Pressure Cooker Pork Shoulder Recipe
Here is a basic recipe for cooking pork shoulder (also known as pork butt and a number of other supermarket meat cuts detailed here) in your electric pressure cooker. Cooked pork shoulder is very versatile, and can be used for a number of dishes and cuisines: carnitas, pork tacos, enchiladas, posole, empanadas, hash, pulled pork, BBQ sandwiches, open faced sandwiches, sweet and sour pork, or even a hearty Italian ragu. Pork shoulder may not have the glamorous visual impact of a pork rib roast or a pork crown roast, but it has great flavor, its incredibly versatile, and it has an economical price that will wow your wallet, as well.
Shopping Tips. I’ve already given shopping tips how to get the best possible deal on pork shoulder elsewhere on this site, but I’ll add a few additional tips here. There are a couple of times each year when you’re more likely to get a good deal on pork shoulder: before May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) and just before the New Year (it’s a tradition to make tamales for New Year’s). I recommend you purchase whole shoulder (bone-in or boneless), both because it’s the most economical way of buying it, and because when it is packaged in vacuum sealed plastic bags, its often good for a couple of weeks (check your expiration date before purchasing). Use some now, cut the uncooked meat up into 1 or 2 pound chunks, and freeze for later use. (The USDA says uncooked meat will last longer, and preserve its quality longer, in the freezer than cooked meat will.) The bonus is, with a pressure cooker, you don’t have to defrost the pork before cooking it, you can put it in the pot as usual and just add 5 minutes or so to your cooking time to compensate.
Beginner Friendly Pressure Cooker Recipe. This is a very beginner friendly and forgiving recipe, and I recommend it heartily for those new to pressure cooking. You can just cut the meat up into large chunks, throw it in the pot with some water, set the timer and start your machine. (Browning the meat chunks adds flavor, but if you don’t want to make the extra mess or you’re in a hurry, that’s perfectly okay, skip it.) There’s enough water at the start, and even more liquid at the end, so your chances of burning it are very unlikely. If you accidentally undercook the meat, you can just leave it in the pot and simmer it, uncovered, for a few minutes until its ready. If you overcook the meat a little bit, its not going to make much of a difference, everything should still be good. You can pressure cook the pork butt on the weekend, shred and refrigerate the meat, then use it in your recipes throughout the week. Its really quite hard to mess this up.
Cooking Broth Ingredients. Because I typically use the cooked pork shoulder in several different cuisines at once, I generally like to cook pork shoulder with a minimum of seasonings, and season it later. If I’m planning on harvesting the pork fat for other uses, I’ll cook the pork in plain water, without salt. If not, I’ll cook it in either water with Ham Base or chicken or beef broth to add both a little flavor and to salt the meat. If you know you are using the entire batch of pork to make a single dish, consider the recipe when deciding what to add to cook to the meat. If I’m making a Mexican dish, I’ll add whole cloves of garlic and chunks of onion. If I were adapting an Asian recipe, for example this Shoyu Ramen Recipe, after I browned the pork, I’d pressure cook it with the chicken parts, ginger, leeks, and shoyu (a kind of soy sauce). If I wanted to make this North Carolina Pulled Pork Recipe during the winter or if a barbeque wasn’t available, I’d probably throw a teaspoon of black peppercorns and a dash of red pepper flakes into the cooking broth as well.
3 – 5 lbs. (1.3 to 2.25 kg) pork shoulder / pork butt
2 cups of cold water. Chicken Broth or Beef Broth
Ham Base or Pork Base (optional)
Electric pressure cooker
12″ Silicone tipped tongs
Good skillet, preferably large (optional)
Colander / fine mesh sieve to strain the broth (optional)
Plate or other container to rest the cooked meat
BROWNING TIPS: Browning pork shoulder before you pressure cook it is optional, but it does add flavor. Browning meats is important for adding flavor not because it seals the juices in, but because of what is known as the maillard reaction, in which high, dry heat is applied to the surface of the meat, amino acids and sugars react, creating not only a lovely brown crust to the meat, but hundreds of flavorful compounds. You’ll get best results with a good skillet, room temperature meat, and patting the surface of the meat dry before browning.
