Carolina Style Pulled Pork

June 21, 2017

Carolina Style Pulled Pork is one of those classic Americana BBQ styles that everybody needs to try at least once! Rich, savory smoked pork shoulder is topped with a vinegar based, thin sauce to bring a little bite to all that melt in your mouth meat.

Carolina Style Pulled Pork

Now before you get all offended about my branding of this recipe “Carolina Style,” just know that I am aware that this recipe is specifically WEST North Carolina style BBQ. East North Carolina Style is primarily whole hog BBQ with a thin vinegar sauce (no ketchup involved!) I even had somebody comment on my Instagram sneak peak of this recipe “if it ain’t clear, I won’t go near” in reference to the color of my sauce. Haha. Carolinians are very divisive when it comes to the ingredients in their BBQ sauce! That being said, this style of BBQ using the pork shoulder and some ketchup in the sauce does, in fact, come from a part of Carolina, the west part of North Carolina, and to write out the whole history in the title of a recipe is excessive. So, I’m calling it “Carolina Style” and you can ravage me in the comments section, if you please. 😉

I chose to work on this method for Carolina style pulled pork because I personally prefer the hint of ketchup and brown sugar in the sauce. This is overall a savory preparation for smoked pulled pork (in opposition to a couple other of my pulled pork recipes like Cider Brined Pulled Pork and Bourbon Brown Sugar Pulled Pork), but I still prefer just that little kiss of sweetness in the sauce. If you want to keep it extra traditional, shred up red and green heads of cabbage and use the thin sauce to dress the slaw. It makes for the most amazing crunchy element in an otherwise tender sandwich.

The key components to this recipe are actually quite simple!
-First, the meat. I stick with a bone-in pork shoulder AKA Boston butt. I used boneless a couple of times and the bone in version was always superior.
-Second, the rub. True Carolinians claim all you need is good salt. I like heat and color, so I use good Kosher salt, some coarse black pepper, and some smoked paprika. Still elemental and simple, just a little amped up.
-Third, good smoke. Traditionally, hard woods like oak or hickory are used. I cooked this on my pellet smoker and used a blend of mainly oak, with a little cherry, and maple.
-Fourth, the mop sauce. This thin sauce helps keep that beautiful hunk of meat moist while it smokes away. The sauce is very thin with only a few simple ingredients.
-Finally, the BBQ sauce. Like I said, this is West North Carolina Style pulled pork, so my sauce does include a little bit of ketchup and brown sugar (which I think makes it better! There, I said it!)

PRO TIPS: This butt isn’t covered or wrapped, so the mopping step is crucial. Keep that mop sauce on hand and use it often. Also, because the butt never gets wrapped to speed the process or retain moisture, it is very important that you use a great thermometer. I recommend investing in a Thermoworks Smoke or ThermaQ so you can monitor both the meat temperature and grill temperature. Or you can use a handheld MK4 and just check every time you mop your meat. A 6-7 pound pork butt will take about 8-10 hours at 250 degrees F, but the best way to get the greatest results is to cook by temperature and not time.

Oh! People always want to know about what I use to shred my shoulders and I LOVE these cool bear claw style shredders! You can grab them on Amazon for around $12-$15.

5 from 8 votes
carolina style pulled pork
Carolina Style Pulled Pork
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
8 hrs
Total Time
8 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Barbecue
Servings: 12 people
  • 6-7 pound bone in pork shoulder
For the rub
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons smoked paprika
For the mop sauce
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup beer
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
For the BBQ sauce
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
Slaw (optional)
  • 1/2 head green cabbage shredded
  • 1/4 head purple cabbage shredded
  1. Preheat your smoker for indirect smoking at 250 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the rub and apply liberally on all sides of the pork shoulder. Place the rubbed shoulder in the smoker and close the lid.
  3. In a glass bowl, combine all the ingredients for the mop sauce. Apply the mop sauce to the pulled pork every hour. Smoke the pork shoulder, while mopping hourly, for 8-10 hours or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 200 degrees F.
  4. Remove the shoulder from the smoker, cover tightly with foil, and allow to rest for an hour before shredding and serving.
  5. Make that BBQ sauce! In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the BBQ sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Cool completely and set aside to serve with the pork. If you want to make the slaw, pour about a cup of the BBQ sauce over the shredded cabbage in a large bowl and toss gently to combine.
  6. Remove the shoulder from the foil and shred. Discard the bone and any gristly pieces and pull the rest of the meat into shreds. Moisten the meat with some of the BBQ sauce and mix together. Serve with buns, slaw and additional BBQ sauce.
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79 thoughts on “Carolina Style Pulled Pork

      1. Hey thanks for the video . We are new to smoking .eat and just bought a big propane smoker. During the 8-10 hour smoking process do you add more wood chips as the burn up?
        Thank you
        Lisa in GA

  1. I followed this recipe this past weekend for my first smoke with the new Primo grill. The results were amazing!!! The BBQ sauce was the perfect finishing touch. We can’t wait to try more of your recipes!

        1. Hey Susan- You can absolutely do this one in the oven! You’ll lose some of the authentic smoked flavor, but the cook time will be about the same as the recipe describes.

