America's Test Kitchen: Indoor Pulled Pork BBQ

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When people think of bbq, they often think of ribs, brisket, beer can chicken, etc. One of my favorites when it comes to bbq is pulled pork which is not to be confused with carnitas (Mexican pulled pork). Eating pulled pork sandwiches with some tangy bbq sauce is just heaven for me. Who doesn't like a pulled pork sandwich? You don't even need to be from Texas, Memphis, or Kansas City to make some good bbq either.

America's Test Kitchen Indoor Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich
Classic BBQ: Pulled Pork Sandwich served with a pickle
I especially love it when one of my coworkers would bring pulled pork for us whenever we have a potluck in the office. He is lucky enough to have one of those big green eggs which he uses to smoke the pork shoulder for several hours. The smoking process cooks the meat low and slow so that it cooks properly and the collagen has time to break down making the meat moist and tender. Not only that, but the pulled pork has an added smoky flavor to it. The problem with smoking is properly maintaining a low enough temperature since you don't want the temperature too high which would overcook your meat. Also, most likely you'd be smoking it outside for several hours. This could be a problem for some people since winter is just around the corner and grilling/bbqing/smoking is just not as fun when the weather isn't warm. I know the Neelys (from the Food Network show Down Home with the Neelys and known for their good bbq) have a pretty good recipe for pulled pork, but it's a good thing America's Test Kitchen (season 11, episode 11: Southern Fare: Reinvented) shows us that we can still make some good pulled pork in the comfort of our own home. What's great is that we can still obtain the smoky flavor without the smoking process with the use of liquid smoke. I mut say that that liquid smoke is a great invention.

If you don't know, pulled pork usually comes from pork shoulder or pork butt (often called Boston butt). And no, the pork butt is NOT the same as the pig's butt if you were wondering. It's a completely different cut altogether that comes from the upper portion of the shoulder. It's an inexpensive cut, but when cooked properly (usually low and slow), it can turn out to be quite flavorful, tasty, and tender. I ended up using a three pound boneless pork shoulder when making this recipe. I think 3 pounds is considered small when it comes to pork shoulders, but I would definitely use a bigger cut anytime I had to make this for a party or family get together.

Shredded BBQ Pulled Pork
Pork after being pulled and ready to be eaten.
The bbq sauce that goes with the pulled pork is actually pretty good because you're using the juices that came from the pork as a base for the sauce. When following this recipe, I hate to admit it, but sometimes I don't make the corresponding bbq sauce. I'm not going to lie - I get extra lazy sometimes. On those occasions when I don't make the bbq sauce, I just use a bottle of my favorite store bought bbq sauce which is Sweet Baby Ray's (KC Masterpiece and Bull's-Eye are good too). I like Sweet Baby Ray's because it doesn't have that "medicine" and artificial flavor that other barbecue sauces have. Whether you made bbq sauce or are using a bottle of sauce from the grocery store, I definitely use a lot of it and a little bit more when adding it to the pulled pork. I like my pulled pork sandwiches to be very juicy and slathered in bbq sauce. It's a pulled pork sandwich. It's supposed to be messy!

I do like adding sliced pickles to the pulled pork sandwich or eating a pickle on the side with the sandwich. I also like coleslaw in my sandwich or at least some cornbread, baked beans, mac & cheese, or collared greens on the side. I find the crunch from the cabbage to be a nice contrast to the tenderness of the pork. I usually just buy coleslaw from the store deli if I'm making pulled pork sandwiches since I haven't found a good slaw recipe that works for me unless there's someone out there that has a good recommendation. Anyone know of a good coleslaw recipe? Anyone? Bueller? Lastly, bread selection is key to a good pulled pork sandwich. I've tried hamburger buns, brioche buns, and sliced bread (I prefer wheat bread over white bread though) which work well. I don't like the hard, crusty breads like ciabatta because it's too heavy/doughy and I like a softer bread for a pulled pork sandwich. I do, however, like using King's Hawaiian bread rolls for pulled pork sliders. I find that King's Hawaiian rolls have a sweet flavor that really complements the bbq sauce. These sliders work well for tailgating if you prepare the meat the night before the big game. Basically, just choose a bread that you like and whichever bread you do choose, toast it on the side where it was cut if using a roll or hamburger bun. I like bread toasted in this fashion - it's toasted on the side where the pork is and it is still soft on the other.

FlavorFool's Notes

  • Sometimes I don't bother making the homemade barbecue sauce if I'm short on time. I end up using Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce instead.
  • I like using King's Hawaiian rolls to make pulled pork sliders.
  • I used another recipe for the gravy since it has been in the family for decades.
  • I like using Tapatio hot sauce.
  • Indoor Pulled Pork with Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

    America's Test Kitchen - season 11, episode 11, Southern Fare: Reinvented
    serves 6 to 8


    1 boneless pork butt (about 5 lbs), cut in half horizontally
    .5 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
    1 cup plus 2 tsp table salt
    .25 cup yellow mustard
    3 tbsp plus 2 tsp liquid smoke
    1 tsp cayenne pepper
    2 tbsp smoked paprika
    2 tbsp ground black pepper

    Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce
    .25 cup light or mild molasses
    1.5 cups ketchup
    1 tbsp hot sauce [I like using Tapatio hot sauce]
    2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    .5 tsp ground black pepper
    .5 tsp table salt


    1. FOR THE PORK: Dissolve 3 tbsp liquid smoke, .5 cup sugar, and 1 cup salt in 4 quarts cold water in a large container. Submerge pork in brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hrs.

