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Southwestern Pulled Pork

We make pulled pork frequently at our house. It’s great because it feeds a crowd, it’s cheap, it’s versatile, and everyone LOVES it. I almost always do it in the slow cooker which makes it great for hosting since it leaves the oven free to do other things.

Because we make pulled pork so often I’ve tried a number of different recipes to keep things fresh. Recipes for ribs work amazingly with pork shoulder as a substitute. (It’s also called “pork butt”. Shoulder/butt – it’s all the same thing here.)

Most recipes I’ve found when searching are for BBQ Pulled Pork. Which is all well and good if BBQ is what you’re looking for. And there are endless variations on BBQ but sometimes I want something a little different. I need a recipe that will go well with southwestern flavors – chiles and lime and cilantro and all that.

After a little digging online I created this dry rub. I’ve made it three times now, tweaking the ratios until I felt I had it right . And oh man it IS. This pulled pork could be used for sandwiches, on nachos, in tacos or burritos, wherever. It is soooo good and so easy.

My favorite way to serve this pulled pork is with Pioneer Woman’s Cilantro-Jalapeno Slaw.  The recipe as written below is slightly modified from hers but I’ve posted the link above if you want to check out the original.  She was the first food blogger I started following years ago and is one of the reasons I started this blog.  I have both of her cookbooks and love them to death.  I actually created this dry rub to go specifically with this slaw.  It’s that good.

Here’s what we need to start.  1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt, 1 Tbsp Black Pepper, 1 Tbsp Ancho Chile Pepper Powder, 1 Tbsp Ground Coriander, 1 tsp Ground Mustard, and 1 tsp Ground Cumin.  That’s our dry rub right there.  Just mix that all up in a small bowl…

…and rub it all over your well trimmed pork shoulder.  It’s okay if not all of it sticks, it will get picked up in the juices later on.

Now, this is half a pork shoulder.  About 3 1/2 to 4 lbs.  The ones you buy at the store are normally bone-in, 7-8 lb monsters.  I only ever do half at a time and put the other half in the freezer for later.  A whole shoulder never seems to cook up as well in the slow cooker, I don’t know why.  (Even half is still a ton of meat though!  Unless you’re serving guests you’re still probably gonna have leftovers.)

  Now, just set the crockpot on low if you want it to be done in about 8 hours.  Set it on high if you need it done in about 5.  The pork is done when you can stick a couple forks in there and easily shred the meat.  It should just fall apart.  (But not disintegrate.  That’s what will happen if you leave it in for MUCH longer than it needs.  You want to cook it long enough to break down most, but not all, of the connective tissue.)

Okay, you can totally tell this is not my shot because the photo quality is like 1000x better than any of my pictures.  No, this shot comes directly from thepioneerwoman.com  I make my slaw slightly differently from hers in that I use only the red cabbage (in the convenient bags) and I chop up my cilantro instead of leaving it pretty much whole like she does.

In about the time it takes to pull the meat and grab some buns out of the cupboard (gluten free or otherwise!), you can pull together your slaw.  That being said, cole slaw is really much better if you make it a couple hours in advance and let the flavors come together before you eat it.   So do that.  If you think of it.

Just mix up some mayonnaise, milk, white vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl (see recipe below for exact amounts).  In a larger bowl, empty out a 10oz bag of shredded red cabbage, add a chopped jalapeno, and two big handfuls of cilantro, chopped (most of a bunch – you want a lot this time) and toss.  Pour the dressing over and mix to coat.

Pile some pork and some slaw on a bun and you’re done.  I was so starving and going mad from the wonderful smell permeating the house that I couldn’t be bothered to take a picture before this moment.  Even that shot at the beginning was just taken from the other side of this half eaten sandwich.  Insanely delicious.  This pork would also be great in any number of southwest flavored dishes like tacos, burritos, nachos, you name it.  So so good.

So what are you waiting for?  Go make some!

And enjoy!

Southwest Pulled Pork Sandwiches

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 Tbsp Kosher Salt

1 Tbsp Black Pepper

1 Tbsp Ancho Chile Pepper Powder

1 Tbsp Coriander

1 tsp Ground Mustard

1 tsp Ground Cumin

Half a pork shoulder, well trimmed (a little over 3 lbs after trimming)

Sandwich rolls (GF or regular)

Cilantro Jalapeno Slaw (recipe below)


Halve your pork shoulder and trim off any large sections of fat.  Don’t worry about the bone if you’re using that half.  You can remove it at the end when you pull the meat.  Wrap up the other half in plastic wrap, put in a ziplock and store in the freezer for future use.

