Oven Pulled Pork

5 from 5 votes

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A slow braise in the oven results in perfectly tender pork. Toss with barbecue sauce, and you have the easiest pulled pork!

BBQ pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw on green plate.

Pulled pork is the most intoxicating of meats: savory, tender, tangy, and with a hint of smokiness. While most of us aren’t going to do the whole outdoor smoker thing, we would love to make it at home. And that’s where our old friend, the oven, comes in! With just the smallest amount of liquid smoke and a great sauce, you can make delicious pulled pork in the oven. I love it when served with a Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad, an Easy Classic Potato Salad, or a BLT Pasta Salad.

I’ll never forget the first moment I ever tried pulled pork: Many years ago, I was helping my sister-in-law cook for a party when 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.

Pulled Pork sandwich on a green plate.

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/pull with fork. Add BBQ sauce to taste.”

Huh. Not a lot of detail, but enough to work with. My mission lay before me. While I worked on decoding the recipe, I checked in with BBQ 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, 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).

Green plate with a pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw, salad, and pickles.

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!

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The Best Oven Pulled Pork

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.

One friend from Kansas City (where they also have, shall we say, firm opinions about barbecue) pronounced this pulled pork the real deal. That was all the praise this New York City girl who adapted a pulled-pork recipe from an Italian grandfather from Massachusetts needed.

Green plate with pulled pork sandwich an, cole slaw, and salad.

Ingredients

  • Pork – You want to use a pork shoulder or a pork butt (which is, in fact, cut from the shoulder 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 tempted to sub in a pork loin; it’s not fatty enough.
  • Broth – Use either chicken or beef broth, but try to use low sodium so you can control the amount of salt in the recipe.
  • Liquid smoke – Yes, this is a real thing, believe it or not — but it’s not some crazy science experiment. It’s a liquid seasoning meant to taste like that delicious wood-smoke flavor without actually involving any smoke or wood.
  • Barbecue sauce – Homemade or store-bought. 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.
  • Cider vinegar – This adds acidity to give your meat a nice zing after it’s done cooking. Add more to taste if you’d like.
  • Sliced soft rolls – Soft or toasted, for serving.
  • Coleslaw and pickles – Optional, to serve.
Bun piled with pulled pork and coleslaw.

How to Make Pork in the Oven

  1. Preheat oven: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Put pork in the oven: Place pork butt in a large pot with a lid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour broth around the pork until it covers about one-quarter of the meat. Add liquid smoke. Cover pot and put in the oven.
  3. Bake and shred: Bake pork until internal temperature registers 180 to 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and the meat is falling apart, 4 ½ to 5 ½ hours. Use a fork to pull at pork, and make sure it comes apart easily. Remove the pork butt from the 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 of the meat, then use two forks or your fingers to shred meat into small pieces. Place shredded pork in a large bowl.
Two spoons grabbing pulled pork from a dish.
  1. Mix pork with BBQ sauce and vinegar: 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.
  2. Make it into rolls: Pile pulled pork onto rolls or serve it plain with coleslaw and pickles. Some Pico de Gallo would be good, too.
Pulled pork sandwich with barbeque sauce and coleslaw.

How to Pull Pork

  1. Let meat sit: After the meat is cooked, leave it to sit for a nice chunk of time (20 minutes plus) to reclaim its juices.
  2. Pull apart into hunks: Pull the meat apart into hunks. You may want to use rubber gloves for this step since the meat will still be pretty hot. You can also use two forks.
  3. Get rid of the things you don’t want: Toss the bone and any fatty bits.
  4. Shred: 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.
Spoon drizzling barbeque sauce onto a pulled pork sandwich.

FAQs

What is pulled pork?

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).

Should I cover pulled pork in the oven?

In this recipe, you do need to cover the pork as it cooks so that the broth won’t evaporate and will help steam the meat from inside the pot. The collagen inside the meat will break down with time; if it’s still tough, that just means that it hasn’t been cooking for long enough.

Two green plates of pulled pork sandwiches, pickles, and salad.

How Much Pulled Pork Per Person

One 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.

Raw Pork ShoulderCooked and Pulled PorkServings
10-pound pork shoulder5 pounds pulled pork15 people
9-pound pork shoulder4 ½ pounds pulled pork13 people
8-pound pork shoulder4 pounds pulled pork12 people
7-pound pork shoulder3 ½ pounds pulled pork10 people
6-pound pork shoulder3 pounds pulled pork9 people
5-pound pork shoulder2 ½ pounds pulled pork8 people
4-pound pork shoulder2 pounds pulled pork6 people
3-pound pork shoulder1 ½pounds pulled pork4 people
How much pulled pork to make for a party.

Pro Cooking Tips

  • 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 ½ 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.

Leftovers

Leftover sauced pulled pork can be reheated as-is in a pot over medium-low heat. Pile it into fresh sandwiches later in the week, or make pulled pork quesadillas.

If you can keep some of the pork un-sauced, you have more options. Un-sauced pulled pork — also known as 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.

What to Serve With Pulled Pork

Pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw on green plate.

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5 from 5 votes

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!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Resting Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 35 minutes
Servings: 12 People

Ingredients 

  • 1 bone-in pork butt or shoulder (5 to 6 pounds)
  • 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons kosher 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, to serve)
  • Coleslaw and pickles (to serve, optional)

Instructions 

  • 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, 4 ½ to 5 ½ 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.

Notes

  • If you can find a bone-in pork shoulder, grab that, but a boneless pork shoulder will work fine, too. Don’t be tempted to sub in a pork loin; it’s not fatty enough.
  • 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 ½ 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 475kcal, Carbohydrates: 40g, Protein: 44g, Fat: 14g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 136mg, Sodium: 1438mg, Potassium: 1048mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 32g, Vitamin A: 214IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 66mg, Iron: 3mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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