How To Cook (and Shred) a Pork Shoulder

This may be our very favorite meal. It is incredibly hard to screw up, and yet turning a big hunk of pork shoulder into tender shreds of juicy meat still feels like a noteworthy accomplishment every time we do it. We're going to take you through the steps of trimming, seasoning, braising, shredding, and serving a pork shoulder—with instructions, photos, and a basic recipe, too. This recipe is meant to be a guide. You can add different vegetables and liquids or season your pork more simply. But we promise that it is hard to fail. And you'll see we're cooking ours in a Le Creuset dutch oven. If you want to do it in a slow cooker, by all means go for it (we'd cut down on the liquid so that it doesn't boil over). Here are some instructions for converting a dutch oven recipe to a slow cooker.

Here's the meat. We usually buy a 4 to 5 pound pork shoulder with the bone in.

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We find that grocery store pork shoulders (at least at Fairway) often come with the fat and skin still attached to one side. We cut ours off; it's too thick for our taste, and the meat has enough fat running through it. Here are some great tips on trimming the fat off of meat. We just grab one end and peel it back as we cut.
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We season our pork with a rub similar to the one used for our favorite short ribs. It's got brown sugar, paprika, cumin, and lots of salt and pepper. (The full recipe is at the bottom of this post.)

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Here's how brown we get it- not too crusty, mostly because we're impatient. You just want to sear the outside and render some of the fat.
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We use beer in our braise, but you can use wine, stock, even water. The vegetables are just carrots, onions, and garlic.
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The pork is nestled back into the pot, and it's ready to go in the oven.
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Here is after 3 1/2 hours. See how beautiful? The meat pulls apart easily, the vegetables are soft and caramelized, and the entire house smells good.
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Here's how we shred our pork: We do it in the pot with the vegetables, using tongs to pull meat away from the bone. We put the meat in one bowl (the blue one) and overly blubbery bits of fat in another (the white one). You do not have to be meticulous about this, or you may spend a long time trying to scrape out the fat. Just weed out the big pieces; the rest of it makes for very flavorful meat.

Once you've shredded your meat, there are a lot of ways to go. Here's what we usually do:
• Store (or serve!) some of the meat with big spoonfuls of the juice, onions, and carrots. Serve it with rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes (or over polenta, which is delicious). Storing it in the juice will keep it moist, although you may have some fat congeal around it in the fridge. It'll heat up fine, though.
• Put half aside for use with another sauce. We like to serve some on rolls with a homemade barbecue sauce or for another dish. This pork is so versatile, so it's nice to have some on hand, ready to toss into another dish.

In fact, we're going to be back later this week with two more recipes for shredded pork: one for dinner, one for brunch.

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Shredded Pork Shoulder

4 to 5 pound pork shoulder, bone-in
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into wedges
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 12-ounce beer (a basic lager works well)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Trim the pork shoulder of any thick layers of fat. Combine the brown sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the pork with the spice mixture, getting into crevices and on the sides. Allow the pork to sit for about 30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pot. Add the onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and beer. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to bring up any browned bits.

Return the pork to the pot. Cover and put in the oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, checking once or twice, until the meat is extremely tender and pulls away from the bone easily. Shred the pork in the pot, using tongs to separate the meat from the fat (see photos above). Discard the bone or set aside for another use.

Serve the meat with several spoonfuls of the vegetables and sauce.

Related: Braised Summer Pork Shank (Adaptable for Any Season)

(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)

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