          1. I have heard that bacon grease will help with the “smoked” taste 🙂 Have not tried, but plan to.

  2. New to the BBQ sauce making process. Tired of store bought stuff I just don’t like. It seems as though this would be a very runny sauce and not very thick. Would this be an accurate assumption?

  3. I’m thinking about smoking this today…in the morning…and then serving it tomorrow. How do you feel about reheating the meat? I have out of town guests on Saturday and need make sure everything is done and I’m nervous. Lmk what you think! Thanks!

    1. Hey Adrienne! Good to see you outside of Instagram! You can definitely cook and reheat, I would double bag in gallon freezer zip top bags and reheat in a pot of simmering water. OR, you can plan to start them early, then when they are done, wrap them up in foil and beach towels and hold them in a cooler until you’re ready to eat. They will stay hot for 4-6 hours in the cooler and then you all get fresh pulled pork!

      1. I love that you knew it was me, you just made my day. ???? I’m going to start it early and I’ll let you know how it goes!

    2. It reheats great. When you pull it leave all the juice in there. Set your oven at the lowest setting and put it in covered. It could take an hour or two depending on the amount.

  4. I’m currently making the butts now! What would be the best advice for storage and reheating (on a grill preferably). Plan on serving this tomorrow afternoon.

    1. I would recommend pulling them tonight in the pan you plan to reheat in, keeping them all together with their juices. Cover tightly with foil and reheat over indirect heat, just until warmed through to serving temperature.

  5. Can’t wait to try! I’m making this the day before a pot luck and wanted to leave the sauce on the side – what do you recommend for keeping the meat moist the next day while in the foil container? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hey Christine! I would move the pork to the foil pan as soon as you take it off the smoker. You’ll collect quite a bit of moisture from letting it rest for a couple of hours. When you pull the pork, keep it in the pan with all those juices! You can even add in a couple of tablespoons of apple juice to help.

    1. Hey Frank- you can totally sub in apple juice! It will definitely add a sweeter element that isn’t traditional with the vinegary NC style, but if you like sweet then you should go for it!

  6. Had time today and did a Texas Brisket and this Carolina pulled pork recipe. Smoked the beef from midnight to bout 10 AM and wrapped it then put the pork butt on. Brisket out at 3pm and pork just out at 4:15. A great 2fer and since I had room on the GMG I figured might as well.

  7. This may sound silly, but do you have any suggestions on having this ready in less than 8 hours? Smaller roasts? Ever do it in less than 8 hours?

    1. If you want it done quicker, a smaller roast will definitely help. You can also increase the temperature. There isn’t any sugars in this recipe that you need to worry about burning, so it can handle a higher temperature.

  8. So my mom and I followed your directions however it took all day and into the night. We were using a smaller electric smoker so it should be noted that this process takes a lot longer and plan on serving the following day. I found that opening and closing the smoker causes heat to escape and makes it cook longer.

  9. Hi Susie,
    Just wanted to complement you on your recipe here. I bought a pellet grill last year and have made your Carolina Pulled Pork a half dozen times or so. Needless to say, I have become the “go to guy for BBQ” for friends and family. I have been paying the extra dollar to get a better cut of meat from my local butcher. What a difference that makes. I also use Competition Blend Pellets for my smokes. Thank you for sharing your expertise. You’ve created a monster!!

  10. I am in my first hour of cooking in a “tube” smoker vertical chamber smoker vs. a horizontal smoker). Cooking a 7 lb. Boston Butt with shoulder. Cooking the pork in the top chamber with a pan of water and beer mixture in between the heat source and the meat. Top chamber thermometer is consistent at 250 degrees. Do I need to cook longer than 8 hours since my pork is not as close to the heat source (like the horizontal smokers)? Also, I assume the water pan adds a buffer that keeps moisture in while preventing the meat from drying out? Using charcoal briquettes and hickory wood in the bottom.

  11. Can’t wait to try this recipe, I’m planning to make this for our 4th of July Party. If there is leftover, can I freeze it?

    I’ll come back and rate once we try it!

  12. Great goodness!!!
    Awesome replication of Carolina “pig pickin” sauce!
    I followed the recipe to the letter and it turned out awesome!
    Thanks man!!!

  13. Can you cook the sauce early? I tried making it while the pork was smoking but it has now cooled and the ketchup is clumping. Was hoping could keep it in a bottle for leftovers

  14. My most favorite pulled pork came from Short Sugars in Reidsville N.C. back in the mid 70s. Have not been there in many years so not sure if it is still there.

    1. I haven’t tried this in the oven myself. I have had others use the instant pot or crock pot and it has turned out great. If you are going to use the oven, I would follow the same time and temperature instructions as the written recipe.

  15. I ended up buying boneless pork shoulders. About 7.5 pounds each. Can I expect the cooking time to be longer since there is no bone?

  16. Hello heygrillhey,
    Ref: Carolina Style Pulled Pork

    I do not have a smoker. Could I cook the pulled pork on the grill with indirect heat and watching temperature, with pan under the meat.
    Any suggestion, using wood or charcoal, and smoking chips.

  17. What kind of beer do you recommend, a lawnmower beer (Miller Lite or Bud Light) or something heavier (Guinness?)

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