- Sharpen your knife, if needed. Optional: Place the pork shoulder on a cutting board, fat side up. Starting at one of the upper ends, hold your knife at a 45° to 90° angle, cut a few inches at the point where the thick layer of fat appears to connect with the meat. Try again if your cut is too shallow or deep. Proceed to “peel” the cut fat cap back, exposing where it is still attached to the meat, and gently cutting the fat layer away from the meat in a single piece. If you prefer, leave the fat cap on the meat – it can easily be removed after pressure cooking. Mandatory: Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks approximately 1 to 2 pounds each.
- If you wish, you can skip to Step 3 – this step improves flavor, but is not mandatory. Optional: To brown the pork chunks, put the meat into closed ziploc bags for half an hour until they are closer to room temperature. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a skillet, heat at medium high, and add meat chunks, fat side down. Do not overcrowd the skillet, leave space between the pieces of meat. Cook the meat for several minutes on each side, until it turns a medium brown color. (The meat will be a little darker than it appears in the photo, I took this shot during sunset, and left the flash on, which pinked it out a tiny bit.)
- Add the pork chunks and the water / broth to the pressure cooker pot. If desired, add 1 tablespoon of Ham Base as well. Cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 55 minutes (see Altitude Tip and Altitude Pressure Cooking Chart below) using NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE
- When pressure is released, turn your pressure cooker off, unlock and remove the lid. If you have an instant read thermometer and want to check the temperature, please be aware that the USDA cooking recommendations were revised in May 2011 for pork roasts to 145° F (71° C) with a minimum 3 minute rest period. (As long as the meat reaches 145 degrees and rests for 3 minutes, its safe to eat “pink” pork.) Allow the meat to cool in the cooking liquid for 15 – 20 minutes.
- After the resting period in the broth, use tongs to remove the pork shoulder to a plate. Allow to cool until you can comfortably handle it.
- There are two ways to shred pork. The traditional method is to use two forks to tear it apart. I prefer to use my hands (freshly washed, or using disposable gloves). The meat is soft and tender, and doesn’t require forks to shred it, and by using my hands, I can also remove any remaining connective tissues and excess fat. The pork will be pink or light brown, and have a little texture, while the fat will be softer, slippery, with a slightly greasy texture (and slightly lighter in color).
- Once you’ve shredded the pork and the excess fat has been removed, you can either add it right away to your recipe, refrigerate or freeze it.
PORK FAT AND BROTH TIPS: The shredded pork isn’t the only goodie you get out of this recipe. Using a fine meshed sieve, strain the cooking broth to remove any remaining small pieces of meat, onion, garlic, or spices, and refrigerate the cooking liquid overnight to 24 hours. The rendered fat in the broth will rise to the surface and harden, and the broth, which is now full of flavorful gelatin, will likely become the consistency of Jell-O. Remove and keep the pork fat to be used in place of commercially produced lard, and use the pork flavored broth as a soup or stew base, or to add meaty flavor to pressure cooked beans or rice.
ALTITUDE TIP: Per the USDA, one third of Americans, primarily in the Western United States, live at altitude, at least 3,000 feet (915 meters) above sea level. (Check out this USGS Elevation Map.) You can actually find out the elevation of your own home (anywhere in the world) by typing in your address into this Google Maps Elevation Tool. The general rule of thumb is, for every 1,000 feet (305 meters) in elevation you are above 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level, you need to add 5% in cooking time.
