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This mojo pulled pork recipe is one that is oh-so-simple on the surface… but actually took me two entire pork shoulders worth of testing, tweaking & development to truly nail.
Yes, that’s 20 pounds of pork. For two people. In one week. There have been a lot of meat sweats around here lately.
So why so much finagling? Well, conventional wisdom on the Instant Pot is delightfully contradictory.
On the one side, you’ve got all the people falling over ’emselves to tell you all about how SPEEDY and REVOLUTIONARY and TIME SAVING the damn thing is. But, on the other, you’ve got a million recipes online that tell you that pork shoulder in the Instant Pot should take OVER AN HOUR.
Um, what? Even the kitchen veteran Melissa Clark – author of Dinner in an Instant – says that 4 – 5 lbs of pork shoulder should take a staggering eighty minutes at high pressure. So, of course, the first thing I did was make pork shoulder the way the experts told me to.
AND IT SUCKED.
(Honestly, I’ve never used so many capital letters in one post before. Sorry. Kind of.)
All of these over-an-hour recipes yielded pork ranging from drier to driest, with the worst offenders being recipes that chopped the pork shoulder into smaller 2 – 3 inch cubes first. Even reducing cook time for those smaller pieces to 45 minutes gave up less-than-perfect pulled pork. I mean, it was cooked, and it pulled, but it didn’t have the richness and unctuousness that is really the entire point of making pulled pork.
And without something to flavor bomb that pork into submission and an illusion of juiciness, like, say a BBQ sauce overload, that dryness just had nowhere to hide behind a light, citrusy, garlicky-fragrant mojo-inspired marinade turned dipping sauce. Nope, nope, nope.
So here’s the deal. The key to making this mojo pulled pork the best bit ‘o pork to come out of your Instant Pot is actually trifold:
- Don’t cube your pork at all. Slice or chunk it into 1 lb / 454 g pieces and then put down your kitchen knife.
- Brown the pork first, even if that means dirtying up another pan. It’s worth it, because flavor.
- Only cook the mojo pulled pork for 60 minutes, then… unplug the Instant Pot (or turn off the keep warm mode) and let it rest for 30 minutes before releasing the pressure.
Keeping the pork in larger pieces makes all the difference between oh-my-god-so-good and eh-I’ve-had-better pulled pork. Even with reduced cook times, smaller cubes of pork never come out as tender. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, but I’ve tested every combo of size and cook time I can imagine at this point and it’s just true.
Letting the pulled pork rest before releasing the last bit of pressure makes sure that the pork doesn’t seize up and toughen when it gets whammied with cold air. Resting it again before pulling also helps with that. And when it comes to flavor time, don’t skip out on the additional mojo dipping sauce I make at the end with some of the reserved cooking juices. It’s the perfect drizzle to make the pork shine, with citrusy acidity, bright herbs & a little kick of fresh garlic if you’re so inclined.
This recipe is a deliberately large batch, since it takes almost the same amount of time to make this bigger batch than it would to make one half the size. It will leave you with approximately 2 lbs / 900 of finished, cooked mojo pulled pork, which means if you make it over the weekend, it will gift you with plenty of quick & easy protein for dinner throughout the week.
Although I’ll also admit, the leftover mojo pulled pork very often makes it onto my weeknight plates cold, straight from the fridge. It’s just that good.
Wanna make a quick weeknight meal? Use this Cuban mojo pulled pork to make these simple Cuban Pork Bowls with Yellow Rice!Print
Instant Pot Cuban Mojo Pulled Pork
This fragrant, cumin scented mojo pulled pork is juicy-tender, with a citrusy sauce that all comes together in a fraction of the time in the Instant Pot.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 90 minutes
- Total Time: 2 hours
- Yield: Makes about 2 lbs / 900 g pulled pork 1x
- Category: proteins, make ahead
- Method: instant pot
- Cuisine: Cuban
For the mojo pulled pork:
- 4 lbs / 1.8 kg boneless pork shoulder
- 1/3 cup / 80 ml fresh orange juice, about 2 medium oranges
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml fresh grapefruit juice, about 1 medium grapefruit
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml fresh lime juice, about 2 medium limes
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml avocado oil or olive oil, I like this one
- 2 heads of garlic, cloves peeled
- 1 tbsp / 10 g coconut sugar, optional
- 1 tbsp / 2 g dried oregano
- 2 tsp / 10 g coarse kosher salt
- 2 tsp / 6 g ground cumin, I like this one
- 2 bay leaves
For the additional mojo sauce:
- 1 cup / 240 ml reserved, strained cooking liquid
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml fresh grapefruit juice
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml fresh orange juice
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml fresh lime juice
- 1 clove crushed or minced garlic, optional, to taste
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- salt, to taste
- optional, but lovely: minced fresh oregano and / or cilantro
BROWN: Cut the pork into four equally sized pieces. In a well-oiled skillet over medium heat, cook the pork in batches as needed until it is fully browned on both sides, about 7 – 10 minutes per side. Add the browned pieces to the stainless steel insert of the Instant Pot, making sure they sit below the max fill line.
BLEND: Add all of the remaining ingredients for the pork except the bay leaves to a wide mouth Mason jar or blender pitcher. Blend until completely smooth in the jar with an immersion blender or using your blender.
COOK: Nestle the bay leaves in with the pork and pour the marinade over the top. Close the Instant Pot lid and set the cook time for 60 minutes at high manual pressure with the “keep warm” feature set to “off”. Once the cooking time is complete, let the pork natural release for 30 minutes, then manually release the very little remaining pressure.
SHRED: Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked pork to a plate carefully, since it will be very tender and likely to break up as you attempt to remove it from the cooking liquid. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes or so, until cool enough to handle. (I like to use that time to make the extra mojo dipping sauce). Using gloved hands or two forks, gently pull apart the pork until it is in chunks or as shredded as you like, transferring it to a mixing bowl as you go.
STRAIN: Place a fine mesh sieve over a 4 cup / 960 ml fat separator and carefully strain the cooking liquid from the Instant Pot, discarding all of the garlic solids & the bay leaves. Reserve 1 cup / 240 ml of the strained, de-fatted cooking liquid for the base of the additional mojo sauce.
COAT: Use as much of the remaining strained cooking liquid as you like to gently coat the mojo pulled pork until it is glistening but not swimming in extra liquid. Taste and add any additional salt if you would like to. I like to also add a little of the rendered fat from the cooking liquid, too, as it helps to keep the pork especially tender & juicy, but you can choose not to do that if you prefer. Make sure to add any extra salt before adding the fat. Let the pork rest while you make the sauce – it will absorb the extra liquid added as it sits.
MIX: To the reserved cup of strained cooking liquid, add all of the mojo sauce ingredients. Stir to combine, taste & adjust seasonings to your liking. Add the fresh minced herbs if you like. Serve the mojo pulled pork with the extra mojo sauce on the side to drizzle over the pork or whatever you choose to accompany it.
- Resist the urge to chop the pork smaller! I have tested this recipe multiple ways & times, only to find that cutting the pork down into 2 – 3 inch chunks results in a significantly drier, paler end result even with a reduced cook time.
- Reserve the rest of the strained & de-fatted cooking liquid and add it to the pork if you’re reheating leftovers later for other meals.
- For AIP, leave out the cumin in both the cooking liquid and additional mojo. I like to add some 2 teaspoons of dried cilantro to the cooking liquid and a 1/2 teaspoon of ground dried lime, too, if I have it. (This is the dried lime, sometimes labelled as dried lemon or limon omani).