Pulled Pork in the Oven
Many years ago I was helping my sister-in-law cook for a party, and her restaurateur father, known to his grandchildren, and the rest of the family, as Nutzie, came in the door bearing several large aluminum containers of pulled pork, which he had made at his mom-and-pop restaurant in Worcester, Mass.
I had never tried pulled pork before. The lids came off and the smell almost made me weep with longing. I watched everyone pile pulled pork onto rolls, took one little bite of my husband’s sandwich, then another, and fell right down the rabbit hole.
Oven Pulled Pork: A slow braise in the oven results in perfectly tender pork. Toss with barbecue sauce, and you have the easiest pulled pork!Tweet This
Pulled Pork Recipe
After several months of gently nudging Nutzie for his recipe, I finally got a scrap of paper with the following: “Pork loin (whole) or Pork loin bone in butt end. Roast in oven covered pan ¼ way up w/water. Beef base broth, liquid smoke, S & P. 350 until falling apart. While warm strip meat off bone/pulled with fork. Add BBQ sauce to taste.”
Huh. Not a lot of detail, but enough to work with. My mission lay before me.
What is Pulled Pork?
I knew that pulled pork is practically the definition of barbecue in the Carolinas and Tennessee. There, as well as in other parts of the country, it usually entails a big marbled hunk of pork shoulder, which is prepared using a combination of smoking and slow cooking over a low fire. Then the meat is shredded and seasoned with a bbq sauce that has a good kick to it, sometimes very vinegar-centric (as is common in most of North Carolina), sometimes with tomato (some parts of North Carolina and other areas of the country), and sometimes with some mustard thrown in (South Carolina).
But Nutzie’s recipe was an accessible oven baked pulled pork recipe, perfect for city dwelling pulled pork fans. I set about decoding the recipe. During the process, I checked in with barbecue expert, Elizabeth Karmel, North Carolina native and executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue in New York. She sanctioned the recipe’s call for baking the pork in an oven, simply saying that there was more than one way to make pulled pork, given dictating circumstances (i.e. my not having a smoker or fire pit).
Best Pork for Pulled Pork
You want to use a pork shoulder or a pork butt (which is in fact from the shoulder part of the pig). This cut is very tough, but turns amazingly fall apart tender when it is cooked low and slow. The ample amount of fat in this cut also contributes to very tender meat. If you can find a bone in pork shoulder, grab that, but a boneless pork shoulder will work fine, too. Don’t be te3mpted to sub in a pork loin; it’s not fatty enough.
What Temperature to Cook Pulled Pork?
Pork butt doesn’t take kindly to blasts of high heat, so don’t think you can cheat by turning up the heat and reducing the cooking time. This will yield an unpleasantly tough hunk of meat. Definitely not worth all of your work and patience.
The pork is braised at 300 degrees (don’t even bother looking at it until at least 4 1/2 hours have passed; you will just be wasting your time) until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 to 200 degrees, or, as Ms. Karmel describes, “until the bone slips right out, clean as a whistle.” This temperature will allow the pork to become very tender, and shred easily.
How to Pull Pork
After the meat is cooked, and left to sit for a nice chunk of time (20 minutes plus) to reclaim its juices, pull it apart into hunks (you may want to use rubber gloves since the meat will still be pretty hot). Toss the bone and any fatty bits, and then shred the meat with two forks or your fingers, as finely or as chunkily as you like. The shredded meat is then tossed with a homemade barbecue sauce, more bracing than most with a good amount of vinegar, which nicely counterbalances the seriously unctuous meat.
Ms. Karmel kindly pointed out that my recipe was like a melting pot of pulled porks, with the sauce bringing together elements from all different areas of regional barbecue. I know this was a gentle way of telling me Nutzie’s pulled pork was neither here nor there in terms of authenticity, and chose not to analyze the comment too closely.
Barbecue Sauce for Pulled Pork
Homemade barbecue sauce is one of those things many people don’t think to whip up, but once they do, the bottled stuff never looks quite the same. This ketchup-based version gets its pep from onion, garlic, Dijon mustard, chili powder, chili sauce, and that basic but inimitable refrigerator staple, Worcestershire sauce. Honey and brown sugar provide the sweetness, and you can spike the mixture with as much tangy apple-cider vinegar as you like.
