Your Ultimate Guide on How to Shred Pork

June 30, 2022

You can use dinner forks, claws, a stand mixer, or even a potato masher to shred pork.

I have experimented with lots of different ways on how to shred pork and I have my thoughts on each solution. I am thrilled to share these with you!

In this post you will learn the art of shredding pork, how to make the best pulled pork, and lots more!

The Best Ways to Shred Pork

Is there one best way to shred pork butt? I would argue that it is all down to preference. Your decision should be based on the tools that you have on hand and the method that you find easiest to use.

In any case, here are the different techniques that you can use to prepare pulled pork:

The Two Forks Method

This is the method that anyone can use. All your require are two dinner forks. I would suggest using hardy utensils or you may end up bending the forks.

You should also keep the meat in the pan that it was cooked in. If you are moving it to a different dish, make sure to tip any liquid at the bottom of the pan into the new dish.

shreded pork sandwich

Dig the forks into the pork butt. The tines should be facing back to back. Then, rip the forks backwards through the flesh. The motion is similar as if you were pulling something apart.

I'll be honest with you - this isn't my favorite method. It is simple and you dont require any other utensils but this is backbreaking work. Not to mention it can take over an hour, depending on how much pork you are working with.

The other issue you will encounter is if you are dealing with a thick slab of pork butt. Here, the tines of the forks won't go all the way through. Therefore, you will have to keep flipping the meat over to make sure that the other side gets done as well.

Like I said, it is time consuming.

Bear Claws

These are a kitchen tool that are specifically designed for making pulled pork. They are named so because they look like bear claws. There is a handle on top that you hold onto while using the device.

The benefit of bear claws is that their tines or claws are large, thick, tough, and widely spaced. So, although you may be making a similar motion as with the forks, you will be making headway faster and with less effort.

It also doesn't matter how much meat there is, you should be able to get through it readily.

It is a good idea to invest in a good quality pair of bear claws. Not only will these be more effective, but you won't have to worry about them getting bent during the process.

As far as I am concerned, there isn't a downside to the claws - they are better than the other methods. Sure, some people might think they are gimmicky or a frivolous purchase. However, if you are someone who makes pulled pork regularly, wants to get the job done quickly, or cut down on the effort involved, these are the best options for you.

Potato Masher Method

The concept behind this is fairly simple. Take the potato masher and press it against the pork butt and apply pressure. This will cause the meat to break apart into larger chunks. You will then have to use forks to break these sections up into smaller chunks.

My main complaint with this method is that it doesn't make for very aesthetically pleasing pulled pork. Some pieces may be bigger, while others are shredded properly. I also tend to prefer more uniform pieces.

If the meat is going into a sandwich or you aren't as particular, then this is a perfectly fine method.

The Electric Mixer Method

If you are short on time or don't want to sweat over shredding pork, then this is the best way to do it. I have to warn you, though, that it can be difficult to get this method right. The power and whirlwind movement can mean that your pork shreds into very small pieces. Due to this, it is quite easy to end up with a pile of mush on your hands.

One way to avoid this problem is to use a handheld mixer instead of a stand mixer. This is because stand mixers are a lot more powerful and can be trickier to control. I would also suggest using the lowest setting possible and stopping the process once the pork looks shredded enough.

If you feel like you want to smaller or finer portions, then finish it up with forks.

For this technique, you should place the pork in a mixing bowl. Attach a flat beater paddle to the mixer. Then, set to low. If this isn't enough power, turn the speed to medium. After the pork has been sufficiently shredded, though, switch it back to the original setting.

What Cut of Pork is Best for Shredding?

First things first, which cut of meat works best for shredding pork?

Well, the shoulder is usually your best bet. This is because it has the right amount of fat content. When cooked down, this produces a tender and juicy dish.

Now, some people also prefer Boston butt, also known as pork butt. Now, this portion is essentially a part of the shoulder as well. However, pork butt comes from higher up, while the shoulder extends all the way down to the hoofs.

Either option is fine.

