Cheap BBQ Pulled Pork Recipe Can Feed a Crowd
One of the best ways to save money on food is cooking at home using recipes that utilize an inexpensive cut of meat. The problem is that many people think cheap cuts of meat equals tough, or otherwise poor quality meat. This is not always the case. In fact, some of the cheapest cuts of meat produce the best tasting dishes you’ve probably ever had. Cheap foods can still be healthy, good and save you money. No, this is not traditional barbecue, which requires low and slow cooking with real smoke. While I do have a smoker and make traditionally smoked pulled pork, this is a great winter substitute, or simply a way for those of you without smokers to achieve a great pulled pork dish from the comfort of your kitchen.
That’s why today we’re looking at the pork butt, Boston butt, pork shoulder, or whatever you want to call it. It’s a cut of meat that hardly anyone buys because it’s something you can’t just whip together in 15 minutes and requires low and slow cooking. If you’re a busy parent you may be thinking this recipe isn’t for you, but you’re wrong! The magic of this dish is that it only requires a crock pot and about five minutes of prep work and it cooks itself. Even better, you can usually end up with over 5 pounds of BBQ pulled pork to feed your family for days or entertain a crowd for a little more than $10. How frugal is that? It’s especially great for a super bowl party and if you pair it up with your own home brewed beer your guests will be sure to have a great time.
For the working person this is an ideal crock pot recipe because you can literally dump everything into the pot before you leave for work in the morning, turn it on, and come home to the most tender and delicious pork shoulder you’ve ever had. Since you should ideally cook this for 8-12 hours it’s perfect for those long days at the office or just cooking overnight on a Saturday so you have a no-fuss meal ready for Sunday with leftovers to last most of the coming week. It’s up to you, but it’s impossible to mess up so don’t worry about trying to time out the recipe exactly. I once started cooking this and had something come up and the pork ended up going for nearly 24 hours. It wasn’t even a problem and tasted as good as always.
Ingredients and Cost
Above you’ll see everything you need to make this recipe.
- 5-7 pound whole pork shoulder (Pork Butt, Boston Butt, etc.) $0.99-$1.39/lb (Around $7 total)
- 1 medium to large onion $0.99
- A few cloves of garlic $0.25
- BBQ Rub Seasoning $2-$3
- Liquid Smoke $1.49
- BBQ Sauce $3.00
- Salt and pepper
I want to talk about a few of these ingredients before we get started. First, the pork itself. What it’s actually called will vary by location. In some places it’s just a pork shoulder, in others it’s a butt, and sometimes even specifically referred to as a Bostom Butt. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a hunk of meat from the top part of the front shoulder of a hog and in the whole form as we have here, usually includes part of the shoulder blade bone inside. This is what we’re looking for with pulled pork and it should be incredibly cheap.
Here’s mine. As you can see, we call it a Boston Butt up here. You’ll also notice I picked it up for just a dollar a pound. This was actually marked down slightly because it was one day before the sell by date. Regular price was $1.39/lb. Since this cut isn’t very popular it’s not uncommon to see these sit on the shelves for a few days and then get marked down to try and get rid of them. If you keep your eye out and plan your meals ahead of time you can almost always snag one for really cheap a day or so before the sell by date.
I also wanted to touch on the two other ingredients that may be a little confusing to you. First is the liquid smoke. If you recall from my award-winning chili recipe, I use liquid smoke as part of a marinade. This is the same stuff and we use it in this recipe because we’re trying to replicate some of that authentic smoked barbecue flavor. Before the hate mail begins flooding in I do want to make a note that even though we’re making BBQ pulled pork, this is not authentic barbecue. In order to achieve that you need to smoke the meat for a number of hours low and slow. If you have a smoker and can do this yourself, then by all means do so. But for the folks who don’t have a smoker or want to make something as close as possible from the comfort of their kitchen this is the next best thing.
Finally, we have the BBQ rub seasoning. I happen to keep Stub’s brand on hand in our house, but if you already have a favorite BBQ rub that you use that’s fine too. If you don’t have a pre-made rub you can easily make your own with a few household spices you already have. In a small bowl mix in some salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic and onion powder. This is a real common mixture and it is a great rub to use on a lot of different things.
So far our cost for this recipe is a little under $15, and that’s if we have to buy everything listed. If you already stock onions, garlic, BBQ sauce and spices in your pantry you’re e really only looking at the cost of the meat itself. I can’t think of a cheaper meal.
Preparing the Pork
Do you hate spending a bunch of time in the kitchen chopping and cutting food just to get it ready for cooking, which then requires you to stand around tending to it for another half hour? Me too, which is why you’re going to love this recipe. First, take the onion and few cloves of garlic and give them a rough chop. Just quarter the onions if you want. Nothing fancy at all.
Now, just dump the onions and garlic into your crock pot. Go ahead and give them a good few pinches of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. That’s it, we’re done with the vegetables already.
