Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork is cooked low and slow, then pulled into tender, juicy shreds and served up barbecue-style on a buttery brioche bun.
Table of Contents
- What You’ll Need
- How to Make Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
- Do You Remove the Skin from Pork Shoulder Before Slow Cooking?
- Tips for Success
- My Favorite Ways to Use Pulled Pork
- How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
- Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
- More Pork Recipes You'll Love
- Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches Recipe
- More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series
I am always up for good BBQ. And a sweet & spicy slow cooker pulled pork sandwich is quite possibly my favorite thing ever when it comes to BBQ.
I have made pulled pork many times and many ways, including on our smoker, but let me tell you, this version made in the slow cooker is the hands down winner.
Slow cooker pulled pork is one of my secret weapons for entertaining. You brine it overnight, then in the morning you rub it with the perfect blend of spices and let it cook all day in the slow cooker. This means it’s excellent for when you’re having people over because the bulk of the work is done long before guests arrive.
Honestly, this sweet & spicy slow cooker pulled pork is so good that all you really need is a brioche bun and maybe a little Carolina mustard BBQ sauce for an amazing sandwich. But if you really want to take it to the next level, you can build it up with some tangy coleslaw, crispy onion strings, and maybe even some melty provolone or sharp cheddar.
Me? I'm a purist—just meat, bun, and a little sauce and I'm a happy girl.
(If you like these sandwiches, be sure to try some of our other popular barbecue recipes like Slow Roasted Oven BBQ Beef Brisket, Rhubarb BBQ Sauce Grilled Chicken, Perfect Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet BBQ Pork Rub, and BBQ Chicken Cobb Salad.)
What You’ll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
For the Dry Rub:
- Brown sugar – Dark brown sugar will give you a more molasses-y flavor, but light brown sugar is just fine too.
- Ground cumin
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Chili powder
- Ground pepper
- Paprika – I use an everyday sweet paprika, but smoked paprika will also work. Just don’t use a hot paprika unless you want extra spicy pulled pork!
- Cayenne pepper – This is optional.
For the Brine Solution:
- Cold water
- Brown sugar – Again, light or dark brown sugar will work.
- Bay leaves
- Dry rub mix
What Is the Best Cut of Meat for Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork can be made from any fatty pork roast; in fact, the higher the fat content, the easier it shreds and the more delicious and tender it becomes.
That said, the best cut of pork is the pork shoulder due to the fat content and connective tissues; it’s also a very flavorful part of the pig. You can find the pork shoulder in the store labeled as either the shoulder, a pork butt, or a picnic roast.
How to Make Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Ready for the best pulled pork you’ve ever had? Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Prepare. Mix all of the dry rub ingredients together in an airtight container. Combine all of the brine ingredients in large container or an extra-large Ziploc bag, mixing well to dissolve the salt.
Brine the pork. Rinse the pork shoulder and add it to the bag or container with the brine. Seal the bag or container and refrigerate the pork and brine for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Rub the pork. Remove the pork from the brine solution and pat it dry with paper towels. Place it in a crock pot or baking pan that is larger than the shoulder by at least a inch in length and width and at least 3 inches in depth. Sprinkle the dry rub onto the pork and rub it to coat all sides.
To slow cook the pork: Position the pork shoulder with the fat layer on top. Cook on high for 6 to 8 hours, or on low for 8 to 10 hours, until the pork is tender and the meat shreds easily with a fork. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and discard juices. Shred the pork with two forks, discarding any fat and returning the shredded meat to the slow cooker to keep it warm.
To slow roast the pork: Place the roasting pan in the oven and cook on the middle rack at 225ºF, or until the center of the shoulder reaches 200ºF on a meat thermometer. This should take about 8 to 10 hours. Let the meat rest outside of the oven until it cools down enough to shred.
Serve. Spoon the pulled pork onto brioche buns with barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
Do You Remove the Skin from Pork Shoulder Before Slow Cooking?
When you buy the pork shoulder you will notice that there is a thick layer of fat on one side of the roast. As unsightly as it may be, you want this hunk of fat left on for cooking purposes.
