I can’t think of a more crowd pleasing recipe than this easy slow cooker bbq pulled pork. Pork shoulder cooks all day over onions and garlic with a few secret ingredients (more on that below!) until it is ultra tender. The result is juicy shredded pork that you can serve as-is, or that you can toss with barbecue sauce. It’s an easy-to-make meal that feels downright celebratory, even if it’s a regular old Tuesday night. Don’t miss my step-by-step video below!

Overhead shot of a pulled pork in a slow cooker, with bbq pulled pork sandwiches alongside.

Versatile & easy pulled pork recipe

This recipe is from my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker: Reinvent the Slow Cooked Meal. It’s one of my staples, and I make it ALL THE TIME. While the pulled pork is perfect for hectic weekdays, it’s also a fantastic meal for entertaining (think summer parties, winter snow days, football games, potlucks, etc!).

Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker book cover.

Slow cooker pulled pork

You don’t even need to break out a skillet or turn on your oven for this easy pulled pork recipe! The pork is cooked in a slow cooker (i.e. Crockpot), meaning it does its thing all day unattended. Whether you’re going to work, hitting the slopes, spending the day at the beach, or just hanging out on the couch, the slow cooker will do all the work for you (without heating up your kitchen!). 

Close up of a slow cooker bbq pulled pork sandwich with a bite taken out.

What’s the best cut of meat for pulled pork?

You will need a four- to-five pound pork shoulder or pork butt, also called Boston butt (pork butt is actually part of the shoulder). I prefer to use a boneless shoulder or butt, which cooks faster and yields more meat, but you could use a bone-in shoulder if that’s what you have. Since shoulder is well marbled it’s perfect for slow cooking, turning juicy and tender. 

Pork shoulder on a cutting board.

Sometimes pork shoulder or butt is sold with a very thick layer of fat (sometimes with the skin). You’ll want to trim off most of the fat (and all of the skin, if necessary) before cooking. There should be just a very thin layer of white on top. 

Pulled pork spice rub

A simple spice rub gives the pork shoulder a rich, robust flavor. The rub is made with smoked paprika (for a lightly smokey flavor), granulated garlic (because garlic makes everything better), ground mustard (for brightness), cayenne pepper (for a subtle touch of heat) and brown sugar (for balance and sweetness).

Spices for the pork spice rub in a small bowl.

If you have the time, rub the pork with the spice rub the day before and refrigerate it overnight. That will allow the seasonings to permeate into the meat.

Pork shoulder coated in the spice rub, on a cutting board.

Honey bbq slow cooker pulled pork 

Instead of adding water to the slow cooker, the pork slowly cooks over a bed of onions and garlic with a splash of apple cider vinegar and honey. The apple cider vinegar provides brightness while the honey lends a touch of sweetness, creating an irresistible sauce. For a bbq version, stir in barbecue sauce at the end to taste.

Honey bbq pulled pork in a crockpot.

How do you make pulled pork in the slow cooker?

  • Rub a pork shoulder with the spice rub and refrigerate overnight if you have the time. 
  • Layer sliced sweet onions and garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker, and drizzle in apple cider vinegar and honey. Arrange the pork on top. 
  • Cook the pork until it’s very tender when pierced with a knife, about 9 to 10 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high. 
  • Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let it cool slightly. Shred the pork, discarding any pieces of cartilage. 
  • Using a ladle, skim off enough fat and liquid in the slow cooker to measure 1 cup—discard. Transfer the shredded pork back into the slow cooker and toss with the juices. 
Process shot divided into four quadrants, showing the steps for making bbq pulled pork.

Barbecue pork sandwiches

You can stop there and serve the pulled pork all on its own, or you can toss it with your favorite barbecue sauce! I love to pile it into sandwiches and top it with this crunchy red cabbage and sweet corn coleslaw.

BBQ pulled pork on a bun topped with coleslaw.

Can you make pulled pork ahead?

Yes! You can make it up to 4 days in advance (reheat it gently on the stovetop, in the slow cooker, or in the microwave). It also freezes beautifully. If you’re not feeding a crowd, freeze half of the cooked pork for an easy meal down the line. 

What can I make with pulled pork besides sandwiches?

The pulled pork is also awesome in tacos, arepas, rice bowls, stir-fries, nachos and over grits. If you’re making bbq pork, try scattering it over pizzas or flatbreads. 

