There’s something so feel-good & nostalgic about BBQ pulled pork. Even the thought of a pulled pork sandwich transports me to my childhood – high school grad parties, weekends spent at a family cabin up north, potlucks at church, summer picnics at the lake with friends, & so on…
Pulled pork is inherently communal, which is probably why I love it so much – sharable, comforting foods are my absolute favorite. I believe that everyone needs a good pulled pork recipe in their arsenal. (Not too surprising, huh?!) I have two go-to pulled pork recipes – my Best-Ever Kalua Pig & this Must-Have BBQ Pulled Pork, which I am thrilled to finally share here on PWWB!
I’ve been making this easy pulled pork recipe for a number of years, & I wanted to be sure to share it here on PWWB well before summer is in full swing. We love it so much because it’s easy to make & it’s so satisfying. Pork shoulder is dusted with my go-to BBQ dry rub, then cooked slow & low in a braising liquid made of beer & a few other umami-packed ingredients. The resulting pulled pork is succulent, fall-apart tender, & it’s so freakin’ flavorful. Simply the best!
Must-Have BBQ Pulled Pork – Recipe Highlights:
This BBQ pulled pork recipe is…
- MEGA FLAVORFUL. This recipe is built with layers of flavor in mind – garlic-infused pork shoulder, a heavily spiced BBQ dry rub, & an umami-packed braising liquid combine to create BIG flavor!
- SERIOUSLY EASY. It’s a simple one-pot recipe with just a few minutes of active time involved. Plus, it’s totally slow cooker-friendly & Instant Pot-friendly – more on that in the Recipe Notes!
- TOTALLY VERSATILE. Use it to make a BBQ pulled pork sandwich, load it into a sweet potato, pile it on top of pizza or nachos…the serving options are endless! Plus, it’s totally make ahead-friendly & freezer-friendly – more on that in the Recipe Notes!
It doesn’t get better than this! ♡ Read on to learn more about my Must-Have BBQ Pulled Pork, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
How to make BBQ Pulled Pork from scratch – a 3-part recipe:
If you’ve never tried, learning how to make BBQ pulled pork could not be easier (or more delicious!). This recipe is a staple in my kitchen for good reason. It’s so easy to throw together, consisting of just 3 components, each crafted to result in the juiciest, most flavorful pulled pork:
- BBQ dry rub – You’ll dust the pork with a homemade pulled pork rub, my go-to BBQ seasoning. It’s made with brown sugar & loads of staple spices, creating a spicy-sweet foundation.
- Braising liquid – The pork simmers in a flavorful cooking liquid loaded with rich umami thanks to simple staples like beer, Worcestershire, & soy sauce.
- Braising – The best way to cook pork, IMHO! The pork slowly simmers until your kitchen smells heavenly & the pork is fall-apart tender. Best yet, it’s completely hands-off & translates well to both a slow cooker & the Instant Pot!
Homemade Pulled Pork Rub:
This easy pulled pork recipe starts with my go-to BBQ dry rub. If you’ve been around PWWB for a while, you’ve probably already seen it in action. I use it on everything – BBQ chicken, ribs, grilled veggies, & more. Its spiced sweetness translates beautifully to pulled pork, too.
Everything you need to make it is probably already in your pantry or on your spice rack:
- brown sugar
- chili powder
- ground cumin
- garlic powder
- mustard powder
- onion powder
- smoked paprika
- cayenne pepper
BBQ Dry Rub tip ⇢ I suggest making a double or triple batch! This dry rub is great for BBQ pork, of course, but it’s also awesome on grilled, steaks, ribs, sprinkled on burgers, & so on. It’s an all-purpose dry rub that you’ll turn to time & time again!
Assembling with a rich & flavorful braising liquid:
With the BBQ dry rub mixed & ready to go, you can prep your pork for braising in a matter of minutes. It’s seriously quick & simple.
First, prep the pork:
- Break down the pork shoulder roast: Slice a boneless pork shoulder roast into 3-4 large pieces, which helps trim down the cooking time quite a bit. What is the best cut of meat for pulled pork? ⇢ Boneless pork shoulder, which is also commonly called Boston butt or pork butt. Look for a meaty roast with nice marbling, which yields the most succulent, fall-apart tender, & richly flavored pulled pork.
