Want to make the best pulled pork from your own kitchen? The key to making this Carolina pulled pork recipe is the brine.
Creating the Best Pulled Pork Recipe
When I think of BBQ, I can’t help but think of slow and low style, the Carolina way. In order to cook the best pulled pork, it’s essential that you plan ahead and spend some time prepping and cooking that delicious meat at those lower temperatures. This helps bring out all those flavors that melt in your mouth and allows that pork to literally fall apart. I know, we are all lazy and don’t want to, but trust me, this Carolina pulled pork recipe is so easy your dog could do it.
This recipe may seem like a process, but here’s the deal: you really just plop the pork in the fridge to marinate, and then transfer it to the oven. Although it takes a long time, you’re just going about your everyday life so it’s really not extra work on your part.
These idea for this pulled pork recipe come from watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Shout out to Guy, who gets to eat for a living! We occasionally watch his show on Netflix at night, and first of all, it makes us so hungry, but we also feel like we can totally guess when he doesn’t really enjoy something. We wish we could find out what he really thinks are the best and the worst of the places he has tried.
Anyway, I got a little off topic. Here are the secrets to the world’s best Carolina pulled pork.
Carolina Pulled Pork Ingredients
There are three main components to this pulled pork recipe: the brine, the dry rub seasoning, and the homemade bbq sauce.
For the pulled pork brine, you’ll need water, apple cider, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, some of the dry rub (more on that in a moment), bay leaves, and red pepper flakes.
Note that you’ll be using apple cider, NOT cider vinegar, in the pork shoulder brine. But many of our readers have missed that and added pure vinegar and so we had no choice but to try it since so many of you loved the results. Sure enough, it was great! So we prefer the juice but hey, vinegar is fun too! Apple cider adds a little more flavor without ever tasting like apple, and all you have to do is dump it in.
For the pulled pork seasoning, we like to use a blend of onion powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, kosher salt, pepper, cayenne, dry mustard, cumin, and brown sugar.
Finally, the homemade bbq sauce is completely optional but our family goes crazy for it. We make our sauce with apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, red pepper flakes, and salt. Of course, you’re welcome to use a store-bought sauce, but if you’re looking for the best pulled pork recipe ever, well, you need to use homemade sauce.
What’s the Best Pork for Pulled Pork?
To make the best pulled pork, you’ve got to start with the best cut of meat. Most barbecue restaurants use whole pork shoulders, but they’re rarely available in grocery stores. If you find a whole shoulder, use it. Otherwise, we recommend a Boston butt, which is half of the shoulder, the other half being the picnic shoulder.
How to Make Pulled Pork in the Oven
This pulled pork recipe looks lengthy, but each step of this recipe is incredibly easy. Here’s a quick overview of how to make pulled pork in the oven:
- Stir together the pork shoulder brine and let the pork soak in it for 12 to 24 hours.
- Remove the pork from the brine and place it in a large baking dish, then pat it dry with paper towels.
- Rub the pulled pork seasoning all over the meat, saving just a little of the dry rub for later.
- With the fat facing up, bake the pork at a low temperature until it registers 200ºF at the thickest part.
- Turn off the oven and let the pork rest for a couple hours.
- Take the pork out of the oven and remove the fat from the top. Then, shred the meat with two forks.
- Drain half the juices from the pork, then add the remaining dry rub and toss in the homemade bbq sauce.
How Long to Cook Pulled Pork
If you’re southern, you know this isn’t just a secret but practically a law in the south — LOW AND SLOW. I always laugh when people tell me they can’t make bbq, “I let it cook for over an hour and it was dry and hard as a rock!”
Bbq is very relaxed, just like southerners. It wants to hang out all day, and while you may think you’re overcooking it, you’re not! Our pork cooks for at least 12 hours, sometimes more if it’s a bigger butt (I feel like there should be a joke in there). Do not rush it.
Can I Make Pulled Pork on a Smoker?
If you’d rather make smoked pulled pork instead of oven pulled pork, we recommend following our Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe. It gives step-by-step instructions on smoking pulled pork on a Traeger.
How to Prep Carolina Pulled Pork in Advance
Reader Kate says:
“I’m heading up to my cabin and need a dinner for a large crowd a few hours after we arrive, wondering if I can cook the pork and then finish it off in the grill when we arrive? Or if it’s better to do all steps and then reheat it on arrival? Looks delish.”
Great question! We do this ALLLLLLL the time. Go ahead and make this pulled pork recipe, and then you have two choices. Pull it out of the oven and put it straight into the car and it will rest on the way to the cabin and be ready to eat two hours later.
