Who Invented Pulled Pork? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Pulled pork is one type of pork barbecue that started in the southern region of the United States. The traditional cooking method uses an open grill, where the meat is cooked slowly using a smoky fire. Each region has a different way of cooking pulled pork, a different recipe for the dry rub, and a unique recipe for the barbecue sauce. The development of pulled pork took several years as cooks added innovations to the original recipe, including introducing pulled pork cooked in ovens and slow cookers. Trace the story of one of America’s favorite barbecue dishes through this article, including how the National Pulled Pork Day started.

Who invented pulled pork?

No specific person invented pulled pork. But people in North Carolina are said to be the first ones to make the pulled pork, which is a type of barbecue. The North Carolinians developed the first style of barbecue, including a basting method to make the meat juices. Soon, the South Carolinians developed their own style. 

Pull pork’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Taino people
    Different cooking method

    The Taino/Arawak people were the indigenous people of Florida and the Caribbean. When the Spanish explorers came, they saw the natives cooking differently. They used a raised wooden frame they called “barabicu,” which the Spanish understood as “barbacoa.”

  • Hernando de Soto
    First European to cross the Mississippi River

    Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived with his group in 1541 at the Mississippi River. First, the Spanish and their 13 pigs crossed the river. Then, they traveled inland through Tallahassee and other areas as they headed north. They finally encountered a group of Chickasaw who later slow-cooked one of the pigs on barbacoa, which became de Soto’s favorite.

  • Spanish traders
    Pig trade

    The pigs became the only source of meat in the southern part of the United States because they survived the change in environment. Soon, as other settlers came to the region, the pig trade became a booming business with the Spanish traders. The pig population increased, and the popularity of slow-cooked barbecue rose. 

  • American South
    Favorite food during celebrations

    The people in the American South frequently cooked and served pulled pork during special occasions. They traditionally cooked pork in a barbacoa. They used smoky fire until the pork’s connective tissue dissolved, so the meat could be cooked fully until tender and pulled apart quickly.

  • North Carolinians
    Unique BBQ sauce

    The people in North Carolina concocted a unique sauce for their pulled pork barbecue. They created a vinegar-based sauce, entirely different from the other pulled pork sauces. In South Carolina and other regions, for example, they serve pulled pork with a tomato-based barbecue sauce, each using their special recipe.

When was pulled pork invented?

When the Spanish came to explore the North Americas looking for gold and passage to China, they landed in the southern part of the United States around 1540. They brought some pigs with them and introduced the method of barbecuing pig meat in open fire until meat can be pulled away from the bones.  

A brief history of pulled pork

Pigs came to the United States in the 1500s when Spanish explorers came to the New World in search of treasures and new lands to conquer in the name of Spain. Included in their provisions were pigs. When they reached Florida and the Mississippi after exploring the Caribbean, they found that the natives cooked food similarly to the Taino indigenous people of the Caribbean. The natives cooked a pig the Spanish brought, which the expedition leader, Hernando de Soto, particularly liked.

It soon became his favorite, and as they continued exploring, the method of cooking likewise spread in various areas in the American South. For the people in the south, barbecuing whole pigs is their culinary tradition. In North Carolina, where pulled pork started according to various accounts (but not precluding the development in other locations), the people applied vinegar and pepper-based basting mix to cook the barbecue. But in South Carolina, their basting mix and barbecue sauce is a mustard and vinegar combination.

Soon more areas in the American South learned to cook pulled pork barbecue, improving the cooking techniques, preparation methods, flavorings, and sauces, which spread to other places in the U.S.

Pulled pork timeline

  1. The 1500s
    Pigs were brought to North America

    Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto brought 13 pigs initially when he and his crew went to the New World in search of gold and other treasures, aside from conquering new lands for Spain. The pigs were their source of meat because cattle perished during their voyage.

  2. 1526

    The barbacoa was from the Taino language, which meant the method of cooking, and the raised wooden frame they used for slow cooking different types of food. It was the likely origin of the word barbecue. The first time barbacoa appeared in print was in 1526. It was mentioned in an account of Spanish explorer Gonzalo Fernández De Oviedo y Valdés, who was with a group of explorers in the West Indies.

  3. The 1600s
    Pig population increased

    By the 1600s, English settlers lived in the United States’ southern part. They became familiar with the southerners’ way of cooking pork barbecue over a smoky fire. Soon, the locals’ cooking methods and cuisine merged with their style, and brought their culinary delights as they moved north to Virginia and the Carolinas.

  4. The mid-1700s
    Growth of British North American colonies

    As the prosperity and confidence of the British North American colonies grew, barbecues became more common among the colonial elites. Barbecues used to be a go-to cooking method for the enslaved people because they could use the cheaper cuts of pork. As a result, accounts of the wealthy landowners in Virginia and Massachusetts hosting barbecues became news.

  5. 1875
    First meat market

    Jesse Swearingen opened the first meat market in Lockhart, Texas, in 1875. Soon, the town became famous for its barbecues. It led to the establishment of four restaurants in the city that served pork (and beef) barbecues to more than 250 000 diners from different countries.

Where was pulled pork invented?

Going by all accounts, the pulled pork in the United States started in North Carolina, where the people who started barbecuing whole pigs developed their particular style of cooking and basting the meat. Mexico also has a version of pulled pork, started in 1521, called ”carnitas.” While similar, the method of preparation and cooking are different. 

