Follow These Steps for Perfect Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork Every Time

Because warm weather and delicious barbecue are right around the corner (we promise).

Just because football season is over doesn't mean our love for pulled pork has gone away. Whether piled atop a soft potato roll, wrapped into tortillas for Taco Tuesday, or eaten on its own alongside cornbread and collard greens, sweet and smoky pulled pork is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. One of the most popular ways to cook pulled pork is in a slow cooker, which slowly breaks down a tougher cut of meat, such as pork shoulder or pork butt, until it becomes super tender. To understand how to master slow-cooker pulled pork, we turned to Doug Worgul, director of marketing for Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kan.

1. Choose the Right Cut of Pork

Pulled pork is traditionally made with either pork shoulder (aka picnic shoulder) or pork butt (aka Boston Butt). Pork butt is higher on the foreleg than pork shoulder and has more marbling, which makes it better for stewing and braising. It's sold both bone-in and boneless; bone-in will likely be a slightly cheaper cut because it requires more butchery for the home cook. Pork shoulder is usually sold with the skin-on and bone intact, so it's higher maintenance and a slightly tougher cut of meat. However, both cuts result in a delicious batch of pulled pork.

2. Sear Before You Slow Cook

Most slow-cooked pulled pork recipes call for four pounds of either pork shoulder or pork butt. Before sticking the pork directly in the slow cooker, cut it into quarters, pat the meat dry with a paper towel, and season each piece thoroughly with salt and pepper. Sear each piece in a cast-iron skillet with oil just until the exterior is evenly browned. Then, place all of the seared meat in a six to eight-quart slow cooker for four hours on high or eight hours on low. The key to all great barbecue is cooking it low and slow, which slowly tenderizes the meat and prevents it from becoming tough and chewy. Worgul says the meat should reach an internal temperature of 205-210°F and should shred easily with a fork.

3. Don't Trim the Fat

Leaving the fat cap (aka the thick, light-colored layer on top of the pork) will impart the dish with tons of flavor and juiciness. Worgul recommends placing the pork in the slow-cooker fat side up. The fat will render thoroughly during the cooking process and by placing the meat fat side up, it makes it much easier to remove excess fat before serving. "The cooker will be nearly filled with fat and liquid after hours of cooking. I always retain this fat/liquid and reincorporate some of it back into the meat once it's been pulled," he says.

4. Slather in Sauce

Let's face it—delicious barbecue is nothing without a finger-lickin' sauce. A great barbecue sauce should have sweetness (such as maple syrup or brown sugar), acid (apple cider or white vinegar), and plenty of heat (the list of apt spices goes on and on).

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