Monday, November 04, 2013

Barbecue Pork Sliders (in the Crock Pot)

You want me. You know you want me.
There are some foods that are such outrageous crowd pleasers that you feel like a jerk to so often subject everybody to your lentil loaves and kale goulash when all you’d have to do to make everyone’s day is ignore a piece of pork in the crock pot for 5 hours. (In my defense, given that some of our nearest and dearest are vegetarians and/or observant Muslims, this would not always be a viable option.)

Also from this angle, you still want me.
But when Ben’s birthday came around, and I offered to make him anything his little heart desired (short of deep frying, which is what God invented the chicken-wing place for), this is what he picked.

For the record, I do not like the white buns! I like the pork, straight-up. Although, full disclosure, I like a less sweet shredded pork even better.

Specifically what he picked was “Nancy Stekl’s barbecue pork sliders,” which our beloved and generous neighbor brings to every potluck—on an enormous platter—while I’m busy trying to force the entire neighborhood to choke down whatever turnip-spelt concoction our farm share has led me too.

teenagers + bbq pork sliders = good
When I emailed Nancy a couple of years ago to ask for the recipe, this is what she wrote:
Catherine, it's hopelessly lame; I just rubbed some Cajun spices on some pork butt, put it in some sliced onions in the crock pot, added about 1 cup of chicken stock and let it go. When it was done (maybe 5 hours on high), I shredded it and dumped in a bottle of traders joes BBQ sauce and warmed it up again.”

Why Nancy, that *is* hopelessly lame! I’m kidding. What it is is brilliantly simple.

Why is your pork wearing an elastic obstetric panty? I don't know.
Okay, the truth is, I *do* know. Out of its panty, the pork is not attractive. Just rub it down with the spice mixture, and try not to think about it too much.
It ends up tasting like the pork barbecue you’d get at maybe not the very best bbq place you ever went to, but a pretty darn good one. The meat is shreddy and tender, sweet and smoky and perfect. Cajun seasoning appears to be a mixture of salt, red pepper, black pepper, thyme, celery seed, paprika, garlic, and onion, and it's good here. You could probably mix some up yourself, but I bought it bulk at Whole Foods. Because I am very obedient.

"Ma, ma, it's too crowded in here!" I actually ended up doing this whole batch in the Dutch oven in a 300 oven for 5 hours. Unless your crock pot is huge, you cannot double the recipe, it turns out.
Serving this on slider buns is really kind of gilding the lily here. Or forcing the lily to root itself in refined flour? Something. It is not my typical MO, as you know. But it was Ben’s special request, after all, so we went for it. In my dream world, there would also be coleslaw. But it wasn’t my birthday now, was it?

When it was done cooking, but not yet shredded, it looked like this.
Fall-Apart Barbecue Pork (in the Crock Pot)
Makes 4-8 servings, depending on a lot of factors, including how many teenagers are eating with you and whether any of them are vegetarians. (I made bbq tofu sliders too! I don't have as much to say about them, in truth, but they were pretty good.) This is my very basic $15 slow cooker.

1 (3-3 ½ pound) boneless pork butt (this might be called boneless picnic shoulder)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1 onion, sliced
1 cup chicken broth (water would probably be fine, honestly)
1 bottle barbecue sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Bold and Smokey Kansas City Style)

Okay, ready for how hard this is? Take the pork out of its elastic panty, if it’s wearing one, and rub it all over with the salt and seasoning. Now put the onion in the bottom of the crock pot, lay the pork on top of it, and pour in the chicken broth. Cook on high for 5 or 6 hours (or on low for 8 or more hours) until the pork falls apart if you so much as look at it. (More exactly: Press a piece of pork with a wooden spoon. If it doesn’t yield into shreds, it’s not ready.)

At this point, I behave in a slightly fussy manner. I remove the meat to a plate, let it cool slightly, and then use a fork and/or my fingers to remove anything that looks like someone wouldn’t want to eat it. Pieces of skin or large pieces of fat or connective tissue (although, in truth, most of the nasty stuff is dissolved, in a good way). While you’re doing this, the pork will more or less shred itself, but if it doesn’t, use a fork or two to help it along.

Put the pork back into the crock pot and stir it around with the liquid,* then add the barbecue sauce, stir it, and cook on low for another hour. Serve on buns or not, as you prefer.

* If there is a lot of liquid, I sometimes transfer the whole thing to a Dutch oven at this point, so that I can heat it in the oven with the lid off and reduce the liquid a little. Which is not really in the spirit of crock-pot convenience, I realize.


  1. Oh man, do you realize how timely this recipe is? We raised three pigs this year, raised on the whey from my cheese making, that is. Have you ever eaten pigs raised on pasture, whey and organic grain? No? Well. It's out of this world, and it doesn't come in plastic panty hose.
    So now I'm sounding all superior, which I don't want to be at all. I'm just sayin', we are going to, uhm, "harvest" our pigs in a couple of weeks, and we'll be drowning in pork meat. I will probably make your recipe once a week! And bacon for breakfast! Bacon!!!

