Carolina Chopped Pork Barbecue Sandwiches with Spicy Vinegar Sauce

Carolina Chopped Pork Barbecue Sandwiches with Spicy Vinegar Sauce

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  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 10-pound bag charcoal briquettes
  • 6 cups (about) hickory-wood chips, soaked in cold water 30 minutes, drained
  • 2 untrimmed boneless pork shoulder halves (Boston butt; about 7 pounds)

Recipe Preparation

  • Combine first 8 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Simmer over medium heat 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 2 hours.

  • Place handful of torn newspaper in bottom of charcoal chimney. Top with 30 charcoal briquettes. Remove top rack from grill. Place chimney on lower grill rack. Light newspaper; let charcoal burn until ash is gray, about 30 minutes.

  • Open bottom grill vent. Turn hot charcoal onto 1/2 of bottom rack. Using metal spatula, spread charcoal to cover approximately 1/3 of rack. Fill 2 small foil loaf pans halfway with water and place next to charcoal on bottom rack. Sprinkle 1 cup chips over coals.

  • Place top rack on grill. Arrange pork shoulder halves on top rack above loaf pans. Cover grill with lid, positioning top vent directly over pork. Place stem of meat thermometer in top vent with gauge on outside and tip near roast (thermometer should not touch meat or grill rack); leave in place during cooking. Use top and bottom vents to maintain temperature between 250°F and 325°F, opening vent wider to increase heat and closing to decrease heat. Leave other vents closed. Check temperature every 20 minutes.

  • Cook pork 3 hours. About once an hour, light more charcoal in chimney set on bricks or cement to replenish charcoal in grill. Add 12 hot ash-tinged briquettes and 1 cup drained wood chips when cooking temperature drops below 250°F. Using sharp knife, make several crosswise slashes in meat (do not cut through). Brush with some of sauce. Cover and continue cooking pork until meat thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 165°F, about 2 1/2 hours longer, adding additional hot briquettes and chips as necessary to maintain temperature and basting occasionally with sauce.

  • Transfer pork to cutting board; remove any tough rind. Chop meat into bite-size pieces. Transfer meat to large bowl and add enough sauce to moisten. Arrange bun bottoms on work surface. Top buns with pork; cover with tops. Serve, passing additional sauce.

Reviews Section

Old-Time Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Sauce Recipe

After spending the weekend in the Raleigh area of North Carolina, eating my way from Allen & Son to Ed Mitchell's The Pit, I'm proud to say that I'm a full-fledged North Carolina 'cue convert. The defining style of the Carolinas involves chopped barbecue dressed with a spicy vinegar sauce--so much that no restaurant I visited even offered a sauce alternative. This immersion experience really opened my eyes to just how well the spicy tang of vinegar sauce complements smoky barbecue. There's no looking back for me now.

I couldn't resist picking up a copy of the newly published Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, while down there, and the first thing I did after arriving home was follow the simple recipe of cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and salt to whip up a batch of the native North Carolina sauce to have on hand to adorn all barbecue pork in my future.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 (8 pound) pork shoulder roast
  • 1 quart apple cider, or as needed
  • 5 tablespoons white sugar
  • 5 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cups hickory chips, or more as needed, soaked in water

Place pork shoulder in a large pot and add enough apple cider to cover. Combine white sugar, brown sugar, salt, paprika, onion powder, black pepper, and garlic powder in a bowl. Mix about 1/4 cup sugar rub into cider reserve remaining rub.

Cover pot and refrigerate for 12 hours.

Prepare smoker to about 210 degrees F (99 degrees C). Add enough wood chips to smoker.

Pour cider brine into the water pan of the smoker add onion and about 1/4 cup more sugar rub. Spread remaining rub over pork shoulder. Transfer pork to the center of smoker.

Smoke pork until very tender, about 8 hours. Monitor hickory chips and liquid, adding more wood and water, respectively, as needed. Transfer pork to a large platter and cool for 30 minutes before shredding with forks.

