If you can’t be a pit master, be a pot master. Tender, juicy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork develops perfect flavor thanks to a simple seasoning rub and a long, low cook in the crockpot. While it’s perfect for picnics and parties, tender and juicy crockpot pulled pork freezes beautifully to use later in sandwiches, tacos, and bowls.
If you’ve ever hesitated to make pulled pork at home because you know it could never approximate the tender, flavor-filled, melt-in-your-mouth version offered at questionably-clean roadside joints all over this country (but particularly the south), I’m here two tell you two things:
- One, you will not make pulled pork that good at home. Whether that’s technique, roadside magic, or simply the fact that food cooked for you is often so much better than food you’ve cooked yourself, I don’t know. But there is something truly magic about those BBQ stands.
- Two, you can absolutely make very, very good pulled pork at home. You don’t have to take my word for it, but 100+ 5-star reviews on my oven pulled pork recipe might convince you!
My mission has always been to help you get the best food possible with the least amount of fuss. Pulled pork is, quite honestly, a gift. But sometimes that gift can be fussy, especially if you’re making it the traditional way. But slow cooker pulled pork? Now this is a succulent, flavorful, and forgiving gift – and a gift you can give yourself using the magic of your crockpot.
Pulled Pork OSK Style
We’ve always done our pulled pork a little differently:
- The Dry Rub. We use a ubiquitous but flavorful dry rub that works with a variety of cuisines for using up leftovers.
- The Method. We sear the pork before and then cook very low and very slow to create deep flavor. The crockpot makes this very, very easy to do. (Although if you want slow cooked flavor fast, you might try our Instant Pot pulled pork too!).
- The Sauce. We use very little additional liquid, and that creates a rich pan sauce infused with flavor from both the spice rub and the rendered pork fat.
Pulled Pork Dry Rub
Pulled pork is a commitment! Unless I’m cooking for a crowd, I can usually get 3-4 meals out of a 4-5 pound pork butt. The first night we go traditional and make BBQ sandwiches with coleslaw, but after that? All bets are off!
Our all-purpose dry rub starts with paprika, garlic powder, oregano, kosher salt, and ground pepper. Brown sugar, cumin, and chili powder are all terrific (but optional) additions.
Our dry rub works seamlessly with everything from BBQ sauce to tomato sauces to salads. You’ll find endless ways to use up leftover pulled pork as long as you start with the right seasonings.
Pro-tip: If you have a seasoning blend you love, use it! For a 4-pound pork butter, use at least 3 tablespoons of spices, plus 1-2 teaspoons each of kosher salt and ground pepper.
Which Cut is Best for Pulled Pork?
There are two preferred cuts for pulled pork: Pork Butt (aka “Boston butt”) and Pork Shoulder (aka “picnic shoulder”).
No, a pork butt is not a “butt;” but yes, the shoulder is literally the shoulder. The butt actually comes from the area behind the pig’s neck and head; the shoulder is located at the joint where the pig’s front legs meet its body. (If you’re interested, you can read more than you ever wanted to know about different names for pig parts from the pork experts at Southern Living.)
You can find bone-in or boneless cuts of both, though it’s not as common to find boneless cuts of shoulder. That’s because the shoulder is an unwieldy cut with a freeform triangular shape. It usually also has a thick slab of pig skin still attached (yeah, you heard me) – it’s not for the faint of heart, but can be great for those who like making their own dog treats. The butt, however, usually just has its fat cap still attached, with beautiful marbling throughout.
TLDR: both pork butt and pork shoulder are flavorful, cost-effective cuts and work almost identically. But we prefer a pork butt because it’s often “cleaner” (aka, less work for you); has slightly more fat (and therefore more flavor); and can often be found as a boneless cut (which is simply easier for crockpot cooking).
How to Make Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Whether you need to go hands-free or want low-and-slow tenderness, Slow Cooker Pulled Pork delivers deep, developed flavor every time. This family favorite is easy, convenient, and versatile. Start up your crockpot in the morning for perfect pulled pork sandwiches by dinnertime. It’s the best, easiest way to get tender and juicy pulled pork with minimal effort!
- Pat the pork butt very dry, then truss with cotton kitchen twine. If you’ve never trussed a roast before, this video from LeCordon Bleu will take you through it step by step. We recommend leaving the fat cap intact.
- Sear the pork in your choice of fat (bacon fat, olive oil, avocado oil) over medium high heat for 5 minutes per side, or until a deep golden brown crust forms. Be careful of splatter! Use long 12″ tongs for turning.