Pressure Cooking at Altitude. For many recipes, with relatively short cooking times, this really won’t make much of a difference for you. For example, let’s assume you want to make my Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe. If you live at 3,000 feet above sea level, to calculate 5% of 2 minutes, you would multiply 0.05 x 2 minutes, which would be 1/10th of 1 minute. Even if you lived in Denver at around 6,000 feet, that would be 0.2 (for 20 percent) x 2 minutes, or 4 / 10ths of a minute. You could wait 30 seconds before releasing pressure, but the difference really isn’t worth worrying about when small amounts of time are involved. For this recipe, however, with a much longer cooking length (55 minutes at sea level), its worth calculating the proper cooking time. But I’ve gone ahead and done the calculations for you!
|Elevation (Feet)||Elevation (Meters)||Multiplier||Additional Time Under Pressure||Total Cooking Time (rounded)|
|3,000||915||0.05||2.75 minutes||58 minutes|
|4,000||1220||0.1||5.5 minutes||61 minutes|
|5,000||1524||0.15||8.25 minutes||63 minutes|
|6,000||1829||0.2||11 minutes||66 minutes|
|7,000||2134||0.25||13.75 minutes||69 minutes|
|8,000||2438||0.3||16.5 minutes||72 minutes|
|9,000||2743||0.35||19.25 minutes||74 minutes|
|10,000||3048||0.4||22 minutes||77 minutes|
(NOTE: If your electric pressure cooker, like mine, only has 5 minute increments above the 40 minute mark, just round it up or down to the nearest 5 minute increment, and don’t sweat it. Pressure cooking pork shoulder is very forgiving.)
NOTE: A good portion of the cooking time listed above (45 minutes) is not "cooking" time per se, but time allowed for the pressure cooker to reach pressure and de-pressurize naturally
- Sharpen your knife. Optional: To remove the fat cap, place the pork shoulder on a cutting board, fat side up. Starting at one of the top edges, cut into the pork shoulder at the point where the thick layer of fat seems to be attached to the meat. Readjust your cutting point as needed. Once you’ve found the right place, hold the knife at a 45 – 90 degree angle in one hand, and pull the edge of the fat layer back as far as you can with the other. Gently cut the fat away from the meat, pulling the fat back as you go, until you remove the fat cap in one piece. Alternatively, leave the fat cap on during cooking (it can easily be removed during shredding). Non-Optional: Cut the pork shoulder into 1 - 2 pound chunks.
- If you are in a hurry, or the pork pieces are frozen, skip to Step 3. Optional: If you want to brown the meat, put the pork chunks into sealed plastic bags and allow them to sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes or so until they are closer to room temperature. Heat a small amount of oil (do not use olive oil) in a good skillet at medium high heat, and when hot, add the pork chunks, fat cap side down, to the skillet. Do not overcrowd the pan, you want space between the pieces – do several batches if needed. Brown the meat on each side at least a couple of minutes until each side turns a medium brown color.
- Place the meat and 2 cups water or broth in the pressure cooker. Add 1 tablespoon of Ham Base, if desired. If I plan to use the rendered pork fat, I’ll omit any sources of salt, and season the meat later. Pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 55 minutes (see Altitude Tip and Altitude Pressure Cooking Chart above) using NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE.
- Once pressure has been released, turn off the "keep warm" setting, unlock and remove the lid, holding it at an angle over the pressure cooker bowl to allow hot juices to run back into the pot. For those who have an instant read thermometer, in May of 2011, the USDA revised its cooking temperature recommendations for whole roasts, including pork, to 145° F (71° C) and advised that as long as the pork has been cooked to 145 degrees and been allowed to rest at least 3 minutes, "pink" meat is safe to eat. Allow the meat to cool within the juices for at least 15 to 20 minutes before removing the chunks from the cooking broth with your tongs.
- After the meat has cooled in the cooking broth for 15 or 20 minutes, remove the pork shoulder pieces to a plate to cool until you can comfortably touch the meat with your hands.
- The traditional shredding instructions involve using two forks to shred the pork. I prefer to do it by hand, so I can remove remaining pieces of connective tissue and fat. The pork will be nice and soft and juicy, and yet still have some texture to it. Fat will often be slightly lighter in color, softer, and slippery.
- Once the pork has been shredded and excess fat removed, the shredded pork is ready to either be used in other recipes or refrigerated.