Pulled pork is rich and delicious on its own, but adding the smoky, succulent meat to a toasted bun takes things to a whole new level. Here’s what to put on a pulled pork sandwich the next time you’re lucky enough to be eating one.
What To Put On a Pulled Pork Sandwich
Coleslaw, barbecue sauce, pickles, and fried onion rings are all popular choices. Other options include cheese, hot sauce, horseradish, avocado, pickled or caramelized onions, potato chips, and sundried tomatoes.
What To Put On a Pulled Pork Sandwich: From Sweet to Savory
I’m putting this one first because it’s far and away the most popular option. Pulled pork and coleslaw go together like peas and carrots, and whoever came up with the idea of piling the slaw right on top of the sandwich should be commended.
Classic American-style coleslaw is made from shredded green cabbage, carrots, and a mayo-based dressing. It’s a popular option, but there’s no need to limit yourself. Try using an Asian-style slaw with soy sauce and rice vinegar to boost the umami factor.
Some of you will insist that your pulled pork doesn’t need this accompaniment, and I’m not about to argue with you. But if you’re looking for something to add moisture and a kick of flavor to a sandwich, barbecue sauce is just the ticket.
I’m a huge fan of South Carolina-style sauce, which uses a mustard base to liven things up. Regular tomato-based barbecue sauce also works well, especially if you’re pairing it with traditional coleslaw.
Onion rings are more than just a side dish—they can bring texture and a savory-sweet hit to sandwiches, too. The type of store-bought crispy onions that you find with the salad accompaniments in the supermarket will work in a pinch, but homemade ones are better.
It might seem like overkill to top a pork sandwich with another pork product, but you know what they say—too much of a good thing is a good thing.
Savory, crisp bacon lends an interesting texture to the tender pulled pork. Try adding sliced bacon to the pile of shredded pork, or crumble it up and mix it all in together. Applewood smoked bacon makes a particularly nice addition.
There’s nothing like the crisp tang of a crunchy pickle, especially when added to a hot sandwich.
Dill pickles are always a hit, not to mention easy to find. The sour variety works well with Carolina-style sauce, while sweeter bread-and-butter pickles will complement richer tomato-based sauces.
Note that you don’t have to stick with pickled cucumbers. Other pickled veggies, such as peppers, green beans, cauliflower, and carrots, would make excellent additions to your masterpiece as well.
While they lack the crisp texture of fried onion rings, caramelized onions are sweeter and will practically melt into the meat.
To prepare the onions, just cut them into thin slices, then cook them in oil or butter over very low heat until they’ve turned the color of an old penny. They’ll shrink down a great deal, so be sure to start with about four times as much as you think you’ll need.
Be sure to stir the onions frequently, adding a few pinches of salt as you go. You might also have to add a splash of water or dry sherry every once in awhile to prevent the onions from sticking to the pan.
Vibrant green jalapeños will add a burst of color as well as heat. Opt for fresh ones if you want a real kick, or tone it down with the pickled variety for a tamer punch.
As far as preparation goes, you have a couple of options. Either top the pork with the sliced jalapeños, or chop the peppers and mix them in with the meat. The second option offers better distribution of flavor while toning down the heat.
Corn on a sandwich? Yep—but not just any corn. I like to grill it on the cob, then shave off the kernels and use those to top my pulled pork. The sweet-smoky flavors complement one another perfectly.
You can either shuck the corn and put it directly on the grill, or soak the ears and grill them in the husks. Shucking them first will save you a lot of cooking time, while the soak-and-steam technique will result in a sweeter flavor.
I’ve met a few people who opt for the no-cheese approach, claiming that the addition makes the sandwich too rich. That’s understandable if you’re always reaching for sharp cheeses like cheddar and Stilton, but there are plenty of other options out there.
Try crumbling some Cotija or queso fresco over your pork, especially if you’re also using jalapeños as a topping. Mozzarella and provolone are mild-tasting and melt well, making for an impressive appearance. A spicy cheese like pepper jack will liven things up.
Roasted Red Peppers
The sweetness of the roasted peppers makes a lovely foil for the savory pork, and the bright color gives the sandwich aesthetic appeal. I also appreciate their soft texture, as some of these additions can make the sandwich difficult to eat.
With a mildly sweet, nutty flavor and a creamy texture, this superfood is as versatile as it is delicious. Spread it on the bun as a substitute for butter, or tuck a few slices in between the pork and other ingredients.
You probably already know that pineapple and ham make a winning combination. Since pulled pork is a close cousin of ham, why not add a few pineapple rings to your sandwich?
If you opt for the canned variety, be sure to dry the fruit on paper towels before you use it. Otherwise, the juice will soak into the bread and make the sandwich all soggy. Fresh pineapple would work, too, but it’s a lot of work to prepare.
The pungent, sinus-clearing flavor of horseradish isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy the taste, you’re bound to appreciate what it does for your pulled pork.
To tone down the sharpness, try mixing the shredded horseradish with sour cream or mayonnaise. You can even make it a key ingredient in your coleslaw, then use that to top the sandwich.
Tabasco, Cholula, Frank’s Red Hot—there are plenty of hot sauce varieties out there, and each brand offers numerous options when it comes to flavor. Essentially, a hot sauce is made from peppers and vinegar, but other ingredients may be added for complexity.
Again, a good way to add spice without overpowering the pork is to mix the hot sauce in with a cool, creamy ingredient. Sriracha aioli, for example, makes a killer condiment.
Pickled Red Onions
Pickling onions offers a sour counterpoint to their natural sweetness. Slice a red onion as thinly as you can, then put it in a vinegar solution with a bit of sugar, salt, and whatever spices you prefer. It should be ready to use within 1 hour.
Like onion rings, potato chips make as good a sandwich topping as they do a side dish. I used to put them on my cheeseburgers when I was a kid. In addition to their crunchy texture, they can impart a wonderful flavor boost.
One of the best things about potato chips is their variety. You can amp up the taste of your pulled pork with salt-and-vinegar, salt-and-pepper, or sour-cream-and-onion flavored chips. Of course, the barbecue flavored ones are a great fallback option.
This one might sound a little weird, but when you think about it, the fit isn’t that awkward. After all, many barbecue sauces use tomatoes as a base. The meaty, tangy nature of the sundried ones offer an interesting twist on tradition.
I would recommend using the oil-packed variety. They’ll bring plenty of their own moisture along for the ride, and I think they have the best flavor, too. To liven things up, try making a purée and blending it with your barbecue sauce or coleslaw.
What To Serve on the Side
If you’ve already tucked a few potato chips into your pulled pork sandwich, go ahead and serve some on the side as well. Ditto for coleslaw, homemade onion rings, grilled corn, or pineapple rings.
French fries are a natural accompaniment to most sandwiches. If you have any pulled pork left over, pile some on top of the fries and melt pepper jack cheese over them, then sprinkle them with scallions.
You can also serve pulled pork sandwiches with potato salad or pasta salad, particularly in the summer. Opt for a flavor profile that matches the ingredients you’re using as toppings. Personally, I like German-style potato salad with bacon, onions, and mustard.
The selections I’ve listed here are only suggestions. Feel free to get as creative as you’d like when assembling your sandwich. Just be sure to share any mind-blowing combinations with your barbecue-loving family and friends.