Big Little Recipes

5-Ingredient Pulled Pork Sandwiches—Homemade BBQ Sauce Included

July 31, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, wow factor. Psst: We don't count salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. This time, we’re making homemade pulled pork sandwiches that seem easy as heck—because they are.

I used to live in the land of pulled pork. Or, I thought it was pulled pork, and then learned better.

In North Carolina, whole-hog BBQ reigns queen—and technically it’s chopped, not pulled. The sauce depends on which side of the state you’re in. On the east, you’ll find a vinegar-based sauce so simple, you’d think it’s just vinegar. And on the west, you’ll find something sweeter, thicker, and ketchup-y.

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That’s the sort of BBQ sauce I grew up with in the Northeast. And it’s the sort of BBQ sauce a lot of Americans just call “BBQ sauce,” as if there was only one type. And it’s the sort of BBQ sauce we’re making today. From scratch, from three (yep, three!) ingredients:

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Top Comment:
“Yum! Thank you for sharing this—can’t wait to try!”
— Emma L.

Ketchup, apple cider vinegar, and chipotle peppers. Which is to say, it’s not authentic to western North Carolina. Or eastern North Carolina. Or anywhere. It’s my favorite elements of all the sauces I’ve tried—from store-bought bottles to the real deal—whirled in a food processor, yielding something sweet and tangy and smoky and spicy. And you don’t even have to cook it. Totally perfect for…

Photo by Ty Mecham

Pulled pork. Pulled, not chopped. Because unlike Southern pitmasters, I don’t have the equipment (or gumption) to roast a whole hog. If you do, give me a call and let’s hang? For the rest of us, pork shoulders are here to save the day. This cut, which butchers sell as “pork butt,” is cost-effective, crowd-friendly, and totally hands-off.

All you need to do is season it with a lot of salt, sear it—hard—in a Dutch oven, add some water, stick in a low-temperature oven, and forget about it for a few hours. Watch a movie or a couple movies, then check back in: It should be so tender, the mere touch of a couple forks will turn it into thick shreds.

Photo by Ty Mecham

Now don’t be shy with that sauce. And keep extra on hand for when you’re assembling the sandwiches. I especially like a pillowy potato bun, but this would be just as good between two slices of bread, maybe even griddled in a pan.

If you’re thinking, This recipe makes 10 sandwiches! I don’t have a family of 10! I don’t have a party coming up! me too, and me too. I’d just as soon as make this for a crowd as I would for me and my boo. The leftovers are fridge and freezer gold:

Add to pasta for the world’s least authentic ragù. Or use as a pizza topping. Or pile on a rice bowl. Because whatever it is, if it’s covered in homemade BBQ sauce, it’s going to taste good.

What’s your favorite kind of BBQ sauce? Tell us about it—and how you use it!—in the comments below!

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  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


zenpilgrim July 31, 2018
Not as simple as yours (but I will be trying it) but I put my Carolina Mustard sauce up against. It goes on all pork dishes, BBQ or not.:

3/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp Ketchup
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Cook on low heat, whisking continuously for 10 minutes (to prevent scorching). Put in a storage container. Prepare 12 to 24 hours before use to allow flavors to meld together.
Emma L. July 31, 2018
Yum! Thank you for sharing this—can’t wait to try!