Healthier Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Healthier Slow Cooker Pulled Pork |

I have so much to say about slow cookers that I don’t know where to start.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with mine. I love the idea of it: throwing a bunch of healthy ingredients into a pot, turning it on, leaving it all day, and coming home to a nourishing stew, soup or chili. What’s not to love about that? But my attempts to execute on this idea have been met with mixed success. Mostly failure, actually.

I expect slow cookering would be relatively foolproof if I used commercial sauces and soups—powdered onion soup mix, canned cream of mushroom, or jarred barbecue sauce, for example. This is what slow cookers (or crock pots) were invented for back in the convenience-food-crazed 1970s.

But slow cooking with real food—vegetables, stocks, fresh herbs, and stuff like that—doesn’t work quite as well. You often end up, in my experience, with a dinner that is bland, soupy and cat-foodish in appearance. I once made a promising slow cooker peanut-butter chicken stew recipe that tasted and looked so terrible it went straight into the trash.

I considered giving up on the slow cooker all together, but judging by the amount of requests I get for “slow cooker recipes, puh-lease!!!!” I figured it would be something like shooting my busy-parent-cooking-blog in the foot. So I persevered. And I’m finally ready to unveil my first (hard won) Kiwi & Bean approved slow cooker recipe.

Healthier Slow Cooker Pulled Pork |

Before I get to the recipe, a few things I learned in my slow-cooking experiments that I hope will help you maximize your own chance of slow-cooked success:

  1. Fat is your friend. The slow cooker works best with fattier cuts of meat, like chicken thighs or pork shoulder. Don’t trust a slow-cooker recipe that calls for chicken breasts or pork tenderloin.
  2. Start with a flavour base. The dump-it-all-in-and-turn-it-on recipes are appealing for their simplicity, but they are generally too good to be true. Raw garlic and onion, in particular, are rendered inedible by slow-cooking. (There are not too many things that I find truly disgusting, but slow-cookered raw onion is at the very top of the list.) I highly recommend spending a tiny bit of extra time to develop a base of flavour, by sauteeing the garlic and onion, toasting the dry spices, searing the meat, or all of these things. I don’t relish the thought of sauteeing onions at 730 am before I leave for work, so I will usually prepare the “flavour base” the night before and store it in the fridge overnight, as I have recommended in the pulled pork recipe below.
  3. Cut back the liquid. This is key. Liquid doesn’t evaporate from the slow cooker in quite the same way it does when you cook a dish on the stove or in the oven. So if you intend to create your own slow-cooker recipe, or convert your grandmother’s oven or stove-top braised stew recipe to a slow cooker one, cut the liquid by half, possibly even three-quarters of what you would otherwise use.

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Pulled pork is right in the slow-cooker sweet spot: a muscular fatty cut of meat drenched in flavour and slow cooked with a small amount of liquid until it is falling apart, super-tender and saucy.

Most pulled pork recipes call for a bottle or two of commercially prepared barbecue sauce, and while I’m sure that would be delicious, I’d rather skip the preservatives and save my sugar quota for cupcakes. Or chocolate. You know what I mean? So this recipe, while it hits all the pulled pork buttons: tender, saucy, salty-sweet is actually pretty good for you, and possibly even “healthy”. Honest. It’s great on a big soft onion roll, of course, but if you want to extend the health theme just a bit, try it on brown rice, quinoa (as pictured here) or tucked into a corn tortilla with a little red cabbage slaw and some pickled jalapeno peppers.

Healthier Slow Cooker Pulled Pork | www.kiwiandbean.comThis recipe makes a hefty portion. We eat it for dinner on day one and lunch on day two, and freeze the rest for a future meal.

4.4 from 10 reviews
Healthy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 8-12
  • 4-6 pound boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I use avocado oil, but grapeseed or vegetable oil will work too)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (the Mexican-style spice mix)
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Use paper towels to pat the pork shoulder dry. Place the shoulder into a large (6 quart / 5.6 litre) slow cooker.
  2. Heat the cooking oil in a medium-sized skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sautee, stirring frequently, until the onion is nice and soft.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, maple syrup, soy sauce (or tamari), chili powder and apple cider vinegar. Cook until most of the vinegar has evaporated and the mixture has thickened, about 5-10 minutes.
  4. At this stage, you can transfer the mixture to a small container and refrigerate overnight OR proceed with the next step.
  5. Rub the onion mixture all over the pork shoulder, then pour the water into the slow cooker.
  6. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or until the meat is very very tender.
  7. Use two forks to pull the meat apart, then stir it into the cooking juices.
  8. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  9. Serve over quinoa or rice, on a soft roll, or wrapped in corn tortillas.



