Pulled pork isn’t just for BBQ season. In fact, it also isn’t just for BBQ grills. Slow Cooker Apple Cider Pulled Pork is the perfect way to transition this dish from summer to fall. It’s sweet but not cloying, savory but still cidery. In just 20 minutes, it’s ready for your crock pot. Start it off low and slow in the morning for tender pulled pork at dinnertime.
While I’m sure some clown out there has developed a pumpkin spice pork butt recipe (or at least a seasoning rub), I shall not even be googling to check (one, because I am that confident it’s been done, and two, because I don’t need my search history muddied).
Instead we shall focus on the OG fall flavor – apple cider.
Big, big fans. Huge, even. Apple cider is a must on our fall bucket list, often in the form of beverages. It’s the perfect seasonal base for apple cider sangria or a sweeter take on a hot toddy. I’ve always got a big batch of mulled apple cider for Halloween night and other big gatherings.
But I beg of you – don’t stop at drinks! Apple cider is a great way to infuse flavor into savory dishes, too, like brined apple cider chicken. But apple cider pulled pork is a seasonal standout. Slow cooker pulled pork is already tender and juicy, and using apple cider as the braising liquid only makes it better.
This version of slow cooker pulled pork is so tender, juicy and oh-so flavorful. It’s got the perfect balance of sweetness and tang to it. Apple cider pulled pork should NOT be sugary though, so make sure you use cider without any added sweeteners.
Of course it makes for a bomb pulled pork sandwich – we love it with our apple cider vinegar slaw for a double dose, but it’s also lovely with creamy coleslaw. But it’s also a total winner in salads and bowls.
Final favorite thing about apple cider pulled pork? It’s a meal prep champion! Not only does it keep in the fridge for a week, but it freezes beautifully so don’t worry if you’re not feeding a whole dang picnic.
How to Make Apple Cider Pulled Pork
Apple Cider Pulled Pork is the hands-free, low-and-slow combo you need this and every fall. It takes just twenty minutes to prep, and your crock pot does all the heavy lifting. Thanks to a flavorful dry rub, apple cider, and apple cider vinegar, this slow cooker pulled pork recipe delivers deep, developed flavor every time. Slow cooker pulled pork should be cooked low and slow, so plan for at least 8 hours in the crockpot.
- Prepare the dry rub – combine the brown sugar and spices in a small bowl and mix until well combined.
- Truss the pork, then work the dry rub into the pork on all sides.
- Arrange sliced onions and chopped garlic on the bottom of of the slow cooker.
- Nestle the pork into the onions with the fat cap facing up, then add apple cider, apple cider vinegar, and fresh thyme.
- Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, until the pork is tender and can be easily pulled using the tines of a fork.
- Remove the pork and shred (I do this on a baking sheet to easily capture the juices).
- Optional – strain the braising liquid from the onions. Simmer the liquid over medium heat until reduced by a third. This will intensify the flavor.
- Return the shredded pork, onions, and braising liquid to the crockpot and toss until well combined.
- Serve on buns with apple cider vinegar coleslaw. Enjoy!
- This recipe calls for apple cider and apple cider vinegar.
- Choose an unsweetened apple cider – sugar-sweetened ciders will result in a sauce that is too sweet.
- If you prefer a thicker sauce, strain the pan juices from the onions into a 2-quart saucepot. Skim the fat, then simmer for 10-15 minutes over medium heat until reduced by a third to a half. Note that simmering will thicken the sauce, but it will also intensify the flavors.
- If you prefer crispier pulled pork, spread the shredded pork onto a baking sheet and broil for 5-7 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
- For more tips and suggestions, including the best cuts of pork to use, check out our guide to pulled pork.
Why do You Put Apple Cider Vinegar in Pulled Pork?
This recipe calls for both apple cider and apple cider vinegar. Apple cider is the primary cooking liquid, and supplies much of the flavor in the finished pan sauce. Apple cider vinegar is used to balance out the sweetness in the cider.
Can Apple Juice be Used as a Substitute for Apple Cider?
