This Perfect Spiced Pulled Pork Recipe is a labor of love. A love of the most succulent and flavorful pork ever! A love of your house being filled with the aroma of a blend of delicious spices. And a love of cooking. And the “labor” by the way, is only about 20 minutes — the rest of the time is inactive. Flying to another country to see a best friend you haven’t seen for years — that takes a long time, but when the plane lands, the excitement is overwhelming.
Sleeping through the night before your birthday or Christmas when you’re a kid — that feels like forever, but in the morning you’re beside yourself with joy.
Hiking to the top of a mountain — you think you’ll never get there, but when you do, the feeling is exhilarating.
Some things are simply worth the wait.
Pulled pork is without question one of those things.
When I want this unbelievably succulent and tasty meat, I start the cooking process at least two days earlier.
Then the pork soaks in a brine for hours, and hours. When it’s soaked long enough, I make the dry spice rub, add it to the pork, and place it in the oven for hours, and hours.
And when it’s finally tender, it “rests” a while. Then, and only then can I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not there yet.
Now I pull, and pull, until every bit of the shredded, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pork fills a bowl.
And when I have my first bite, I’m thinking that it was so worth the wait.
What exactly is pulled pork, anyway?
- Pulled pork is derived from a method of cooking pork very slowly at very low temperature. It’s this method that makes the otherwise tough meat, super tender and juicy, so that it can easily be “pulled” apart.
What is the best cut for Pulled Pork?
- Pulled pork can be made from any fatty pork roast, but the pork shoulder is the most common, as it’s a tough, extra fatty and flavorful part of the pig.
- In markets, the shoulder is typically divided into two separate cuts, the Boston Butt, and the Picnic Roast.
- Despite its name, the Boston Butt, is indeed part of the shoulder and not the rear of the pig.
- I usually use the Boston Butt because it has slightly more marbling and the bone in this area is smaller. It’s a bit more expensive than the Picnic Roast for those reasons.
- The pork shoulder can be cooked with or without the bone. Generally, when cooking any meat bone-in, the result is often slightly juicier.
There are four steps to making Perfect Spiced Pulled Pork . . .
- Apply dry spice rub.
- Slow roast.
- Pull apart.
Do you have to brine pork shoulder?
- If time permits, you should absolutely brine pork shoulder.
- What is a brine, anyway? Brine is a solution of water and salt, often with spices and sugar added to it. Its main function is to preserve and season.
- Brining the pork before cooking it will add moisture, flavor, and it pretty much guarantees a unbelievably succulent, tender result.
What is a dry spice rub, and why should you add it to pork shoulder?
- A dry spice rub is a mixture of dried spices, typically with salt and sugar, that is rubbed directly on meat before it’s cooked.
- While adding a ton of wonderful flavor, a dry spice rub also forms a super delicious, crust-like exterior.
How long does it take to make pulled pork in the oven?
- Approximately 2 1/2 hours per pound.
How to Serve Perfect Spiced Pulled Pork
- Pulled pork is superb in sliders, tacos, tostadas, nachos, salads, chili, stew, and the list goes on.
Can you freeze pulled pork?
- Yes! You can freeze pulled pork in freezer bags. It’s a great idea to do this in serving/meal-sized portions. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the bag, and removing all of the air, seal it tightly.
- The pork can stored for about four months.
If you can believe it, I don’t own a slow cooker. (GASP!) If you do own one, and want to make this recipe using it, here’s how.
PLAN AHEAD: Please note that, if you're going to brine the pork (which I highly recommend), you'll need to do so the morning before (24 hours ahead).
- 1 (approximately 4-pound) Boston Butt (Pork Shoulder)
- 1/4 cup black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
- 5 small cinnamon sticks
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 gallon water
- 1/2 pound (about 3/4 cup) Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 cups ice
- 5 teaspoons each ground cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, and brown sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, ground cloves and salt
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine all of the spices (first 6 ingredients) in a small bowl and set aside.
In a medium-sized stock pot, bring the water to a boil with the salt and sugar. Stir once it's boiling to be sure all of the salt and sugar has dissolved.
Turn the heat to low and add the bowl of spices. Let this steep over the low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Then turn off the heat and let the brine come to room temperature. (With a large quantity of liquid, cooling could take a while.)
Once the brine is room temperature, place the pork in a large container, making sure it will be big enough that it won't overflow once you add the brine.
Add the ice to the brine and carefully pour it over the meat -- I would do this step in the sink, if the container fits. Cover the container with the lid (if there is one), or plastic wrap. Either way, make sure the meat is completely submerged in the brine, and that it's sealed tightly. Place the container in the refrigerator and brine for about 24 hours.
At some point while the meat is in the brine, mix all of the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Be sure they are well blended and set aside.
When you're ready to remove the meat from the brine, preheat the oven to 225° F, and adjust a rack to the lower third.
Remove the meat and place it in a roasting pan -- one that's big enough so there are at least a few inches of room all around it. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel.
Now add the spice rub to the entire surface of the meat, and use your hands to "rub" it in to be sure it adheres -- all of the sides should be well coated. The fat side should be facing up in the pan!
Place the pan in the 225° F oven and slow roast the meat for about 2 1/2 hours per pound. When it's done the internal temperature should be about 190° F.
Once you remove it from the oven, loosely cover with foil, and let it rest for about an hour. (Do not wash the pan yet!)
Place the pork on a large, clean work surface. Gently lift and remove any large pieces of crusted fat on the top. Now you "pull" the meat apart with your hands. It should fall apart very easily.
Add the pulled pork back to the pan and gently toss it with the pork juices and bits of the spice rub that are on the bottom of the pan.