There are few things in this world that are as delicious as a pulled pork sandwich. And, while there are many ways to make them, my personal favourite is the Cubano.
A mouthwatering combination of tender, juicy, slow-cooked meat and flavorful sauce, pulled pork sandwiches have become a beloved comfort food in many parts of the world. Whether you enjoy them at a local barbecue joint or make them at home, these sandwiches are a popular choice for gatherings and casual meals alike.
In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating history of pulled pork sandwiches and explore regional variations. We’ll also answer common questions, provide helpful tips, and share some mouthwatering recipes so that you can create the perfect pulled pork sandwich in your own kitchen.
I’ll show you how to make the perfect Cubano (with a difference) using sourdough bread. If you don’t have a sandwich press, don’t worry – I’ll show you how to do it without one!
Origins of pulled pork sandwiches
The history of pulled pork sandwiches can be traced back to the Southern United States, where the tradition of slow-cooking pork over an open flame or in a smoker has been practiced for centuries. This method of cooking, known as barbecue, was influenced by the cooking techniques of Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans brought to the Americas. The use of slow-cooking techniques not only tenderized tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder but also infused the meat with rich, smoky flavors.
Pulled pork sandwiches emerged as a convenient way to serve this succulent meat, allowing the flavors to be enjoyed in a handheld, portable form. The combination of tender, shredded pork and tangy, flavorful sauce piled high on a soft bun quickly became a popular choice in the South and eventually spread throughout the United States and beyond.
Regional variations and influences
As pulled pork sandwiches gained popularity, regional variations began to emerge, reflecting the diverse culinary traditions and preferences of different areas. One of the most notable differences can be found in the sauces used to flavor the meat.
In North Carolina, for example, pulled pork sandwiches often feature a vinegar-based sauce with a kick of spicy heat, while South Carolina is known for its mustard-based barbecue sauce. In other parts of the South, such as Memphis and Kansas City, a sweeter, tomato-based sauce is more common.
Regional variations can also be found in the toppings and accompaniments used in pulled pork sandwiches. In some areas, a creamy, tangy coleslaw is served atop the meat, adding a contrasting texture and flavor. In other places, pickles, jalapeños, or even cheese might be added to enhance the sandwich.
These regional influences have contributed to the incredible diversity of pulled pork sandwiches available today, making them a delicious and versatile option for any meal.
Use Quality ingredients for Your Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Pork shoulder or pork butt
The key to a delicious pulled pork sandwich begins with the meat. The most commonly used cuts for pulled pork are pork shoulder (also known as Boston butt) and pork butt (also known as picnic shoulder). These cuts are relatively inexpensive, have plenty of marbling, and are packed with flavor. The marbled fat helps keep the meat tender and moist during the long, slow cooking process.
Choice of bread
The bread you choose for your pulled pork sandwich is almost as important as the meat itself. A soft, yet sturdy bun is ideal, as it will hold up well under the weight of the juicy, saucy pork without becoming soggy. Popular choices include hamburger buns, brioche buns, and potato rolls.
- Slow cooker
A slow cooker is a convenient and easy way to cook pulled pork, allowing the meat to become incredibly tender as it simmers for hours in a flavourful sauce. This hands-off method is perfect for busy cooks who can simply set it and forget it. This is how I make my Slow Cooker Texas Pulled Pork. Although you’ll notice in that recipe I do some cooking on the stove before using the slow cooker, to ensure maximum colour and flavour.
Oven-roasting your pork at a low temperature for an extended period of time is another way to achieve tender, flavourful pulled pork. This method allows you to control the temperature and cooking time more precisely, resulting in perfectly cooked meat.
Stovetop pulled pork can be made by braising the meat in a covered pot with a small amount of liquid. This method requires more attention than slow cooking or oven-roasting, but it can yield delicious results in a shorter amount of time.
- Instant pot
An Instant Pot or other pressure cooker can significantly reduce the cooking time for pulled pork while still providing tender, flavourful meat. This method is ideal for those who want to make pulled pork quickly without sacrificing quality.
For the ultimate smoky flavour, a smoker is the way to go. Cooking the meat low and slow over wood chips imparts an unmistakable smokiness that elevates your pulled pork sandwich to a whole new level. It’s a method for the more committed, but smokers are coming down in price all the time. A great example of this in the Ninja Woodfire Electric BBQ Grill & Smoker (that’s an affiliate link).