North Carolina Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

Adapted from Matt Moore | The South’s Best Butts | Oxmoor House, 2017

This vinegar barbecue sauce is sweet, spicy, tangy, and begging to be drizzled over many things you’ll be pulling off the grill or smoker this summer. It’s also incredibly easy, coming together in literally seconds with only stirring, no simmering. Enough said.–Matt Moore


This North Carolina vinegar barbecue sauce isn’t your typical barbecue sauce. It’s a thinner consistency than most barbecue sauces that’s adept for mopping meat while it’s on the grill or smoker or for dipping and dousing meat—especially richer cuts of meat—that you’ve pulled off the heat (we’re looking at you, pulled pork).

Vinegar barbecue sauce is actually a classic North Carolina thing. As Matt Moore, author of The South’s Best Butts, explains, “North Carolina is a state that has the battle lines firmly drawn when it comes to barbecue, not to mention barbecue sauces. If you were in eastern North Carolina, this sauce would be almost translucent (void of all tomatoes) and accompany a whole-hog feast. If you found yourself in western North Carolina, your pork shoulder would arrive with a ruby red sauce that packs a vinegar punch. We’ve combined the best of both worlds for a veritable North Carolina sauce that pairs well with pulled or chopped pork.”

Crockpot Carolina Barbecue Pulled Pork Recipe

I’m always looking for easy crockpot recipes that can either feed a crowd or be repurposed as leftovers. This crockpot pulled pork – made with vinegar in the Carolina style, is the most popular recipe on this site and one of my favorites. It’s incredibly easy to make but a few hours in a crockpot yields a tender, flavorful pulled pork that makes great sandwiches, nachos or burritos.

I should probably, in the spirit of full disclosure, tell you that I am not from the South. I am from California, and to me, barbecue means meat cooked on a grill, over an open flame, ideally on the rare side. Heck, you could even throw some corn on there. Or artichokes. Or be really crazy and barbecue some avocados . Carolina Pulled Pork is not part of my cultural history.

Fortunately for you all, this recipe is not one of my family recipes. It’s from my friend Mallory, who is from Illinois but LIVES in South Carolina, and she’s married to a North Carolinan (Carolingian?) to boot. Carolina Pulled Pork isn’t the style of barbecue most of you Yankees think of — there is no tomato, no molasses, no honey, no sweet and sticky sauce. Just vinegar, and lots of it. This is sour barbecue, and I love it. Hello, my name is Kate and I am addicted to things that are tart.

Of course, a real barbecue aficionado will point out that this is not barbecue at all because there is no fire or smoke, and that would be true, but let’s just ignore that, because I don’t know about you but I don’t have a barrel smoker in my yard – heck, I don’t have a yard – and a crockpot will just have to do.

I will further horrify barbecue aficionados by telling you that while I do make this with a pork shoulder or butt (and don’t try a loin, because it will be dry as dry and will be like sawdust. Sadly, you do need the fat here) I cut off the big piece of fat that is on top of that shoulder. You’ll know it when you see it. I’m no fat free nut (as my enduring love of bacon attests), but that big slab of fat kind of grosses me out, so it has to go. If you really love the lard, go ahead and render it. I won’t mind. After you cut off the fat, you rub the meat with spices, and set it atop some onions in your crockpot.

Then you mix up the kicker – the vinegar sauce. Vinegar, a little sugar, some salt, some seasonings. A little more vinegar. Did I mention I like things tart? You pour part of the vinegar mixture over the pork, you cover it, turn your slow cooker to low, and walk away for at least 8 hours.

When you come back, you will be confronted with something that looks like this:

If your mouth isn’t watering yet, then either your browser is set wrong or you don’ have a proper appreciation for the porky goodness that is about to ensue. Of course, you don’t stop here – what about the rest of that vinegar? This is the point at which you pull the pork. Start with two forks and pull the pork apart. Then use your fingers.

Deploy the shredded pork into a bowl, add the juices from the crock pot, and pour over the remaining vinegar sauce. (If your eaters aren’t vinegar addicts, you could always serve the sauce on the side, I suppose).

The classic application for Carolina pulled pork is to eat it as a sandwich (though probably not so classic on ciabatta. I may have mentioned I’m from California). But don’t let your imagination stop there. Add it to chili, make it into nachos (tortilla chips, salsa, sour cream, ranch beans and pulled pork topped with cheese. Yes, I have eaten this), make it into tacos instead of carnitas, use as a filling for enchiladas, or eat it straight with cornbread.

