Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and injet liberally, at least 12 times, on each side of the shoulder. If you like, you can add a little of the rub to this solution to flavor the meat not exposed to the smoke.
When you’re ready to cook, heat a smoker to between 225 and 250 degrees. While the smoker gets to temp, soak ½ cup each of hickory and apple chips in water.
When the smoker is at the right temp, put the wood into the smoker box. Replace with additional wood as you like.
Put the pork shoulder into the smoker. After about 3 hours, using a spray bottle, spray the pork with the apple juice or vinegar. Spray every hour or two. This will help with moisture and create a bark on the outside.
Let the pork cook until it reaches an internal temperature of between 190 and 200 degrees.
Take the shoulder out of the smoker and put in a large pan. Allow the meat to cool for at least 30 minutes before pulling apart. Once you can comfortably handle the meat, pull apart with two large forks or using your hands. Tear the larger pieces into smaller ones.
Pour about ½ cup of the Western Carolina Barbecue Sauce (recipe below) over the pulled meat and mix together to maintain moisture. Serve with the rest of the barbecue sauce on the side. If you’d like to serve in the traditional Carolina style, add your favorite coleslaw to the meat and put it all on a bun.
Wood Roasted Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Mix the paprika, garlic power, brown sugar, dry mustard, and salt together in a small bowl. Rub the spice blend all over the pork and marinate for as long as you have time for, as little as 1 hour or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Once you are ready to roast, pull the pork out of the fridge and place it into a roasting pan lined with a rack. Pour water in the bottom of the pan until it covers the pan by about ¼ inch up the sides. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil and place into the oven. Roast the pork until it is tender and falling apart, about 2 and a half hours. Rotate the pan 180 degrees every half hour to ensure each side of the pork gets even exposure to the fire. Once the pork is done, pull it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the pork is cooking make your slaw and barbecue sauce: Combine the cabbage, carrot, red onion, green onions, and chile in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, and sugar stirring to incorporate. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss gently to mix. Season the cole slaw with celery seed, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Chill for 2 hours in refrigerator before serving.
To make the barbecue sauce, combine the vinegar, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, salt, cayenne, and black pepper in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove. Simmer gently, stirring, for 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.
Once the pork is cooled, shred the meat using your hands or 2 forks to pull into pieces. Transfer to a bowl and mix about half of the barbecue sauce into it reserving the other half for assembling sandwiches.
To serve, spoon the pork mixture onto some toasted hamburger buns then top with the spicy slaw.
Crockpot Carolina Barbecue Pulled Pork Recipe
I’m always looking for easy crockpot recipes that can either feed a crowd or be repurposed as leftovers. This crockpot pulled pork – made with vinegar in the Carolina style, is the most popular recipe on this site and one of my favorites. It’s incredibly easy to make but a few hours in a crockpot yields a tender, flavorful pulled pork that makes great sandwiches, nachos or burritos.
I should probably, in the spirit of full disclosure, tell you that I am not from the South. I am from California, and to me, barbecue means meat cooked on a grill, over an open flame, ideally on the rare side. Heck, you could even throw some corn on there. Or artichokes. Or be really crazy and barbecue some avocados . Carolina Pulled Pork is not part of my cultural history.
Fortunately for you all, this recipe is not one of my family recipes. It’s from my friend Mallory, who is from Illinois but LIVES in South Carolina, and she’s married to a North Carolinan (Carolingian?) to boot. Carolina Pulled Pork isn’t the style of barbecue most of you Yankees think of — there is no tomato, no molasses, no honey, no sweet and sticky sauce. Just vinegar, and lots of it. This is sour barbecue, and I love it. Hello, my name is Kate and I am addicted to things that are tart.
Of course, a real barbecue aficionado will point out that this is not barbecue at all because there is no fire or smoke, and that would be true, but let’s just ignore that, because I don’t know about you but I don’t have a barrel smoker in my yard – heck, I don’t have a yard – and a crockpot will just have to do.