One friend from Kansas City (where they also have, shall we say, firm opinions about barbecue) pronounced this pulled pork the real deal, and that was all the praise this New York City girl who adapted a pulled-pork recipe from an Italian grandfather from Massachusetts needed.
How to Make Oven Pulled Pork
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Place pork butt in a large pot with a lid. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour broth around pork until it covers about one quarter of the meat. Add liquid smoke. Cover pot and put in oven.
Bake pork until internal temperature registers 180 to 200°F on an instant-read thermometer and meat is falling apart, 4½ to 5 1/2 hours. Use a fork to pull at pork, and make sure it comes apart easily. Remove pork butt from oven and let it sit in the pot for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from pot, and discard bone and cooking liquid. Cut fatty parts off meat, then use two forks or your fingers to shred meat into small pieces. Place shredded pork in a large bowl.
Warm barbecue sauce in a small pot over medium heat. Mix shredded meat with barbecue sauce and vinegar until evenly coated. Taste. If pork could use a bit more zing, add more vinegar, to taste. Season with additional salt and pepper.
Pile pulled pork onto rolls, or serve it plain with coleslaw and pickles.
How Much Pulled Pork Per Person
1 pound of *cooked* pulled pork serves about 3 people. But the thing to keep in mind is that pork loses volume when it’s cooked, and also when it’s pulled and you remove any gristle, skin, and extra fat. So an 8 pound pork shoulder will result in 4 pounds of pulled pork, which will feed 12 people.
10 pound pork shoulder – 5 pounds pulled pork – 15 people
9 pound pork shoulder – 4 1/2 pounds pulled pork – 13 people
8 pound pork shoulder – 4 pounds pulled pork – 12 people
7 pound pork shoulder – 3 1/2 pounds pulled pork – 10 people
6 pound pork shoulder – 3 pounds pulled pork – 9 people
5 pound pork shoulder – 2 1/2 pounds pulled pork – 8 people
4 pound pork shoulder – 2 pounds pulled pork – 6 people
3 pound pork shoulder – 1 1/2 pounds pulled pork – 4 people
Pulled Pork Sides
- Spicy Cole Slaw
- Grilled Mexican Street Corn
- Corn, Tomato and Bacon Salad
- Steakhouse Tomato Salad
- French Potato Salad
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- Easy Classic Potato Salad
Leftover Pulled Pork
If you can keep some of the pork unsauced, you have even more options. Sauced pulled pork can be used in quesadillas, and obviously reheated as is and piled into fresh sandwiches later in the week. Unsauced pulled pork, or simply shredded slow cooked pork, can be used in loads of ways: tacos, enchiladas, casseroles, burritos. Or add some to a grain bowl or a pasta salad.
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Oven Pulled Pork
- 1 bone-in pork butt or shoulder (5 to 6 pounds)
- 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
- ½ to 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 4 cups barbecue sauce (homemade or store-bought)
- ½ cup cider vinegar or more to taste
- Sliced soft rolls soft or toasted, for serving
- Coleslaw and pickles for serving (optional)
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- Place pork butt in a large pot with a lid. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour broth around pork until it covers about one quarter of the meat. Add liquid smoke. Cover pot and put in oven.
- Bake pork until internal temperature registers 180 to 200°F on an instant-read thermometer and meat is falling apart, 4½ to 5 1/2 hours. Use a fork to pull at pork, and make sure it comes apart easily. Remove pork butt from oven and let it sit in the pot for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from pot, and discard bone and cooking liquid. Cut fatty parts off meat, then use two forks or your fingers to shred meat into small pieces. Place shredded pork in a large bowl.
- Warm barbecue sauce in a small pot over medium heat. Mix shredded meat with barbecue sauce and vinegar until evenly coated. Taste. If pork could use a bit more zing, add more vinegar, to taste. Season with additional salt and pepper.
- Pile pulled pork onto rolls, or serve it plain with coleslaw and pickles.
The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.
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