Now, another thing that you find people arguing about is whether you should keep the bone in or opt for boneless pork shoulder instead. Some people feel that the bone keeps the meat moist while others don't feel like it makes a difference.

Once again, this choice is up to you.

When Should You Shred Pulled Pork?

Another common question is how soon you should shred the smoked pulled pork once it is taken off the heat.

Well, you should always let the meat rest first. This allows the juices to circulate throughout the slow cooked pork. The result is a more flavorful shredded meat.

Yet again, you will find plenty of discussion about how long to rest the pork butt for. In my opinion, the longer the better. If I have the time, I like to leave it anywhere from one to two hours.

Of course, I know this isn't always possible. If you are short on time, then I would suggest letting the pork sit for twenty minutes at least.

Make sure it is tented in foil as it sits. This allows the pooled juices to be redistributed back into the meat. Also, keeping it like this will help to keep the meat warm.

Is It Best to Shred Pork Hot or Cold?

It is always a good idea to shred pork when it is still hot. It will make your job easier as the meat will still be quite tender. Not to mention, if you are planning on eating right away, it makes for a more delicious meal.

If you have made more than you can use in one sitting, however, dont shred all the pork just yet. It is best to store meat as a larger chunk. Of course, if you want to make it easier for you to enjoy pulled pork later on then you can certainly shred it now and then freeze it for later use.

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When Should You Add the Barbecue Sauce?

Now, when you add this component can depend on the cooking process that you are using to prepare pulled pork. In general, though this is the final step.

Once you have shredded the pork, then you add the dressing. If you like, you can also skip this step and have each of your guests add it according to their preference.

Depending on how you have prepared the pork, it may not require any other seasoning.

The Best Pulled Pork Recipes

Of course, knowing how to shred pork is only half the equation. If you want the best shredded pork, then you need to know how to make pulled pork.

There are three main ways of making pulled pork - via a slow cooker, oven, or smoker. We will take a closer look at each avenue below.

The Rub

This is an important part of pulled pork. If you get this right, then there is no real need to rely on any other kind of flavoring.

Everyone has their own version and I like to keep mine simple:

  • 3 tbsp. of brown sugar
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. of smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. of onion powder
  • 1 tsp. of ground cumin
  • black pepper powder

These quantities are for a cut of pork that is around 3 to 4lbs. If you are making less or more, then you should adjust the amounts accordingly.

It can be tricky to get the seasoning to stay on the surface, which is why I like to use a binder of some kind. I find that a spritzing of vinegar or a smattering of yellow mustard works best.

And, don't worry about the binder - it all but disappears as the meat cooks. Once the pulled pork is ready to eat, you won't be able to taste it.

The Slow Cooker

This is becoming an increasingly popular method as it such an easy one. Unlike with other options, cooking the pork in a slow cooker means adding all the ingredients at once and allowing the pork to slow cook until done.

sauerkraut and Pulled pork

On the lowest heat setting, the process can take between 8 to 10 hours. On high, though, the pork will be ready for shredding in about 5 to 6 hours.

Here is what you will need and how you should proceed:

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped well
  • 3/4 cup of ketchup
  • 3 tbsp. of tomato paste
  • Rub ingredients
  • 3 to 4lb. of pork

Method

Step 1

Trim the pork of any excess fat.

Step 2

In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients well.

Step 3

Add the pork to the slow cooker. Add in the liquid mix. Cover and cook until the meat is very tender. This should take 8 to 10 hours on a lower setting and 5 to 6 hours on a higher setting.

It is done when the meat can fall apart easily when a fork is inserted.

Allow the meat to rest before pulling apart with dinner forks or your preferred tools.

The Oven

The only issue with the slow cooker method is that it takes a long time to cook and not everyone has that kind of time or patience. If you are looking to speed things up, then your oven will be the top option.

Now, I would suggest using a Dutch oven here. This is because I first like to sear the pork before I bake it. This is because then you get to enjoy those delicious burnt ends. I also add some beer to the pan before it goes into the oven. It imparts nice toasted caramel notes.

This method does involve a bit more prep than the slow cooker, but on the upside can be done in about three and a half hours.