Boston Butt pork roast, kaiser rolls, coleslaw, cabbage, green bell pepper, slaw dressing

Carolina Pulled Pork
Sandwiches with Coleslaw

Photo by Jeff Tucker and Kevin Hossler

Notice that we have not limited this recipe to the "southeastern corner of Western North Carolina," but rather have made a universal Carolina recipe that you can sauce up with two or three styles of Carolina BBQ sauces. Even the coleslaw can go north or south. There is a minor debate about whether or not to use a rub, with purists generally preferring to salt the pork roast–a practice most smoking chefs don’t approve of. If you wish to use a rub, use the Memphis Rib Rub, p.00, which is quite similar to Carolina rubs.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

If using a rub, sprinkle it thickly over the roast and allow to sit, covered, at room temperature, for 3 hours. Start a fire and place the roast in the smoker on a rack. Place a drip pan beneath the grill as this roast will drip a lot of fat. Smoke the roast with 200 degree F. smoke for 4 or more hours, or until it is falling off the bone, or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F.

Mix together the ingredients for the salad in a bowl. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in another bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Remove the roast from the smoker, transfer to a cutting board, and allow to sit for 20 minutes. With your fingers, remove any skin and fat from the roast. Pull the pork into thin pieces about an inch and a half long. This is slippery work and tedious, so if you get frustrated, take out a knife and chop the pork into ½ inch pieces. Then change the name of this recipe to Carolina Chopped Pork Sandwiches.

To serve, place the pork on the buns, spread the sauce of choice over the pork, and then add coleslaw to taste.

Factors to Consider When Cooking Pulled Pork

Before cooking pork, it’s vital that you understand the characteristics of this type of meat. Unlike chicken or the conventional beef meat, pulled pork tends to be tender. In some cases, the meat might also be exceptionally fatty. Thus, you have to ensure that you cook the meat using relatively lower temperatures than you would when cooking beef meat.

Also, pork gets ready relatively fast, especially when you don’t cook using slow cookers. The beef might even have a large amount of fat. Thus, you should decide whether you will remove the extra fat, or perhaps leave it as part of the margination process. To enjoy the best of pork with your sauce, ensure that you have a compatible sauce to help bring out the flavour of the meat.

A whole-hog guide to the history and legacy of Carolina barbecue sauces

While we certainly don't mean to insult the great barbecue of Texas, Memphis and Kansas City, the Carolina region of the South holds the title for both the most traditional, and most regionally-specific styles and sauces. And nothing is more divisive in the Carolinas than barbecue sauce. Read on for a guide to the three key sauces of the region.

The technique of cooking whole animals low and slow over a flame — otherwise known as barbecue — is well-documented as a Native American cooking technique however, the use of regionally specific sauces is a relatively modern phenomenon. It wasn't until commercialized barbecue stands and restaurants began opening up across the South in the early 20th century that those crucial differentiators packaged in squeeze bottles started to appear. Today, there is nowhere that these particular sauces are more important than in the Carolinas.

As food historian Robert Moss writes in his book, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, regional barbecue specialties started to become codified during the turn of the 20th century. As more Americans began moving to cities, restaurants and food stands began popping up to help feed a more mobile workforce. For those in the barbecue business, it made good economic sense to cook and serve the livestock and produce that was cheapest and most readily available. And because at this time, refrigeration wasn't widely available, barbecue cooks needed to limit menus to that which could be cooked and sold within a short time frame. This meant that while 19th century barbecues tended toward large, rambling, potluck-style affairs, burgeoning barbecue restaurants stuck to a few simple specialties — one whole hog cooked per weekend and a couple of sides. These dishes and techniques became, over time, characteristic of that one restaurant or region. The sauces served alongside followed suit.

There are four distinct sauces (well, five, if you count the ketchup-mustard blend known as "rust gravy") served with barbecue throughout the Carolinas — vinegar and pepper, mustard, light tomato and heavy tomato — but it's really the first three that are most important to the region. We'll leave heavy tomato to Kansas City and call it a day.