- Stud with garlic: Everything is better with a little bit of garlic! Using a paring knife, cut deep slits into the pork shoulder & press sliced garlic into each pocket. Why ⇢ The garlic flavors the pork from the inside out, nearly melting away as the pork braises. It is so good.
- Dust with BBQ dry rub: Dust the pork with BBQ dry rub, using your hands to really massage the rub into the meat. Place the seasoned pork in a large pot or Dutch oven & it’s ready to braise!
Next, mix the braising liquid:
There are many different philosophies regarding what is the best liquid to cook pulled pork in. Sodas like Coca Cola & Dr. Pepper are often touted for their flavor, sweetness, & tenderizing effects.
Since the brown sugar in my BBQ dry rub provides quite a bit of sweetness already, I opt for a more savory pulled pork cooking liquid made of staples like beer, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, & liquid smoke. The beer provides flavor, while ACV provides acidity to balance out the richness of the pork. Soy sauce & sesame oil create big, umami flavor (don’t worry, the sesame oil is not overpowering – I doubt you’d even guess it’s there!).
Simply pour the liquid ingredients over the seasoned pork shoulder & it’s ready to braise.
Last, braise the pork shoulder:
If you’ve never braised anything before, don’t worry – there’s really nothing you need to be intimidated by here! A cooking technique commonly used on tougher cuts of meat, to braise something simply means it’s cooked in liquid until it’s fall-apart tender.
To braise the pork shoulder, bring the pork & braising liquid up to a boil over high heat. Reduce to maintain a very gentle simmer, then cover & cook 3-4 hours. It’s a totally hands-off job…it’s really easy as that!
How do I know when my pulled pork is done? Your pulled pork is ready when the pork shoulder is fall-apart tender & easily shreds with a fork, which takes 3-4 hours on the stovetop. Whereas other techniques, such as smoking, require you to keep a close eye on the pulled pork internal temp, I don’t find it necessary to aim for an exact pulled pork temp when braising. Instead, use your eyes to gage whether the pork shreds easily enough. If it still seems tough, let it cook for another 15-20 minutes. Trust me, you’ll know when it’s ready!
Alternate Cooking Methods:
As written, this easy pulled pork recipe is a straight-forward stovetop braise. Based on the amount of time you have, you can easily adapt it with a few other commonly loved techniques:
- Oven braised – Rather than letting the pork simmer away on the stovetop for a few hours, you can transfer it to an oven to braise until fall-apart tender. Full oven braising instructions are detailed in the Recipe Card, below.
- Slow cooker or Crockpot – This recipe is incredibly slow cooker/Crockpot-friendly! Rather than assembling on the stovetop, assemble in the slow cooker & let it do its thing until the pork is fall-apart tender. Full slow cooker pulled pork instructions are detailed in the Recipe Card, below.
- Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker – Between braising, slow cooking & pressure cooking, an Instant Pot is admittedly my least favorite way to prepare this pulled pork recipe. While its quickness is certainly nice, you sacrifice some of the rich flavor in my opinion. Nonetheless, if that’s what you have time for, go for it – full Instant Pot pulled pork instructions are also detailed in the Recipe Card, below.
Serving BBQ Pulled Pork – Inspiration, Side Dishes, etc.
This recipe is absolutely perfect for pulled pork sandwiches. I like to load up a fluffy brioche bun with a quick slaw (see my go-to recipe here!) & a pile of BBQ pork. Finish it with some of the braising au jus (it’s so good!) & your fave BBQ sauce.
Sides, leftovers & more…
What is the best bbq sauce for pulled pork? ⇢ Homemade is always an option, but there are so many incredible store-bought BBQ sauces these days! My all-time favorites are Lillie’s Q & the Burman’s BBQ sauces at ALDI. Both offer a variety for each major BBQ region (Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, & Carolina), so it’s fun to be able to pick & choose whatever you’re in the mood for.
Pulled pork sides ⇢ This pork pairs perfectly with any of your favorite BBQ sides – potato salad, macaroni salad, mac & cheese, pasta salad (this recipe is a PWWB fave!), or any other side dishes you love.
