cheater pulled pork

I have no hook—life or literary—for sharing these recipes with you tonight. I’m alone in my room, having bailed on a potluck invitation. A more social weekend and longer run than usual have left me spent. But I’m feeling pleasantly mellow after exploring Rock Creek Park in my running shoes this morning and bundling storm-damaged tree debris in the yard with the housemates this afternoon.

Now the spectacle of the closing ceremonies are on mute in the corner of the room, and I’m nursing a glass of Shiraz. the aroma of French Onion Soup is wafting up the stairs (my roommate has adopted my mother’s recipe, an honor that makes me feel warm inside). In this state of relaxation, I decided to release a post that’s been gestating in my blog’s drafts for a long time: pulled pork.

pulled pork

These recipes could inspire poetic musings about moving even deeper south, and discovering its unique cuisine. Pulled pork could serve as a segue into missing Dinosaur BBQ, and by extension Syracuse (which I do, from time to time). Perhaps the evolution of these recipes from blurbs heard on the radio to shared meals would be a good lead.

But I think I’ll stick with something nearer in time and dearer to my heart. Last weekend, my sweetheart carted a local, humanely-raised pork shoulder down to D.C. to cook up together on a Sunday afternoon. The only problem was, he forgot the liquid smoke—a niche ingredient we couldn’t easily substitute.

Off to Target we went (wary of the previous weekend’s Epic Eggplant Adventure), happy to find the lone last bottle with nary a glitch.When you don’t eat a lot of meat, the good stuff is a true treat. I know the farmer who raised this animal: she sells her meat at the Syracuse Farmer’s Market and one of her chickens was one of the first meals to grace this blog in its toddler days. Syracuse introduced me to the wonders of good BBQ, and one of its signature dishes, pulled pork. (Or maybe I can credit the Philosophy department, where vats of Dinosaur BBQ‘s best are known to make an appearance.)

Since I don’t own a backyard smoker of my own, hearing about “Cheater Pulled Pork” on the Splendid Table made me itch with curiosity. The host interviewed some bona-fide BBQ snob/cookbook author who claimed that good BBQ could be achieved in a slow cooker. With liquid smoke. A travesty? Maybe. But I was willing to give it a whirl.

It was as easy as they said it would be: Chop chop chop, a sprinkling of spices, a splash of liquid smoke, and seven hours in which I had to do nothing but worry that our household dog—who has been known to eat cookies and their container, coffee beans, and popcorn kernels—would get into the slow-cooker. Aside from the pork being too salty (my fault, perhaps, for using the more potent and effective kosher variety), it was scrumptious with buns and baked beans. If you’ve never made tender, succulent, southern-style pulled pork for yourself, you’re missing out.

The second recipe has simmered away in my drafts for over a year now after a successful test run on the folks over Christmas 2008. We snatched this one from the same radio show.  It’s is a slightly more refined version of the same tender, shredded pork variety of the first. This one better struts its stuff in well-constructed burritos, or paired with sides like roasted broccolini, root vegetables Anna, and robust wine. Either one you choose, you can’t go wrong with slow-roasted, fork-tender pork that barely needs tending.

pulled pork

Our long winter is crawling to the finish line. There’s plenty of time for leaner meats and the fresher, vibrant meals of spring. In the meantime, don’t you deserve a comforting meal reminiscent of warm places where the beer and barbecue freely flow?

I think you do.

This dish is perfect for a casual dinner or gathering because it’s hardly any work (and lends itself to creative sides like cornbread, buns, and baked beans). You can make it ahead, and you can’t overcook it. To feed more, just cook another pork shoulder or two. First, make the seasoning rub:

Mole-Inspired Seasoning with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa

Makes about a third of a cup

In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoons cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano.

For each pound of meat, combine ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ – ½ teaspoon microplaned garlic, and 1 – 2 teaspoons spice mixture.

Close-Roasted Pork with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa

Serves 8


2 ½ tablespoons Mole Seasoning with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa (above)

1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
about 3 ½ pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat, tied to make a compact roast (bone-in is preferable, though boned is fine)
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves but not peeled


  1. In a small bowl, combine the mole seasoning, salt, and sugar. Rub all over the pork shoulder and place on a plate. Marinate for 1 hour unrefrigerated, or 2 to 24 hours refrigerated.
  2. Preheat the oven to 275 F. Place the pork in a Dutch oven or loaf pan just big enough to hold the roast snugly. Scatter the garlic cloves around the roast. Place a large piece of aluminum foil over the pot, then press the lid down securely. OR, you can simply wrap the meat in a tightly-sealed foil package (make sure the seam is at the top so the juices don’t leak out) and place it in an ovenproof skillet, casserole, or loaf pan.
  3. Roast the pork until very tender and practically falling apart, 3 and a half to 4 hours. Transfer the roast to a platter and cover with foil.
  4. Pour the juices into a sauceboat and place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Spoon off the fat that has risen to the top.
  5. Pull the meat apart or slice it across the grain and arrange on a platter. Pour some of the juices over and pass the rest. Save any remaining juices for heating up leftovers.

Both recipes excerpted from The Improvisational Cook, by Sally Schneider.


The following recipe is much simpler, and can be prepped in minutes in the slow cooker. You can find liquid smoke in almost any large, well-stocked grocery store. The recipe serves four to six; if doubling the recipe, make sure you’re using a large slow-cooker. First, make the spice rub:

Cheater Basic Dry Rub

¼ cup paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard

Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to blend.

Cheater Pulled Pork


one 5 to 6-pound boneless Boston butt pork roast or same weight of boneless country-style pork ribs
1/8 cup Cheater Basic Dry Rub (recipe follows)
¼ cup bottled smoke
barbeque sauce of your choice


1. Cut the pork butt into medium (2 to 3-inch) chunks (if you’re using ribs, omit this step).

2. Put the pieces in a slow cooker of the appropriate size. Sprinkle the meat with the rub, turning the pieces to coat evenly. Pour in the bottled smoke.

3. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours or on low for 10 to 12 hours, until the meat is pull-apart tender and reaches an internal temperature of 190 F. (I cooked mine for 6 hours, half on high, half on low, to a slightly lower temperature and it was just fine. This is hard to overcook so don’t stress too much!)

4. Using tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a Pyrex type dish. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Pull the meat into strands. It should shred very easily. Serve the barbecue piled on buns with your favorite barbeque sauce (and baked beans and coleslaw on the side!)

*If serving the barbeque later, cover and refrigerate the meat when it has cooled. Pour the meat juice into a separate container and refrigerate. Before reheating the juice, skim and discard the congealed fat layer on the top.

**To reheat, place the pork in a saucepan moistened with some of the reserved juice. Gently heat the meat on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Or, place it in a covered casserole with some of the reserved juice and heat in a 350 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. While the meat warms, combine the barbeque sauce and some of the additional reserved meat juice in a saucepan. Heat through and serve with the barbeque. (The pulled pork can also just be microwaved with the defatted juice.)

Reprinted from Cheater BBQ: Barbecue Anytime, Anywhere, in Any Weather, by Mindy Merrell and R. B. Quinn.

6 thoughts on “cheater pulled pork