Hand grabbing a slow cooker bbq pork sandwich.

FAQ

What liquid do you use for pulled pork?

For the best flavor, use mix of apple cider vinegar and honey. The vinegar provides brightness while the honey lends sweetness. 

Can you cook pulled pork too long in the slow cooker?

It’s pretty hard to overcook a pork shoulder in a slow cooker, but you’ll want to start checking it about an hour before the cooking time is done since different slow cookers cook at different rates. The pork is done once a knife can easily slide in and out. 

How do you shred pork easily?

Transfer the cooked pork to a large cutting board and let it cool slightly. Use two forks to separate the meat into large chunks, then shred those chunks into strands. I prefer to keep thicker shreds of juicy meat, but you can finely shred it if you prefer. 

Close up of a bbq pork sandwich with a bite taken out.

Tips for making this easy pulled pork recipe:

  • You’ll need a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker for this recipe. (I love this 6-quart KitchenAid model.)
  • The recipe calls for a 4-5 pound boneless pork shoulder (also called pork butt). You can use a bone-in shoulder, but it will take longer to cook (and will yield a bit less meat).
  • Trim off most of the fat (and any skin) from the pork shoulder before cooking.
  • To make bbq pulled pork, toss the cooked pork with your favorite barbecue sauce to taste.
  • I love to serve bbq pulled pork sandwiches with this Red Cabbage Coleslaw!
  • Find a SLEW of other slow cooker recipes in my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker!

What to serve with pulled pork:

Other slow cooker recipes to try:

Watch the video!

Get the recipe!

Easy Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

Recipe from Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker, by Nicki Sizemore (Storey Publishing, 2019)
My friend Tanya lives in Florida and swears by her slow cooker in the sweltering days of summer. She inspired me to start using my slow cooker in the warm months as well, and now it’s my secret weapon for getting dinner on the table without heating up our kitchen. These pulled pork sandwiches are one of our favorite meals in the height of summer, but also in the dark days of winter—they’re just as delicious after a day at the pool as they are after a day on the slopes. I like to pile a crunchy cabbage and corn slaw right on top of the sandwiches. For maximum flavor, rub the spice mixture over the pork and refrigerate it overnight before cooking.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time7 hrs
Total Time7 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: easy pulled pork recipe, slow cooker bbq pulled pork, slow cooker pulled pork
Servings: 8 -10 people

Ingredients

Spice rub

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 4- to 5- pound boneless pork shoulder roast (also called pork butt), trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slow cooker

  • 1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½-1 cup barbecue sauce, to taste

For serving

  • Buns
  • Barbecue sauce

Instructions

Rub the pork

  • In a small bowl, mix together the smoked paprika, granulated garlic, ground mustard, cayenne pepper and brown sugar. Season the pork generously with salt and pepper, and rub it all over with the spice mixture. If you have the time, refrigerate the pork in an airtight container or ziptop bag overnight.

Assemble the slow cooker

  • Arrange the onion and garlic in the bottom of a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker and pour in the vinegar and honey. Place the pork on top. Cover and cook until the pork is tender and pulls apart easily with a fork, about 9 to 10 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high.
  • Switch the slow cooker off, and transfer the pork to a cutting board. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes. Using two forks, coarsely shred the pork, discarding any large chunks of fat or sinew.
  • Using a ladle, skim off enough fat and liquid in the slow cooker to measure 1 cup—discard. Transfer the shredded pork back into the slow cooker with the remaining liquid and onions, and add barbecue sauce to taste. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

Serve

  • Pile the pulled pork into buns and serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side for drizzling. If you'd like, serve the sandwiches with this Red Cabbage and Sweet Corn Coleslaw!

Notes

Do Ahead: The spice rubbed pork shoulder can be refrigerated for up to 1 day before cooking. The cooked pulled pork can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Tips:
  • You’ll need a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker for this recipe. (I love this 6-quart KitchenAid model.)
  • The recipe calls for a 4-5 pound boneless pork shoulder (also called pork butt). You can use a bone-in shoulder, but it will take longer to cook (and will yield a bit less meat).
  • Trim off most of the fat (and any skin) from the pork shoulder before cooking.
  • To make bbq pulled pork, toss the cooked pork with your favorite barbecue sauce to taste.
  • I love to serve bbq pulled pork sandwiches with this Red Cabbage Coleslaw!
  • Find a SLEW of other slow cooker recipes in my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker!

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