What to do with leftover bbq pulled pork ⇢ This easy pulled pork recipe yields a large batch of pulled pork, so it’s perfect for feeding a crowd or to repurpose into different meals throughout the week. It’s great on burrito bowls, pizza, nachos, quesadillas, in a breakfast hash, stuffed in a sweet potato, etc. Sky’s the limit! It’s also incredibly make-ahead & freezer-friendly – full storage & freezing instructions are detailed in the Recipe Card, below.
I can’t wait for you to try this easy BBQ Pulled Pork recipe! It’s a total fave at my house, & I know you’ll love it too. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡
More Recipes Like This:
Rich & flavor-filled pork shoulder is studded with garlic, dusted in a heavily spiced BBQ dry rub, & cooked slow & low in an umami-packed braising liquid made of beer & a few pantry staples. The resulting bbq pulled pork is succulent, fall-apart tender, & so flavorful!
- 3–4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3–4 large pieces
- 8–10 cloves garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
- PWWB BBQ dry rub, below
- 12 ounces light beer of choice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
for PWWB BBQ dry rub:
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons mustard powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- optional: pinch – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Prep – Stud the pork with garlic & mix the BBQ dry rub: Using a sharp paring knife, carefully cut a few deep slits into each piece of pork shoulder, then insert sliced garlic into each pocket. Set aside. Add all listed BBQ dry rub ingredients to a small bowl or jar. Whisk or shake to combine. Set aside or store in an airtight container on your spice rack for up to 1 month.
- Braise the BBQ pork: Season the pork with the BBQ dry rub & arrange the seasoned pork in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with a lid, sprinkling any excess BBQ dry rub over top. Add in all liquid ingredients – beer, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, & liquid smoke. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low to maintain a steady simmer. Cover & simmer for 3-4 hours, until the BBQ pork is fall-apart tender.
- Finish the BBQ pulled pork: Carefully transfer the pork to a plate or cutting board. Use tongs or 2 forks to shred the pork into bite-sized pieces. Serve your BBQ pulled pork immediately or cool & store for later use (see Recipe Notes for Serving Ideas, & Storage & Freezing guidance). Enjoy!
- Serving ideas: I like serving this BBQ pulled pork with the braising jus (it’s so good!), BBQ sauce, & a quick slaw. It makes great pulled pork sandwiches. You can also use it as an all-purpose pulled pork; it’s great on burrito bowls, pizza, nachos, quesadillas, in a breakfast hash, stuffed in a sweet potato, etc. Sky’s the limit!
- Make-Ahead, Storage & Freezing:
- Storage Instructions: BBQ pulled pork stores incredibly well! Transfer cooled pulled pork to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Easily reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
- Freezing Instructions: BBQ pulled pork is also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, transfer cooled pulled pork to a freezer container or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers!). Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen BBQ pulled pork in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Easily reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
- 10-Minute Meal Prep: You can eliminate all of the active work involved in this BBQ pulled pork recipe by prepping the pork & BBQ rub in advance. To meal prep, complete the following tasks. The day you’d like to make pulled pork, all you have to do is assemble & let it cook – totally inactive, totally easy!
- Stud the pork with garlic according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. (5 minutes active prep)
- Prep the dry rub according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions. Store in an airtight container on your spice rack for up to 1 month. (5 minutes active prep)
- Optional: Season the pork: For even more flavorful BBQ Pulled Pork, you can season with the dry rub ahead of time. Season as described in Step 2 of Recipe Directions. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Alternate cooking methods:
- OVEN BRAISED BBQ PULLED PORK: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above. Rather than cooking on the stovetop, transfer the covered pot to a 325 degree F oven. Braise in the oven for 3-4 hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Step 3, above, & serve.
- SLOW COOKER BBQ PULLED PORK: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above, assembling the braised pork in your slow cooker or Crockpot. Slow cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 7-8 hours until the pork is fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Step 3, above, & serve.
- INSTANT POT BBQ PULLED PORK: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above, assembling the braised pork in your Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker. Cover & seal the Instant Pot. Cook on manual high pressure for 50 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release pressure for 15 minutes before carefully flicking the valve to its “venting” position to vent out any residual pressure. The pork should be beautifully fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Step 3, above, & serve.
Keywords: pulled pork, BBQ pulled pork, easy, American, oven braised, slow cooker, Instant Pot, dairy-free, comfort food recipes, game day, easy entertaining
Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.