This salty sweet apple cider brined pulled pork is made from pork shoulder that is brined then smoked and slow roasted to tender, fall-apart perfection.
One of the reasons that I fell so hard in love with my grill is because of how SIMPLE it is to cook dinner for my family. I am a mom of 3, and, to be honest, getting dinner on the table every night can be a pain in the butt. From deciding what to make, to grocery lists, to shopping trips, to the second shopping trip because you forgot stuff on the first trip, it can suck. When I started grilling regularly, not only did I think of ways to make quick 30 minute recipes on weeknights, I learned how to utilize my time on the weekends to simplify the rest of my upcoming meals. I will grill up 3 or 4 whole chickens then shred and freeze for quick (and delicious) chicken dishes. I can smoke a whole mess of tomatoes and make marinara sauce and freeze it. The weekends have become my favorite time to cook outside with my family and meal prep for the upcoming week. My most favorite thing to do in bulk that we do over and over again on the weekends is pulled pork.
Cider Brined Pulled Pork to be specific.
That’s right, CIDER BRINED! The apple cider brine just perfectly accentuates the natural sweetness of the pork. The flavor is in every single bite of pork because not only is it brined from the outside, it is also INJECTED with the brine. This is your chance to play mad scientist and go all in with a giant syringe! It is so freaking fun. If you don’t have a meat injector, it would be worth buying one just for this recipe. Or don’t buy one and just enjoy the (still) amazingly delicious flavor from the brining process alone. This pulled pork is just so succulent and juicy and it is all from that tasty brine, so I love getting the flavor into the meat as much as I can.
If you have followed along at Hey Grill, Hey for any amount of time you are probably aware of my pulled pork/ pulled pork leftovers obsession. I think it stems from the fact that pulled pork is so dang simple to make, it is one of the MOST inexpensive (always under $2.00/lb) cuts of meat, and there are leftovers for DAYSSSSS which means easier meal prep for me during the entire week. If I maximize my grill space, then I can double the cider brined pulled pork recipe, portion into bags and freeze for future use. It is a life changer, truly, and helped me get over that “what am I cooking for dinner tonight, crap it’s already time for dinner” dilemma.
How to make Cider Brined Pulled Pork:
So here’s the rundown of how I save money, time, and effort and still feed my family like they are legit royalty without me really trying very hard. I’m lazy. It happens.
Friday evening before bed: Throw the pork butts in the brine. Refrigerate. Make the rub and set aside.
Saturday morning (7 AM): Pull the pork butts out of the brine, pat down with a paper towel, and inject with some of the brine liquid. Cover liberally with spice rub. Place the butts on the smoker at 225 degrees. Bring about 6 cups of the brine to a boil (to protect against cross contamination) and and then refrigerate. Continue my morning as usual, heading outside about once an hour to check my fire and mop my butts with some of the reserved brine.
Saturday morning (10 AM): Before we head out to soccer games, friends houses, errands, etc. I transfer my pork butts to a disposable aluminum pan and fill the bottom of each with about 1 cup of the reserved brine. At this point, you can return to the smoker and increase the heat to about 250 degrees, or you can place it in your oven at 250 degrees, or if you’re a little concerned about leaving with your oven/smoker on you can always put the pork butt and liquid in a large crock pot on low (but please try not to do this. Crock pots are against my personal moral constitution. No judging though.) If at any point during the day, your pork starts to look a little too dark for your liking, cover it tightly with foil.
Saturday afternoon (about 3 or 4 PM): Start checking your temperature. Always use an internal thermometer to check your pork butts. You are looking for 195 at least, preferably 200 degrees, before your pork is ready to pull off the heat. This can take anywhere from 6-9 hours after you place them in the foil pans . If your pork butts are done before dinner time, no problem! Just pull the whole foil wrapped tray and place it in a cooler with some towels to keep it hot! If it is taking a little too long…. well…. there are always appetizers to tide people over until it is done. Don’t rush BBQ. It is what it is.
Saturday evening (10 minutes before chow time): It’s time to shred your pork. Pour the excess cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and set aside while you shred. You can use 2 forks, some Bear Paws (my personal favorite), or whatever you love to get that pork shredded and the extra fat/gristle removed and discarded. Once your pork is shredded, grab your cooking liquids. The fat should have risen to the top, so skim that off with a spoon or a fat separator, and drizzle some of the juices onto the pork to moisturize everything and make it extra yummy! Now serve as much as you want to your family!
Saturday night (after dinner): It’s time to portion the leftovers into bags! I like to plan at least 2 meals for the upcoming week with the cider brined pulled pork and freeze the rest for future meals. If you need inspiration for your pulled pork leftovers, look no further! I’ve got Pulled Pork Huevos Rancheros (for breakfast), The Smoky Cuban Sandwich, BBQ Chicken Nachos (make with pork), Loaded Baked Potatoes, The Smokehouse Stuffed Hot Dog… the possibilities are endless!!
And BOOM!! You’ve got the major protein taken care of for at least 6 meals if you made two pork butts. I kid you not, life changing. Just pull a bag of cider brined pulled pork out of the freezer and dinner is all but done! And since your smoker did most of the work (if you have an indirect, automatic smoker like my Camp Chef Woodwind) you can look like a total rock star without actually trying very hard. I’m always looking for new ideas on how to use up that pulled pork, what are your favorite ways to eat it up??
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder or Boston butt 5-7 lbs
- Buns and BBQ sauce for serving (if desired)
- 6 cups apple cider
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 1/3 cup Hey Grill Hey’s Sweet BBQ Rub link in recipe notes
In a large plastic container or food safe bucket, combine all of the brine ingredients and stir until the salt and sugar crystals have completely dissolved. Be sure the pork is almost fully immersed in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, but no more than 12 hours.
When ready to cook, start your smoker going at 225 degrees F and preheat, lid closed, for 10 to 15 minutes. While the grill gets up to temperature, remove the pork from the brine and set on a large cookie sheet with raised edges. Do not discard the brine liquid. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel. Using a meat injector, inject the pork with some of the remaining brine about every two inches across the entire roast. Pour about 6 cups of the remaining brine into a pot and bring to a boil to kill any raw pork germs and discard the rest.
Now that the meat is brined and injected, it is time to rub. Rub the Sweet Rub liberally onto your pork butt, using your hands to massage the rub across every surface of the meat.
Put the pork directly on your grill grate, fat-side up, and cook for 3 hours, mopping with your reserved brine every hour after the first hour.
After 3 hours, the pork is going to have taken on as much smoke flavor as it can, so it is time to turn up the heat! Transfer your roast to a large disposable aluminum foil pan and pour about 1 cup of the brine liquid in the bottom of the pan. Increase your grill temperature to 250 degrees F, and cook for 6 to 8 additional hours, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat (but not touching bone) registers 195 to 200 degrees F. If the pork starts to brown too much, you can cover it loosely with aluminum foil. I usually put foil on after the pork has been on for 6 hours or so, but that is personal preference.
Once your pork is up to temperature, remove it from the grill and carefully transfer it to a large cutting board or serving dish and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. Pour the juices from the bottom of the aluminum pan into a liquid measuring cup and separate any fat that rises to the top. Now it's time to pull the pork into lovely shreds. You can use your hands, Bear Paws, or whatever method you like Discard the bone and any lumps of fat, including the cap. Season the pulled pork with additional rub (if desired) and moisten with the reserved pork juice.
Serve on buns with BBQ sauce, if you like! Freeze any leftovers in labeled gallon freezer bags. Will keep in the freezer for at least a month for your future use.