Spicy Espresso Rubbed BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (and a bonus recipe!)

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Sometime in my childhood, I went to Martha’s Vineyard. I can’t exactly pinpoint the year- most of my childhood tends to blur together in memories of family, vacations, and summers spent at the lake, but I can firmly say that this trip was sometime in the 90s.

That vacation was a fun one: beaching and biking ferrying and shopping and eating set to the backdrop of one of New England’s finest cobblestoned beach destinations. That vacation also marked a start to my own adventurous eating: during that vacation, I firmly remember trying pheasant, BBQ rib ice cream, and pulled pork.

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Pulled pork, I know, seems like a very “plain” food in the world of food eating, and that’s because it is. I mean, who doesn’t just love BBQ pulled pork sandwiches??

I was a notoriously picky eater, consistently ignoring and refusing my family’s favorites like authentic German red cabbage, freshly caught seafood, calamari, and quality cuts of steak. Instead, I would stick to my mainstays: chicken fingers, mac and cheese, pizza, and broccoli. (Whyyyyy?? Why?) Also, that broccoli must have been the thing keeping me from becoming an obese child. See, vegetables matter.

I first tried a pulled pork sandwich at this restaurant with my family during this vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. To this day, I remember what the outside of this restaurant looked like: stained and weathered wooden paneling on the face of the house-like restaurant with a wrap around porch, gravel parking lot, and trees on either side of the restaurant so strong a tall it seemed like they could engulf the structure at any moment. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of this restaurant. Maybe, some day, when I return to the island, I will be able to track it down.

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This was the first day I tried pulled pork, and as strange as it sounds, it stands out to me as strongly as a past holiday in my life. (Even in childhood, I clearly had the makings of a foodie.) To this day, pulled pork reminds me of summer and beaches and freedom. 

Since that moment, I have been lusting after a pulled pork as good as the one that evening in the 90s. The 90s, guys. That is a long time to wait.  Sadly, there have been a couple restaurants that have come close, but these days, I pretty much stick to making my own.

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Why? Because I’ve pretty much figured out how to make the best BBQ pulled pork sandwiches ever. (According to me anyway. And my mom. And Christopher.)  And what’s even better? I am bringing this recipe to you two ways, so today is like a buy one get one. Except, of course, the whole point of this blogging thing is that you don’t have to buy anything.

Ohhh, and did I mention that this recipe uses the crockpot? Which means it takes all of 10 minutes to prep, and then you’re done.

Enjoy!

Cook’s notes:

  • Finding a high quality BBQ sauce is key, especially since most grocery store brands contain HFCS, lots of preservatives, and an insane amount of sugar. A great bottle to consider buying is Matty’s BBQ Sauce from Tessemae’s. Although not technically paleo, my favorite BBQ sauces ever are the sauces from Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, TX. (Available in most grocery stores.) They do contain a small amount of sugar and corn starch, but this is consistently the only brand I can find on conventional stores shelves that do not contain HFCS. I Enjoy the “smoky mesquite” and the “spicy”.
  • Homemade BBQ is also a great option, but definitely takes a bit more prep work and planning in advance.
  • I have an older crockpot, which means that the cooking times might vary. (Older crockpots produce lower temperatures than newer ones.) Make sure you watch your pulled pork somewhat closely when it is near the end of cooking.
  • Trader Joe’s (of course) sells a great Coffee-Garlic BBQ rub that you can use for the espresso rubber pulled pork, if you do not wish to make your own blend. (However, it does contain brown sugar.)
  • If you do not like your pulled pork spicy, reduce or omit the dried chipotle and red pepper.
  • My favorite thing to do with this recipe is to make a huge batch and freeze the leftovers. It freezes very well, but tends to dry out if frozen longer than 3 weeks. (But this dryness is eliminating by just adding some extra BBQ sauce once defrosted.)
  • I use Against the Grain’s baguettes for these sandwiches, which you can read more about in this previous post here, but use any paleo bread you prefer, whether that is homemade or store bought.

spicy espresso rubbed bbq pulled pork sandwiches

Serves 4-5

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  • 1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce, room temperature (See cook’s notes above)
  • 6 lbs. pork shoulder
  • Your favorite paleo bread/rolls (See cook’s notes above)
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • Water

For the spice rub:

  • 4 tbsp. Dried Chipotle Powder
  • 6 tbsp. Smoked Paprika
  • 4 tbsp. Hot Red Chili Powder
  • 6 tbsp. Garlic Powder
  • 6 tbsp. Onion Powder
  • 3 tsp. sea salt (course is fine)
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper

OR

  • Trader Joe’s Coffee-Garlic BBQ Rub (See cook’s notes above)
  • 4 tbsp. Hot Red Chili Powder
  • 4 tbsp. chipotle powder
  1. Prepare your spice rub by combing all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Stir with a spoon until well incorporated. Set aside.
  2. Prepare your pork shoulder by rinsing the pork shoulder under running water.
  3. Trim any excess fat, but don’t worry about the smaller chunks you can’t get to.
  4. On a clean countertop, place pork shoulder. Sprinkle spice rub evenly on all sides, using your hands to coat. Optional: you can let the flavors intensify by plastic wrapping your rubbed pork and storing in the fridge overnight. (Make sure to thoroughly clean your countertops after this step!)
  5. Once pork has been seasoned, place in slow cooker. Fill with water until about 2/3 of the way full. Add apple cider vinegar.
  6. Cook on low heat setting for about 6 hours, until browned and internal temperature has reached 150 degrees.
  7. Once cooked, remove from crockpot. Shred pulled pork by using 2 forks and a baking sheet.
  8. Add pulled pork to a large bowl, and add BBQ sauce. Stir to coat evenly, and serve immediately.

smoked paprika and chipotle bbq pulled pork sandwiches

Serves 4-5

  • 1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce, room temperature (See cook’s notes above)
  • 6 lbs. pork shoulder
  • Your favorite paleo bread/rolls (See cook’s notes above)
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • Water

For the spice rub:

  • 4 tbsp. Dried Chipotle Powder
  • 6 tbsp. Smoked Paprika
  • 4 tbsp. Hot Red Chili Powder
  • 6 tbsp. Garlic Powder
  • 6 tbsp. Onion Powder
  • 3 tsp. sea salt (course is fine)
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
  1. Prepare your spice rub by combing all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Stir with a spoon until well incorporated. Set aside.
  2. Prepare your pork shoulder by rinsing the pork shoulder under running water.
  3. Trim any excess fat, but don’t worry about the smaller chunks you can’t get to.
  4. On a clean countertop, place pork shoulder. Sprinkle spice rub evenly on all sides, using your hands to coat. Optional: you can let the flavors intensify by plastic wrapping your rubbed pork and storing in the fridge overnight. (Make sure to thoroughly clean your countertops after this step!)
  5. Once pork has been seasoned, place in slow cooker. Fill with water until about 2/3 of the way full. Add apple cider vinegar.
  6. Cook on low heat setting for about 6 hours, until browned and internal temperature has reached 150 degrees.
  7. Once cooked, remove from crockpot. Shred pulled pork by using 2 forks and a baking sheet.
  8. Add pulled pork to a large bowl, and add BBQ sauce. Stir to coat evenly, and serve immediately.

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