Substitute For Cider Vinegar In Pulled Pork: What To Use

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Apple cider vinegar

As a barbecue enthusiast, you probably keep a lot of vinegar on hand, especially if you prefer to make your own sauce from scratch. Apple cider vinegar, in particular, makes a nice spritzing liquid for pork butt, should you choose to go that route. But what happens if you’re ready to cook, and you’re all out of cider vinegar?

Substitute For Cider Vinegar In Pulled Pork

Whether it’s for a marinade, a barbecue sauce, or a mopping or spritzing liquid, you have plenty of options when it comes to cider vinegar substitutes. Many other vinegar types are suitable, though we would steer clear of balsamic and distilled white vinegar. Depending on your needs, you could also substitute citrus juice, apple juice, beer, or chicken stock.

About Apple Cider Vinegar

To make apple cider vinegar, producers take crushed apples and mix them with yeast and sugar. Over the course of several weeks, the yeast, along with naturally forming bacteria, transform the carbohydrates into alcohol.

During a second fermentation process, the alcohol becomes acetic acid. At this point, the transformation into vinegar is complete.

Apple cider vinegar has numerous health benefits, which are amplified if you stick with the raw version. You can distinguish raw cider vinegar from pasteurized by checking the consistency. If the mixture is cloudy, with lingering sediment on the bottom, it’s unpasteurized.

The acetic acid in cider vinegar contains probiotics that can assist in digestive health. It also acts as a natural antioxidant and may even help reduce blood sugar.

What Is Cider Vinegar Used For In BBQ?

pulled pork served with vegetables

Many pitmasters swear by cider vinegar as a marinade ingredient. In fact, in some recipes, the pork is soaked in vinegar alone for several hours before cooking.

The purpose of this technique is to tenderize the meat. The vinegar will start to break down the proteins before the pork even hits the smoker. Proponents of the method also claim that it gives the pork a “cleaner” taste.

Try not to marinate the pork for too long when vinegar is the main ingredient. The acid will eventually break down the proteins to the point of mushiness. To avoid this, either reduce the marinating time or cut back on the amount of vinegar in the recipe.

Vinegar can also be used to mop or spritz the pork as it cooks. This contributes moisture to the meat and slows the cooking process, which means thicker bark. Although cider vinegar is the preferred ingredient, you can use regular apple juice, apple cider, chicken stock, or even plain water as a spritzing liquid.

You’ll find cider vinegar in plenty of barbecue sauce recipes, particularly the ones from the North Carolina region. Here, the ingredient imparts a tangy flavor that offsets the richness of the barbecued meat.

Do You Have To Spritz The Pork With Vinegar?

Although the spritzing method is popular, it’s not crucial to the success of the barbecue. In fact, it can draw out the cooking process a bit too long.

Each time you open the smoker to spritz the meat, you sacrifice a great deal of heat and smoke. Some units run on the cool side anyway, especially when the weather is chilly. That means dinner may be ready much later than you expected.

Substitute For Cider Vinegar In Pulled Pork

Should you decide to spritz the meat anyway, or if you need a cider vinegar substitute for your marinade or sauce recipe, here are your best options.

Red Wine Vinegar

This type of vinegar is made from fermented red wine. As such, it has a robust, slightly fruity flavor that serves as a decent stand-in for cider vinegar. Feel free to substitute equal amounts of red wine vinegar in any recipe.

White Wine Vinegar

White wine vinegar also comes from fermented wine, but the white variety. That means the skins were removed from the grapes before the juice was made into wine. The resulting vinegar has a more subdued flavor than its red counterpart, but it can still be substituted for cider vinegar in equal amounts.

Sherry Vinegar

If you’ve ever tasted sherry, you’ll know that it has a very distinctive flavor. In the US, it’s used primarily for cooking. The resulting vinegar is popular in Spanish cuisine.

Sherry vinegar also has a unique flavor profile. Slightly sweet and medium-bodied, it can be swapped in for cider vinegar in a 1:1 ratio, but the end result might taste a bit different from what you’re used to.

Champagne Vinegar

Made from fermented sparkling wine, this vinegar is one of the mildest substitutes listed here. If you’re swapping it for cider vinegar, you might want to use a bit more of it than what’s called for in the recipe, especially if it’s for a sauce.

Unseasoned Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. It’s a staple in many Asian dishes, where pork is also a popular choice. The acidity is similar to that of apple cider vinegar, but the flavor isn’t as well-rounded. Try using equal amounts of it for mopping or spritzing, and add a tablespoon or two more to sauces and marinades.

Be sure to use unseasoned rice vinegar. The seasoned type contains salt and sugar and sometimes other ingredients, like corn syrup or MSG. If you try to swap it in for cider vinegar, your recipe will turn out too sweet.

Lemon or Lime Juice

Like cider vinegar, citrus juices have a tangy acidity that provides a nice counterbalance to the fatty pork.

When a marinade recipe calls for a few tablespoons of vinegar, feel free to substitute freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice instead. However, it’s not a good idea to use this substitution in large amounts, as lemon has a different flavor profile from vinegar.

Lemon and lime


For spritzing, beer makes a great substitute for cider vinegar. You can experiment with local craft brews, or keep it simple with a light domestic brand. Just fill your spritz bottle with beer, and proceed as directed. Feel free to use beer instead of vinegar in mop recipes, too.

Apple Juice or Cider

Since cider vinegar was made from apple juice, you can swap in the real thing when spritzing or mopping the pork. The end result might taste sweeter, but the texture should be more or less the same.

Note that this substitution won’t work in most marinade recipes, since the juice lacks the proper acidity.

Chicken Stock

Likewise, chicken stock or even plain water will work as spritzing ingredients. As with apple juice, it’s not a suitable replacement when you’re dealing with marinades, but if it’s moisture you’re after, chicken stock or broth will do the trick.

Substitutions To Avoid

Is there anything you shouldn’t use as a substitute for cider vinegar? Before you reach into the pantry, make sure not to accidentally grab either of these bottles.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic-style vinegar originated from the Modena region of Italy. While the authentic variety is still made there today, it can be made anywhere, as long as the process includes whole grapes pressed with their skin, stems, and seeds.

We don’t recommend using balsamic vinegar as a substitute for cider vinegar in pulled pork. The flavor is too strong, and it may overpower the pork instead of complementing it.

Distilled White Vinegar

Unlike white wine vinegar, which has a delicate flavor, distilled white vinegar is extremely strong. Because it’s made from grain alcohol rather than fruit, there’s nothing to distract from the acetic acid. If you use it to marinate the pork, the finished dish may taste sour.

The Bottom Line

You can use many different vinegar varieties as a substitute for cider vinegar, as long as you steer clear of balsamic and distilled white vinegar. Depending on the recipe you’re following, you might even get away with using apple juice, citrus juice, beer, or chicken stock instead.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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