    1. Corina, I have eaten pigs raised on *apples*, which our cider-making friends used to raise. And when you cooked them? The house smelled like fruit. So, yes. I hear you. The plastic panty hose is not a good thing. Oh, enjoy your beautiful meat! I know you will. xo

  2. Happy birthday teenager Ben. And now I am for sure buying a crock pot.

    1. I use it in fits and starts, Rachel. . .

  3. I do pretty much this same thing with chicken. Served on sweet rolls with some melty cheese, it is AMAZING! I'll have to try the pork version.

  4. These look wonderful!

    And the turnip-spelt line made me laugh. For me it's always, "What can I make for the party without going to the store?"

  5. dale in denver4:52 PM

    You know what caught my eye and would send my kids over the moon? The bun. In all its gluten-y goodness. My poor family is feeling the gluten deprivation since it is now banned from our house out of respect for our 7 year old with celiac. I guess I'm feeling it too, because it took me a while to stop looking at the bun to appreciate the shredded pork in all its glory. I'm thinking I need to do this with Mexican spice and salsa and we can have it on tacos. But 5-6 hours is an inconvenient time span during the work week. I think I could pull out the pressure cooker that you *told* me to buy - and cut the cook time to 45 min. - don't you?

    And Corina - I want some of your pork! Having a hard time finding local pastured pork.

    1. Oh! The bun doesn't move me at all, Dale. Seriously. That *bowl* of pork was mine! I'm not in love with pressure cooking meat (even though I *told* you to buy it). BUT, you could cook it on low for 8 or more hours. Would that work better?

    2. Anonymous10:46 AM

      Sometimes pressure cooking meat works out great! Sometimes it is chewy. But the crockpot is always perfect, cut-with-a-spoon-y....

    3. dale in denver12:53 PM

      The bun is something I would have foregone back in the days when I could look down my nose at the refined flour attrocity, especially when I had a stash of your whole wheat buns tucked away in my freezer. But now that we *can't* have gluten - we want it in its most nutritionally void form. Forbidden fruit, so to speak. Sometimes my meat in a crock comes out dry. Dry. Especially chicken. I assumed it was from too much heat, too long. I've had better luck with beef in my pressure cooker than crock to make shredded beef bolognese to go over polenta. (Celiac has brought some good things into our lives, like home made polenta. Yum!) Thought pork might be the same. I'll test both and let you know. (And I make beans in my pressure cooker almost weekly with the extras stashed in freezer bags to be thawed on moment's notice for brownies, cookies and cakes - like your gingerbread recipe modified - to die for! Thank you for *telling* me to buy one. I got it for $5 at a garage sale, had the local university extension rep test the seal for $10 and it has been an awesome investment.)

  6. Allyson6:04 PM

    I *adore* crock-pot pulled pork, but in deference to my South Carolina- born mother, I make a mustard-based bbq sauce, which is amazing. It is tangy and wonderful and not sweet, which I love. I'd be happy to share my recipe if you're interested, Catherine. Oh, and while I do like it on a bun, I use Martin's whole wheat potato rolls-- no white flour, no HFCS, no guilt, but they're still nice and soft and kid-pleasing. A near-perfect sandwich, assuming you're not a vegetarian or observant Jew or Muslim. And yes, cole slaw is required. Homemade pickles are optional, but delicious.

    Oh, and happy birthday, Ben! How can he be 14?? Wasn't it just last week we were celebrating the end of your paralyzing fear of choking hazards?

  7. Happy birthday to Ben! Looks like he picked the perfect birthday dinner. Yum!

  8. Gah store bought rub has too much salt and not enough smoked paprika. Also swap the water for apple juice or cider. Maybe even a drop of liquid smoke...Oh how we love BBQ! I am the only bun lover in my house so I don't get them. Sweet cole slaw right on top!! Yes!

  9. Jennifer3:27 PM

    This was dinner last night. It got rave reviews from my 13-year-old Ben and my husband. Thanks for another great recipe, Catherine!

  10. Anonymous1:46 PM

    You know when you try a receipe and it's actually as delicious as you hope it will be? It was! That happens a lot with your receipes. I got potato rolls (so soft and yummy) to serve it on, but my husband insisted next time a less sweet roll would make it even better. It was really, really good. Worth taking the time to pick the fat out at the end (especially if your kids are like mine and a piece of fat or grissle could stop the meal right there in its tracks). --Cathy K

  11. Needed these tips this am cuz I was making 3 pork roasts for my party today and have only one smallish crockpot. So thank u thank u thank u dear Catherine! And a very Happy Hannukkah to u and yours!