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Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Honey Barbecue Sauce

We feed a lot of people every New Year’s Eve.

Over the years, our party hosts have expanded their digs from a condo to a rambling farmhouse, and the party start time has worked its way from dinnertime into the late afternoon.

So I’ve tasked myself with finding ever more creative ways to keep the masses happy without bankrupting us.

Apart from vegetable-loaded dishes like this year’s sleeper hit, sweet and salty roasted Brussels sprouts, I’ve turned to big batch comfort food.

slow cooker pulled pork
Photo: Casey Barber

Casseroles, flotillas of pasta, and big but cheap-ish cuts of meat like whole chickens and hams are how we fill the parade of guests passing through as the hours stretch to midnight.

For this year’s honey-themed party, I knew slow cooker pulled pork with honey barbecue sauce would most definitely be on the menu.

Not only does honey lend itself so well to the spicy sweetness of homemade barbecue sauce, but we’d get mountains of juicy shredded meat from one of my most favorite cuts: the economical but flavorful pork shoulder.

slow cooker pulled pork sandwiches
Photo: Casey Barber

The small wrench in my plan was that I had no way to do true slow-cooked barbecue on December 31.

Given that we’ve rung in many a New Year in the middle of a blizzard (this is Boston, after all), there was no way I’d thumb my nose at fate by attempting any outdoor cooking for the party.

slow cooker pulled pork

There was even less of a chance that I’d be able to devote time to a dish that required constant charcoal monitoring and meat basting. So I faked it.

Doing slow cooker pulled pork lets you simmer the pork shoulder overnight, which makes it a godsend for party hosts.

It gives you time to get the nasty stuff out of the way—like shredding multiple pounds of meat—without overheating your home with a hot oven in summer heat.

slow cooker pulled pork sandwiches
Photo: Casey Barber

Slow cooker pulled pork reheats incredibly well: marbled with fat, it cooks low and slow in its own juices and retains flavor so you don’t need to worry about it drying out.

Keeping it doused in sticky-spicy barbecue sauce doesn’t hurt either.

And yet.

Even with the two pork shoulders I cooked and shredded, a mountain of marinated grilled skirt steak, a quadruple batch of cornbread, pounds of roasted shrimp, platters of salads—and of course, the Brussels sprouts—our guests cleared us out of food one hour before midnight.

What we learned? You can pass off a block of Cabot cheddar to pretty much anyone at 11:30 pm and they’ll think it’s the most incredible gourmet offering in the world.

slow cooker pulled pork
Photo: Casey Barber

Which, yes, it sort of is. But it’s nowhere near as belly-filling as this slow cooker pulled pork.

With homemade honey barbecue sauce or your own favorite sauce, it is a party pleaser in every sense of the word.

slow cooker pulled pork

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Honey Barbecue Sauce

Yield: about 3 pounds pulled pork
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 hours
Total Time: 10 hours 30 minutes

This slow cooker pulled pork lets you feed a crowd without mess or difficulty—or monitoring the meat! Toss it with homemade honey barbecue sauce.

Ingredients

Pulled Pork

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 4- to 5-pound bone-in or picnic pork shoulder
  • 2 medium red or yellow onions, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 medium to large carrots, rinsed and cut in half
  • 4 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 12-ounce bottle brown ale or other dark and non-hoppy beer
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 cups honey barbecue sauce

Honey Barbecue Sauce

  • 3/4 cup (252 grams) honey
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup (168 grams) Heinz ketchup
  • 1/4 cup (53 grams) packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 12-ounce bottles brown ale or other dark and non-hoppy beer
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Instructions

Make the pulled pork:

  1. Stir the salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, coriander, and celery seed together in a small bowl, then rub the spice blend liberally onto the pork shoulder.
  2. Optional: place the pork on a rimmed baking sheet and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let the pork rest in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
  3. Place the onions, carrots, and garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker.
  4. Set the rubbed pork shoulder on top of the aromatics, fat-side up. 
  5. Whisk the beer and tomato paste together and pour around the pork shoulder.
  6. Cover and cook on low for 10 hours.

Make the honey barbecue sauce:

  1. Whisk the honey, tomato paste, ketchup, and brown sugar together in a small (3 quart) Dutch oven or 2-quart saucepan.
  2. Place over medium heat and whisk in the beer, vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and paprika.
  3. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently as needed to reduce the foam caused by the beer.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low. 
  5. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened.

Assemble and serve:

  1. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and discard the vegetables. 
  2. When the pork is cool enough to handle, shred with your fingers into bite-size strips, removing any remaining large chunks of fat. Or use your stand mixer to shred the pork!
  3. Toss the shredded pork with 2 cups honey barbecue sauce to coat. Serve with additional sauce on the side.

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13 Comments

  1. Great recipe. I once did it on the grill and it was a hot, long, boring and miserable experience.

  2. I love my BBQ, but adding honey to the sauce is something I’ve never done before. I must try it the next time we slow-cook some pork…which will be very soon!

  3. We just had pulled pork last night, but I love this recipe. We will have to try it the next time.

  4. This is a great summer party dish too, especially for those of us not blessed with have a big grill or smoker that you could do an entire shoulder on. I really like this recipe for the meat rub too!

    1. Yes, that rub is pretty darn heavenly. Make double the amount and use it with abandon! (It’s awesome on ribs, roasts, or even portobello mushrooms and zucchini.)

  5. Two questions:

    1) I am not a fennel person — can I leave it out and/or replace it with something? I know it’s only half a teaspoon but I don’t want to throw off the majesty.

    2) Do you have a recommended slow cooker brand/size? I keep deciding I want one, and then falling down the wormhole of looking at reviews on sites like Amazon and Williams-Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel, etc., and of course that sends me spinning in about ten different directions so I end up not buying one at all.

    1. If you’re not a fennel person, I’d just omit it for this one. I find fennel majestic in all forms (seriously, you can eat every part of the plant – how cool is that?) but it’s not the primary flavor in this rub, so you won’t be doing it a disservice by leaving it out.

      And I have conflicting opinions on slow cookers. By far, the easiest ones are those like the Cuisinart multi-cooker, which allow you to brown meat and veg in the unit itself, then those like the All-Clad alumninum insert version, which let you brown in the slow cooker insert on the stove and then place the insert directly in the slow cooker. But those both use dreaded nonstick coating on their inserts, and I’m personally trying to move away from that.

      My slow cooker is All-Clad with a ceramic insert, which is sort of a pain in the ass because if you want to brown meat, you’ve got to do it in a separate pan and then place it in the slow cooker, and after seven years of use, the ceramic is developing some fine cracks. Argh. Slow cookers are totally a wormhole! See why I’m conflicted?

  6. Yum! Wish this post came with a sample! Also, great suggestions on the purchase of a slow-cooker.

  7. Thank you for this! Now could we please get this recipe in the hands of all those people who think sloppy joes are the easy, inexpensive way to feed a crowd? Pork shoulder is SO much tastier and often cheaper per pound than ground round. Plus you can make this ahead…

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