Perfect Pulled Pork
This post was originally published on August 26, 2008. It’s one of our oldest and most popular recipes on our entire site. It’s been made thousands of times from readers all over the world. This is how to make authentic Southern Pulled Pork.
After photos were updated June 2015.
Remember last week when we were talking about company recipes? This is one of those recipes. I’ll never forget the first time I had this *perfect* pulled pork. I was a guest in someone’s home and this was their company recipe. And true to company recipe fashion, I immediately fell in love with it and begged for the recipe.
This pulled pork is SO yummy and flavorful and tender, it just melts in your mouth. And it really is *perfect* for company because everyone I’ve ever made this for has just raved over it. You have to try it, at least once. Really. You will be hooked. :)
Let’s pick out the perfect pork shoulder for your perfect pulled pork. The best piece of meat for pulled pork is a 4-7 lb whole boston butt.
Make sure your pork shoulder has a layer of fat on the bottom:
And it should also have a bone going about halfway through it. (It doesn’t go all the way through. Just halfway.)
Now, if you notice, my pork shoulder is 7.91 lbs. I got a big one because I wanted to feed 6 people *and* have tons and tons of leftovers. Normally I hate leftovers, but I LOVE this leftover. People always want some to take home with them and it *just* as yummy heated up the next day. Just pop it in a 350-375 degree oven for about 5 mins. You’ll know when it’s done because the whole kitchen will start smelling so good and your mouth will be watering and you just won’t be able to wait any longer before you yank it out of the oven and put it on a plate. It even freezes really well, although we never want to freeze it because we always want to keep eating it for the next couple of days. lol.
After you pick out your perfect pork shoulder, you may want to pick up a few other items while you’re out..
You’ll need a 3″ deep roasting pan that’s big enough to hold your pork shoulder so that there is at least 1″ of extra room on all sides. Of course you may have a nice roasting pan at home that you can use. I just pick up one of these disposable ones at the grocery store for easier clean up. You’ll also need something LARGE to brine the roast in. I use a 2 gallon ziploc bag. And the last thing is a digital thermometer with an alarm. You don’t *have* to have one of these, but I find this an *extremely* useful piece of equipment in my kitchen. The thermometer stays in the meat, in the oven while the digital reader sits outside on top of the stove. You set the alarm and it will go off when the meat has reached the desired temp. I LOVE it because I don’t have to constantly keep checking on the roast. I just put it in and forget it! :) You can pick one of these up pretty cheap (less than $20) at the grocery store (and almost anywhere- Amazon, Target, Walmart, Linens-N-Things, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc). And you can use it for everything- chicken, steak, burgers, etc. I love it for baking chicken because you know exactly when the chicken is done and it doesn’t get dried out. :)
So! Now that you’ve got all your equipment, let’s start out by making the special dry rub that makes this pulled pork perfectly seasoned.
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 cup brown sugar
Mix all ingredients together well and store in an air tight container.
This smells absolutely divine. Cover it and set it aside for a sec.
Now for the brine – A brine solution gives the meat the extra moisture it needs for a long, slow cooking process so you don’t end up with tough, dried out meat.
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 qts cold water
3 tbsp dry rub mix
2 bay leaves
Add salt to cold water and stir very well until all the salt is completely dissolved. Then add the brown sugar and dry rub and stir well to combine.
Rinse the pork shoulder in cold water and place in a 2 gallon ziploc bag (or a container big enough so the shoulder is completely covered in brine solution).
Carefully pour in the brine solution…
And add two dried bay leaves.
You can find these in the spice section of the grocery store.
And refrigerate for at least 12 hours. 24-36 hours is best. I usually do it about 24 hours. I like to clean out a spot in my door and keep the pork there because it helps keep the shoulder completely covered in brine.
At least 12 hours later…
Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. (Yes, 225 degrees, that is not a typo :)) Remove the pork shoulder from the brine solution and place in the roasting pan.
Pat the skin dry with paper towels so you’ll get a nice, crisp crust.
Generously, generously, cover the WHOLE thing in your dry rub mix.
And massage it into that skin real good. Be sure and get it up under any flaps you may come across.
It should look like this when you’re done massaging. If you have dry rub mix left, that’s okay. We will be using it later.