Why people love pulled pork

  • Tastes good

    The principle for why people love pulled pork is the slow and low cooking style. Whether cooked in an open fire or slow cooker, pulled pork is cooked slowly. The slow cooking process allows the seasonings to permeate the meat. Moreover, low fire allows the meat to cook until it becomes tender, flavorful, and juicy.

  • Plenty of nutritional value

    One serving of pulled pork (100 grams) provides protein, fats, carbohydrates, sodium, potassium, vitamins A, B, B6, B12, and D, iron, magnesium, and calcium. This serving contains 168 calories. Since pulled pork usually uses pork shoulder meat, it has high protein, which helps maintain muscle mass if you want to lose weight.

  • Easy to prepare

    If you are using a slow cooker, leave the seasoned pork in it, set it to low, and allow it to cook for eight hours. So you can have time to do other things while the food is cooking. But if you are pressed for time, you can set the cooker to high and let the pork cook for four to five hours until the pork is tender and shreds easily using a fork.

  • Pulled pork is versatile

    Pulled pork is a very versatile meat dish. Aside from using the shredded meat as a sandwich filling, you can use it in a burrito with avocado slices, salsa, and beans. You can add pulled pork leftover in soups or serve it with a zesty salad.

  • It lasts for days

    You can store leftover pulled pork in the refrigerator for three to four days. Then, if you made a large batch, you can freeze the rest. Put it in an airtight container with the cooking juices to keep the meat moist and ready for reheating. Frozen pulled pork will still be good for up to six months.

Pulled pork by the numbers

  • 16 to 18It will take 16 to 18 hours to cook 16 to 18 pounds of pork shoulder meat over a gas grill using an indirect cooking method. 
  • 19.46One serving of pulled pork, which is equivalent to 120 grams, contains 19.46 grams of protein.
  • 66.18According to data from the U.S. Census, each American eats about 6.18 pounds of pork each year, based on the 2020 statistics. 
  • 200 to 225The required temperature when cooking pulled pork is between 200 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. It is vital to keep the temperature constant to cook the meat evenly. 
  • 2,012During the celebration of the National Pig Month in October 2016, Sonny’s BBQ cooked 2,012 pounds of pulled pork. The owner used the event to encourage the declaration of the National Pulled Pork Day. The feat made it to the Guinness Book of World Record as the “Largest Serving of Pulled Pork.”

Five facts about pulled pork

  • Extra love for pulled pork

    The U.S. celebrates National Pork Month every October. In the southern part of the country, they revere their pulled pork. Sonny’s BBQ in Florida collaborated with the National BBQ Association of the United States and the National Pork Board to make October 12 National Pulled Pork Day. Americans started celebrating the special day in 2016.

  • Nutrient-rich

    Pork is rich in protein, B vitamins, and thiamine. The meat has three times the amount of thiamine than other foods. This mineral encourages a healthy appetite and changes carbohydrates into energy. Pork is likewise a good source of potassium and low in sodium, which helps in regulating your blood pressure.

  • More meat

    A hog with a 265-pound market weight can yield up to 70 percent meat, as you can eat most of the pig. At this size, the hog can provide 371 servings, based on eight-ounce serving size, according to the National Pork Board.

  • Hog raising uses less land and water

    With the developments over the years, hog farmers in America today use less land and less water to raise pigs. A study on pork production’s impact on the environment showed that hog farmers reduced their carbon footprint by 35 percent per pound of pork.

  • Lower calorie content

    According to a USDA analysis, pork tenderloin has fewer calories than skinless chicken breast or beef. For example, three ounces of cooked tenderloin only contains 120 calories. Chicken breast has 140 calories on the same-sized serving, while beef provides 141 calories.

FAQs about pulled pork

  • How do you make pulled pork tastier?

    Each cook has their recipe for the pulled pork seasoning or dry rub. Cooking experts suggest using brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, cumin, the right amount of pepper and salt, and a dash of cayenne to make the pork tastier. Ensure you rub the seasoning into the meat without missing any crevices and folds.

  • Do you pull the pork while still hot or allow it to cool?

     You should start pulling the pork while it is still warm, so it is easier to shred the pork fibers. However, it will be tougher to pull the meat apart once it gets cold. The solution is to wrap the barbecue in foil and reheat it slowly for about an hour.

  • What type of pork should you use for pulled pork?

     The most recommended cut of pork for pulled pork is the shoulder. This is because the meat from the pig’s shoulder is the moistest. In addition, the connective tissues in the meat ensure that the meat will retain more juice while slow cooking. If you use lean meat, you can still make pulled pork, but you will have a drier dish.

  • How long should you let the pork rest before shredding it?

     It is standard to allow cooked meat to rest before you carve or cut it. However, food experts have different opinions on the length of time. The resting time allows the meat to reconstitute and lock in all of its flavors and juices. But many agree that giving the meat about 30 to 45 minutes is enough.

  • How do you “pull” pork?

     Pork should still be warm when you start to shred it. You can avoid burning your fingers by placing the pork on a cutting board and cutting the meat into large pieces. Then, insert two forks into a piece of meat and pull the strands in opposite directions.

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