North Carolina BBQ In A Crock-Pot: Yes We Can

Plated Pulled Pork

Think this can’t be done without a smoker? Think again.

Purists, and pretty much anyone from down here, will tell you that it can’t be done.

“Barbecue in a Crock-Pot? That’s not barbecue, you Yankee mo-ron.”

They’ll tell you that without smoking your meat, or at least getting in on some hot grill action, all you’ve got is wet meat in a hot bucket, which sounds about as unappealing as the visuals the phrase evokes.

Strictly speaking, they’re correct. You can’t really do BBQ, at least badass traditional barbecue, in an electric appliance on your counter top. It turns out though, that what you can do is an incredible and delicious simulation, particularly if you concentrate on busting out some North Carolina-style vinegar-based ‘que.

It’s kinda like Beatlemania, but with pork. Actually, it’s better than Beatlemania, because Beatlemania was lame, and pork is so not (and you can always put Revolver on the stereo while you eat, but they didn’t let you barbecue at the Winter Garden theater ).

I wouldn’t have even gone down this road to begin with if I hadn’t been sent a George Foreman “multicooker” for review last week. Yes, a George Foreman product, and it’s about as ridiculous as you’d imagine; I’ll spare you details beyond saying it’s pretty much a glorified Crock-Pot.

So I’m looking at this thing, and the only thing I can think to do is to slow cook a hunk of meat with it. And, since no one has thought to send me a Weber Smokey Mountain for my personal enjoyment, I figured I’d try to replicate some BBQ and do some sort of pulled pork deal. And oh yeah, I’m a Yankee mo-ron.

So off to market went I, where a purchase of a nice half picnic could be made.  For those of you that do not know, the half picnic is part of the shoulder cut, specifically the lower part (the upper part is commonly called the Boston butt and is the cut I used for my oven-based BBQ). I’d been wanting to work with a half picnic for a while, and not just because of the low, low price of $1.29 a pound; it’s also generally sold with the skin still on, allowing me to play butcher at home (my EZ-Bake oven is broken).

Trimming a Half Picnic

Joanna doesn’t like being reminded of what she’s eating, thus hates the skin. All of that went out the window with a single bite. Shots are before and during trimming. Click to enlarge.

There are a number of ways to handle the skin, but I wanted a sear on the meat itself, so I just removed it and trimmed the excess fat from the cut. I applied a sweet rub made of paprika, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, then cranked ol’ George up (one of the advantages to the thing is that you can go near-nuclear by heating it to 500 degrees; I drew the line at 350), added a bit of oil, and got my sear on.

After coloring it up, which wasn’t entirely a walk in the park as the the multi cooker was a bit small for the bone-in hunk of pig I was working with, I dropped in a couple of slices of bacon that I had cut into chunks to add a bit of smokiness and some bonus fat. Once they crisped, I added a seat-of-the pants vinegar-based BBQ cooking sauce, dropped in another chunked bacon slice for good measure, popped the top on, dropped the heat, and left it alone for 14 hours.

Slow Cooked BBQ Half Picnic

Post cook, pre-pull. Magnificent in its porkitude.

The next day, the pork wasn’t quite where I wanted it (to get a good, easy pull I was looking for about 195 degrees internal), so I increased the heat for an hour or two. That did the trick.

I removed the pork and tossed the bones, then pulled the meat with a couple of forks, shoveling chunks into my mouth now and then. The pork was incredibly tender and full of flavor, which is one of the advantages of the half picnic: more pork flavor, baby.

I skimmed the fat off of the liquid in the cooker, did a light strain on it (I didn’t want to lose all the bacon, after all), then added some additional hot sauce. The pork and sauce went back into the cooker on low to be mixed up and steep.

The result? Really, really amazing. The fact that it’s a vinegar-based ‘cue must help hide the fact that the pork wasn’t smoked, because this was seriously up there with some of the best I’ve ever had.  And it wasn’t just me.

My wife, who wasn’t fond of the skin on the shoulder, thought it was the best pork she’d ever tasted, and hoovered it all day. No small feat, as she’d been complaining about being tired of meat lately.

Pulled Pork Half Picnic

Incredibly easy to pull, a beautiful mix of darker and lighter pork. Amazing.

My daughter took a bite, looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said: “Have I told you recently how much I love you?”

My son, who doesn’t like much outside of grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and burgers from a charcoal grill, simply said “holy crap,” dropped his video game controller and headed to the kitchen for more, his highest endorsement.

The entire hunk of pork, which was as large as I could fit in the Foreman unit, was eaten in a day by the four of us; between snacking and dinner, we were actually short a few ounces.

So next time (which is, um, tonight) I’m busting out  a proper Crock-Pot, and making sure it’s a big’un. Hopefully, this batch will last longer than a few hours. But I wouldn’t bet on it.


