Pulled pork has been one of my favourite comfort foods (and it goes great on a burger!) ever since I had the pleasure of devouring my first Smokey Joe’s at Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, KS, on my first real long term away job. Every Friday, the whole team would go there and we’d each demolish over a pound of tender juicy pork absolutely soused in a tangy spicy bbq sauce. The lines would be well out the door and waits of over an hour were not unusual, yet each week we returned along with so many others because the food was just that good.
Coming to London, I quickly realised that a) real BBQ was a complete mystery to the English and b) there was absolutely no way I was fitting a smoker in my non-existent back yard. So I’ve compromised and used a slow cooker for the energy efficient way to get that tender juicy texture and added a bit of liquid smoke for the hickory sweet and smoky touch.
I’ve cobbled together a recipe based on my various bbq eating experiences so it’s got a bit of everything involved but mostly hearkens to the Kansas and Texas styles with rich tomato based sauce and juicy fatty pork cuts. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have! (Sorry no pictures yet, I keep forgetting to take them!)
Part I: Preparing your Pork (24 hrs ahead of cooking start minimum)
- Pork shoulder (You can use pretty much any chunk of meat but I’ve found this tends to lend itself well in terms of value and quality)
- Dark brown sugar
- Salt & Pepper
- Ground spices (I’ve put rough relative guidelines but I usually just through it together and taste it till it feels right…not much help I know)
- Cumin (1 part)
- Coriander (1 part)
- Paprika (4 parts)
- Onion powder (4 parts)
- Garlic powder (3 parts)
- Ginger (3 parts)
- Chipotle chili pepper (any smoked pepper will do but chipotle has a nice zing) (1 part or to taste)
Wash the pork well and pat dry. It’s essential to make sure there is as little moisture on the outside of the pork as possible otherwise your rub will get messy. I would also cut off 90% of the fat (on pork shoulder there is typically a thick slab on one side). You want to leave enough to keep it juicy but too much will give you a very oily sauce as the majority of the fat will render during the cooking process.
Mix your salt and pepper together and rub the mixture all over the pork. Stick it in any crevices you can find to cover as much meat surface area. Leave it to one side.
Mix all the spices in a bowl and add the sugar. You want enough to put a thick crust on the pork and save at least a handful for the sauce. I would say for the 5kg pork I made last year, I probably had about two cups of rub. The cumin, paprika, onion, garlic, and ginger will be your foundation to enrich the pork, the chipotle will provide a high note and a smoky undertone, and the sugar will be the counterpart to the spice and blend the sharp flavours together.
Take your rub and really work it into every bit of the pork. It’s called a rub for a reason so make sure to get it in there good with both hands.
Wrap the pork tightly in cling wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least 24 hours prior to cooking. This will let the pork absorb a lot of those good flavours you’ve put in it.
Part II: Preparing the Sauce (1 hr ahead of cooking start minimum)
- 4 oz ketchup
- 2 tbsp Dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp Cider Vinegar
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- ¼ tsp mustard powder (or a full tsp of French mustard)
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 Chipotle chili
- Sweet chilli sauce
- Dry rub (whatever is left over from rubbing your meat)
- Onion diced
Fairly simple. Get a sauce pan and sauté the onion and garlic. Be careful about the garlic as if it turns bitter it will ruin your sauce. Once they are nice and soft and golden brown (whatever colour that is), add in all the other ingredients except for the sweet chili sauce and chipotle chili. Mix it well until they combine and lower the fire down to a bare simmer. Add the sweet chili sauce to taste.
As for how much sweet chili sauce, it depends on what you are aiming for. The more you add, the sweeter and less spicy the sauce will be. In addition, I’ve found more sweet chili sauce gives you a bit sticker BBQ sauce although that can be moderated by adding liquid. Basically, the above recipe (excluding the sweet chili sauce) gives you about 8 oz of sauce or enough for really 4-6 people (depending on how much sauce you like…but more is better than less!). I think I made roughly 6x the recipe and to that I added 2-3 bottles of sweet chili sauce and 2 chipotle peppers.
A key element will be to let this sauce simmer away for at least 30mins to an hour so that the different bits combine into a seamless a sauce. Taste it frequently (a bit of fresh soft bread is a wonderful base) and adjust to taste.
Part III: Putting it all together (8 hours ahead of eating time)
Take your pork out and let it warm to room temperature.
Turn on your slow cooker to high and stick your sauce in to bubble up. While you wait, sear the outside of the pork in a hot pan without oil. This will give you some nice brown bits which are full of flavor. Deglaze with a bit of anything and toss it into the sauce.
Once your sauce is starting to bubble, put the pork in and cover. When the sauce bubbles again switch the cooker down to its lowest setting and cook for at least 8 hours. Stir occasionally (if you are awake and around) but you should be able to let it be.
About 30 mins before you eat, take the meat out and give the sauce a good mix. Strain it and clear the slow cooker of any excess bits (things that aren’t sauce). Depending on how oily your sauce is, you may want to skim some of it off the top but otherwise just let it sit and thicken a bit.
Shred the pork (if you did this right it should fall apart in your fingers) while its hot and put everything (pork and sauce) back into the slow cooker to keep warm.
That’s all folks.