Proper pulled pork demands respect. It’s comforting and feeds a crowd. People travel miles to eat it when it’s prepared by the masters. And, as intimidating as it may seem, it’s actually quite doable to make at home.
Though it’s not a traditional approach, the Instant Pot can make this process even simpler.
We spoke with two experts on Southern cooking, the Atlanta-based Janet A. Zimmerman, author of “Instant Pot Obsession” (from which her recipe is shared), and Chapel Hill-based Sheri Castle, author of “Instantly Southern” (from which her recipe is shared) and host of the new PBS show The Key Ingredient.
Zimmerman’s method uses the pressure cooker function while Castle’s uses the slow cooker function.
What cut of pork to use
“I think the most important factor is choosing the right cut of meat and cutting it correctly,” says Zimmerman.
If you’re a purist or haven’t made pulled pork before, go with pork shoulder for best results. Castle also suggests pork butt, which despite the name, comes from the same area of the pig as the pork shoulder cut. Her method uses the slow cook function for extra tenderness.
Some recipes call for pork loin, a leaner cut. It’s usually a better candidate for a slow cooking method over a pressure cooking method because the meat can run dry. Zimmerman cautions against using pork loin for this reason.
Pressure cooking vs. slow cooking
Slow cooking the meat means it never has the chance to toughen up and will be extra silky and tender. Pressure cooking is faster, though you may lose a little bit of the tenderness. If you’re going for the pressure cook method, be sure to get a pork shoulder or pork butt, as opposed to a pork loin.
How to serve — and sauce — pulled pork
“Pulled pork is many splendored,” says Castle. From sandwiches to nachos to soups, pulled pork can add to a whole range of recipes.
Though purists will insist that Instant Pot pulled pork isn’t authentic to any regional style (and they’re right!), feel free to take flavor inspirations from various pork preparations around the world.
Carnitas: Originally from the state of Michoacán, Mexico, carnitas are generally served with cilantro, diced onion, and salsa over tortillas. Spices like oregano, cumin, and chili powder are often used to cook the pork.
South Carolina-style: This is composed of two sub-styles. The first is Pee Dee, which is pulled pork doused in a spicy vinegar-based sauce, and served with white bread, coleslaw, and beans. The other is Midlands, which is served with a mustard-based sauce and a side of hash or rice.
Kansas City-style: Often served with french fries, Kansas City barbecue is known for its sweeter sauces, which often include some combination of brown sugar, molasses, or ketchup.
Reheating and storing pulled pork
One of the great things about pulled pork is that it can be made ahead of time and repurposed for other meals.
USDA guidelines recommend eating pulled pork leftovers in three to four days. If you don’t anticipate eating it within that time frame, consider freezing it in meal-sized batches. It will last well for three months in the freezer.
There’s no need to be intimidated by pulled pork, especially if you know your way around an Instant Pot. Whether you prefer slow cooking or pressure cooking, you’ll end up with juicy, flavorful pork either way. Look for pork shoulder or pork butt, sear the meat before you start, and have a plan for using the meat.
Christine Clark is a freelance writer who covers specialty food and beverage, especially cheese and wine. She has been in the food and beverage world for a little under a decade. Christine got her start in cheese at Murray’s Cheese in New York City, where she ran the education department, teaching and programming classes on cheese and cheesemaking (everything from wine to mezcal to chocolate to smoked fish was fair cheese-pairing game).
Christine is a Certified Cheese Professional with the American Cheese Society and has taught cheese and pairing classes around the world. Some of her bylines can be found in VinePair, Wine Enthusiast, Epicurious, AllRecipes, The Spruce Eats, Food52, and more and she has been featured as a cheese expert in The New York Times, Bon Appetit, FirstWeFeast, and HuffPost. Learn more about how our team of experts tests and reviews products at Insider here.