I will further horrify barbecue aficionados by telling you that while I do make this with a pork shoulder or butt (and don’t try a loin, because it will be dry as dry and will be like sawdust. Sadly, you do need the fat here) I cut off the big piece of fat that is on top of that shoulder. You’ll know it when you see it. I’m no fat free nut (as my enduring love of bacon attests), but that big slab of fat kind of grosses me out, so it has to go. If you really love the lard, go ahead and render it. I won’t mind. After you cut off the fat, you rub the meat with spices, and set it atop some onions in your crockpot.
Then you mix up the kicker – the vinegar sauce. Vinegar, a little sugar, some salt, some seasonings. A little more vinegar. Did I mention I like things tart? You pour part of the vinegar mixture over the pork, you cover it, turn your slow cooker to low, and walk away for at least 8 hours.
When you come back, you will be confronted with something that looks like this:
If your mouth isn’t watering yet, then either your browser is set wrong or you don’ have a proper appreciation for the porky goodness that is about to ensue. Of course, you don’t stop here – what about the rest of that vinegar? This is the point at which you pull the pork. Start with two forks and pull the pork apart. Then use your fingers.
Deploy the shredded pork into a bowl, add the juices from the crock pot, and pour over the remaining vinegar sauce. (If your eaters aren’t vinegar addicts, you could always serve the sauce on the side, I suppose).
The classic application for Carolina pulled pork is to eat it as a sandwich (though probably not so classic on ciabatta. I may have mentioned I’m from California). But don’t let your imagination stop there. Add it to chili, make it into nachos (tortilla chips, salsa, sour cream, ranch beans and pulled pork topped with cheese. Yes, I have eaten this), make it into tacos instead of carnitas, use as a filling for enchiladas, or eat it straight with cornbread.
Just like with apple, pecan matches all types of pork brilliantly. Whether it be bacon, rib, or more importantly, pulled pork.
What sets it apart from apple though is that it has a much richer flavor, and also offers a slightly more nutty taste.
It is a slight and mild flavor, so is perfect for people who like more delicate flavors rather than the robust and pronounced flavors or traditional woods like hickory or oak.
Pro tip: Try making a blend with another fruit wood, like cherry or apple, to add a further layer of nuanced flavor to your wood. If you prefer a more earthy taste, then try blending it with hickory to create a balanced but sweet taste.
East Vs. West: North Carolina Pulled Pork
Thinking back on it now, my husband’s mother had every reason to be concerned. Her son had brought home an artsy Yankee girl who didn’t know beans about barbecue or college basketball—two sacred topics in the Bowen household. As we sat in the living room, watching a Carolina game, I could feel her stare while everyone else inhaled their barbecue sandwiches and discussed Dean Smith’s coaching, I nibbled quietly, trying to make sense of this strange and delicious food.
Twenty years later, I can imagine how my mother-in-law must have felt. When I introduce someone to a North Carolina barbecue sandwich, I expect a strong reaction. It’s the perfect food: succulent pork scented with wood smoke—sometimes a whisper of it, other times, a shout—topped with sweet slaw and vinegar-spiked sauce in a squishy white bread bun. Just thinking about it makes the sides of my tongue water and my heart swell up with love.
Once I became a convert, I realized that it’s not enough to simply love North Carolina barbecue (or basketball, for that matter) you have to play favorites and defend yours at all costs. And these favorites will land you on one side or the other of a fierce and long-standing debate: Which is better, North Carolina’s eastern- or western-style barbecue? To an outsider, this rivalry must seem silly: Both regions serve slow-smoked pork with tangy sauce and slaw. How different could they be? But to North Carolinians, the details represent something larger than barbecue itself: They’re a matter of intense cultural pride.
For years I ducked out of the debate, arguing that I didn’t know enough about the subject to choose a favorite. The style I was most familiar with came from my husband, Lindsay’s, neck of the woods, down east: whole hogs smoked over hardwood coals, so finely chopped that every bit of pig—from the meaty hams to the luscious belly—averages out in a tasty mix. The sauce is simply vinegar, hot pepper, and spices, never tomatoes—they weren’t popular when this style first surfaced, during the Colonial era. While other regions pit-cooked other animals, when the tradition took root in eastern North Carolina, it was all about the pig. By the late 1700s, the state was becoming a capital of hog farming (it’s now the nation’s second-largest pork producer). A century later, entrepreneurs had turned the meal into thriving businesses.
