This pulled pork recipe is tender, juicy, packed with flavor and finished off with crispy edges. What could be better than that?! Whether you decide to serve this dish extra crispy as carnitas style tacos, or add some extra sauce and serve it on a bun as juicy chipotle-spiced pulled pork sandwiches, this pork is must-have at your next cook-out. Save time by making this ahead and storing it in the fridge overnight, and just heat it up on the grill or your stove for a no-fuss crowd pleaser.
Thanks to my food-loving Uncle, I came into possession of a very large bag of dried chipotle peppers. They smelled so good! I've been spending weeks coming up with various ways to use them, and I'm not even close to being out of ideas. Chipotle peppers have a smoky, sweet smell that goes well with so many different flavors, but the first thing I wanted to try them with was pork shoulder. This recipe works particularly well for a group or party since you can make the pork and shred it the day before (or longer since it also freezes very well), and heat it up when you're ready to eat. Not only does it mean less work for you, but you'll also have a lot more time to focus on making some fun sides and/or just enjoying yourself, which is something we could all use after this past year!
A Note on the Ingredients
Meat. If you can't find a boneless, skinless pork shoulder, you can also use pork butt/Boston butt, which is a slightly different cut, but works just as well. As long as you have a nicely marbled cut of pork, you won't have any trouble.
Chipotle peppers. When looking for dried peppers, look for peppers that have a flexible feel to them. Old peppers will be dry and snap like a potato chip. Avoid these because they will have less flavor. For the best flavor, they should feel kind of like flexible leather and smell fragrant. Shop stores and brands that have a high turnover so you can be sure you're not getting peppers that have been left on the shelf for months.
Shallots. I really like shallots for this recipe because of the great flavor they bring while not overpowering the sauce you'll use later on. I have not tested this recipe with regular onions, so I cannot endorse a substitution.
Making This Recipe
You can make this recipe in the slow cooker or in a dutch oven depending on what you have at home. If you'll be making it in your dutch oven, preheat your oven to 325 F.
Prep your rub by combining the cinnamon, cumin, oregano, salt, and the zest from a lime. Then roughly chop the shallot and garlic cloves. For the peppers, I like to use kitchen shears. I first cut across the top to remove the stem. Then I slice down the side to open the pepper fully. Once it's open, you can scrape out the seeds and membranes. After the seeds have been removed, I like to use the shears to cut the peppers into small slices so they blend easier later on.
In the bottom of your dutch oven or slow cooker, combine the orange juice and chicken stock (NOTE: I've tested this recipe with this amount of liquid in both the slow cooker and dutch oven. No additional liquid is necessary). Rub the outside of the pork with the spice mixture, set it in the center of your pot and sprinkle the garlic, shallot, and peppers around and on top of the pork. You'll notice in the photo that, if there are any crevices, that I've shoved some of the peppers, onions, and garlic, down into them to make sure the flavor really penetrates. The cut of meat you see in the photo is a pork butt. You are far more likely to have crevices with the pork butt. If you're using a pork shoulder, you can make some deep slashes in the meat and stuff it with the aromatics, if you like, in order to get the same effect.
The dutch oven will need to cook at 325 F for 3-4 hours. Ovens vary, so check it at about 3 hours to see if it's tender enough to shred. I usually take a couple of forks and poke at it to see if it falls apart. If it doesn't, put it back in for the full 4 hours. About halfway through the cooking time, I also flip the meat to make sure each side has equal time in the cooking juices, so the flavor is consistent throughout.
If you are using the slow cooker, you should set it to low for 8 hours. You could also put it on high for 4 hours, but I don't think the result is as tender, so do so at your own risk. When I need this the same day, I tend to use the dutch oven, but the slow cooker is definitely better for making it in advance, since you can leave it alone for long stretches of time without worry.
After the meat is cooked, remove the meat from the cooking vessel and transfer the liquid (along with any remaining solids) to a blender. Take care to make sure the liquid has cooled, or it will be dangerous to blend. Once blended, you should have a very thick, fragrant, sauce-like liquid. This liquid will be used to add some flavor back to the meat to make sure it's seasoned evenly, but also to crisp it up. I do not skim the fat off of this liquid. The rendered fat in it helps to fry the meat to produce crispy edges on the final product.
If you have made this in advance, you can either shred it the night before or the day of. Either way, add a little of the sauce to keep it from drying out, then refrigerate until you're ready to use; continue with the recipe as written.
If you'd like to freeze it, I highly suggest shredding first, then freezing it. You can also freeze the sauce without an issue. To reduce the defrost time of the sauce, I would suggest freezing it in a zip top freezer bag laid flat in the freezer to increase the surface area. Be sure to use it within 3 months. When you are ready to cook, move it to the fridge to defrost for about 24 hours, then continue with the recipe as written.
Chipotle Pulled Pork
Makes 12 servings
4 lb boneless, skinless picnic ham (pork shoulder) or pork butt
1½ Tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tsp ground cumin
2 Tsp dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
Zest of 1 whole lime
3/4 Cup orange juice
1/2 Cup chicken stock
3 Large shallots, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
3 Dried chipotle peppers, seeds, stems and membranes removed.
5 Large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, cumin, oregano, salt, and lime zest, and rub over the entire surface of the meat.
Add orange juice and chicken stock to your pot, place the meat in the center, then add the remaining ingredients around and on top of the meat.
For slow cooker: Cook on low for 8 hours. Flip the meat at least once during cooking.
For dutch oven: Cover and cook at 325 F for 3-4 hours, until it shreds easily with a fork. Flip the meat at least once during cooking.
Allow to cool slightly, then transfer pork to a large bowl and shred using two forks. Transfer the cooking liquid (along with any solids) to a blender. Blend until you achieve a puree and set aside.
Add enough of the blended liquid to coat the shredded meat and toss.
Stovetop: Heat a lightly greased or non-stick pan on medium-high. Add enough meat to cover the bottom of the pan. If you would like it very crispy, work in smaller batches. Depending on the amount of fat rendered in your pot, and crispy you would like the meat, you may need to add a little canola oil. Fry, tossing occasionally, until meat is hot and the edges begin to crisp; serve.
Broiler: Spread shredded meat on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil, tossing occasionally, at 500 F for 3-5 minutes or until edges begin to brown and crisp; Serve.
Grill: Line a grill topper or grill tray with foil, pre-heat grill to 500 F and follow the same instructions for the broiler; serve.
To enjoy this as a pulled pork sandwich, I add a little extra of the blended liquid and just cook until hot so it stays juicy. If you'd like to add bbq sauce as well, I would recommend a vinegar based sauce to compliment the flavors. It's then served on a bun topped with some quick pickled vegetables and side of cole slaw or pepper hash and tostones.
Easy Quick Pickled Vegetables
For some quick pickled veggies to top your
sandwich or tacos, simply mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water, then add your sliced vegetables and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
My favorites to use are jalapeños and red radishes, which I keep in separate containers to preserve their individual flavors, but you can also mix them without issue. These will keep in the fridge for several days, but the radishes will start to loose their color and turn the entire liquid pink. For best presentation, serve the same day.