Seasoning and spice rubs
- Chilli powder
A good spice rub is essential for infusing your pulled pork with deep, complex flavours. Chilli powder forms the base of many pulled pork spice rubs, adding a mild heat and rich, earthy notes. I like to make my own from quality spices with no sugar added.
- Brown sugar
Brown sugar is often used in spice rubs to balance the heat from chilli powder and other spices. It also helps create a beautiful caramelised crust on the meat during cooking. However, I don’t find it’s needed. And I’d much rather save my sugar for dessert.
- Cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is a popular addition to spice rubs for those who prefer a spicier pulled pork sandwich. Adjust the amount to your taste to achieve your desired level of heat.
- Barbecue sauce
A classic barbecue sauce can be store-bought or homemade and is often used to coat the cooked, shredded pork. Choose a sauce that complements the flavors of your spice rub and matches your regional preference. Make sure you get a really high quality BBQ sauce with no nasty ingredients. In my pulled pork recipe you’ll end up making your own incredible BBQ sauce from the ingredients and juices of the slow cooker pork.
- Apple cider vinegar-based sauce
A tangy apple cider vinegar-based sauce is a popular choice in some regions, particularly in Eastern North Carolina. This sauce cuts through the richness of the pork and adds a bright, acidic note.
- North Carolina-style sauce
A North Carolina-style sauce is typically made with vinegar, ketchup, and a variety of spices. This sauce combines the tangy brightness of a vinegar-based sauce with the sweetness of ketchup, creating a balanced flavour profile that complements the rich, smoky pulled pork perfectly. Depending on regional preferences, some variations may include additional ingredients like brown sugar, mustard, or hot sauce for extra depth and complexity.
What is a Cubano sandwich made of?
The Cubano sandwich originated in Cuba. It is made with a long, flat bread and is traditionally filled with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. I’m keeping it fairly traditional, but with the addition of tomatoes (which I understand is more of a Key West variation) and using my favourite sourdough instead.
Is a Cuban Sandwich the same as a Cubano?
Yes, a Cuban sandwich is better known as a Cubano. Also known as “Cuban mix”, “Cuban pressed sandwich”, or a “mixto”.
What bread is closest to Cuban bread?
The best bread to use for a Cubano is a long, flat bread such as baguette, ciabatta and focaccia. For mine, I’m using sourdough.
Sourdough bread is a type of bread that is made with a sourdough starter. This means that the bread is fermented for a longer period of time, which gives it a tangy flavour and slightly chewy texture, perfect for this type of sandwich.
It works really well and I always like sourdough for sandwiches as it feels a bit healthier because of the probiotics.Print
- 1/8 recipe Slow Cooker Smoky Pulled Pork
- 2 slices sourdough bread
- 4 slices ham
- 2 slices swiss cheese
- 1 tbsp American mustard
- 1 dill pickle
- 2 slices of beefsteak tomato
- 1 tbsp butter
- Spread the mustard on each side of your bread.
- Place the two pieces of Swiss cheese on one of the pieces of bread.
- Heat up your pulled pork.
- Place your pulled pork on top of the cheese.
- Place your tomato slices on top of the pulled pork.
- Season your tomato with a little salt and pepper.
- Slice your pickle and lay on top of the tomato.
- Arrange your slices of ham in ‘nests’ (instead of just laying them flat) on top of the pickles.
- Place the other piece of sourdough on top to complete the sandwich. Spread butter on the top, so that when you place it in the pan, the sandwich is butter side down (buttered side on the pan).
- Place the sandwich in the pan butter side down.
- Place an iron press on top, but don’t press down too much, that will come when we turn it over and the whole sandwich has been warmed. If you don’t have one of these presses (they are great for also cooking meat evenly and getting crispy skin on fish) you can use a heavy pan, which you’ll have to hold in place for a few minutes. You could also use a house brick covered in foil.
- keep checking under the sandwich as it cooks, to make sure you get the perfect colour for you. A deep golden brown is good. Once you get there, butter the top piece of bread.
- Turn the sandwich over so it’s ready to cook on the other side.
- Place the iron press back on top, but push down a little this time. You’ll be checking to make sure the underside is cooking to golden brown, but you’ll also be applying enough pressure intermittently so that the sandwich reduces by half the thickness.
- And that’s it! Once it’s golden brown get it on a cutting board, cut in half and serve.
- I like using sourdough for health reasons, but a long thin bread would be more traditional to a Cuban sandwich. Something like a baguette or ciabatta, or even focaccia.