Make sure the fat layer is facing UP and stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the shoulder, but not touching the bone.
Place uncovered in a 225 degree F oven on the middle rack.
Set the alarm on the thermometer for 200 degrees. We don’t want to take it out of the oven until the center of the shoulder reaches at least 200 degrees. The first time I made this, I was like what?? 200 degrees?? Are you kidding?? Isn’t a roast usually done at 170 degrees?? Won’t my meat be tough and dried out?? But here’s what I found out. The pork is finished to the point of being sliceable at 170 degrees, but to get that tender, falling apart shredded meat, the ideal internal temperature should reach at least 200 degrees. And it’s still just as tender, juicy and flavorful because smartypants you brined it first. Pat yourself on the back for being in-the-know.
Now, cooking at 225 degrees F, this shoulder will probably take between 1.5 to 2 hours per pound to cook. This 8 lb shoulder took 13 hours, so a little over an 1.5 hr per pound.
Here’s how I normally do it… Two nights before I want to serve this, I prepare the brine solution and let the shoulder brine over night and all day the next day in the fridge. That night right before bed, I season the shoulder with the dry rub and put it in the oven and let it cook overnight. Even a small shoulder will take at least 10 hours to cook, so you don’t have to worry about the alarm waking you up the next morning.
Note: Some ovens automatically turn off after 12 hours. Note the time you put the shoulder in the oven, and you may want to set an alarm on your phone to alert you 12 hours later so you can check and make sure your oven is still on. A large shoulder could easily take 13-16 hours to cook.
When the alarm goes off and the shoulder has reached 200 degrees, turn off the oven and let the roast rest for about 2 hours before removing from the oven. Turn off the alarm, but keep the thermometer in the meat, so you can monitor the temperature. If the bottom of the pan is dry (or crusted with dried spices) cover the pan with foil to retain internal moisture of the meat during the resting period. Mine still had a lot of moisture in the bottom, so I didn’t cover mine.
After a couple hours, when the temperature drops to 170 degrees or slightly lower, remove the shoulder from the oven.
Remove the large sheet of crusted fat on the top. Using two large forks, begin pulling the meat apart. It will fall apart *very* easily and it should not take you long at all to pull apart this whole roast.
The inside will be fall-off-the-bone tender, and the outside will have a deliciously seasoned crispy crust. Feel free to add any leftover seasoning if you want a little more kick.
It’s so juicy and flavorful, you won’t even need BBQ sauce.
This famous pulled pork is requested at every get-together we go to. Go ahead and impress your friends with this slow roasted, seasoned and savory pulled pork.
Perfect Pulled Pork
- 1 (4-7 pound) whole Boston Butt or pork shoulder (bone-in with a layer of fat on the bottom)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 quarts cold water
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons dry rub mix
For the Dry Rub
- Mix well and store in an air tight container.
For the Brine Solution
- Add salt to cold water and stir very well until all the salt is completely dissolved. Then add the brown sugar, dry rub, and bay leaves and stir well to combine.
Pork shoulder preparation
- Rinse the pork shoulder and place in a large container, pour in the brine solution until the shoulder is completely covered. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
- Remove pork shoulder from brine solution, pat dry with paper towels, place in baking pan that is bigger than the shoulder by at least a inch in length and width and at least 3 inches deep. Sprinkle dry rub onto the surface of the shoulder and massage in such that it adheres to the surface. Coat all sides. Make sure the fat layer on the shoulder is facing up before cooking! Place baking pan uncovered in a 225 degree F oven on the middle rack. Insert a probe thermometer into the center or thickest part of the shoulder, but not touching the bone. Monitor the temperature throughout cooking (a digital thermometer with an alarm function is the easiest way to do this). Do not remove from the oven until the center of the shoulder reaches 200 degrees.
- When the shoulder has reached 200 degrees, shut off the oven and let the roast cool for a couple of hours before removing from the oven. If the bottom of the pan is dry (or crusted with dried spices) then cover the pan with foil to retain internal moisture of the meat during the cooling period. When the temperature drops to 170 degrees or slightly lower, remove from oven. Place on a large, clean work surface such as a cutting board, and remove the large sheet of crusted fat on the top. Pull apart with two forks, it will pull apart very easily. Serve for friends and family!