    2. While pork brines, combine remaining 2 tsp liquid smoke and mustard in small bowl; set aside. Combine paprika, black pepper, cayenne, remaining 2 tsp salt, and remaining 2 tbsp sugar in second small bowl; set aside. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.

    3. Remove pork from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub mustard mixture over entire surface of each piece of pork. Sprinkle entire surface of each piece with spice mixture. Place pork on wire rack set inside foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Place piece of parchment paper over pork, then cover with sheet of aluminum foil, sealing edges to prevent moisture from escaping. Roast pork for 3 hrs.

    4. Remove pork from oven; remove and discard parchment and 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 on instant-read thermometer, about 1.5 hrs. Transfer pork to serving dish, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 mins.

    5. FOR THE SAUCE: While pork rests, pour .5 cup of defatted cooking liquid from fat separator into medium bowl; whisk in sauce ingredients.

    6. TO SERVE: Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-sized pieces. Toss with 1 cup sauce and season with pepper and salt. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.

    Video: America's Test Kitchen Indoor Pulled Pork


    Jess said...

    The Hawaiian rolls are a great idea!

    We loved this pulled pork recipe too! I tried it again with the other two sauces (lexington vinegar and south carolina mustard) but this original one was definitely our favorite sauce. It is honestly so easy to make, and we preferred it to a comparison with our favorite BBQ Sauce (Phil's BBQ Sauce from San Diego, CA), and we actually preferred the recipe sauce, which is not always the case. This is sooooooooooo yummy and will definitely be a repeat recipe in our house!!! Go Cook's Illustrated!!!

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @AnalyzeA, I'm glad this recipe is a success in your household as it is mine. I have to admit that using the King's Hawaiian Rolls for the pulled pork sandwiches was my brother's idea. I agree that this is a great recipe since it's so easy to make. Anytime we have a party with family over in our house, the kids always love making their own slider sandwiches. If the kids love it, then it's a hit!

    Big Swede said...

    I messed up twice. First, when I took off the coverings at halftime I tasted the outside and realized I forgot to put sugar and salt in the dry rub.Doh! No problem. I just added it at that point and rubbed it in. Second, I wasn't getting any juices out of my pork butt. Or if I was they were evaporating. But I hadn't planned on using them anyway. When it was ready and coarsely pulled I added spicy vinegar BBQ sauce by THE SHED as the base. I had sweeter sauces on hand for those that like it that way. So so yummy! On semi toasted Kaiser rolls. And the real key is to pull it coarsely. Gotta have the texture with big chunks. Outstanding! My bottle of Yuengling went perfect with it. Okay... Bottles, plural.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @Big_Swede, thank you for sharing your experience in making the America's Test Kitchen recipe for Indoor Pulled Pork. That's what's great about cooking - there are no rules. Whether you messed up or not, you're bound to learn something and adjust to make it better the next time. In the end I'm glad your pulled pork turned out good.

    tinkse7en said...

    This is my go-to recipe: my only changes are that I brine the pork butt overnight, & I use the bbq sauce (I agree, Sweet Baby Ray's is the best! I like their Spicy n Sweet variation),but use it sparingly,ekeing it out with the pan juices. It makes the flavor less cloyingly candy-sweet & lets the smokiness of the meat shine.I've had compliments from guys who actually smoke their briskets & pork butts for hours! That Liquid Smoke is an amazing, all-natural product! Thanks for putting up the recipe!

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @tinkse7en, yes liquid smoke is a good alternative to smoking a pork shoulder if you don't have the time/energy to do so. I prefer the hickory-flavored liquid smoke over the mesquite one, but either does the job. That's a good point that you bring up regarding the bbq sauce where it can be overly sweet at times. And brining the pork butt overnight definitely can't hurt either. I'm sure your friends and family enjoy going over to your place whenever this is on the menu.

    Anonymous said...

    Do you ever make this ahead and freeze, then thaw and reheat? Or just make the day before and refrigerate and reheat for a party? If so, tips for reheating? Thanks!

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @Anonymous, I'm glad you asked that question. I never freeze the pulled pork only because it always ends up getting eaten as leftovers within 2-3 days anyway, so freezing it is unnecessary. I'd only freeze it if I needed to keep it from going bad for more than a week. Having said that, if I were to make this ahead of time for a party, I would make it the day before and just refrigerate. I would reheat it in the microwave if I just wanted to eat a small individual portion for myself. If I wanted to reheat the whole batch for a few people, I would do so in the oven. It's been a while since I've reheated in the oven, but I would probably go low at 200-225 degrees or so for about 15 minutes. I would keep an eye on it starting at the 10 to 15 minute mark and adjust the time accordingly. If it's plenty warm enough, then by all means remove it from the oven. If it's not yet hot, then definitely leave it in for a bit longer. I hope this helps and good luck!

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