How To Make Carolina-style Pulled Pork — Take 1


The first time I had Carolina-style BBQ was at the Cleveland Rib Cook-off several years ago. I knew the sauce didn’t look like any of the others, so I gave it a try. It was amazing.

I’ve been looking for something similar ever since, but have only found a few examples, and they were like most commercial sauces: corn syrup and spices. So I finally decided to give it a try myself.


4 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons peppercorns
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
whole pork shoulder (~14 pounds)


I’m the only  one in my house who likes really spicy food so I usually have to make things pretty mild, but my standards. (I’m trying to train the girls to like heat … not much luck yet.)

I also didn’t want to ruin 14 pounds of pork on a complete experiment. So this version came out really mild. Really good, but really mild. If you like heat, stay tuned for Take 2 — hopefully later this summer — or try my proposed changes at the end.

One last thing before I get started: I didn’t do this in a smoker. Go ahead, all you southerners reading this: Laugh, yell, curse my daddy for bringing me into this world … whatever you feel compelled to do. But I don’t own a smoker, so that makes it a little hard to cook something in a smoker, okay?

This method works in a regular oven, and is dead simple to do without babysitting it for 14 hours.

The sauce

If you’re using a smoker, you go with a dry rub. I’m braising, so I can just put everything in the sauce. Into the Ninja …

… pour the cider, sugar, peppercorns, salt and mustard and process until the peppercorns are well ground.

Next time I do this, I’ll combine all the dry ingredients first and process into a powder, then add the cider. It took forever to get the pepper cracked, and it still wasn’t ground as much as I’d like.

Rinse the pork shoulder and place in a large pan.

No, bigger than that.

That’s better.

UPDATE: Seriously, you want plenty of extra room in the pan. One of my readers tried this and the liquid overflowed her pan. It wasn’t a big deal right away, but she didn’t realize how much had spilled. The next time she tried to use the oven, she had flames inside. Use a big pan.

Put it in fat side up.

Pour the sauce over.

Cover tightly with foil.

Put in the oven at 250°F and don’t touch it for at least 7 hours. (Oh, did I forget to mention this takes all day? And you have to set the alarm for 6-freaking-a-m to have it ready for dinner?)

When you finally check it, you’ll think it looks ready to eat.

Check the internal temperature with a digital thermometer. It needs to be at least 190°F.

You may notice that’s much higher than I usually recommend for meat. But with pulled pork, you need all the connective tissue to melt. That’s what gives it the incredible tenderness, as well as the rich flavor. And it doesn’t happen until about 190°.

Mine wasn’t quite there yet, so it went back in. Don’t bother re-covering it with the foil. The pork will have given up a lot of liquid, and you want the sauce to start reducing.

If you’re watching the temperature closely, trying to time it for when your guests arrive, be prepared for a plateau just before it’s done. As the connective tissue starts breaking down the temperature won’t move until after it’s mostly done melting. Don’t keep opening the oven door to check or you’ll never get there.

When the temperature has been over 190 for at least 15 minutes go ahead and pull it. Try pulling it apart with a couple of forks, and it should come apart with no resistance.

If you had done this over a smoker all the fat would have cooked off the outside. It’s starting to melt on this one, but I wanted to get it all off without a lot of handling. So it went under the broiler for 15 minutes, until the fat was all crackling. Then it just lifted right off.

Transfer the meat to a separate pan, and pour all the juice into your blender. Or rather as much as will fit.

Yes, there’s more liquid after cooking than before. Let it settle, then pour the grease off the top.

While the juice is separating, start pulling the pork apart. At this point it’s tender enough to do it by hand. But unless you do this for a living, your hands probably aren’t up to handling this much hot meat. So use a couple of forks.

Pull of small chunks at a time or you’ll get overwhelmed by how much meat you’ve got.

When the meat is all ready, process the liquid again to get it nice and consistent.

And pour it over the meat.

Reserve a cup or two and set it out alongside the pan of meat. The large pan of meat.

If you have any left after the first picnic — 8 adults and 9 kids and we still had leftovers (okay, we had hot dogs, too) — divide it into gallon-size zip-top bags and add some of the remaining juice to each one.

When you want to serve it again, warm it up in a pan.

The “classic” way to serve this is on white bread or a plain white hamburger bun. But I like kaiser rolls.

One of my guests used to live in North Carolina, and she brought a little bottle of sauce she got from a friend. So I got to have a spicy one.

And that’s it.

Wait, no that’s not it. I said I would have some recommendations for people who like it spicier.

The dry rub recipes I saw mostly had about two tablespoons of pepper and a tablespoon of salt — just like my recipe — but for a 3-pound piece of pork. I figured that with a rub a lot of the seasoning drips off into the fire along with the fat, so I cut it back.

