Try This One Ingredient for Perfectly Tender Pulled Pork
Whether you're in charge of bringing the pulled pork to the summer potluck or simply making it for a weeknight dinner, we've got a tip that will change the way you make pulled pork forever. There is one ingredient that you should be adding to every batch of pulled pork to make perfectly tender, flavorful pork every time. And it's an ingredient that you probably already have: root beer.
All you'll need to do is pour an entire can of root beer into your slow cooker — or whatever vessel you're using to make your pulled pork — and let the soda work its magic. The sugar and carbonization will work together to flavor your meat and make it melt-in-your-mouth tender.
How Root Beer Works to Tenderize Pork
Typically, when you make pulled pork, you'll cook it in barbeque sauce or another acidic ingredient like vinegar, citrus, or Worcestershire sauce, which work to tenderize the pork. Now think about soda like any other marinade, working to help break down the meat for pull-apart results. Soda drinks like root beer are quite acidic because of phosphoric and citric acids. They also contain carbon dioxide, aka bubbles. Their low pH (high acidity) gets down into the muscle fibers enough for the balance you want — enough to break down some of the proteins without dissolving your meat into a mushy texture. For reference, lemon juice has a pH of 2 whereas root beer comes in around 2.9.
By using root beer, you're still getting that key acidity, but with fewer ingredients, in one can. So it saves you time and gives you great — if not better — results. Plus, you won't have to worry about wasting a bottle of barbeque sauce that the meat will inevitably suck up in the slow cooker. With the root beer method, you'll add your go-to sauce once the pork is finished cooking.
In addition to the deliciously tender meat, you'll get a nice sweetness from the root beer. It won't change the flavor so much that you'll feel like you're eating root beer-drenched pork, but it does add a new level of taste that pairs nicely with smoky or spicy barbeque sauce. It's truly the perfect sweet and savory combination.
What to Use Instead of Root Beer
And if you don't have any root beer on hand, or you're simply not a root beer fan, that's okay! Many sodas will work in the same way. Colas, like Coke or Pepsi, or even flavored versions of cola (cherry for example) lend their flavors nicely to slow-cooked pork. Dr. Pepper is also a favorite to use to tenderize pulled pork, along with ginger ale or even hard cider. These all obviously have a different taste than root beer so think about the kind of flavor profile you want to create and get cooking.
Be aware if using diet sodas that the effects may be different as some sweeteners are not heat stable enough for cooking. Sucralose (popularly known via the brand Splenda) would be the best bet for a diet soda option.
Recipe Ideas and Inspiration
Additionally, pulled pork isn't the only meat that will benefit from a root beer marinade. The acidity levels in root beer will tenderize most red meat, like ribs and steak, in addition to other pork dishes, like pork chops.
As an added tip while we're on the subject of soda, a lemon-lime variety is a great addition to marinated chicken as well.
Now that your mouth is watering, it's time to try out this method for yourself! Our site has a few delicious pork recipes that call for root beer to try, like Slow Cooker Root Beer Pulled Pork, Slow Cooked Pulled Pork, and Instant Pot Root Beer Pulled Pork Sloppy Joes.
You can thank us later after you get the thumbs up from everyone who tries this dish. They won't be able to give you two thumbs up because that would mean letting go of their pulled pork sandwich.