- The tomato is a nice addition that gives some extra freshness, but can be left out if you’re not keen on tomatoes.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Cuisine: South American
Keywords: pulled pork sandwich cubano
Cooking tips for tender pulled pork
- Be patient: Allow the pork to cook low and slow, as this will ensure the meat becomes tender and flavorful.
- Use a thermometer: Check the internal temperature of the pork to ensure it is cooked to at least 195°F (90°C) for the most tender, easily shreddable meat.
- Keep it covered: Make sure the pork is covered tightly during cooking to retain moisture and create a steamy environment for the meat to cook in.
Resting and shredding tips
- Rest the meat: Let the cooked pork rest for 20-30 minutes before shredding. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring moist and flavorful pulled pork.
- Use two forks: Shred the pork using two forks to pull the meat apart into thin, even strands. This will create the perfect texture for your sandwich.
Calories in a pulled pork sandwich
The calorie content of a pulled pork sandwich can vary depending on the ingredients used and the portion size. A typical pulled pork sandwich with a standard serving of meat, sauce, and a soft bun can range from 400 to 800 calories. Keep in mind that adding additional toppings such as cheese, coleslaw, or pickles will increase the calorie count.
Are pulled pork sandwiches healthy?
Pulled pork sandwiches can be part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation (eating like an adult 😉 ). While the meat itself is a good source of protein and some essential nutrients, the cooking method and added ingredients can contribute to the overall calorie and fat content of the sandwich. To make a healthier pulled pork sandwich, consider using a leaner cut of pork, a homemade sauce with less sugar, and whole-grain buns – or sourdough as I do in the Cubano recipe on this page. Additionally, opt for healthier toppings like fresh vegetables and avoid excessive amounts of high-calorie condiments.
Cheese and other toppings considerations
Cheese is a popular topping for pulled pork sandwiches, adding a rich, creamy element that complements the tangy sauce and tender meat. However, cheese can also add extra calories and saturated fat to your sandwich. If you choose to add cheese, opt for a smaller portion or a lower-fat variety to keep the calorie count in check. In reality a couple of slices of Swiss cheese is all you need.
Other toppings can enhance the flavor and texture of your pulled pork sandwich while also contributing to its nutritional value.
Coleslaw made with a light dressing adds a satisfying crunch and can provide fiber and vitamins from the cabbage and other vegetables.
Pickles are another common topping that adds tanginess without significantly increasing the calorie count. Be mindful of portion sizes and opt for healthier toppings to create a delicious and nutritious pulled pork sandwich.
If you really want to treat yourself, make a batch of caramelised onions. The caramelised flavours are perfect for a pulled pork sandwich.
Toppings for Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Coleslaw-topped pulled pork sandwich
A coleslaw-topped pulled pork sandwich is a classic combination that adds a refreshing crunch and contrast to the tender, saucy meat. To make coleslaw, combine shredded cabbage, carrots, and onions with a light dressing made of mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and seasonings. Pile the coleslaw on top of the pulled pork to create a satisfying and flavor-packed sandwich.
Popular cheese options
Some popular cheese options for pulled pork sandwiches include:
- Cheddar: Sharp, tangy, and full-flavoured, cheddar complements the smoky, sweet taste of barbecue sauce.
- Monterey Jack: Mild and melty, Monterey Jack adds creaminess without overpowering the other flavours.
- Pepper Jack: A spicy variation of Monterey Jack, this cheese adds a kick of heat to the sandwich.
- Provolone: Mild and slightly smoky, provolone is another great choice for adding a creamy element to your pulled pork sandwich.
- Swiss: A popular choice for adding to pulled pork sandwiches due to its distinct flavour and texture. It’s mild, slightly nutty and tangy taste complements the rich, smoky flavours of the pulled pork without overpowering them. Swiss cheese has a semi-soft texture, which allows it to melt easily when warmed, creating a creamy, velvety layer that envelops the tender, saucy pulled pork. The characteristic holes in Swiss cheese can also trap some of the barbecue sauce or other toppings, making each bite a delightful combination of flavours and textures.
Other delicious toppings and condiments
- Pickles: Sliced dill pickles add a tangy, crunchy contrast to the rich, saucy meat.
- Jalapeños: Sliced fresh or pickled jalapeños can provide a spicy kick to your sandwich, complementing the bold flavours of the meat and sauce.
