Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Barbecue Pulled Pork Shoulder

The deliciousness to price ratio on pork shoulder is very high.
A lot of people have a problem with calling anything "barbecue" if it doesn't spend time in a smokey pit. Of course, I've also met people who call three hamburgers on the grill a "barbecue." Let's just all agree that the term is poorly defined and leave each other alone about it.

In the meantime, here's a recipe for pulled pork shoulder that can sit next to any barbecue joint's best with pride. It's totally, eat-it-every-day-if-you-want paleo, and it's delicious. I do like the smokey flavor of real barbecue, so I add some liquid smoke to the crock pot. It won't replace a real smoking session, but it adds a lot of flavor, and you don't have to tend a fire all day.

This is also a great potluck dish. I know I'm not the only one who struggles to find good healthy food at the office potluck. I also can't be the only one who doesn't want to be known as "the guy who brings that weird food to the potluck." This dish is a perfect solution. It makes a lot for a pretty cheap price, and most people will love it. If you bow to the social pressure and plunk down a package or two of rolls next to it, you can even avoid the "what exactly is the paleo diet?" conversation. (You don't have to eat the rolls)

Your apple juice doesn't have to be in a little box, but it made more sense to me than buying a whole bottle.


1 whole pork shoulder, bone in.
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp liquid smoke

For the rub
3 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Crock Pot
Large Bowl
Jar with a lid (or other container for the rub)

Combine all of the spices in a jar and put the lid on. Shake the closed jar to combine the spices into a dry rub.

This particular jar also has a lid with holes that makes it easier to shake spices onto the meat.

Pat the pork shoulder dry with a paper towel. This will help the spices stick to it better.

Leave that layer of fat intact for now. It will help keep the meat moist.
Cover the pork shoulder with about 3/4 of the rub. You should actually rub the spices into the meat a little to help them stick. Save the remaining 1/4 of the rub for later.

Try and get an even coating of spice over the whole surface of the meat.

Place the rubbed pork shoulder into the crock pot. Add the apple juice, vinegar, and liquid smoke to the crock pot. Be careful and avoid rinsing the rub off of the pork shoulder as much as possible by pouring the liquid in at the sides of the crock pot.

Put the lid on the crock pot and set it on low heat for at least 8 hours. If you have the time to cook it for 10-12 hours, even better.

There will be more liquid in the crock pot than when you started. The meat contributes some as it cooks.

After the shoulder has cooked, remove it from the crock pot and place it in a large bowl. Remove the large bone. Also, if there is a layer of fat on the top of the shoulder, remove that at this point as well. Using one fork in each hand, shred the meat into small chunks. While doing this, you may notice gristle in certain parts of the shoulder; remove as much of it as possible.

Shred the meat into stringy pieces. You don't want too many big chunks left when you're done.

Once you've shredded the meat, taste it and decide how much, if any, of the remaining rub you would like to add to it. Mix the rub into the meat to season it evenly.

  • A whole pork shoulder weighs between 7 and 10 pounds, so this recipe makes a lot of pulled pork. It freezes well, though.
  • The pork will be good by itself, or you can add a little of your favorite barbecue sauce to it. You can find a very simple recipe for my favorite technically paleo barbecue sauce in my post about beef short ribs.
  • I like to serve this with cauliflower rice and collard greens.
  • A lot of recipes will tell you to remove the layer of fat from the top of the pork shoulder before putting it in the crock pot. I like to remove it afterwards for two reasons. First, I think it helps keep the meat moist. Second, I think it's easier to pull it off after the meat has cooked.

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