Next time, I’ll double the pepper, leave the salt where it was, and go up to a tablespoon of mustard powder. And by processing the dry ingredients before adding the vinegar, I’ll get even more of the pepper flavor.

I’ll keep you posted with “Take 2” when I do it again.

Carolina-style Pulled Pork

Carolina-style Pulled Pork


  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • whole pork shoulder (~14 pounds)


Combine all the dry ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until a fine powder. Add the cider vinegar and process again until mixed.

Rinse the pork and place fat-side-up in a large pan. Pour the sauce over. Cover tightly with foil, and place in a 250°F oven for at least 7 hours.

Remove the foil and check the internal temperature. Return to the oven until it is 190°F. Put under the broiler to crisp the fat on top.

Pour off and reserve the liquid. Separate the grease out and discard.

Remove the fat layer and pull the rest of the pork apart with forks or tongs. Pour the de-fatted liquid back in.


  1. You’re funny and I always enjoy reading your informative posts. My neighbour here in Kansas smokes their meat all the time in this HUGE smoker. What a wonderful smell when they do this. This would be a great dish to bring to a cookout & I’ve saved it to try. Thanks for the inspiration :)

  2. Looks good Drew!! I am hoping to make pulled pork tacos soon!!!

  3. Lydia, save some to make nachos with. Yummm.

  4. i can’t wait to try this! thank you!

  5. Add some cole slaw to the sandwich…yum. Sounds weird, true…but that’s the way it’s served around here.

    Now I know what I want for lunch…

  6. That’s a good segue to ask my question: Anyone have a recipe for the slaw they serve at Panini’s in Cleveland? It looks like just cabbage, vinegar and pepper, so I think it would be great with this.

  7. Jennifer says:


  8. Barbara says:

    I’m glad you went ahead with your recipe so us “normal” folks who don’t have fancy outdoor equipment can still have delicious pulled pork! I think pork shoulder has to be my favorite part of the pig… and I do love me some pig!

  9. Barbara says:

    Oh, ye gads! I used improper grammar! Do you know to which line I refer? lol

  10. As a Texan, I’ve always found Carolina-style barbecue sauces to be a tad on the sweet side and not nearly “smoky” enough. But pulled pork? That’s something I can get behind whole-hog…so to speak.

  11. Jan, there are as many people claiming the One True Carolina Style as there are claiming the One True Texas Style: with and without tomato, with and without mustard, with both, very sweet, very hot, and every other combination you can think of.

    The one constant — as far as I can tell from what’s on the Internet — is that the vinegar is more prominent than the tomatoes, so it tends to be thin instead of thick and syrupy.

  12. Drew, Drew! Are you going to peel all the crucnhy fat back from the hog and not include any in the pulled pork!! The craklings are what make it! I know we are all more health concious and all……but there is a time for splurging! I make a great cole slaw with my pulled hog that has some of the carklings with the carmelized rub in it! Also, a product called Liquid Smoke or Hickory Seasoning adds great smokey taste…for those without a smoker.

  13. Dana, the cracklings weren’t ready because of the way I cooked it. Another half-hour or so under the broiler would have done it, but I needed to get the rest of the meat ready before our guests arrived.

    And I thought about the smoke flavoring (I’ve got hickory) but like I said with the other seasoning, I wanted to start mild and work my way up to something more intense.

  14. Drew, I am looking for a really great coleslaw recipe. The Mel-O-Dee drive-in in New Carlisle Ohio (off I-75) has the most delicious coleslaw I have ever eaten. They proclaim themselves as having the “world-famous” recipe. Have you ever had theirs? It is sweet and creamy… absolutely the ambrosia of coleslaw. Please do an article on coleslaw.

  15. I have 13 lbs. of pork in the oven right now, just over the 7-hour mark. It smells wonderful and I’m really looking forward to dinner!

  16. Great post once again! Love the pics and wonerful instructions. I enjoy that you are willing to include your “not so perfect technique”. Cooking is a journey with some bumps along the way. I am now hungry for pulled pork now, but do not want to run the oven in the summer. I have an electric roaster I would like to try this in, removing the meat at the end and putting under the broiler as you did. I like the idea of adding the liquid smoke. Let you know how it turns out! Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. Could this be cooked in a crockpot overnight as well?

    • Holly, if you’ve got an older crockpot with a very low “Low”, or one of the better ones where there’s actually a temperature setting and you can set it below 170 degrees, then yes. Newer crockpots generally end up hotter than old ones, so unless you want the pork for lunch, you can start it in the morning and have it done by dinner time.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DrewKime, Breaking Food News. Breaking Food News said: How To Make Carolina-style Pulled Pork — Take 1 via […]

  2. […] Killer »How To Make Braised SpareribsBy Drew | Published: June 22, 2010After making the Carolina style pulled pork, I decided to try the same technique on some spareribs. Did it work? Let me put it this way: I did […]

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