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I'm going to make some barbeque pulled pork in a slow cooker. I've done it a few times with some good results, but I'm always looking for ways to improve.

Here's what I've been doing:
1. Brine pork for a few hours
2. Slow cook all day with carrots, celery, and onions
3. Shred and toss with Montgomery Inn or Hickory Brown Suger Sweet Baby Rays bbq sauce

Here's the question: Would browning the pork help in any way? Could the pan drippings be used to jazz up the bbq sauce?

EDIT: this also popped into my head: Should I sautee the onions ahead of time?

Thanks.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A few things...

  1. I brine for 12-24 hours. It really does make a difference.
  2. Don't bother browning the meat... you don't want a crust, you want the meat to break down.
  3. Make your own barbecue sauce! There's a zillion recipes, and it always tastes better. When I make pulled pork, I take the cooking liquid (you are cooking in liquid, yeah?) and reduce it right down to almost a demiglace, and use that as the base for my bbq sauce.
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Thanks. I love the idea of making my own sauce, it's just something I don't have the time for (full time student with a more than part-time job). I put the meat and veggies in the cooker with just a little bit of water. By the time it's done, there's a ton of liquid left over. How do I turn ~1-2 quarts of slow cooker juice into a demi glace? –  user1575 Sep 6 '10 at 21:19
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Well for more flavour, add apple juice or cider to the water (or replace almost entirely). Or brandy or beer or chicken stock or duck stock or anything really.. it'll intensify everything. To make a reduction, just pour the liquid into a pot, turn up the heat, and boil it down. If there's much sugar in the liquid, use a lower heat so it doesn't burn. –  daniel Sep 6 '10 at 22:32
    
I bought my ingredients today and picked these up, what are your thoughts? 1. Poblano pepper. I'll slice it up, and fry in oil for a little bit. 2. Fresh green onion (in addition to regular sweet onion). Thanks for the advice so far. This is awesome. –  user1575 Sep 7 '10 at 0:33
    
No sense in me answering this, Daniel. You are right on the money! Nothing to add except a +1 vote. :) –  TMarshall Feb 22 '11 at 20:44
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I made pulled pork from a boston butt roast on Saturday. I didn't brine it, didn't brown it, did cook it in a crockpot sitting in an acidic liquid (white wine in this case), and sprinkled it with spices and brown sugar for the beginning of a BBQ sauce. After it reached 200F, I removed most of the liquid into a sauce pan (after skimming off most of the fat), added the rest of the BBQ sauce ingredients, and reduced it down most of the way, and thickened it up just a little with cornstarch (didn't want to make it too intense in flavor). Then poured that back over the meat to serve.

If you're not using a crockpot, brining is probably a good idea because of how long it needs to cook and how hot it needs to get.

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Thanks for the tips. I'm brining (~12 hours) and using a crock pot (green onion, sweet onion, fried poblano pepper, carrots, celery, can of beer). Is that overkill? –  user1575 Sep 7 '10 at 11:11
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That sounds delicious. And @Tim, I don't own a crockpot, I do mine in a dutch oven for 12 hours at 210F. Works like a dream. –  daniel Sep 7 '10 at 19:58
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For a slight twist, I do a Asian version. I make a broth of chicken stock, chili, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, soy, sweet soy, fish sauce and brown sugar. Bring this to a boil and pour over pork belly (belly has a great ratio of fat and meat). Cover the dish with foil and cook for 2 1/2 hours. Once cooked let it cool in stock so not to dry out. Reduce your stock after skimming fat and continue to make your BBQ sauce which will have great acidity from all the flavours. The pork will shred beautifully and have a great texture.

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This is a secondhand answer from a secondhand chef :) but my wife absolutely insists on browning pulled pork and it is truly the worst pulled pork I have ever had. She rarely uses the Internet, so I doubt she will discover that I have said this. After 41 years of getting that pork past my taste buds, I am not about to let her find out how bad it is now. Not from me! :)

I am sorry for writing so much but I would just like to give you that anecdote from my life in the hope that you do not follow her lead.

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I've only had good browned pulled pork once -- and it was browned after cooking and pulling ... it was cooked on a flat top like you might hash browns, and served in a hash. –  Joe Feb 22 '11 at 2:24
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I just noticed the second part of the question, about the pan drippings.

I typically let them cool so I can separate out grease (save it ... it's great for frying up potatoes), and then reduce the rest of the liquid. I then put it in a blender with the carrots and onion (I don't usually add celery; but I do throw in garlic cloves, which I also blend) ... give it a quick taste for seasoning (don't season heavy, though, if it's too loose you might have to reduce it further).

I also find that after you pull the pork, it's like a sponge, so a laddle or two over the pork will get absorbed and both help to season the meat and keep it juicy. (if you like your pork wet).

... for my take on browning the pork, see my comment to James Slagel

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We cook our pork (butt) either in the oven overnight or in an electric roaster, @ 200 - 250 degrees. We do not brown it first as we want ours to basically fall off the bone. I have cooked it on the grill and in a big smoker, there doesn't seem to be a big difference in the end product. (the other two methods are so much easier) Although browning the meat would add a little depth of flavor, the crispiness is undesirable. Be sure your cooking pan or roaster is well oiled so the meat doesn't stick. Make your own sauce. If you need, make it on your day off. Cook up a bunch and then freeze the excess in usable size portions, in zip lock baggies.

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What works for me is to make a slow slow roast with a lovely salty crust (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/slow-roasted-pork-shoulder-carrots-onions-garlic.aspx with double the veg and half the meat because it's hard to find the 7lb shoulders) works for me, but you can roast however you like. Then we eat the crispy roasty outside the first night, and pull the rest right after dinner. Tne next night it's pulled pork with no annoying crispy bits and amazing flavour - just reheat with the bbq sauce or your preference.

I have some in the oven right now and have had a few "snicks" of the crust already - I just can't resist it!

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