow pepper, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs

If you are NOT using the teriyaki sauce from the chicken above, also:
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup soy or teriyaki sauce, to taste
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Process:

1) In a large sauce pan, add the uncooked rice. Pour the water on top of the rice, add the olive oil and salt, and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let simmer until all the water is absorbed. (15-20 minutes, typically.)

2) In a frying pan over medium-high heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and then quickly saute diced peppers and onions (3-5 minutes). Add the garlic and saute for an additional minute, then push veggies to the side of the pan.

3) Crack eggs directly into the empty half of the pan and quickly move them around to pan-scramble them (1-2 minutes).

4) Once veggies and eggs are done, add them to the rice and stir to combine.

5) Add seasoning elements (either remaning teriyaki sauce from above, or sauce elements listed in this recipe). Stir to combine and then serve immediately.

Slow Cooker Apple Pulled Pork

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!

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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!

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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.

Dry Rub

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.

Skin Side Down

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.

Crosshatch

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:

Hands

And the pork should look like this:

Spiced Pork

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!)

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Put this in the bottom of your slow cooker, and then carefully set the pork shoulder on top, skin side up.

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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.

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.

Ready to Cook

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:

Ready to Pull

Using two forks, shred the meat until it’s all pulled apart.

Pulled

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.

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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…

Finished Dish 4

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!!

Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Apple Pulled Pork

Yield: 10-12 servings

Ingredients:

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

Process:

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.