Ingredients

  • 3 - 4 lb. of pork
  • Rub ingredients
  • 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil
  • 12 oz. of beer
  • 1 1/2 cup of ketchup
  • 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. of Worcestershire sauce

Method

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make sure the excess fat is trimmed from the pork. If the whole pork butt is too big to fit inside the pan, then you can cut it up into larger chunks.

Step 2

Combine the rub components in a mixing bowl. Apply this to the pork. If you want, you can do this the night before you want to bake the pork. If so, work the ingredients into the meat, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3

Pour the oil into the pan and turn the stove to medium high heat. Add the pork in batches, one after the other. Sear the meat on all sides. Remember that spices are prone to burning quickly so you should take the pork out before this.

Step 4

Pour the beer into the pan and cover. Place in the oven and cook for 3 hours or until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart easily. Remove from the pan and allow to rest. Then, shred it.

Step 5

Dont wash the pan just yet - with the remnants still there, add in the ketchup and the other ingredients. Put the pan on the stove and bring to a boil. Turn down the flame and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.

Serve with the pulled pork.

The Smoker

This is probably my favorite pulled pork recipe. I should advise you that it isn't for the faint of heart - it can take up to 12 hours to smoke a pork butt. Even longer if you are tackling a larger cut.

However, you can beat the gorgeous bark and delicious smoky flavor of this shredded pork. Also, if you are using wood pellets such as apple, cherry, or maple, then these impart a distinct flavor all their own.

To speed up the process, I do like to wrap the hunk of meat. This allows it to overcome the stall and to cook faster.

When smoking pulled pork, I dont like to use time as a guide. Instead, I check the internal temperature to determine if it is done or not. It is ready to eat at the 195 degrees or 203 degrees mark.

Ingredients

  • 3 - 4lbs of pork
  • 2 tbs. of yellow mustard
  • Rub seasonings
  • 2 tbs. of cider vinegar
  • 2 tbs. of water

Method

Step 1

Preheat the grill or smoker to 225℉.

Trim the excess fat. If you want to, you can score the meat. Only go deep enough to get through the layer of fat. This technique can help the flavors to to distribute through the whole piece.

Step 2

Slather the meat with the mustard. Work in the spices next. Make sure that every inch is covered.

Step 3

Place the pork in the smoker or the grill. If the heat source is below, then place the fat cap downwards. If it is coming from above, then the fat cap should be facing upwards.

Insert a meat thermometer into the piece but make sure that it is at least an inch away from the bone.

Step 4

In a few hours, the temperature should read 165 degrees, which means that the stall has set in. At this point, you should wrap the pork. You can use aluminum foil.

Before closing it up, spritz the meat with the water and vinegar solution.

Put back into the smoker until the temperature registers 195 degrees or a little higher.

Allow the meat to rest.

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How to Use Pulled Pork?

The most common method is to slather the pork in between buns or rolls to make a sandwich. Now ,there is no denying that this classic option is delicious.

However, there is no limit to how you can use pulled pork. It works well as a topping from everything from pizza to nachos. You can even use it as taco filling if you are looking for a BBQ take on a Mexican favorite.

Some like to use it as filling for egg rolls, while others add it to macaroni and cheese. The options really are endless here.

How to Store Shredded Pork?

As mentioned, you should shred as much pork as you are going to use in one sitting. I prefer to refrigerate or freeze larger portions. Shredded pork is great for a few days in the fridge but if you are planning on keeping it even longer than that, then it is best to freeze it.

If you will be shredding pork beforehand, then you can choose to freeze it with or without the sauce. There shouldn't be too much difference in the final result.

The best way to reheat pulled pork is in a pan. If the meat isn't being stored with any liquid, then you need to add some for moisture and texture. I like to use some broth to rehydrate the meat. You can use water as well but I find that this dilutes the overall taste. However, it is up to you.

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This is what you need to know about shredding pork. It can seem like a simple matter, but there is more than meets the eye. The good news is that you are now all caught up and ready to tackle the task!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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