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Simple & Healthy Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker

There are two types of recipes I want to make more of: very simple recipes, and recipes that are great for meal prep.

This healthy slow cooker pulled pork fits both categories.

Healthy Pulled Pork Sandwich

You don’t actually need to barbecue or smoke any meat here- we’re going to use the slow cooker to make juicy, tender, delicious pulled pork.

All you need to do is throw everything into the slow cooker and wait about 8 hours and it’s ready to go.

OK, technically you need to shred the meat and dice up one onion too. But, that’s it.

This healthy pulled pork recipe is perfect for parties or for meal prep. Since you can make a large batch with virtually no effort, there’s no shortage of what you can make with the leftover pulled pork.

Don’t worry, there’s a ton of inspiration for you at the bottom of this post to put that leftover pulled pork to good use.

 

What makes this pulled pork recipe healthy?

Typical pulled pork is made from pork shoulder, which is a fatty cut of meat.

When you order pulled pork, it’s almost always going to come from pork shoulder or pork butt (which, surprisingly is actually part of the pork shoulder) because they contain the most flavor.

To make this slow cooker BBQ pulled pork contain all the flavor without the high calories, we’re going to use a pork loin roast, which is much leaner.

The loin has a little bit of fat to it (about 10-12g per serving) which really helps the overall flavor vs using pork tenderloin.

I know, they sound incredibly similar, but pork loin and pork tenderloin and two completely different cuts! Here’s a great visual comparison to see how little fat a pork tenderloin contains:

Pork loin vs tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin vs Pork Loin via Christine Gallary of The Kitchn

When you slow cook a pork loin, the fat melts and keeps the pork nice and juicy. If you were to use tenderloin, the meat would be pretty dry and wouldn’t shred nearly as well.

You can use pork shoulder or pork butt if you prefer, but the pork loin worked great here and saves a ton of calories by comparison. We add a little bit of extra liquid to compensate for the lower fat content, but in my honest, meat-loving opinion, it comes out amazing.

I’ve made this recipe countless times and I am never disappointed.

To keep this pulled pork a little bit healthier than typical BBQ pulled pork, we’re also going to use some sugar-free BBQ sauce.

Sugar free BBQ sauces

There are many brands out there that sell something comparable, but these are two of my favorites. Trust me, you would NEVER know these are sugar-free, and they’re not packed with tons of artificial ingredients, either.

You can use regular BBQ sauce to make this pulled pork, but this is an easy way to keep the calories down a bit.

 

How to make pulled pork in the slower cooker

To keep this pulled pork recipe as simple as possible, we don’t have to trim the pork loin at all.

Simply add the pork to the Crock Pot, Instant Pot, or whichever slow cooker you are using.

Make sure the fattier side of the loin is facing up. This allows the fat to melt over the entire pork roast as it cooks, ensuring it doesn’t dry out.

Add 1 cup of beef broth (chicken broth would work great too) to add a little bit of extra moisture, then generously cover the top of the loin with the seasoning of your choice. I don’t measure the seasoning- I just make sure to cover the entire thing. Don’t worry- you really can’t overdo it.

Adding the extra seasoning on top obviously adds flavor, but it also helps to create a bit of skin on top, which is something pork loin is lacking.

Before and after pork loin in slow cooker

You can choose any type of seasoning you’d like to get the most flavor out of your pork loin. I’ve used a Memphis-style rub most times because I love a sweet & spicy combination.

However, a simple BBQ seasoning works very well, too.

Trader Joe's BBQ seasoning

If you want to mimic the flavor of a smoker, you can use a spice blend with smoke added to it to get that extra flavor.

At this point, all we have to do is set the slow cooker to low for 8 hours and let it work its magic.

After 7 hours, we’re going to shred the pork loin. It will be fully cooked at this point, so it will shred very easily, but we want to continue cooking it for one more hour once it’s shredded.

We’re going to drain the liquid out (but save it) and use tongs or forks to shred the pork.

Pulled pork with additional ingredients

Then, we’re adding back in 1 cup of the liquid to keep some of that amazing flavor, adding in one chopped onion, a little bit of BBQ sauce (I keep it light- more on that in a minute), and a little extra seasoning on top.

Once this is all mixed up and cooked down for the final hour, you’ll be left with an incredibly flavorful batch of pulled pork.

Healthy pulled pork sandwich

Since it’s a large batch, you’ll have plenty of pulled pork to feed a big party or have tons of leftovers to enjoy throughout the entire week.

