When I think of pulled pork, my first thought goes to Carolina style. In my opinion, it’s easily the best pulled pork out there. Heck – it’s one of my favorite BBQ meats there is. Due to this, I knew I needed to create a recipe so that I could make this amazing dish whenever I wanted it. It took me quite a few attempts to get it right but I’ve finally perfected this recipe and I am ready to share it with you!
What is Carolina style pulled pork?
Disclaimer: this is my version of Carolina pulled pork and it is West North Carolina style (my mop sauce includes ketchup – more on that below) and not East North Carolina style (no ketchup). I know that Carolinians are very specific in how they do their BBQ, so I wanted to make sure I clarified which style this recipe is. But there is one thing that these two versions have in common – vinegar! This is what makes it Carolina style – a low and slow smoked pork shoulder with a beautiful vinegar mop/BBQ sauce. This combination is absolutely delicious!
Wait – what do you mean mop sauce?
A mop sauce is exactly what it sounds like – a sauce that I will use a mop to baste the pork with. Of course, I do not use a giant cleaning mop. Instead I use these mini BBQ mops. My mop sauce includes just five ingredients:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Brown Sugar
- Crushed Red Pepper
How do I use this mop sauce?
All you need to do is combine these ingredients in something like a mason jar for at least 24 hours in advance – the longer the better. Then every hour that the pork is on the smoker, just mop (baste) this sauce over the pork, making sure every inch of the pork gets some love. I recommend pouring some mop sauce from the mason jar into a bowl to mop from to prevent any potential cross contamination from the mop touching uncooked meat. The combination of this sauce over slowly smoked pork is to die for. There’s a bonus too – any mop sauce that is left over can be used as a BBQ sauce with the pulled pork when you’re eating it!
What’s the full process for Carolina Pulled Pork?
The process for this delicious dish is surprisingly simple. It goes as follows:
- Make the mop sauce at least 24 hours in advance but you could go much longer – I’ve done a week in advance before. The longer it sits and “marries” together, the better it will be.
- Dry brine the pork shoulder with our Open Fire BPS Rub 24 hours in advance of when you plan on smoking it. For more information on dry brining, check out our Dry Brined Steaks post for a full explanation.
- When it’s time to cook the pork, smoke at 250ºF-275ºF with smoking wood (I use cherry wood for this recipe).
- Mop the pork with the mop sauce every hour until an internal temperature of about 205ºF is reached. The pork should be very tender and should feel like butter when probing it with a thermometer.
- When the pork has cooled, shred by hand or with shredding claws. Pour in more sauce and mix together.
- NOTE: After hours of smoking and mopping with the sauce, the pork crust will start to turn black in color. Do not worry – your pork is not burnt. This is due to the sugar caramelizing on the outside and it is absolutely DELICIOUS.
This is an incredible BBQ dish. I am telling you that you need to give this one a shot. The combination of the vinegar sauce and the slowly smoked pork gives unbelievable flavor. My 18 month old son was begging for more. While a little time consuming (what good BBQ isn’t), the process is extremely easy and totally worth it. After one bite, your first thought will be “when am I making this again”!
Carolina Pulled Pork
- 5-7 lbs Pork Shoulder
- BPS Rub to taste
- Mustard or Oil to use as a binder
- 3 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
- 3/4 cup Ketchup
- 1/3 cup Brown Sugar
- 2 tbsp Salt
- 1 tsp Crushed Red Pepper use more if you want it spicier
- At least 24 hours in advance (the longer the better), combine apple cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, and crushed red pepper into a mason jar or similar container. Put in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
- 24 hours in advance of when you plan on smoking the pork shoulder, apply a thin layer of mustard or oil all over the pork. The mustard or oil is only being used to help as a binder for the rub – you will not taste it in the final product.
- Generously season the pork all over with the Open Fire BPS Rub. Put your seasoned pork on a rack with a tray under it so that air can flow through on all sides. Put in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
- When ready to cook, light a charcoal grill and stabilize the temperature around 250ºF – 275ºF. Add smoking wood to the fire. I use cherry wood for this recipe but any type of wood you like will work just fine.
- Add the pork to the smoker uncovered or unwrapped (and leave like this the entire time). Mop (or baste) the pork with the vinegar mop sauce every hour, making sure to get the sauce on every inch of the pork. I recommend pouring some mop sauce from the mason jar into a bowl to mop from to prevent any potential cross contamination from the mop touching uncooked meat.
- Smoke until an internal temperature of about 205ºF is reached. The pork should be very tender and should feel like butter when probing it with a thermometer.
- Serve as is, in a sandwich, or however you like it. Any leftover mop sauce can be used as a vinegary BBQ sauce with the pork.