Or make it, rest it, cool it and place in freezer bags, or to be honest, we use this Foodsaver and just suck the air out and freeze pork for use over the next three months. It’s super easy, and tastes perfectly fresh when we reheat. We just place it in the fridge to defrost and then reheat in a large pan with foil in a low oven or stove top with a little oil in the pan and a lid to keep the steam in so it’s juicy.
How to Reheat Pulled Pork
Turn on your oven and set the temperature to 250°F. Then, cover your meat with foil and put it into the oven when it’s ready. After you put it into your oven, let it heat for 30 minutes or until reaching an internal temperature of 165 °F.
Tips to Making the Best Pulled Pork
The key thing to remember when making this pulled pork recipe is to let the meat rest after it’s finished cooking. I told you, it’s lazy. Letting it rest redistributes the juices, and because it’s big and cooked for a long time you’re going to want to let it rest longer — like an hour or even two — before shredding.
Perhaps the biggest secret of all, and one that I cannot claim as my own as this is where Triple D (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) comes in, is to sprinkle a little more of the rub onto the meat before serving. We noticed many bbq joints weren’t just slathering on the sauce, but actually sprinkling that dry rub all over the shredded meat and tossing to let it sink it. You won’t believe what a difference it makes!
You can also use another type of bbq sauce in this pulled pork recipe! Carrian likes a thick, sweet sauce or a Carolina vinegar bbq, and I love this Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce on my homemade pulled pork.
What to Serve with Carolina Pulled Pork
We recommend firing up the grill and making grilled corn to go with this Carolina pulled pork. It is so dang good every time! And just for pure comfort, add a side of Southern macaroni and cheese. A few other pulled pork sides we love are:
More PORK DINNER RECIPES You Must Try:
- Pork Chop and Rice Casserole
- Classic Pork Carnitas
- Copycat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork
- BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos
- Pineapple Braised Pork
- Classic Pork Roast (+ Pan Gravy)
- Grandpa’s BBQ Pulled Pork
- Pork Chops with Apple Chutney
- Country-Style Pork Ribs (in an Instant Pot)
- …All of our MAIN DISH recipes!
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World's Best Carolina Pulled Pork
- 5-8 pound Pork Butt bone in and fat pad on top
For the Brine
- 4 Cups Water
- 4 Cups Apple Cider
- 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 3 Heaping Tablespoons Dry Rub
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
For the Dry Rub
- 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
- 1 Heaping Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Pepper
- 2 Teaspoons Cayenne Powder
- 2 Teaspoons Dry Mustard
- 1 Tablespoon Cumin
- 1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
For the BBQ Sauce (Optional)
- 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1/2 Cup White Vinegar
- 1/4 Cup to 1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Chili Powder
- 2 Pinches Red Pepper Flakes
- Salt to taste
- NOTE: This recipe should be started 2 days ahead of time as you need 24 hours in the fridge, 12-14 in the oven and 2 hours of resting.
Prepare the Dry Rub:
- Mix all of the ingredients together in a ziploc bag. Set aside.
For the Brine:
- In a large stock pot, add the water, apple cider, salt, sugar, 3 tablespoons dry rub, pepper flakes and bay leaves.
- Rinse off the pork and add to the pot making sure it is completely covered in the brine and add the lid.
- Place in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours.
For the Sauce:
- In a glass jar, add the ingredients and place the lid on then shake to combine. Set aside.
- Heat the oven to 225 degrees F.
- Remove the pork from the brine and place in a roasting dish or 9x13" baking pan as long as the sides don't touch the pan.
- Pat very dry with paper towels.
- Remove 2 tablespoons of the dry rub to another ziploc and set aside for after it is cooked.
- Rub the remaining seasoning all over the pork and in any cracks or flaps.
- With the fat facing up, place the pork in the oven with a meat thermometer.
- Bake for 12-14 hours or until 200 degrees F registers on the thickest part of the pork with a meat thermometer. *Remember to watch your oven, ours turns off automatically at 12 hours so I have to turn it back on.
- At this point you can turn off the oven and leave the pork in there to rest for two hours or if you have more baking to do place foil over the meat and allow to rest on the stove.
- Once the meat has rested, remove the fat from the top and using two forks, shred the meat and remove the bone.
- Drain half of the juices out and add the remaining dry rub to taste, toss to coat and drizzle a little vinegar sauce over everything.
- Serve immediately as is or on buns.