 

How much BBQ sauce should you use for pulled pork?

I purposely did not make this heavy on the sauce, because I much prefer adding my own at the end.

Whenever I order BBQ, I’m always disappointed when my meal comes drenched in sauce. I much prefer my meat to have a dry rub on it so I can add as much sauce at the end as I’d like.

So, that’s the route I chose to go with this recipe. When you assemble your pulled pork sandwich or plate of pulled pork, you can add as much or as little sauce as you’d like.

There is some barbecue sauce used in this recipe for the necessary flavor, but it’s minimal to keep this dish very versatile.

 

What’s the best side for healthy pulled pork?

Nothing pairs better with pulled pork than coleslaw, which I highly recommend for this pork recipe.

Low carb coleslaw

In the spirit of healthy eating, this healthy coleslaw recipe is nice and light, making it the perfect complement to pulled pork.

By using light mayo and minimal ingredients, we can make a deliciously creamy coleslaw without all of the calories.

Whether you want to layer up the pork and coleslaw in pork bowls, add the coleslaw on top of your pulled pork sandwich, or just enjoy some coleslaw on the side of your main dish, it’s a great option.

If you want to pair your pulled pork with something a little bit heartier, I recommend checking out my Parmesan Truffle Fries or Crispy Air Fryer Potato Wedges.

 

What to make with leftover pulled pork

Once the pork is ready to go, you can do so many things with it.

I mean, 5 pounds is quite a bit of meat, so you’re going to want to find some creative uses for your leftover pulled pork. Rather than give you just one way to serve your pulled pork, how about I give you seven unique ways to serve it up?

 

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Healthy Pulled Pork Sandwich

Clearly, this is the best use for this pulled pork! You can never go wrong with a sandwich. But, I do have a tip to help you get the most out of your pulled pork.

Instead of just taking the pork right out of the crock pot and serving, I always sear the meat in a pan first.

One of the best parts about smoking meat is that it gives you that char and crust on the outside- the slow cooker cannot accomplish that.

So, what I like to do is mix up some of the pulled pork with BBQ sauce to coat it, then throw it into a very hot pan to sear it.

When you do, it’ll turn this…

Into this…

All it takes is about 1-2 minutes on each side to give it that crust, and that little bit of texture really makes a difference!

Toast up a beautiful brioche bun, add your pork, a little extra BBQ sauce, and your coleslaw. Bonus points for adding pickles or jalapenos, too.

 

Pulled Pork Sliders

Pulled Pork Sliders

The assembly of these pulled pork sliders is the same as the full-sized pulled pork sandwich, but they’re perfect for parties.

If you need a recipe for the game day, making a big batch of healthy pulled pork and turning them into pulled pork sliders is a great move.

When it comes to sliders, I love brushing the tops of the buns with a little bit of melted butter and parmesan cheese. There’s just something about a buttery brioche bun that takes sliders over the top.

 

Crispy Carnitas

Pulled pork carnitas

Even though this is a recipe for BBQ pulled pork, we can transform our leftover pulled pork into carnitas!

Carnitas is Mexican shredded pork, and by using the right combination of flavors, we can easily whip up a batch of crispy carnitas.

If you grow tired of barbecue, carnitas are the perfect way to switch things up. Plus, with carnitas, you can then make multiple dishes… 

 

Pulled Pork Tacos

Pulled pork tacos

Whenever I order tacos, I tend to gravitate toward pulled pork options.

While you can certainly make BBQ pulled pork tacos, I love using my leftover pulled pork to make carnitas, then using that meat to assemble delicious tacos.

The pulled pork tacos can be topped any way you’d like, but since the carnitas have so much flavor, I find that jalapeno, avocado, and a little lime juice provide plenty of flavor.

You need these pulled pork tacos in your life.

 

Pulled Pork Burritos

Pulled Pork Burrito Recipe

If you’re feeling hungry and want to take things one step further than pulled pork tacos, assemble yourself a stuffed pulled pork burrito.

Burritos are amazing because you can fill them with whatever you’d like, but I kept this one simple by letting the leftover carnitas be the star.

By adding some guacamole, salsa, and cheese, you can have one incredible meal.

Get the pulled pork burrito recipe here.

 

Tater Tot Pulled Pork Casserole

Pulled Pork Casserole

If you find yourself with a lot of pulled pork still leftover, a casserole is a great way to use it.

This pulled pork casserole contains a ton of BBQ pulled pork, baked beans, corn, cheese, and of course, tater tots!