Vinegar and Pepper
This tangy, spicy sauce most frequently seen at barbecue restaurants in Eastern Carolina and South Carolina's northern coast (or Pee Dee region) is the mostly closely akin to the first barbecue sauces and mops used by Native Americans. These early sauces — made most frequently from butter, vinegar, salt and pepper — were used to baste the whole animals cooked over pits for traditional barbecue. In the Caribbean, where colonizers recorded the first such evidence of barbecue cooking styles, meat was basted with both vinegar and spicy pepper. As early as 1700, Moss has found evidence of colonists and their enslaved African cooks doing the same they'd use a salty, vinegary basting sauce to keep the meat moist as it cooks, but would serve it sans sauce.

As barbecue became popular in the British colonies and, later, the United States, this same tangy, salty basting sauce was used fairly consistently. Early cookbooks, such as Lettice Bryan's Kentucky Housewife (1839) and Annabella Hill's Mrs. Hill's New Cook Book (1872), describe barbecue basted with this simple sauce and dressed very simply, with either lemon and butter (in the case of Bryan) or a little extra sauce (for Hill).

The earliest commercial pioneers of vinegar and pepper sauce were Adam Scott, of Goldsboro, and Bob Melton, of Rocky Mount. Both opened up in the decade after World War II, serving finely chopped whole hog barbecue dressed with a sauce made only from vinegar, salt and red and black pepper. These two men came to define the Eastern Carolina style and had lasting influence on the region. Scott's barbecue sauce is still sold today online and in grocery stores throughout the region, and Melton was named the "King of Southern barbecue" by life magazine in 1958. His restaurant remained open until 2005.

Light Tomato or Lexington-Style
The defining Piedmont and Western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce, which basically takes an Eastern-style sauce and adds just enough ketchup (or ketchup-like ingredients) for a little sweetness and body, came into use after the Heinz company began mass-producing what we today know of as American-style ketchup around the turn of the 20th century. Most writers and historians credit German influence for this sauce German immigrants were influential in the region and preferred to cook with pork shoulders over whole hogs (another defining feature of Lexington-style barbecue), and they are said to have created the sauce to mimic the sweet and sour flavor of dishes from Germany.

This style of barbecue was commercialized in 1919, with the opening of two stands by Jess Swicegood and the two-man team of Sid Weaver and George Ridenhour, both in Lexington, North Carolina. This barbecue was, again, made entirely from pork shoulder, so it is a bit fattier and juicier than its Eastern counterparts. It is also typically much more coarsely chopped or even sliced, which may actually be a better explanation for the thicker sauce than anything else. Thin, vinegary sauces have a tendency to slough right off of large hunks of pulled or chopped pork that little extra thickness from ketchup gives it just the body it needs to stay firmly in place on the pork. (But this is just one person's speculation!)

The most contentious of all the Carolina barbecue sauces, yellow mustard sauce is a hyper-regional mixture native to the midlands region of South Carolina. While today you can find it popping up in other places in the South (B's Cracklin' in Atlanta serves a peach-mustard sauce), it has historically been a central South Carolina thing, and that alone.

Its history isn't well-documented some give credit, again, to German immigrants (pork and mustard!) while others claim it was the creation of the now-infamous Bessinger family. Regardless, it was Maurice Bessinger, a devout white supremacist, who first commercialized the sauce and was responsible for its popularity in the region. By the late 1970s, it had spread from Newberry County (west of Columbia) east to Charleston, and north to Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Moss reports that he has found mustard sauce as far south as Jacksonville, Florida, and today, it's been slowly making its way further afield, but regardless of where you find it, mustard sauce is still neon yellow and tossed with chopped or pulled pork.

Whichever sauce is your preference, know that with every pulled pork sandwich, you're taking a big bite of Southern history.

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America&rsquos Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook&rsquos Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.

  • 1 Boston butt (5 pounds also know as bone-in pork shoulder roast)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • Pig Picker Pucker Sauce (see step 5, below)
  • 6 cups shredded cabbage
  • 10 to 12 hamburger buns, split

Step 1: Generously season the pork all over with salt, pepper, and paprika.

Step 2: Set up the grill for indirect cooking, and preheat to 325 degrees F.

Step 3: Place the pork shoulder, skin side up, on the grate over the drip pan. If using a charcoal grill, toss a quarter of the wood chips on the coals. If using a gas grill, place the chips in the smoker box. Don’t grill until you see smoke. Cover the grill.