Nowadays in eastern North Carolina, you’re never far away from a barbecue sandwich. There are flashy new places in shopping malls supersize institutions, like Wilber’s in Goldsboro and old joints like B’s in Greenville that always sell out by the time we arrive.
About ten years ago, I started grumbling that the mince was too fine and the smoke was barely discernible at a few of our local haunts—had these places abandoned wood smoke for electric cookers? Were they grinding rather than hand-chopping their meat? I started to grow curious about what barbecue tasted like farther west, where the cooks—who use pork shoulders instead of whole hogs and flavor sauce and slaw with tomatoes—were famous for their devotion to smoke.
Now would be a good time to mention that barbecue loyalties (like basketball ones) are not the kinds of things you question—not in Lindsay’s family, at least. They’re eastern-style people. Tar Heel folks. To Lindsay, there’s truth and beauty in his barbecue in much the same way that Carolina basketball has come to stand for all that’s right in the world. In his view, it’s the higher moral choice. But still, I had to know.
And so I made my first trip to Lexington—a west-central city that is holy ground for western-style barbecue—alone. The sheer concentration of joints in this small town (17 at last count) is awe-inspiring: As I drove around with my windows rolled down, the smell of wood smoke flooded my car.
In the early 20th century, thanks to the region’s economic growth and to the entrepreneurship of a few pitmasters, Lexington became a barbecue boomtown. The spirit was customer-focused: You can still honk outside some places and have a carhop take your order. Or you can go in and feast not only on barbecue, hush puppies, and slaw, but also on banana pudding, cobbler—the whole shebang.
The fact that Lexington is known for its shoulders, not whole hogs, is also a result of this business savvy they cook faster and produce less waste. And because of the cut’s smaller size, the meat easily soaks up the flavor of the smoke. In Lexington, and other parts of the surrounding area, a barbecue lover also has options. “It’s like going to a steak house,” says Rick Monk, who runs my favorite place, Lexington Barbecue, which his father, Wayne, founded in 1962. Ask for “brown,” you get meat with more smoke flavor “white” is leaner and lighter. You can order your ‘cue chopped, sliced, or “coarse-chopped with brown”—chunks with crispy skin. The local tomato-tinged sweet “dip” and ketchup-spiked slaw are perfect with such robustly flavored meat. Overall, western-style barbecue is more emphatic and, I was starting to think, more savory than what’s out east. When I mentioned this to my father-in-law, he was horrified: “It’s unrefined! Too heavily sauced!”
He took me to a place he’d been raving about for years called Skylight Inn, in Ayden, in the state’s east. Little has changed since pit-master Pete Jones opened the place, in 1947. In fact, the crispy corn bread recipe is still his grandmother’s.
The Jones family has been cooking ‘cue since the 1800s, and their smoky, succulent meat yanked me back over to the charms of the east. A man named James Howell stood behind the counter, hand-chopping a hog with a cleaver the pieces bound with bits of tasty char and fat. With the sweet slaw and light, vinegary sauce, it all came together beautifully in a bun.
Sam Jones, the late Pete Jones’ 30-year-old grandson, took me outside to check out his barbecue pits. They looked like the ones I’d seen in old pictures, with butterflied hogs resting on open grates with coals directly underneath.
When I asked him what he thought about the rivalry between eastern- and western-style barbecue, he shrugged. “All of us who use wood cook the same. It’s what we do with the meat when it’s done that’s different,” he said. “I guess it’s just a matter of taste.”
Step 1: Make the rub. Place the mustard, paprika, salt, black pepper, white pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne in a bowl and stir to mix. (Actually, if you don’t have sensitive skin, your fingers work better for mixing a rub than a spoon or whisk does.) Sprinkle the rub all over the pork, patting it onto the meat with your fingertips. Let the pork cure at room temperature while you make the mop sauce.
Step 2: Make the mop sauce. Combine the vinegar, mustard, salt, and black pepper in a large nonreactive mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup of water, and whisk until the salt dissolves.
Step 3: Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-low. If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium-low. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center, preheat the grill to medium-low, then toss 1 cup of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.