Yes! Apple cider and apple juice are close culinary cousins. Apple juice is basically apple cider that has been filtered and pasteurized, which makes it more shelf stable; it’s also oftened sweetened. If you can’t find apple cider, choose an unsweetened apple juice; if possible, chose an unfiltered apple juice as well (you can find unfiltered apple juice in most grocery stores).
What Cut of Meat Should I Use?
There are two preferred cuts for pulled pork: Boneless Pork Butt (aka Boston Butt) and Bone-In Pork Shoulder (aka Picnic Shoulder). Much to my sons’ dismay, you’re not actually eating a pig’s butt when you cook pork butt – it actually comes from the area behind the pig’s neck and head. However, the shoulder is just what it ought to be, and the cut is taken from the joint where the pig’s front legs meet its body.
Pork shoulder almost always comes bone-in (and with a mildly-disturbing layer of pig skin on it that will have to be removed). Pork butt, on the other hand, usually just has the fat cap still attached and beautiful marbling throughout. Each are great, cost-effective cuts given their size.
We prefer boneless pork when making pulled pork in the slow cooker, instant pot, and even in the oven. Boneless pork (typically Boston butt) is easier to handle and cooks more quickly than picnic shoulder. You can find Boston butt in most grocery stores, but ask at the butcher counter if you can’t find it. It generally comes pre-trussed in cooking twine.
Should the Pork be Covered in Liquid?
Nope! There’s a lot of fat and water in pork shoulder or boston butt. As the pork slowly cooks down, the fat will render and the water will release, creating a natural “sauce”. In my dutch oven pulled pork, I only use half a cup of water total. Here, we’re using liquid to flavor both the pork and the sauce, but a little (about 2 cups) goes a long way. The short answer? Pulled pork does not need to be fully submerged to properly cook in your slow cooker or oven.
Storing and Reheating
Store leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days; reheat in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in-between.
Freezer leftover apple cider pulled pork in a tightly sealed container (we like gallon ziplock bags) for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight, then reheat in the microwave.
What to Serve With Pulled Pork?
Apple cider vinegar coleslaw is a classic, seasonal companion to apple cider pulled pork. It’s tart and crunchy, the perfect foil to slightly sweet, tender shreds of pork. We like it served on brioche buns.
Did you make this apple cider pulled pork? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
Apple Cider Pulled PorkPrint Recipe Rate this Recipe
- Cotton Kitchen Twine
- Crock Pot
- 1-2 tbsp light brown sugar, see note 1
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp ground pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 4 lb boneless Boston butt, or pork shoulder
- 1 large sweet (Vidalia) onion, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, bundles with twine
- 2 c unsweetened apple cider, see note 2
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Mix the brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, mustard, and cinnamon in a small bowl until well combined.
- Using pieces of kitchen twine, truss the pork along its length, leaving about 2” between each section. Spread the rub over the pork evenly, coating all sides.
- Spread the onions and garlic over the bottom of the slow cooker, then nestle the pork on top with the fat cap facing up (see note 3). Pour the cider and vinegar into the slow cooker, then place the thyme on top.
- Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the pork easily pulls using the tines of a fork.
- Remove the pork from the slow cooker using tongs, then place on a cutting board. Use two forks to gently shred into large chunks. Transfer the shredded pork back to the slow cooker and toss with the onions and sauce. (see note 4)
- Serve on buns with apple cider vinegar coleslaw. Enjoy!
- Note 1. Two tablespoons of brown sugar will produce a sweet sauce; reduce to 1 tablespoon if you’re sensitive to sweeter flavors.
- Note 2. If you can’t find apple cider, use unsweetened (and preferably unfiltered) apple juice.
- Note 3. You’ll notice a thick coating of fat on the pork – keep this intact! It’s called the fat cap. Position the fat cap facing UP in the slow cooker. The fat will render (aka liquify) while the pork cooks and will act as a natural basting liquid.
- Note 4. If you prefer a thicker sauce, strain the pan juices from the onions into a 2-quart saucepot. Skim the fat, then simmer for 10-15 minutes over medium heat until reduced by a third to a half. Simmering will thicken the sauce, but it will also intensify the flavors.
- Nutritional information is for the pork only and does not include coleslaw or buns.