Last weekend we invited friends over for our first barbecue of the season. Except I was really in the mood for pulled pork, and ended up planning a whole menu that did not involve turning on the grill – oops! But we did still enjoy our meal outside, and the nice thing about this pulled pork recipe is that it is cooked in the slow cooker, which, like the grill, is great for summer cooking because it doesn’t heat up the house like an oven. Plus, it really could not be simpler, leaving a little extra energy for homemade barbecue sauce which is WELL worth the effort!
While I’ve gotten pretty good at making homemade versions of many foods (e.g., bread, yogurt, granola, etc.), condiments have been slow to follow – I’m still fairly dependent on store-bought versions of things like ketchup, hoisin sauce, salsa, and mayo. Barbecue sauce is something I don’t use very frequently, but store-bought versions tend to be loaded with sugar and have tons of unnecessary ingredients, so I thought this might be a good place to start.
Unfortunately, after a lot of research, I realized that it is virtually impossible to find a barbecue sauce recipe that isn’t based on ketchup. Pretty much every recipe was some combination of ketchup, vinegar, sugar, and spices. But for me, if I’m going to bother making something at home, I don’t want to start with a cup of ketchup! Fortunately, one of my favorite blogs – Red, Round, or Green – came to my rescue with a barbecue sauce recipe that contains only a tiny bit of ketchup. Of course, just to prove a point, I had to modify even this recipe to eliminate the ketchup entirely. Ketchup is basically tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, and spices, all of which are already present here, so I just adjusted the quantities a bit. I also made some other tweaks based on my preferences. The resulting sauce is FABULOUS! I can’t stop taste-testing it while it’s cooking. This recipe makes just enough for the pulled pork, so feel free to double (triple?) and freeze for the next time you need it!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
adapted from Baking Bites
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 pound pork shoulder/pork butt*
salt and pepper
Place onion on the bottom of the slow cooker. Place pork shoulder on top of onions and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low about 8 hours. Remove the meat from the slow cooker to a large bowl, and use two forks to shred (you can also carefully do this right in the slow cooker). Add the shredded pork back to the slow cooker and allow to cook another 10 minutes so the meat absorbs some of the juices.
Alternatively, turn off the slow cooker after shredding and adding pork back to slow cooker, let cool, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use. Place insert back in the slow cooker base and reheat on high for about 1 hour before serving, stirring occasionally and turning to “warm” setting when meat is heated through.
* A note about the pork – I believe that eating meat a few times a week can be healthy for those of us who choose to. However, how the animal lived has a HUGE impact on its healthfulness, nevermind the environmental impact and quality of life of the animal. Industrial animals (pigs, cows, chickens, etc) live in terrible conditions and eat diets that make them sick, and unhealthy animals are unhealthy for us, too. Please look for organic and/or pastured meat whenever possible, but at the minimum look for meat that is antibiotic and hormone free.
Homemade Barbecue Sauce
adapted from Red, Round, or Green
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups tomato puree/strained tomatoes
3/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon allspice
In a medium pot, melt the butter and saute the onion on medium low heat until soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 30-45 minutes, until thickened to your desired consistency. If you want, puree the sauce to make it completely smooth (totally optional). Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Do ahead: This sauce holds up perfectly in the fridge for days or in the freezer for longer, so feel free to make in advance!
Makes 2-2.5 cups sauce