It’s basically all the fixings of the ideal barbecue, all assembled into a single casserole dish.

 

Pulled Pork Pizza

Pulled Pork Pizza Recipe

Whether you want to make your own Neapolitan Style Pizza Crust, or keep things simple with a store-bought pizza dough like my Trader Joe’s pizza recipe, pulled pork makes an incredible pizza topping.

Making a BBQ Pulled Pork was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made. I made the pizza as you normally would, with sauce and cheese, but then added pulled pork right on top and a swirl of BBQ sauce before cooking.

If you need a creative way to use up the rest of your pulled pork leftovers, this is the perfect way to do it.

 

Healthy pulled pork sandwich

Healthy Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker

Yield: 20 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 10 minutes

You don't have to have a high-end smoker or be a pitmaster to make this healthy pulled pork. Using a slow cooker we're going to make some insanely delicious, and incredibly easy, pulled pork.

Ingredients

Ingredients for Pulled Pork (makes about 20 servings)

  • 5 lb Pork Loin (boneless)
  • BBQ Seasoning or Rub of Choice
  • 1 Sweet Onion
  • 1/2 Cup G Hughes Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce (can use any BBQ sauce you prefer)
  • 1 Cup Beef Broth

Ingredients for Healthy Coleslaw (roughly 6 servings)

  • 14oz (1 Bag) Coleslaw Mix
  • 1/4 Cup Fat Free or Light Mayo
  • 1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice (about half a large lemon)
  • 1 Tbsp Granular Sugar Substitute (or regular sugar)
  • Dash of Salt and Pepper

Ingredients for Sandwich

  • Brioche Buns
  • Additional BBQ Sauce for Topping
  • Pickles

Instructions

  1. There’s no need to do any trimming on the meat, simply add it directly to the slow cooker with the fattier side facing up.
  2. Pour 1 cup of beef broth over the top of the roast. Take your seasoning and generously cover the top of the pork loin (as if it were a rub).
  3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. After 7 hours, the pork will be fully cooked and safe to eat, but we’re going to shred the pork and allow the pulled pork to cook for the final hour. Carefully drain the liquid from the slow cooker into a separate bowl and set it aside. Using tongs (or forks), shred the pork.
  5. Dice up one sweet onion and add it to the slow cooker with the pork. Add 1/2 cup barbecue sauce and add back 1 cup of the liquid you set aside. Mix this up really well.
  6. Cover and allow everything to cook together for the final hour.
  7. Now we're going to make the healthy coleslaw. Empty the coleslaw mix into a large bowl, and combine it with 1/4 cup fat free mayo, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, and then salt and pepper to taste (don't worry, you can add additional salt and pepper later if necessary). It should taste great at this point, but the flavors blend together in the fridge and become significantly better, so refrigerate the coleslaw for the remaining hour while the pork finishes cooking.
  8. Once the 8 hours is up, mix the pork once more to make sure as much of the liquid gets absorbed by the shredded pork.
  9. Time to serve! My preferred method of serving this healthy pulled pork is by giving it a quick sear in a hot pan with some BBQ sauce, then assembling sandwiches. But you can serve this however you like your pulled pork.
  10. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or freeze individual portions to enjoy at a later date.

Notes

  • I use a pork loin, not a pork tenderloin. Nutrition will vary, but the one I buy (Smithfield brand) has 190 calories 10g fat, and 23g protein per serving.
  • I mentioned it in the post above, but I much prefer my pork to not be drenched in sauce. So, this recipe is light on the BBQ sauce. That way, you can use the pork for tons of applications and not be stuck having to only make BBQ sandwiches.
  • The nutrition below is approximated for one sandwich but will be dependent on a bunch of different factors, most important the brand of ingredients used (the brioche bun I use is St. Pierre Bakery). I always recommend calculating your own nutrition!

Recipes you can make with your leftover pulled pork:

Nutrition Information
Yield 20 Servings of Pork Serving Size 1 Pulled Pork Sandwich
Amount Per Serving Calories 365Total Fat 13gCarbohydrates 30gFiber 2gSugar 7gProtein 28g

Did you make this recipe?

Share your photos and tag me on Instagram!

Dave

Monday 31st of January 2022

Crock pot on high or low?

Matt

Tuesday 1st of February 2022

Low and slow!

Tony

Sunday 11th of April 2021

How would these steps be modified for an Instant Pot, rather than a slow cooker?

Matt

Monday 12th of April 2021

I wish I could help, but unfortunately I have never used an instant pot!

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