- Caramelised onions: Slow-cooked onions become sweet and tender, adding another layer of flavour to the sandwich.
- Pineapple: Grilled pineapple rings or fresh pineapple salsa add a touch of sweetness and tropical flair to your pulled pork sandwich. Don’t hate on me for suggesting this 🤪.
Side dishes to pair with pulled pork sandwiches
- Baked beans: A classic barbecue side dish, baked beans complement the flavours of pulled pork and add extra protein and fibre to the meal.
- Cornbread: Warm, slightly sweet cornbread is the perfect accompaniment to saucy, tangy pulled pork sandwiches.
- Potato salad: Creamy, tangy potato salad pairs well with the bold flavours of pulled pork and can be made with a variety of seasonings to suit your taste.
- Grilled or roasted vegetables: Simple, healthy, and delicious, grilled or roasted vegetables like asparagus, zucchini, or bell peppers can round out your meal and provide added nutrients.
Where to Find the Best Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Restaurants known for their pulled pork sandwiches
There are many restaurants across the US that specialize in serving up mouthwatering pulled pork sandwiches. Some regions, such as the American South, are particularly famous for their barbecue traditions and offer numerous spots to enjoy a delicious pulled pork sandwich. Here are a few notable establishments to consider:
- Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Kansas City, Kansas: Known for its smoky, tender pulled pork sandwiches served with classic barbecue sides.
- Central BBQ, Memphis, Tennessee: Offering a Memphis-style pulled pork sandwich topped with a tangy, vinegar-based coleslaw.
- Skylight Inn BBQ, Ayden, North Carolina: Featuring Eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches with a spicy vinegar sauce.
There are several restaurants and eateries in the UK known for serving up delicious pulled pork sandwiches. Here are a few notable establishments to consider:
- Bodean’s BBQ, London: This popular American-style BBQ joint offers slow-smoked pulled pork sandwiches served with their signature sauce and coleslaw on the side. With multiple locations in London, it’s a go-to spot for BBQ lovers. Going here to me right back to my time living in Austin, TX. Website: https://bodeansbbq.com/
- The Joint, London: Known for its creative pulled pork sandwiches and burgers, The Joint has a strong following. Their pulled pork is slow-cooked for 16 hours and served with their homemade BBQ sauce and tangy slaw. Website: https://www.the-joint.co/
- Smoke BBQ, Sheffield and Leeds: With locations in Sheffield and Leeds, Smoke BBQ offers a delectable pulled pork sandwich featuring slow-smoked pork, homemade BBQ sauce, and apple slaw served on a brioche bun. Website: https://www.smokebbq.co.uk/
- Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse, Newcastle: This barbecue joint in Newcastle specializes in American-style BBQ, including a mouthwatering pulled pork sandwich served with slaw and their signature Longhorns BBQ sauce. Website: http://longhornsbbq.co.uk/
- Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, Barry, Wales: This Southern-style eatery offers authentic, slow-cooked pulled pork sandwiches served on a soft roll with pickles and a side of slaw. Hang Fire has received numerous awards and accolades for their barbecue. Website: https://www.hangfiresmokehouse.com/
These are just a few examples of restaurants in the UK where you can find delicious pulled pork sandwiches. Remember that availability and menus may change over time, so it’s always a good idea to check the restaurant’s website or call ahead before visiting.
Tips for finding great pulled pork sandwiches near you
- Read online reviews: Websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor provide customer reviews and ratings that can help you find highly recommended pulled pork sandwiches in your area.
- Ask locals: Reach out to friends, family, or coworkers who share your love for pulled pork sandwiches, and ask them for their favorite local spots.
- Look for regional specialties: If you’re traveling or exploring a new area, keep an eye out for regional pulled pork sandwich variations that showcase unique flavors and ingredients.
Now that you’re armed with all this information about pulled pork sandwiches, it’s time to get in the kitchen and try making your own! Whether you prefer a slow cooker, oven, stovetop, Instant Pot, or smoker, there’s a cooking method that suits your needs. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your seasonings, sauces, and toppings to craft a pulled pork sandwich that’s uniquely your own. And when you’re ready to explore beyond your kitchen, remember our tips for finding the best pulled pork sandwiches near you.
Pulled pork sandwiches and the Cubano specifically is an amazing mix of flavours. If you’re looking for a new and exciting sandwich to try, this is definitely it.
Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below after trying the recipe – it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve eaten (not hyperbole) so I’m really interested to hear what you think.