About 10 years ago our family flew into Kansas City, Missouri and drove across the state to meet up with some relatives. I had been reading about barbecue in a book by Jane and Michael Stern and had made a list of places around the country with reputations for exceptional barbecue that I wanted to try. Kansas City is renowned for its barbecue, so as soon as we arrived at the airport we got our rental car and headed straight to Arthur Bryant’s. We ordered a sampler of brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and ham. The meat was moist and deeply flavorful. I particularly liked the ham. I had never eaten barbecue like it before. It was excellent. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I can tell you that the smoky, spicy flavor lingered on my tongue for several hours afterwards. For me, one of the marks of really good barbecue is that it stays with you, the memory lingers and is not easily forgotten.
I have no skills when it comes to the grill (but my husband does) or in smoking food. I don’t own a smoker, and I know I can’t come close to an Arthur Bryant-like smoky barbecue. Instead, when I get a craving and have no access to expert barbecue, I make this home cooks’ version of a simple and moist pulled pork using my slow cooker (there are a number of similar recipes online) and it is pretty good, even if it isn’t authentic. (I will confess that the recipe is unconventional since I use Pepsi as the simmering liquid. But, hey, Nigella simmers ham in Coke and she is pretty terrific in my book.)
I buy a bone-in pork butt for this recipe. I take off a portion of the thickest part of the fat on top and in the middle and cut off the bone with a bit of the meat still on it. (My mother always saves the bone and freezes it. Then when she makes tomato meat sauce for pasta she adds the bone to the simmering sauce. It is delicious. So I now freeze the pork bone and use it for sauce, too.) I also have found that a big piece of meat does not fit well or cook evenly in my 5-quart slow cooker, so I cut the meat into large chunks after I season it, then put it in the slow cooker. I used a slow cooker liner bag for this recipe. I think the pork tastes best if made the day before you serve it, but I have given instructions for eating it the same day you make it.
Slow Cooker Barbecued Pulled Pork
4-5 lb. bone-in pork butt
spices of your choice for sprinkling on meat – salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper
3/4-1 Tbsp. Liquid Smoke
2 c. Pepsi
1 (18 oz.) bottle Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce
Place liner in slow cooker. Season meat liberally with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and other spices of your choice. Rub spices into the meat. Cut meat into chunks and place in slow cooker. Combine Liquid Smoke and Pepsi and stir. Pour over meat. Cover and turn the slow cooker on low and cook for 8-9 hours until meat is fork tender and falling apart. Remove meat from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon and place on a cutting board. Discard all but 1/4-1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. The saved cooking liquid will help steam the meat once you return meat to the slow cooker with the barbecue sauce on it. Shred the meat and discard fat. Place 2 cups of shredded meat in a large bowl. Taste and see if it needs salt, then season with a bit of salt if necessary and some of the barbecue sauce. Stir to combine. Repeat the process with remaining meat seasoning with salt and barbecue sauce until all the meat is seasoned. You want the meat to be coated liberally with barbecue sauce, so plan on using the entire bottle of sauce. Return the meat to the slow cooker and reheat for 20-30 minutes. Serves 6.