Now you just need to season the pork. Give it a nice good coating of the store-bought BBQ rub or your own spice mix. Don’t be shy as it’s nearly impossible to over season it at this point. If you really want some flavor you can season it and then wrap it in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge overnight so that some of the flavors begin to really get absorbed into the meat. That is totally optional, but also totally delicious.
Drop the pork into the crock pot with the rest of the ingredients and it’s time to add some of the liquid smoke. This stuff is concentrated so a little bit goes a long way. For this recipe I usually use 1-2 tablespoons. We will be discarding the cooking liquid when we’re done anyway.
To top things off you’re going to want to fill it about two-thirds of the way with water. Be careful and don’t over fill it because it will get boiling and bubbling and you don’t want to make a mess on your counter to clean.
This picture isn’t very exciting, but this is your pork’s home for the next eight hours or so. How long you cook this is really up to you. If you crank it out on high you can finish it in about 3-4 hours. Personally, I usually put it on low and then let it go overnight for at least 8 hours. On a few occasions I got busy and it’s cooked for 12+ hours and it’s still fine. We’re adding enough liquid that there’s no real danger of it all boiling off and burning your meat so don’t get too concerned about the exact cooking time. Also, for reference I believe this is a 6 or 6.5 quart crock pot and it holds a 7 pound pork shoulder with just a little room to spare. Obviously, keep the size of your crock pot in mind when deciding how big of a piece of meat to get.
After letting it cook for a number of hours this is what you’re left with. A big brown juicy hunk of awesome. The only thing left to do now is separate the meat from the bone and most of the fat so that we can drain all of the liquid. So, go ahead and grab the single shoulder blade bone and just pull it out. The meat is so tender at this point it will slide right out.
Once you remove the bone you can just take a slotted spoon or some tongs and fish out all of the chunks of meat from the crock pot and set it all aside in a large bowl. This is also your chance to separate all of the fat and everything sticking to some of the meat so in the end you’re actually left with a relatively lean pile of meat.
After you’ve pulled all the meat from the crock pot you can go ahead and dump all of the liquid, fat, onions, and everything that remains. I’m sure you could find a use for this stock if you wanted, but in my experience it tends to be really fatty since you render almost all of the fat out of the meat so it isn’t the most useful. Once you’ve dumped the liquid and fat you can throw the meat back into the crock pot.
Now we get to actually make it look like pulled pork. The meat is so tender at this point that there’s not much pulling involved. All you have to do is take two forks and use them to shred the meat. As you can see above I’d hold one in each hand in the position they are and then drag them toward the outside of the pot. Repeat this for a few minutes and you’ll have a perfectly shredded pile of pork.
All that’s left now is to add the BBQ sauce. I prefer Sweet Baby Ray’s, but any sauce that you love is perfect. Depending on how big your pork shoulder is you may need anywhere from a half a bottle to a whole 40 oz bottle of sauce. In my case, the 7 pounder required nearly a full 40 oz bottle of sauce. Start by adding a small amount and then mix it in to see how it looks before adding more. You can always add more sauce, but once it’s mixed in you can’t remove it. So play it safe and start slow.
And there you have it. After adding all of my sauce and mixing it in for a few minutes I’ve reached the consistency I wanted, which was perfect for putting on a bun to make a sandwich. At this point the pork probably needs to be heated up a bit, but here’s a little tip. Because you’ve now added sauce to the mix that is high in sugar you have to be careful with the heat. Even on low, if you let it sit for maybe a half hour you could find it starting to burn on the sides. Low is fine if you’re able to keep stirring it every 10 minutes, but don’t let it sit unattended at this temperature. If your crock pot has a “keep warm” type setting, this will work perfectly. Otherwise, as long as it’s warm enough to serve, your pork is done! I bet you already know that, because if you’re like me you’ve been picking at it for hours.
And here is my final product. This is how I eat it, nice and simple. A pack of hamburger buns, a quick toast on a hot pan, and a big pile of pork. It doesn’t get much better than that. When serving them to others I always like to keep some cole slaw and dill pickles on-hand to go with it, which are very traditional sides. But how you eat it is up to you. My wife is happy with just scooping some into a bowl and eating plain, it goes good on a big fat piece of Texas style garlic toast, and even makes some great BBQ burritos.
With so many options and the fact that it freezes nicely it’s great to make a big batch of it and then eat it fresh for a day or two and then freeze the rest so you have a quick meal on-hand for those busy nights when you don’t feel like cooking. For us, this is just one of those things that’s perfect for entertaining. When we have a poker party or a group of people over to watch a game it’s easy to just let it sit out in the crock pot staying warm and put a pile of buns next to it so people can make sandwiches as they come and go. And for $10-$15, can you really go wrong? I hope you enjoy this BBQ pulled pork recipe as much as I do.
If you enjoyed this recipe, be sure to check out some of my others:
- Award-Winning Chili Recipe
- Homemade Salsa Recipe
- Fresh Refrigerator Pickles
- Homemade Applesauce Recipe
- Grilled Potatoes and Sour Cream Sauce Recipe
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.