Barbecue means different things in different parts of the country, but for Southerners, the gold standard in barbecue is pulled pork. The arguments over how it should be prepared, sauced and served can -- and do -- last several lifetimes, but the pork itself is uniformly tender and richly flavored. For those who want the flavor without the fuss, a slow-cooker makes excellent pulled pork easy.
Prepare the Pork
Pulled pork begins with a Boston butt or other well-marbled shoulder portion. Some recipes call for a loin, which can be much too lean for slow cooking, becoming dry and chewy rather than tender. For the best flavor, rub the pork shoulder the night before with either a dry spice rub or a seasoning paste, then wrap it and refrigerate it overnight. Most spice rubs include sweet or smoked paprika, cumin, onion and garlic powder, and cayenne or other hot pepper. Cover the pork first with yellow mustard, if you prefer, and add brown sugar or molasses as a sweetener, or use dried dressing or dip mix.
Unwrap the pork butt, put it in the slow-cooker and turn the heat setting to low. Depending on the size of the roast, it may need to cook for as long as 12 hours for its internal temperature to reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. A slow-cooker won't create the smoky flavor that a barbecue does; replicate the smokiness by adding liquid smoke or smoked paprika to the pork as it cooks. Turn the butt at least once, so the whole butt spends time immersed in the cooking juices.
Pulling the Pork
When the pork is done, remove it from the slow-cooker and set it aside. Drain the cooking juices and skim off the fat, then boil the juices in a small saucepan until they thicken to a sauce consistency. When the pork is cool enough to handle, shred it into thin, flaky chunks with gloved hands or two forks. Discard any large fatty pieces. Return the pork to the slow-cooker on its low or keep-warm setting and moisten it with the reduced cooking juices.
Some like their pulled pork mixed with barbecue sauce, while others prefer to add sauces when they make up a sandwich. If you like yours premixed, add the sauce sparingly in the last 20 minutes before the pork is served. Serve the pulled pork on soft rolls, accompanied by coleslaw or sweet pickles. Complete your meal with a selection of potato or pasta salads, green salad or vegetables and dip.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.