Put prepared meat in the crockpot.

Combine first seven ingredients in a small bowl.  Rub all over meat until all surfaces are coated.  Set the crockpot to Low if you want to eat in about 8 hours, High if you need it sooner (about 5 hours).

After the requisite amount of time, remove the lid and try prying the meat apart with two forks.  If it shreds easily it’s done.  If not, put the lid back on and turn it up to High if it was on Low before.  (Crock pots are not opened until the food is done, ideally, because they don’t regain temperature quickly, hence the changing of the setting.)

Shred meat and serve on buns with Cilantro Jalapeno Slaw.

Cilantro Jalapeno Slaw

(adapted slightly from thepioneerwoman.com)

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp white vinegar

1 Tbsp sugar

a dash of cayenne pepper

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 10oz bag Shredded Red Cabbage

1 jalapeno, chopped

2 large handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped (most of a bunch)


Combine milk, mayo, vinegar, sugar, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, jalapeno, and cilantro.  Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss to coat.

Serve over top of pulled pork on buns (or any way you like!)

Serves a crowd (at least 8)


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Red Chile Beef Nachos

Some nights all you want is a huge plate of nachos to call it a day.

These nachos are not a last minute fix but they are not even comparable to the slop you’d get in the drive through at Taco Bell.

Ick.  Do you guys go there?  We went there in high school occasionally.  But now?  Now that I know what real food is supposed to taste like?  No, thanks.

The last two times I went there were when I was pregnant.  First trimester, sick as a dog, and it was the closest drive thru to Wegmans.  Why, I can hear you asking, if I had a car full of groceries did I not just park and grab something to eat out of the back?

Anyone who has ever been pregnant already knows the answer to this.  Because I was pregnant and if I didn’t eat something in the next few seconds  I was either going to vomit, pass out, or DIE.  I remember feeling like I couldn’t even breathe and if I didn’t eat something NOW I was going to have to pull the car over and lie down until whatsoever time I felt okay enough to drive again.

That is one aspect of pregnancy I do not miss.

So anyway, what were we talking about?  Oh yeah, really GREAT nachos.  Now, I have to give major credit to Bobby Flay on this one.  This recipe is a conversion of a conversion of a taco recipe of his that I’ve used and abused for a couple years now.  I’ve switched around a couple of the more expensive ingredients and made the whole process a bit less complicated.  I also usually use a pork shoulder for the meat but this night I had a chuck roast that needed to fulfill it’s destiny so beef it is.  (So if you have a 3 lb pork shoulder on hand you could totally use that)

Let’s start by browning a chuck roast on all sides.  I used my Dutch oven for this, the same one we’ll use again in a minute – that way we don’t have to make everything in the kitchen dirty.  Just a few minutes over medium-high heat will do it.

Next, chop up 6 cloves of garlic and a large sweet onion (like a Spanish or a Mayan).  These are actually shallots.  Because for some reason I had no onions.  Only shallots.  Who knows.  Anyway.

Now, using that same pot, over medium-high heat warm a couple tablespoons of canola oil and saute the onions until opaque (about 5 minutes).  This is when you get to scrape up all the little brown bits in the pan.  Mmmm.  Add the garlic and cook another minute more.  No longer or the garlic will burn and then you’d have to start over.

And cry.

Behold!  The world’s cheapest wine!

No, seriously, this bottle costs like $1.99.  I know they say you’re supposed to use wine that you would drink on it’s own but who can afford that???  And more to the point, I don’t even drink wine so Goya it is.  Pour a cup and a half of wine into the onions and let it reduce down almost completely.  I set a timer for 12 minutes.  Works every time.


While that’s reducing down, grab a can of chipotle chile peppers in adobo and chop up two of them.  (Two peppers.  Not two cans worth.)

Add the chopped up chipotles and 1 Tablespoon Ancho Chile Powder to the wine-soaked onions.

This looks like I’m adding water.  I am.  And I’m not.  At this point we’re going to add 3 cups of chicken broth along with a teaspoon of dried thyme.  I use bouillon which is why we have a completely useless shot of me pouring water into the pot.  Bring it to a boil, add the meat back in, COVER IT, and stick it in the oven at 350 degrees.  We’re gonna leave it there for about 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is pull-apart tender.  (I’ve also done this in the crockpot a number of times.  In this case you only need about 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and 4 hours on high)

Meanwhile, we’re going to make our green chile salsa.