- Place the pork into the slow cooker fat side up, then add 1/2 cup of chicken broth or water.
- In a small bowl, mix seasonings until well combined: brown sugar, paprika, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper.
- Sprinkle the seasoning blend all over the pork, pressing gently to adhere.
- Seal the crockpot and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the meat easily “pulls” using the tines of a fork. You should meet no resistance – if it’s even slightly difficult to pull, give it another hour.
- Remove the pork from the crockpot and place on a cutting board or into a large shallow bowl. Cut off the twine, then shred the meat using two forks.
- Return the pulled pork to the crockpot and toss with pan juices. If desired, toss with at least ½ cup BBQ sauce for every pound of cooked pulled pork. Enjoy!
Recipe Notes and Tips
- Fat is flavor! Some recipes call for removing the fat cap, but we keep it on for both ease and flavor. If you leave any of the cap on, cook fat-side up. Over time the fat will render (aka, melt) and naturally baste the meat.
- Trust in the Truss! If using a boneless cut of Boston butt, you should truss it (aka, tie it up!). Trussing making searing easier, plus it keeps the meat intact in the slow cooker, ensuring even cooking throughout. Do not cook boneless pork in the elastic mesh it may come packaged in – remove it and replace it with cotton kitchen twine.
- Searing is optional, but recommended. The sear will infuse even more flavor into the finished pulled pork.
- Go Smoky. If you love the flavor of smoked pork, sear the pork in bacon fat, use smoked paprika instead of sweet, and add ½ tsp liquid smoke along with the broth.
- Low and slow. Let me repeat – LOW and SLOW. Pulled pork performs best under braise-like conditions, so err on the side of cooking longer; we recommend 8-10 hours on the low setting.
- This recipe yields a ton of meat, so it’s perfect for a freezer stash.
How to Serve Crockpot Pulled Pork
- Traditional: serve pulled pork tossed with BBQ sauce on brioche buns with your favorite coleslaw recipe, along with a side of cornbread and/or potato salad.
- Bowl-style: serve pulled pork with coleslaw, roasted sweet potatoes, pickles, and avocado.
- Pulled Pork Salads: use pulled pork in place of grilled chicken in this taco salad recipe.
Pulled Pork Leftovers
- Use the leftovers to make leftover pulled pork ragu or pulled pork tamale pie.
- Substitute leftover pulled pork in place of turkey to make pozole and fried rice.
Storing and Freezing
In the Fridge: store leftover pulled pork in an airtight container or ziplock bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a skillet over medium heat until the fat melts and the pork is warmed through.
In the Freezer: wrap 1 pound portions of pulled pork in plastic wrap, then store in a gallon zip-lock bag; squeeze out as much air as possible to ward of freezer-burn. Store for 3-6 months, depending on how well you’ve packed it. Defrost portions overnight in the fridge or in the microwave, then reheat in a skillet over medium heat.
Did you make this Slow Cooker Pulled Pork? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 4 pound boneless Boston butt
- 2 tbsp olive oil, bacon fat, or avocado oil
- ½ cup chicken broth, or water
- Remove the pork from its elastic mesh and pat very dry. Truss with cotton kitchen twine. See Note 1.
- Heat the olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Place the pork into the hot oil and sear for 5 minutes, or until a deep golden brown crust forms. Turn the pork using tongs and sear on the other side.
- Transfer the seared pork to a crockpot and add the chicken broth. Discard the cooking oil.
- Mix the dry rub ingredients – paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, brown sugar (if using), cumin (if using), and chili powder (if using) – in a small bowl until well combined. Sprinkle the dry rub all over the pork, gently pressing to adhere.
- Seal the crockpot and cook on low for 8-10 hours (see Note 2), or until the meat easily pulls using the tines of a fork. You should meet no resistance when pulling with the fork – if it's even slightly difficult to pull, cook another hour.
- Remove the pork from the crockpot and place on a cutting board on into a large, shallow bowl. Remove the twine, then shred the meat using two forks. Discard any large fat deposits that have not fully rendered.
- Return the pulled pork to the crockpot and toss with the pan juices.
- Serve on buns with BBQ sauce and coleslaw, or any other way that you enjoy pulled pork!
- Note 1. Technically, it is safe to cook pulled pork with the elastic mesh on. However, it does prevent the dry rub from fully adhering. We recommend removing the mesh and trussing with kitchen twine.
- Note 2. Pulled pork can be cooked in the slow cooker on high for 6-7 hours, but for best results we recommend cooking on low for 8-10.