This is the BEST Pulled Pork! It’s made right in the oven (no smoker required!) after an overnight brine and being covered in a simple, delicious dry rub. Sauce recipe included!
I’m not sure what it’s like in your neck of the woods, but here the air feels just a bit more crisp in the morning, the sun is shining at a different angle in the afternoon, and if the wind is blowing just right, you can hear the high school marching band practicing after school. Fall is just on the horizon, which means weekend afternoons watching football and consuming warm and cozy comfort foods all the live long day.
I’ve always loved pulled pork, but in the past I’ve only ever made it in the crock pot. It’s good, but not the drop-dead amazing pulled pork I’ve dreamed of making. I started doing some research and testing and settled on this recipe, which is a mash-up of techniques from Cook’s Illustrated and Kevin & Amanda.
This is, hands-down, the most perfect pulled pork I have ever had. It’s fall-apart tender, has an incredible amount of flavor, and the you won’t be able to stop stealing bites of the crunchy crusty bits when you shred it!
How Do You Make Pulled Pork?
There are many, many ways to make pulled pork (the oven! a smoker! slow cooker!), and this is, by far, the absolute best way I have ever found to make it. The pulled pork turns out incredibly tender, falls right apart, and is packed to the brim with a sweet and spicy flavor.
What Type of Meat is Best for Pulled Pork?
Hands-down, boneless pork butt! This can sometimes also be found under the name boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt.
Some pulled pork recipes use bone-in cuts of meat, but I’ve found these to require longer cooking times and I’m never as satisfied with the end result as I am with the boneless cuts, so that’s what I recommend.
The Process for Pulled Pork in the Oven
There are four main components to this pulled pork recipe: brine, rub, cook, sauce. Let’s go into detail below…
Brine – Since we are going to be cooking this pulled pork for so long, the brine is essential to keeping it juicy and tender. It’s a simple brine made with water, salt and brown sugar. I also add bay leaves for a little more flavor and liquid smoke to impart a little smoky flavor since we are not going to be cooking this in a smoker. (I use jumbo storage bags for this!)
Dry Rub – After the pork has an overnight swim in the brine, take it out and pat it dry with paper towels making sure it’s nice and dry. Then I slice it in half horizontally (a tip from Cook’s Illustrated) to help cut the cooking time, but also maximize the surface area for both the rub and “crusty” pieces of pulled pork. The rub has some brown sugar for sweetness and then a whole host of seasonings and spices that create the most amazing flavor.
Cook – Now we’re getting somewhere! I place the two pieces of pork on a wire rack and set it inside of a rimmed baking sheet that I’ve covered with foil. Cover the pan tightly with foil for the first portion of cooking to ensure the pork stays moist. Uncovering it at the end of the baking process ensures that the outside of the pork gets a nice “crust” on it, which are all of the crunchy bits that everyone will fight over!
Sauce – This part is totally optional, but I thought it was a great complement to the pulled pork. After the first portion of cooking, pour off the collected liquid in the pan and put in a fat separator. Whisk in a few more simple ingredients, and the sauce is ready! It was, by far, the best homemade bbq sauce I’ve ever had, and no doubt it was due to using the actual cooking liquid – total game changer!
A very important note on cooking the meat – you’ll notice that it calls for the internal temperature to reach 200 degrees F. You’re probably thinking it will be terribly overdone and dry since most meat is cooked through at 165 degrees, BUT! This is where the magic happens.
At 200 degrees F is where the connective tissue begins to break down, which is what makes meat fall-apart tender. Before it reaches this point, the meat will be cooked through, but will appear tough. That extra time makes all the difference in the world! (If you don’t have a digital instant-read thermometer, Thermapen is my favorite.)
Now, let’s talk about all the wonderful things you can do with this pulled pork (the possibilities are nearly endless!)…
Pulled pork sandwich slathered in sauce on a brioche roll with coleslaw on the side.
Brine the Pork: Add salt to the cold water and stir until the salt is completely dissolved. Add the brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved, then stir in the liquid smoke.
Place the pork butt in a jumbo-size ziploc bag (or another large container that can hold the pork and the brine solution), then slowly pour in the brine solution to cover the pork. Seal the bag or cover the container and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, up to 36 hours.
Make the Dry Rub: In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne. (This can be made ahead of time and stored at room temperature in an airtight container.)
When ready to cook the pork, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 325 degrees F.
Prepare the Pork: Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack inside. Remove the pork from the brine (discard the brine solution) and pat dry with paper towels. Slice the pork in half horizontally, then coat all sides of both pieces of pork with the dry rub mixture. Place the pork on the wire rack.
Cook the Pork: Cover the pork with aluminum foil, sealing the edges of the pan to prevent moisture from escaping. Cook for 3 hours.
Take the pork from the oven, remove and discard the aluminum foil. Carefully pour off liquid in bottom of baking sheet into fat separator and reserve for sauce. Return pork to oven and cook, uncovered, until well browned, tender, and internal temperature registers 200 degrees F on instant-read thermometer, about 1½ hours. Transfer pork to serving dish, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
Make the Barbecue Sauce: While the pork rests, pour ½ cup of defatted cooking liquid from fat separator into a medium bowl; whisk in the ketchup, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.
Serve: Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-sized pieces. Toss with 1 cup sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve, passing the remaining sauce separately. The pulled pork should be stored, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It also freezes very well; freeze in a freezer-safe container (all in one, or broken up into smaller portions) for up to 3 months and thaw overnight in the refrigerator.