Pull out your food processor, we’re gonna use it a couple times here.  Grab a big handful of cilantro and pulse it until it’s chopped up evenly.

Then add in the can of Roasted Green Chiles, the juice of 1 lime, salt and pepper to taste, and about 10 cherry tomatoes (or equivalent amount of whatever kind of tomatoes you have on hand).  Pulse until your salsa looks something like this.

Remove the salsa from the food processor and wipe it down quickly.  Using the shredding attachment, shred 3 cups of cheese.  You could use Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby Jack, Colby, or Cheddar.  Pretty sure this was Colby.

Or you could just grab a bag of pre-shredded “Mexican” cheese out of your cheese drawer.  Whatev.

Now let’s make our cheese sauce.  Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan and whisk in 1 Tablespoon cornstarch.  Cook it for just a minute.

Next, gradually whisk in 1 1/4 cups whole milk, whisking continuously so you don’t end up with lumps.  This whole process goes so much faster and easier if you heat up the milk in the microwave first.

Bring it up to a full boil (still whisking) until it’s thick and glossy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Okay, so it’s two and a half hours later and our beef is falling apart tender.  It’s on a plate right now, being shredded with my extra arms (don’t I wish).

Anyway, I have removed it from the pot and all this goodness is what’s left over.  Now, my roast was not terribly fatty so I found using a degreasing cup to be unnecessary but if you want to you can skim out the fat.  We’re gonna put this back on the burner over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, just letting it boil away until it’s reduced and thick and saucy and wonderful.  Taste it.  Give it what it needs (salt/pepper/nothing).

Oh, there’s the money shot.  Look at all that meat in our thick, rich sauce.  Heeeeeaven.

And here it is all together!  I put it on a baking sheet because…I don’t remember why.  I honestly have no idea.  Wait, I think maybe I warmed the chips in the oven for a minute first.  Maybe.  Anyway.  Layer of chips.  Layer of meat.  Drizzle of cheese sauce.  Scatterings of salsa.  To.  Die.  For.

Oh, and an electric blue Margarita on the side can’t hurt.


Red Chile Beef Nachos

(adapted from Bobby Flay)

3 lb chuck roast, trimmed

2 Tbsp canola oil

1 large sweet onion (Spanish/Mayan), chopped

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 1/2 cups red wine

2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped

1 Tbsp Ancho Chile Powder

1 tsp dried thyme

3 cups chicken broth

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

tortilla chips

For the green chile salsa

1 (4.5 oz) can Roasted Green Chiles

10 cherry tomatoes

juice of 1 lime

large handful of fresh cilantro

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Cheese Sauce

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 1/4 cups whole milk

3 cups shredded cheese such as Monterrey Jack or Colby

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown the chuck roast on all sides (about 5 minutes).  Set aside.

In the same pan, still over medium-high heat, add canola oil and saute onions until opaque and soft (about 5 minutes).  Scrape up the brown bits during this time.  Add the garlic and cook one minute more.

Pour wine into onions and set a timer for 12 minutes.  Allow to reduce down almost completely.  There will be almost no freely moving liquid after 12 minutes.

Add chicken broth, chipotle chiles, ancho chile powder, and thyme and bring to a boil.  Add the meat back into the pot, cover, and place in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours or until meat is falling apart tender.  (Alternately, you can do this in the crockpot on high for 4 hours.  Just reduce the chicken broth to 1 1/2 cups)

While meat is cooking, make salsa and cheese sauce.  Add cilantro, tomatoes, green chiles, lime juice, salt, and pepper to food processor.  Pulse until your salsa is chunky.  This will not take long so don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with soup.

In a medium saucepan, melt 1 Tbsp butter.  Whisk in 1 Tbsp cornstarch.  Cook for a minute then gradually whisk in whole milk.  Bring to a full boil, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

When meat can be easily shredded with a fork remove it from the oven, set it on a platter and let it rest 10 minutes.  Shred.

Meanwhile, on the stovetop, set the meat juices over medium-high and bring to a boil.  Let it reduce down for about 15 minutes, until what’s left is thick and saucy.  Add the shredded meat and toss to coat.

Assemble.  Chips, meat, cheese, salsa.   If you like, you can warm the tortilla chips in the oven before assembling.


Serves a crowd.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Party Fare