Make sure the fat layer is facing up so that as the roast cooks, the juices can flavor the pork. Just keep in mind that when cooked in the slow cooker, the fat and skin will not crackle, and it will remain somewhat soft as opposed to cooking it in the oven.
Tips for Success
These tips will help make sure your slow cooker pulled pork turns out perfect:
- Brine the pork overnight. This is an important step in the process because it helps to tenderize and flavor the pork. Don’t rush it! It needs to brine for at least 8 hours.
- Low and slow is key. The pork shoulder is a tough cut of meat, so it needs to be cooked slowly in order to break down the connective tissues and fat. If you’re using the oven method, cooking at a low temperature for a long amount of time is important; turn up the temperature to try to cut down on the time and you’ll end up with tough meat.
- Toast the buns. I like to lightly butter the sliced side of my buns and toast them in a pan until barely golden brown before piling the pulled pork on them. This helps keep them from getting mushy from the juicy pork.
My Favorite Ways to Use Pulled Pork
Maybe the best part about this recipe is its versatility. Don't just use your sweet & spicy slow cooker pulled pork in a sandwich!
- Try topping a salad or nachos with it.
- Add pulled pork to a pizza.
- Fold it into tacos, quesadillas, or burritos.
- Pile it onto baked sweet potatoes with barbecue sauce and shredded smoked cheddar or gouda.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Leftover pulled pork will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
Heat it in a saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop or in the microwave until it’s warmed through.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
Yes, this recipe can be frozen. To freeze the pork, let it cool completely and then place it in a freezer-safe container or bag. The pork will keep in the freezer for 3 months.
When you're ready to eat it, thaw the pork in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat it in a saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
More Pork Recipes You'll Love
- Kalua Pork (Slow Cooker or Instant Pot)
- Slow Cooker Cuban Mojo Pork
- Crock Pot Pork Green Chili
- Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork Sliders
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- 4-6 pound boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 Tablespoon onion powder
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon ground pepper
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- ½ Tablespoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 8 cups cold water
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 Tablespoons dry rub mix
- Mix all dry rub ingredients together in an airtight container.
- Combine all brine ingredients in large container or an extra-large Ziploc bag. Mix well to combine and dissolve the salt. Rinse the pork shoulder and carefully add it to the brine. Close the bag and refrigerate the pork and the brine for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Remove the pork shoulder from brine solution, pat dry with paper towels, and place in a crock pot or baking pan that is bigger than the shoulder by at least a inch in length and width and at least 3 inches deep. Sprinkle all of the dry rub onto the surface of the meat and rub it in well to coat all sides.
- Position the pork shoulder with the fat-layer on top. If using a slow cooker, cook on high for 6-8 hours or on low for 8-10 hours, until tender and the meat shreds easily with a fork. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and discard juices. Shred with two fork, discarding any fat and returning the shredded meat to the slow cooker to stay warm. If using a roasting pan in the oven, cook uncovered on the middle rack at 225 degrees F until the center of the shoulder reaches 200 degrees F when probed with a meat thermometer, about 8-10 hours, then let the meat rest outside of the oven while it cools down enough to shred with forks.
- Serve on brioche buns with barbeque sauce and coleslaw, if you want to get all fancy. I like to lightly butter the sliced side of my buns and toast them in a pan until barely golden brown before piling the pulled pork on them.
- You could also use a bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt. If so, look for one that is 5-7 pounds.
- Leftover pulled pork will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Heat it in a saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop or in the microwave until it’s warmed through.
More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series
Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • Idaho • Illinois • Indiana • Iowa • Kansas • Kentucky • Louisiana • Maine • Maryland • Massachusetts • Michigan • Minnesota • Mississippi • Missouri • Montana • Nebraska • New Jersey • New York • Oregon • Puerto Rico • South Carolina • South Dakota • Texas • Utah • Wisconsin
This post was originally published in September, 2016. The photos and content were updated in August, 2022.