Why It Works
- Homemade barbecue sauce has way better flavor than bottled versions.
- Cooking the pork shoulder in the Dutch oven allows the meat to slowly grow tender, while developing a bark-like crust on top.
- Adding only half of the barbecue sauce at the beginning keeps the pork from coming out too wet.
Just as there are great burgers and bad ones, not all indoor pulled pork is created equal. This recipe produces pulled pork that shreds into large, tender chunks that are moist but not wet, with a flavor that balances sweet molasses, bright vinegar, heat, and just a hint of smoke. Oh, and it's darn easy, to boot.
- 1 tablespoon (about 9g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 5 tablespoons dark brown sugar (2 1/4 ounces; 65g)
- Large pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon (2g) ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon (1g) ground fennel seed
- 1 tablespoon (6g) paprika
- 1 teaspoon (2g) ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon (2g) freshly ground black pepper
- 1 whole bone-in or boneless pork butt (5 to 7 pounds; 2.25 to 3kg)
- 1 cup ketchup (8 ounces; about 225g)
- 1/2 cup dark molasses (4 ounces; about 115g)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) high-quality liquid smoke, such as Wright's (see note)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) brown mustard
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) hot sauce
- 1/2 cup (120ml) cider vinegar, divided
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, finely minced (about 6 ounces; 170g)
- 1 cup (240ml) bourbon
- 1/2 cup (120ml) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock or water
Adjust oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). Combine salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, coriander, fennel seed, paprika, cumin, and black pepper in a small bowl and mix until homogeneous. Season pork with 2 to 3 tablespoons spice mixture, making sure to rub it on all sides. Reserve remaining spice mixture.
Whisk together ketchup, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, mustard, hot sauce, and half of cider vinegar in a medium bowl. Whisk in remaining spice mixture. Set aside.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add pork and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes total. (Pork will brown fast because of the sugar. Do not let it burn.) Add onion and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until softened, about 2 minutes.
Turn off burner and add bourbon. Relight burner. Carefully ignite the bourbon with a long match or lighter. (Stand back and make sure there is nothing flammable above it; it will produce tall flames.) Let cook until flames die out, about 2 minutes.
Add half of sauce mixture and chicken stock or water. Cover Dutch oven, transfer to oven, and cook until pork is just starting to turn tender, about 4 hours. Remove lid and continue cooking until a knife or fork shows very little resistance when twisted inside the meat and a dark bark has formed, about 1 hour longer.
Transfer pork to a large bowl, reserving liquid in pot. Using a ladle, skim off excess fat and discard. Add reserved sauce and remaining vinegar to pot and whisk to combine. When pork is cool enough to handle, shred with two forks.
Transfer shredded pork to pot and toss with sauce. (If making ahead to serve over the course of several meals, store pork and sauce separately, adding sauce only to the portion you are serving immediately.) Season to taste with more salt, sugar, liquid smoke, or cider vinegar. Serve.
Use a high-quality liquid smoke, with no ingredients other than water and smoke. Avoid brands with molasses or vinegar, as these can affect flavor. For a stronger smoke flavor, combine 2 tablespoons (30ml) liquid smoke and 3/4 cup kosher salt (7 1/2 ounces; 210g) with 1 gallon (3.75L) cold water. Submerge pork and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 8.