Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Indoor Pulled Pork

DISH: Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Two Ways) with Fennel-Cabbage Slaw
TYPE: Slow-Cooked, Outrageously Delicious Dinner

On the way back from my recent ski trip to Vermont, the car I was in stopped at a country deli to grab a few snacks for the road. The place was heaven—walls lined with homemade compotes, jams, and different varieties of maple syrup, its counters and cases filled with all sorts of homestyle delicacies. As we stood there, we watched two customers be served a huge (the size of my wingspan) skillet of mac ‘n cheese. Though we’d eaten a huge breakfast of cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, and the remains of the No-Knead Bread before hitting the road, it seemed criminal not to at least give this mac ‘n cheese a try. But then I noticed pulled pork sandwiches on the menu, and I thought it would be criminal not to give those a try too. I returned to the car with a shopping bag full of food.

Though not the best for car trips, the pulled pork sandwich was the most outrageously delicious mid-afternoon snack I’d had in a while. Then, when I got walked in the door of my apartment, I found a new Cook’s Illustrated in my mailbox. It featured an article about the best methods for Indoor Pulled Pork. I knew I was meant to make pulled pork. And make it, I did.

Making pork butt for pulled pork doesn’t require that much hands-on attention, but it does call for a massive chunk of time. The Cook’s Illustrated version requires 2 hours of brining, and 4 ½ hours in the oven. Curious about general pork-butt guidelines, I called up my friend Robbie, who has made it a Sunday tradition to slow-cook a pork butt for 5 hours and invite 20 people over to watch football and eat it.
Robbie said he has tried several cooking times and temperatures, but recommended that if I had an afternoon to kill, the best results are achieved by cooking the pork uncovered at a very low temperature (250 degrees) for 5 hours, and braising it in BBQ sauce towards the end to develop the “bark”–the crusty exterior. He doesn’t brine at all, which cuts down on the time.

Still, I was swayed by the feeling of destiny I had when I walked in the door and saw the Cook’s Illustrated, and after my inquiries, I decided to more or less follow their method. The result was incredibly bark-y and delicious, but perhaps not as moist as the versions I had eaten at Robbie’s, and though I made two different sauces, I am sad to report that both paled in comparison to the one slathering all that tender pork in the sandwich from Vermont.

From my kitchen, still striving for indoor pork perfection, to yours,



Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Fennel-Cabbage Slaw
Makes 4-6 servings

Cook’s Illustrated featured three different options for the sauce, and being the indecisive person I am, I went with none of them, and instead made two different versions of my own. One is ketchup based, similar to what is used on this Manchurian Cauliflower, and the other was inspired by my friend Graeme’s BBQ sauce. The Fennel-Cabbage slaw was based on the one used by Last Night’s Dinner on her Food52 winning Smokey Pork Burger, and it added the perfect refreshing crunch to the sandwiches.

As for the method, I am going to tell you exactly what I did including the brine. But I can’t wait to try it Robbie’s way, skipping the brine, and cooking it for 5 hours uncovered at 250 degrees. Also, if you want to save on time and ingredients, you can skip the wet-dry rub combo. Last but not least, Cara recently made pork butt the Momofuku way, and we’ll be posting about the results of that soon.


For the pork sandwich:

1 cup salt
½ cup sugar
4 cups water
1 3lb pork butt
¼ cup mustard (Bone Suckin, or honey mustard would be interesting here)

1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp chili powder (I used ground ancho)
¼ tsp cayenne

4-6 toasted challah or brioche rolls – something dense, buttery, and more substantial than your average hamburger bun.

In a large bowl or container, combine the salt, sugar, and water, and stir to dissolve. Submerge the pork in the brining liquid (I used a can of beans inside a ziplock bag to weight it), cover tightly, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking dish with foil (trust me, you don’t want to have to clean this).

Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. On a work surface, using your hands, cover the entire surface area of the pork butt with the mustard. In a small bowl, combine the remaining salt, sugar, chili powder, and cayenne. Sprinkle the dry rub over the pork until fully covered.

Transfer the pork to the baking dish. Cover the dish with tin foil, tenting it in the middle so it is not touching the pork. Place in the oven and cook for 3 hours. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 1 ½ hours, or until the internal temperature is 200 degrees.

Remove the pork from the oven and allow to rest, tented with foil, on a work surface for 20 minutes. Shred the pork with two forks. Combine the pork with your desired sauce (recipes below) until moist and lightly dressed – you don’t want to overwhelm the pork flavor, and you can serve extra on the side for dipping as desired.

To serve, top each bun with a mound of pork, a spoonful of slaw (see recipe below), and extra sauce on the side.

NOTE: Pulled pork can last up to a week in the fridge. Store the meat and the sauce separately. When you want to eat it again, combine the two and microwave together so the pork stays moist.

Fennel-Cabbage Slaw
Makes 4 servings

1 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, tough outer leaves removes, and very thinly sliced
1 small head of red cabbage, heart removed, thinly sliced
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

Cilantro BBQ Sauce
Makes about 2 cups

10 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 1/2 cups generic BBQ sauce
1 leaves from 1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
½ cup beef broth

In a medium non-stick skillet, sauté the garlic and jalapeno in ½ tablespoon of olive oil over low heat. When soft and fragrant but not browned, add the BBQ sauce. Bring to a simmer, stir in cilantro, and cook gently for 5-10 minutes, until the cilantro leaves begin to melt away and the sauce has thickened.

Remove from heat, and whisk in ¼ to ½ cup beef broth – you want the sauce rather thin so it moistens the pork without overwhelming it.

Mix with the pork, or store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Smoky Chipotle Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

7 cloves garlic
1 cup ketchup
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo
3 tbsp adobo sauce from can
½ cup beef broth (or water)

In a medium non-stick skillet, sauté the garlic 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When just beginning to brown, add the ketchup. Bring to a simmer, stir in chipotle and adobo, and cook gently for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce has reduced by almost half.

Remove from heat, and whisk in ¼ to ½ cup beef broth – you want the sauce rather thin so it moistens the pork without overwhelming it.

Mix with the pork, or store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

  • Caitlyn

    I'm salivating

  • jennifer

    i've found crock pots come in handy at a time like this.
    pulled pork has been on my "to cook/bake" list for a while now. i think it's finally time!

  • Megan

    Looks De-lish!

    I officially have an "excuse" to host the next family get together!

  • Anonymous

    I can't even tell you how excited I am to make this!!

  • SeattleDee

    I wish I had read this BEFORE I spent the early morning readying (Pork) Chili Verde for the slow cooker. Now really I'm craving pulled pork – this could be a high protein week!

  • Kiki & Punkin

    Sliced onion, a cup of water and slits filled with garlic. About 7 hours in a crockpot on low = delicious!

  • Paula is QuiteCurious

    Wow, this is great! I always thought pulled pork was a much more laborious process. Thanks.

  • Frankie

    I should do this to my own butt.

  • Jennifer Hess

    …aaaaand now I want pulled pork. YUM.

  • Kelsey B.

    I love making pulled pork in our slow cooker or dutch oven. It's great in tacos, too!

  • *The Internet Cooking Princess

    Totally trying this recipe out. I love pulled pork sandwiches…and Lord knows I'll be a hero with my boyfriend with this recipe.

  • Jillian

    I made this pork butt the other night after a long of skiing and it was AWESOME. I had only limited spices/amenities in the house I was staying in so I abridged it slightly after the brine (all day in the oven on 250ish in BBQ sauce and garlic, and some extra honey mustard while I was out skiing). It was incredible, and the brine made it incredibly delicious. A perfect end to any day of skiing!!!!

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