Pulled pork is one of those magical meals that every self-respecting meat-eater should be able to prepare by heart. And when you say pulled pork to any Southerner, you'll hear descriptions of luscious pieces of tender meat rubbed with secret spice mixes and doused in sauces of spice and vinegar, tangy mustard, or sticky-sweet tomato and molasses.
Although those classic smoky flavors are satisfying, sometimes you need a new spin on an old classic. With a few shakes from your spice cabinet, some flavorful liquid, and a slow cooker, you can transform a huge hunk of meat into a satisfying meal for a crowd without spending hours over smoldering embers.
Pulled pork is the result of slow-braising pork shoulder in a flavorful liquid until the meat can be easily pulled apart into bite-sized shreds. When shopping for pork shoulder, you may see this hunk of meat labeled pork butt. This is not a reference to a pig's hind region, rather it is a throwback reference to wooden barrels called butts in which the meat was once shipped. A four- to five-pound boneless pork shoulder feeds my family for several meals and fits nicely in my largest slow cooker, leaving enough room to tuck in a few hunks of onion.
The combination of maple and mustard is a match made in hog heaven. Although I live in the South, my family hails from New England. My dad grew up on a farm in northern Vermont, tapping maple trees for sap each winter, so sometimes it seems like I've got maple syrup running through my veins. The USDA revamped the grading system for maple syrup in recent years, so you'll no longer find tiny-handled glass bottles bearing Grades A, B, and C. Now there are four classes of Grade A. Grade A: Dark Color & Robust Taste is the variety to choose for glazing the pork shoulder for its deep, earthy, caramel flavor. Dijon mustard delivers a sharp, tangy bite — perfect for standing up to the rich meaty flavor of pulled pork.
Store leftovers in the defatted cooking liquid to further infuse the meat, but for serving on sandwiches, I whisk up a simple sauce of maple, mustard, and dried oregano to drizzle over the meat. I cook pulled pork at least once a month, serve it on buns with pink pickled onions for supper, and toss it on a salad for lunch the next day. I suggest vacuum-sealing and freezing at least a serving or two as a gift to your future self.
Slow Cooker Maple-Mustard Pulled Pork
For the pork:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
For the maple-mustard sauce:
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Hamburger or slider buns
Pickled red onion
Make the pork: Trim off any large pieces of fat from the surface of the pork. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and oregano evenly over all sides of the pork, then rub the seasonings into the meat. Place in the crock of a 6-quart or larger slow cooker.
Place the maple syrup and mustard in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over the pork, then turn the pork so that all sides are coated in the mixture. Pour the broth or water, tamari or soy sauce, and vinegar around, but not on top of, the pork. Scatter the onion pieces and garlic cloves around the pork. Cover and refrigerate the pork in the crock overnight.
Place the crock in the slow cooker and cook on the LOW setting until the meat can be easily shredded, 8 to 10 hours. Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Pour the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a measuring cup and discard the solids. Skim the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid.
When it is cool enough to handle, use 2 forks or your fingers to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Discard any large pieces of fat. Transfer the pork back to the slow cooker. Add some of the cooking liquid until moist but not wet and toss to combine. Reserve the rest of the cooking liquid for storing leftovers.
Make the sauce: Place all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pile the pulled pork onto buns, drizzle with some sauce, and top with pickled onions.
- Storage: Combine leftover pulled pork and the extra cooking liquid in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.