Step 4: Smoke-cook the pork should until fall-off-the-bone tender with an internal temperature of 195 degrees F, 4 to 5 hours. If using charcoal, add 10 fresh coals and 1 cup wood chips per side every hour.

Step 5: Transfer the cooked pork roast to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 15 minutes. Pull off and discard any skin. Pull the pork into pieces, discarding any bones or fat. You may wish to wear heavy-duty rubber gloves for pulling. Using your fingertips or a fork, pull each piece of pork into thin shreds. Or use a cleaver and cutting board to finely chop it. Transfer the pork to a large foil pan and stir in 1 to 1 1/2 cups Pig Picker Pucker Sauce, enough to keep the pork moist. Cover the pan with foil and place on the grill to keep warm.

Darrel Cahoon on March 14, 2020:

In norfolk Va. Go to Dumars real pulled pork from a hamburger joint.

Dave on March 31, 2019:

I was Truck driver from Ontario Canada, who learned how good those Pulled pork Sandwiches were, at the side of a few of those Huge Cotton mills in North Carolina. Those shacks that threw the Pig On the BBQ late in the evening, then about 8 in the morning it was taken off, shredded up, mixed all up then they put some on bun, add coleslaw and charge you a dollar for it (1992), these folks fed the folks who worked in the Cotton mill.

I thank you for sharing this, I once picked a folder from a North Carolina Rest area telling how to make this for a crowd, but an ex Girlfriend kept that many years ago.

Stephanie Das (author) from Miami, US on January 03, 2017:

Good to know for my future barbecues!

Stephanie Das (author) from Miami, US on January 03, 2017:

Ahh my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I still find it very complicated every time I make it but always worth the effort. Enjoy!

PipsBarbecue on March 18, 2016:

Chitlins are hog intestines. The crispy fatty bits are "cracklins".

Alex on October 19, 2014:

I am currently in the process of making this. I made a few minor changes like letting the rub I did sit for 15 hours. I&aposm also using a gas grill and have hickory chips wrapped up in tinfoil and it&aposs smoking like a champ.

Stephanie Das (author) from Miami, US on October 23, 2011:

First of all thanks for the comments and the compliments on Nala, she&aposs a ham and loves the flattery.

And this sandwich is really wonderful. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich at a restaurant a few days ago, and all they did was smother the pork with store bought BBQ sauce. I was really disappointed. The vinegar sauce goes perfectly in this sandwich. This recipe is surprisingly easy and fun to make, and it tastes wonderful.

Of course, there are many types of barbecue, and my other favorite is Kansas city bbq, because I love the sauce, but I haven&apost dared to try that one yet.

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on October 23, 2011:

Carolina really holds one of the world&aposs most delicious BBqs! I actually haven&apost been into pulled pork thing, but having read a lot about this delicious pork sandwich has made me try one which truly has amazed me. Thanks for this stephaniedas. and for the recipes as well. Really cute Nala you have. Voted up!

Stephanie Das (author) from Miami, US on October 08, 2011:

@thranax- Its definitely better than a cheap hamburger! Thanks for the comment.

@Attikos- Thanks for bringing this up. You&aposve made a good point. Eastern BBQ is chopped and the sauce is more to highlight the flavor of the meat, whereas here I included direction for shredding the meat and the sauce adds a lot of its own flavor. However, I got this recipe from a Carolina chef at a restaurant where I worked, who also gave me her personal recipe for Lexington sauce, and it&aposs quite different! Maybe it has more sugar because she was using it in a Maryland restaurant and wanted to appeal to more northern taste buds. Anyway, from my experience, there is so much regional variation that the debate over proper terminology in the BBQ circuit might go on forever. Everyone seems to have their own version of the recipe. Thanks for commenting on this fact.

Attikos from East Cackalacky on October 08, 2011:

I&aposd say this is more of a Piedmont barbecue style, both in the pulling of the pork and in the sauce. Eastern Carolina barbecue is typically chopped and served with a thin sauce of vinegar and pepper with no tomato or sugar in it.

Andrew from Rep Boston MA on October 08, 2011:

Sounds really yummy. I love pulled pork sandwiches and don&apost eat them enough. I normally settle for cheaply priced hamburgers at my local drive-thous.