  1. andrew

    Sounds like the pernil that my Cuban and Dominican staff used to conspire on for lunch. Early in the morning they would toss a well seasoned, vinegar soaked pork shoulder in the oven covered with a roasting pan. 1/2 an hour or so before it was done they removed the cover, did a baste and let all that spicy liquid roast on. No smoke involved, but it was the lunchtime treat.
    If you want to get highbrow, I just made Osso Bucco and it came out unbeleivably good. Nothing says class like slurping marrow out of a shin bone.

    1. Bradford Schmidt

      You’ve got that right – did you check out the Osso Bucco recipe that Jamie Pruitt from Wild Olives by Todd English gave me? How close is it to yours?

      And were are you cooking, now, Andrew? Or did you finally open a place?

  2. Joanna

    oh how I loved it. There’s another… even BIGGER leg slow cooking in the kitchen right now as I type.
    😛 I’m going to lick my plate tonight!

  3. Matt Hanser

    hahahaha….”holy crap”

  4. andrew

    Very similar. I used less onion, more carrots and celery. First sauteed vegetables in olive oil, Then dredged the shanks (6) in flour and sauteed in the same pan, one of those big flying saucer shaped La Cruset jobs. Once the shanks were browned and the pan had a dark brown (not black)coating from the excess flour, I added the stock- 2 cups chicken, and 4 cup Long Island east end corn water. I also tossed in the veggies and those same herbs,a few cloves of garlic, covered and simmered on top of the stove for about 2 hours.
    When the meat was very soft I removed the shanks, and added the peel and juice of an orange. Use a veg peeler to remove the skin, you only want the orange part. I turned up the fire and reduced the stock for about 10 minutes or so, scraping all of the residue from the sides of the pan.
    I finished the sauce by straining the stock into a small pot, bring to boil and whisking in about a half can of tomato paste. I was going to do a gremolata, but was too lazy. It didnt need it.
    I am a food service director for the Northport school district on L.I. The kids eat well in my district. Next month we are doing a carving station like in the Vegas buffets. Roast top round and turkey. Not bad for $2.25

  5. andrew

    Sounds like you like to do a lot of pork. I use a vinegar based bbq sauce called “Carolina Red” I got from a book called Smoke & Spice.
    1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
    1/2 cup ketchup
    1/2 tsp cayenne
    1 tsp salt
    1 tbs sugar

    Its easy, zingy, and goes amazingly well with smoky pork bbq.

    1. Bradford Schmidt

      On my list for the next moment I have to make something.

      But do you make your own ketchup or use ol’ 57 – who by the way now makes one called “naturals” (or something like that) that’s made with sugar and no HFCS.

      1. andrew

        No usualy buy Hunts, has no HFCS, although, as you say, there are more brands going that way. The corn people are getting nervous as the public is starting to wake up to that poison. They petioned the FDA to rename it “corn sugar”. Put lipstick on a pig and you get waxy tasting bacon.

        1. Bradford Schmidt

          Hunts? Isn’t that catsup? Eww.

          I heard about that petition – someone wrote a piece about it on Technorati, where I’m an editor. Really, really cheesy, but ADM needs to make its lobbying dollars pay off somewhere; the government price fixing on sugar apparently isn’t enough for them, and the farm subsidies they’re being handed aren’t making up for it. So sad.

          Don’t get me started.

  6. Jan Norris

    Mercy! I’m gonna have to make you an honorary Southerner if you keep this up, bucko. I add in a tad of diced onions; they add just a big of sweetness. Serve it on grilled (not toasted) buns – or with a hunk of Never-Sugar-In-It cornbread. Can’t wait till you do get a smoker. You’ll be thoroughly dangerous.

    1. Bradford Schmidt

      Well now I’m feeling honored. Considering the heat I get from some people around here for being a Northerner and stuff…

      Mouth watering thinking about grilled buns – had it a single open-face slice of white bread today (no time for grilling), and it was fantastic.

      Oh, right – I made it again yesterday, with a larger hunk of pig, in a larger crock pot.

    2. Bradford Schmidt

      And maybe Florida Weekly will get me a smoker for a signing bonus.

      A man can dream, can’t he?

  7. Jan Norris

    Sounds like you’re already smokin. Something.

    1. Bradford Schmidt

      Medical use. I swear.

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  9. Jan Norris

    Publix makes an organic ketchup under its Greenwise label – I’ve been buying it ever since I found it. I like the flavor but I do have a recipe for homemade I’m going to make – who wants some?

    1. Bradford Schmidt

      Ooh – I definitely want a copy of that. Ketchup is so key in barbecue sauces that I always felt stupid using store-bought in a “homemade” sauce.

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