Step 4: When ready to cook, place the pork, skin side up, if there is one, in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat, and cover the grill. Cook the pork until darkly browned on the outside and very tender inside, 4 to 6 hours. To test for doneness, use an instant-read meat thermometer: The internal temperature of the pork should be about 195°F. (Yes, this is very well-done—that’s how you get pork tender enough to chop or pull.) If the pork starts to brown too much (and it probably will), cover it loosely with aluminum foil, but remember that the browned bits are good, too. Every hour for the first 4 hours, swab the pork with some of the mop sauce, using a barbecue mop or basting brush. If using a charcoal grill, every hour you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals and 1/2 cup of wood chips or chunks to each side.
Step 5: Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board, cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes. You could pull or chop the pork, but I like to thinly slice it across the grain (the practice of many South Carolina pit masters). Place the pork slices in an aluminum foil pan. If you are not quite ready to serve, cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it on a warm—not hot—grill or in an oven turned on low to keep warm.
Step 6: f you’re feeling fancy, brush the hamburger buns with the melted butter and lightly toast them on the grill (work directly over the coals or a lit burner). Otherwise, skip the butter and simply serve the buns without toasting. Load each bun with sliced pork and slather with South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce. Top the pork and sauce with pickle slices and serve at once.
- 1 cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- One 12- to 14-pound bone-in pork shoulder, with skin
- About 50 hardwood charcoal briquettes
- 8 cups small hardwood smoking chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
- Eastern Carolina Sauce or variations, for serving
Preheat the oven to 275°. In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard with the brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika and onion powder. Set the pork shoulder, fat side up, in doubled 14-by-18-inch disposable aluminum roasting pans. Brush the pork with the mustard mixture. Roast, uncovered, for 12 hours, until the meat is very tender and is pulling away from the shoulder bone.
Tilt the pan and pour the roasting juices into a medium bowl you should have about 1 1/4 cups. Refrigerate the juices for 30 minutes. Skim off the fat before using.
Meanwhile, light 10 of the charcoal briquettes. When the coals are hot, cover them with the remaining 40 briquettes. When all the coals are hot, arrange 6 cups of the soaked wood chips around the coals. Set the roasting pan on the grill grate over the coals and wood chips. Cover the grill, partially open the air vents and smoke the pork shoulder for 30 minutes.
Carefully remove the pork and the grill grate and stir the coals a few times. Scatter the remaining 2 cups of soaked wood chips over the coals. Replace the grill grate and return the pork to the grill. Cover and smoke for 30 minutes longer.
Transfer the pork to a work surface and let rest for 30 minutes. Pull the meat off of the bones discard the bones, gristle, skin and fat. Using tongs and a fork, or your fingers, finely shred the meat and transfer it to a large bowl. Toss the shredded meat with 1/4 cup of the reserved roasting juices and serve with one of the three barbecue sauces.
Barbecue The Pork Butts
Cook the pork butt at 225-250°F to an internal temperature of 190°F.
Turn the meat once after 8-12 hours of cooking. One turn should be sufficient for even cooking. If you prefer Paul Kirk’s method of turning meat at the “halftimes”, do it that way: Turn and baste the meat at the halfway point of the cooking process, then divide the remaining cooking time in half and turn and baste at that point, continuing until the meat is done. When you have an hour or less of cooking time remaining, stop turning and basting.
I turned these butts only one time, after 12 hours of cooking, and swapped the butts between the top and bottom grates.
For authentic “Mr. Brown”, baste several times using the Southern Sop described below. Baste for the first time when you turn the meat for the first time, then as often as you see fit, but not more than once an hour. If you want to baste with something simpler, use apple juice applied with a spray bottle—I like Martinelli’s Premium Apple Juice.
I basted these butts once when I turned the meat, then one more time after that a few hours later.
Replenish the water pan with hot tap water, as necessary.
Here’s how the temperature and vent settings went for the cooking session:
|Time||Lid Temp||Meat Temp||Vent 1 %||Vent 2 %||Vent 3 %|
|8:45 am (s)||210||–||50||50||50|
|9:00 am (t)(b)(s)||212||170s||100||25||25|
|11:15 am (b)||235||–||100||100||25|
|11:30 am (a)||232||–||50||50||50|
|2:00 pm||247||[email protected]||100||100||100|
|3:00 pm||235||[email protected]||100||100||100|
(t) turned meat over and end-for-end
(b) basted meat
(s) stirred coals
(a) added 40 hot briquettes
Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.
