Tender, juicy, savory and sweet -- this Cider Braised Pork Shoulder is comfort food at its finest! The pulled pork recipe is perfect for a chilly fall evening after a day at the orchard -- just let it simmer slowly in the oven or in a Crock Pot. Pair the meat with mashed potatoes or biscuits, or pile it high on sandwich buns. Everyone will love this cozy and easy dinner!
Cider Braised Pulled Pork
Braised meat refers to any tough cut of meat that is slowly and gently cooked in liquid until it becomes flavorful, juicy, and fall-off-the-bone tender. For this braised pork shoulder recipe, you'll slow cook a pork roast in a Dutch oven (or in a Crock Pot) with a flavorful blend of onions, garlic, herbs, and apple cider for the best pulled pork that you've ever tasted!
What cut of pork is best for braising?
The best cut of pork for braising is called a "pork butt" or a "Boston butt." Some grocery stores often label this as a "pork shoulder." Boston butt comes from high on the hog, above the shoulder blade. It has a lot of juicy, marbled fat, which lends itself well to juicy, slow-cooked meat.
Can I use a boneless pork butt for braising?
Yes! Using a bone-in pork butt adds even more flavor to your meat; however, you can certainly use a boneless pork butt instead. In general, a boneless pork butt will require slightly less time in the oven than a bone-in piece of meat, so keep an eye on it and adjust accordingly.
How to make Braised Pork Shoulder
Braised pork shoulder is very similar to making a pot roast. Braising, which comes from the French word braiser, is a combination-cooking method that uses both wet and dry heats: typically, the meat is first seared at a high temperature, and then it's finished in a covered pot with liquid at a lower temperature. The process is incredibly easy, but it does require patience, as slow-cooking is the name of the game. At least most of your effort will be completely hands-off!
Ingredients for Braised Pork Shoulder
- Bone-in pork butt (or "pork shoulder")
- Bay leaf
- Apple cider
- Chicken broth
- Kosher salt and pepper
Step 1: Sear
Brown the pork on all sides in a large Dutch oven on the stovetop. Remove the meat to a platter and set aside.
Step 2: Add Onions and Garlic
Next, add the onions and garlic to the drippings in the pot. Sauté the onions until they are nice and tender -- about 10-15 minutes.
Step 3: Add Liquid and Seasoning
Stir in salt, a bay leaf, the thyme sprigs, the rosemary sprig, the apple cider and the chicken broth.
Step 4: Return Pork to Pot
Nestle the pork into the cider and other ingredients, fat-side up.
Step 5: Braise
Cover the Dutch oven and cook the pork for about 3 - 3 ½ hours, or until it's fall-off-the-bone tender. If using a meat thermometer, you're looking for an internal temperature of about 190-195 degrees F.
What temperature should you braise pork?
Braising requires a longer cooking time at a low temperature. This allows the tough meat fibers to break down and become tender. A typical oven temperature for braised pork shoulder is in the range of 275 degrees F - 325 degrees F. I suggest 325 degrees F for this recipe, but if you have more time and you'd like to let the pork roast for even longer, you can set the oven at 275 degrees F and cook the pork for at least 5 hours.
Why sear the pork first?
Searing the pork before adding it to the liquid and other ingredients helps to brown the surface and enhance the flavor. A hot pan can create a golden, caramelized crust through a process called the Maillard reaction, and will also lock in the meat's juices. Whether you're braising the pork in a Dutch oven or in a Crock Pot, don't skip this important step!
Should braising liquid cover the meat?
No, the liquid should not cover the meat in the pot. You want just enough cider and broth to surround (but not submerge) the pork. We're braising -- not boiling.
Do you make braised pork shoulder with the lid on or off?
Keep the Dutch oven (or slow cooker) covered while the pork braises in the oven. This creates a moist environment, trapping the juices inside the pot.
Why is my braised meat dry?
This recipe shouldn't turn out dry at all, because the braised pork shoulder just gets juicier and more tender as it cooks. If you find that your braised meat is dry, it's likely that you're using the wrong cut of meat (such as a lean tenderloin). It's pretty hard to over-cook or braise the pork shoulder for too long. Just let the oven (or slow cooker) do its job while you sit back and enjoy the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen!
How to serve Braised Pork Shoulder
This cider braised pulled pork is a versatile and easy meal! I love to simmer a pot in the oven on a crisp Sunday afternoon after a weekend at the apple orchard! Nothing says cozy, Virginia fall comfort food more than this simple, hearty dish. It's also great for tailgating, for entertaining or for feeding a crowd. Pile it onto sandwich (or slider) buns, make braised pork shoulder tacos, stuff it in baked potatoes, or pair it with any of these sides:
- Crock Pot Mac and Cheese or Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Classic Southern Macaroni Salad
- Southern Potato Salad
- Classic Pasta Salad
- Cowboy Baked Beans
- Skillet Cornbread
- Pumpkin Bread
- Homemade Applesauce
- Fried Cabbage with Apples and Onion or Roasted Cabbage
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes
- Skin-On Mashed Red Potatoes
- Braised Red Cabbage
- Garlic and Parmesan Cauliflower Mash
- Southern Collard Greens
Crock Pot Pulled Pork vs. Dutch Oven Braised Pork Shoulder
If you're going to be out of the house for most of the day, you can braise your pork shoulder in the slow cooker instead of in the oven. To do so, sear the pork according to the recipe instructions. Sauté the onions and garlic in the pot according to the recipe instructions, too. Transfer the onions to the Crock Pot, stir in the remaining ingredients, and add the pork. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours.
The cast iron Dutch oven is always my preference over the Crock Pot, if you have a choice between the two. The Dutch oven is convenient (and requires fewer dishes) because you can sear the meat on the stovetop and move the entire pot to the oven for braising later. The tight-fitting lid traps moisture in the pot, and the cast iron distributes the indirect heat from the oven more evenly than the heating element in a slow cooker does. Finally, it's easier to control the oven temperature and time when using a Dutch oven than it is to control the temperature of your Crock Pot.
To make this dish in advance, refrigerate the braised pork (before shredding) in its cooking liquid with the onions overnight. The next day, when the dish is chilled, skim the fat from the top. Reheat the pork in a 325 degree F oven, and shred just before using.
If you want to reheat your cooked pork in a Crock Pot, place the cooked pork (and all of the reserved juices) in the slow cooker on the “WARM” setting for 2-4 hours.
Leftover pulled pork will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. To keep the pork longer, you can freeze the cooked meat in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
More pork shoulder recipes that you might enjoy:
- Crock Pot Pulled Pork
- Mississippi Roasted Pork Shoulder
- Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce
Cider Braised Pork Shoulder
- 1 bone-in pork butt (or “Boston butt” or “pork shoulder”) (about 6-7 lbs.)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 large onions, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 ½ cups apple cider
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Pat pork dry with paper towels; season liberally with salt and pepper on all sides.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the pork on all sides, taking care not to get the oil too hot. Remove the meat to a platter.
- Add onions and garlic to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender (about 10-15 minutes). Stir in 1 ½ teaspoons salt, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, apple cider and chicken broth. Nestle the pork shoulder in the pot (fat-side up). Cover the pot.
- Roast the pork shoulder in a 325 degree F oven for about 3-3 ½ hours, basting with cooking liquid every hour or so (if possible). The pork is done when the meat is falling off the bone (an internal temperature of about 190-195 degrees F). Remove bay leaf and herb stems.
- Transfer the pork to a large cutting board. When it's cool enough to handle, shred the meat with two forks (discarding fatty pieces), and spoon plenty of that delicious cider cooking liquid and onions over top.