44 Responses to Healthier Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

  1. Melissa spearick April 13, 2019 at 1:44 pm #

    Is there a substitute for maple syrup? It’s so expensive.

  2. Nathalie September 19, 2018 at 10:28 pm #

    Perfectly sweet and saucy. I looked up the recipe this morning and admittedly groaned when seeing the prep work. In reality the time it took to put together the few, simple, on-hand ingredients and prepare in the pan was far quicker than gathering the long list of ingredients many recipes contain. Who knew that such a small amount of maple syrup would produce the same tasty results as those recipes loaded with sugar, ketchup, molasses etc. So impressed, I’ve passed it on!

  3. patrick44e May 24, 2018 at 1:35 am #

    How do you spend Christmas?

  4. Susan March 5, 2018 at 12:09 am #

    Hello again…I forgot the rate the recipe.. 5 stars!!

  5. Susan March 4, 2018 at 11:59 pm #

    This recipe is absolutely fantastic!!! My husband was skeptical as he does not like the typical pulled pork served in restaurants, but loved this recipe! Lots of flavor, even though I omitted the salt and pepper following cooking. Also, since my family loves garlic, I often use more than called for by a recipe. I used six cloves instead of 4 cloves; even so, the dish was not overpowered by garlic or any other ingredient. Lots of well blended flavor! Overall, I am not huge fan of Crock Pot cooking, but this recipe is a keeper for sure! The 4lb pork shoulder roast cooked for 8 hours on low and was fall-apart tender. The fat easily separated and was tossed out. Thank you the sharing!!!

  6. Lynn January 7, 2018 at 6:53 pm #

    Made this tonight as trying to cut down sugar intake. It was gorgeous and full of flavour. I think chilli powder may be different here in the UK. I added 1 tablespoon and that was more than enough!

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  8. Sunny February 16, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    Making it for the second time. Most amazing thing ever.

  9. Anna Wright January 17, 2017 at 2:47 am #

    This recipe came out perfect!! So delicious!! Thanks so much :):) I’ve been wanting a damn good recipe for a very long time and these are wonderful! I am so excited about them .Can’t wait to make them again! Thanks again for such a recipe 🙂

  10. Daphne Torr January 10, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi, I have a 1.5 lb pork tenderloin. im good with calculations for the ingredients. should i still cook on low fro 8-10 hours or reduce cooking time because its a smaller loin

  11. Lauren December 16, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    We made this today and was absolutely delicious but soooo spicy!! We used 2 tablespoons of the chilli powder as recipe says (in Australia our tablespoon is 20ml measurement) is this correct as other comments say this recipe is kid friendly and we’re not sure how haha? We struggled with the heat. Perfect recipe otherwise thanks so much! 🙂

    • Sarah January 2, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

      Hi Lauren — the chili powder we buy and use here is a mix of several spices (cumin, coriander, paprika, etc.). It usually contains a bit of actually chilies, but not much. May be that you used ground chilies? That would definitely make this dish way too spicy!

  12. Alice October 11, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    Made this for tea today.. slow cooked for 12 hours and added about double the water so it created a sauce.. served with healthy coleslaw and quinoa. Beautiful and went down well with the husband who doesn’t like ‘healthy’ food

    • Sarah October 18, 2016 at 4:44 pm #

      Sounds great!!

  13. Teal October 8, 2016 at 1:17 pm #

    I just bought ingredients for this recipe and I’m excited to make it! Can I put the slow cooker on high for 4 hours instead? Or does it have to be low for 8 hours?

    Thank you!

    • Sarah October 18, 2016 at 4:44 pm #

      Hi Teal — I generally find that slow cooking on low for a longer time is preferable to a shorter cooking time on high, but if you try the latter do let me know if it works out. Good luck!

    • ashlee November 5, 2016 at 11:12 pm #

      Hi there, Did you end up doing this for 4 hours on high? I just put it in the slow cooker and it only has a high setting. So ill see how it goes.

  14. Mona To April 26, 2016 at 12:16 am #

    I made this pulled pork tonight and it was delicious! In fact, my husband said it was the best pulled pork he has ever had. So glad we have leftovers and will most definitely be making it again! Thank you so much!

    • Sarah April 26, 2016 at 8:20 am #

      Glad to hear it Mona!!

  15. Jade February 26, 2016 at 5:12 am #

    How much of the seasonings would you recommend for a 1.5kg (around 3.3 pounds) of the pork? Thanks!