Why were my cooker temperatures so low during the first few hours of cooking? Partly because there was 25 pounds of cold meat in the cooker, but mostly because I did not follow the good advice I gave to you early: Start with all the bottom vents 100% open, then reduce them to 25% open when the cooker hits 200°F. Twenty lashes with a wet noodle for me!
The cooker temperature dropped down to 210°F by 8:45am, so I tapped the legs of the charcoal bowl to dislodge some of the ashes around the hot coals, and stirred the coals gently at 9:00am to further refresh the coals.
Later in the morning, it became clear I needed to add a bit more fuel to the cooker, so I fired 40 briquettes in a chimney starter and added them at 11:30am. This extra fuel carried me through to the end.
At 9:00am, the internal temperature of the pork butts was in the 170°F range. At 1:00pm, they measured in the 180°F range. At 2:00pm, the two smaller butts measured in the 180s when probed in several spots, and 195-200°F in other spots, so I removed them from the cooker. The two larger butts reached similar temperatures by 3:00pm.
See Pork Butt Selection & Preparation for tips on measuring temperature in several locations of a pork butt.
Eastern North Carolina Vinegar Sauce: Origin
If you’re looking for a new style barbecue sauce that’s not tomato-based, then try this recipe because you won’t find tomato in this classic Carolina regional style sauce.
Originating in the southeastern region of the United States this sauce is famously drizzled on pulled pork in a bbq-joint fashion and my Instant Pot pork recipe will have you eating in half the time. Talk to any North Carolinian, and they’ll tell you that this sauce is the real deal and it’s always made with pork, but it may vary with different ingredient-ratios due to deep family roots within towns. It’s very much a Caroline-style regional sauce classic that the people take pride in. NC style BBQ is an Eastern-style barbecue known for pit-smoked barbecue covered in vinegar sauce.
The Original Authentic North Carolina Vinegar Sauce Recipe Ingredients:
REAL RECIPE VERSION: What ingredients are needed for North Carolina Vinegar Sauce?
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. hot sauce
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
Furthermore, North Carolina Vinegar Sauce originate in eastern North Carolina several centuries ago. This true vinegar-based sauce can be made on the stovetop or campfire and uses no tomato (ketchup/paste) as a lot of traditional regional bbq sauce recipes throughout America do. Instead, this tangy apple cider vinegar sauce is liquid-based and brown in color thanks to the apple cider vinegar. It’s also a bold vinegar tasting sauce that is tangy, acidic, tart, and has a sharp bite with very little spices to flavor it. Hot sauce, cayenne powder, or red pepper flakes are traditionally added for extra heat flavor.
Included only here is the original recipe found in the recipe card notes section to preserve the authenticity of this regional eastern North Carolina bbq sauce.
NOTE: I’d recommend trying this undisputed original North Carolina Vinegar Sauce first before you try my modified version. If you want a sauce with a more refined taste and deep flavor, try my modified version below.
Carolina Pulled-Pork Sandwiches
Place pork, fat side up, on work surface. Cut each piece lengthwise in half. Place on large baking sheet. Sprinkle dry rub all over pork press into pork. Cover with plastic refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)
Mix first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
Following manufacturer's instructions and using lump charcoal and 1/2 cup drained wood chips for smoker or 1 cup for barbecue, start fire and bring temperature of smoker or barbecue to 225°F to 250°F. Place pork on rack in smoker or barbecue. Cover cook until meat thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 165°F, turning pork and brushing with cold mop every 45 minutes, about 6 hours total. Add more charcoal as needed to maintain 225°F to 250°F temperature and more drained wood chips (1/2 cup for smoker or 1 cup for barbecue with each addition) to maintain smoke level.
Transfer pork to clean rimmed baking sheet. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Shred into bite-size pieces. Mound on platter. Pour any juices from sheet over pork. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer pork and any juices to baking dish. Cover with foil chill. Before continuing, rewarm pork, covered, in 350°F oven about 30 minutes.)
Divide pork among bottoms of buns. Drizzle lightly with barbecue sauce. Top with coleslaw. Cover with tops of buns.