    • Sam April 7, 2016 at 5:51 am #

      Well if the recipe is for about 5 pounds and you have 3.3 pounds. Just do 2/3….

  16. Stan February 7, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Cooked this last night with 5 lbs of pork tenderloin. Wow! This is very versatile. Shredded the port and can use with with anything. BBQ suce, curries, salads, …

    • Sarah February 10, 2016 at 8:09 am #

      Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Rochelle June 2, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

      Hi. I’m on a diet and all I’m eating is chicken breast and salmon.

      I am trying to find a recipe that I can make pulled pork with tenderloin pork .

      did you do theses institutions exactly the same as the recipe has for pork shoulder or chanced cooking times ?

      Just that I have read loads of people say it will try up if over cooked!!? HELP haha x

  17. Jennifer January 17, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    I tried this recipie today (& yesterday, as I made the rub the night before). The pork turned out tender, shredded easily. We wrapped ours in Boston lettuce leaves, garnished with some thin sliced red cabbage, diced red onions, shredded carrot and a squeeze from a lime wedge. Healthy and delicious!

    • Sarah January 18, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it! I love the idea of wrapping it in lettuce leaves. Super healthy!

  18. Kiwi November 19, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    The most tender and delicious slow-cooker dish that is super kid friendly. From past experience and some of these posts it sounds like execution is also key for slow-cooker recipes!

    • Jenny huggins November 19, 2015 at 4:43 pm #

      Our whole family loved it. I made it for a family gathering and they all wanted the recipe

  19. Linda October 26, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    I was super disappointed with this recipe. The homemade sauce was really bland. I followed the recipe just like it said.

    • Sarah October 28, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

      Oh gosh Linda I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe not enough salt? 🙂

  20. Denise Mass August 2, 2015 at 7:47 pm #

    Is there a way to get the nutrition value.

    • Sarah August 3, 2015 at 12:38 am #

      No sorry Denise Mass I don’t calculate nutritional info for my recipes 🙁

  21. john May 2, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    All sounds great but a fresh pork will be better!!!

  22. Jenna April 19, 2015 at 1:52 am #

    Can you cook this on high? I’m in a time crunch but this looks awesome!

    • Sarah April 29, 2015 at 7:47 pm #

      Hi Jenna — you probably could cook it on high though I have never tried. If you do it and it works, let me know!

  23. Michelle March 6, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    We love our slow cooker but it has taken us a long time to find out what works best. What I also love is our mini slow cooker. We cut recipes in half so if there is a massive fail we aren’t left with tons and tons of it. Plus it’s much less bulkier to store and clean. You’d be surprised how much you can fit in one of those. I’ll def try this recipe. Thanks!

    • Sarah March 10, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

      Ha ha good idea! Throwing out a HUGE slow cooker full of failed whatever is SO disappointing!

  24. Shelli March 4, 2015 at 11:41 pm #

    Hi! I found your site from looking for baby led weaning recipes on Pinterest! Your recipes look AMAZING! Is this recipe something you would feed your baby? I LURVE pulled pork!!!!!! But lately I’m not sure how much salt (soy sauce) my baby can eat? Would I give him low/no salt options during the day + give him this for dinner???

    • Sarah March 10, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Shelli! Glad you found the site! How old is your baby? I fed my little guy this pulled pork from about 10 months onwards. At first I separated a little for him before I mixed the pork into the sauce at the end (just to make it less salty) but these days (he’s 14 months now) I just give it to him as-is–sauce and all. And yes I absolutely will do less salt during the day and more salt for dinner! I’m no doctor but that seems to make sense to me :-).

  25. Maya Fitz February 9, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

    Made this today with chicken (thighs) and it was delish!!! I can’t wait to eat the leftovers tomorrow.

    • Sarah February 10, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

      Yum!! Glad to know it worked well with chicken thighs. I’m going to try it! And the leftovers are the best part 🙂

  26. Shauna February 4, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Looks so good, especially on a cold winter day like today!

  27. Thalia @ butter and brioche January 31, 2015 at 3:30 am #

    I can’t say that I have used my slow cooker much lately.. and this recipe is just the perfect excuse for me to pull it out and use it. I love pulled pork and I love how you have made this a healthy version especially!

  28. Kate January 29, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    I am in a slow-cooker induced depression at this very moment. Turned it on before we all left to go to the dentist and run errands, only to come home hours later to find out that Ryan had unplugged it just before we left, not realizing what he was doing. OMG, the worst. Bye-bye beautiful (organic) beef! 🙁 But now this post has me feeling happier, I think I will order up a pork shoulder from the farmer at our market this weekend!

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