You can never put too much pork in your mouth as far as I’m concerned - Lewis Black
Pulled pork has become a cultural, culinary phenomenon that has transcended national boundaries and assumed pride of place on menus all over the globe.
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Leaving its humble origins as a staple of Southern barbecue far behind pulled pork, or more accurately the pulled pork sandwich has been embraced by legions of converts and fans the world over. There's nothing better in the summer than getting out the slow cooker and preparing a pork shoulder or pork butt with barbecue sauce for pork sliders and coleslaw.
And if history, and its ongoing spectacular ascension as a sandwich of choice, is anything to go by, in the next decade the little sandwich that could might actually end up challenging the hierarchical structure of fast food, and assume its rightful place in the sandwich hall of fame next to the hamburger and the Sloppy Joe.
What Is Pulled Pork?
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty and take a deep dive into the world of buns in an attempt to discover which of them is the ideal choice for a pulled pork sandwich, it’s important to understand what pulled pork is and where it comes from.
We’ve already mentioned that pulled pork was, and is, an integral part of Southern barbecue and owes its existence to the determination and dedication of the smokers and slow cookers who made sure that every part of the humble pig was used and transformed into a dish that set taste buds on fire all over the world. But there’s a little more to it than that.
Pulled pork takes a day to make and a lifetime to master. It’s a slow-cooked, tender meat that’s almost always taken from the shoulder joint of a pig, shredded by hand, and smothered in a sauce before it’s served.
And thanks to the endlessly inventive nature of chefs, cooks, and smokers from here to Paris, there are almost as many different kinds of pulled pork as there are stars in the sky.
That’s why it’s important to get down to basics and take a much closer look at the buns and bread that are used to make pulled pork sandwiches. With a nearly infinite amount of pulled pork choice available, the bun that’s used as a foundation for the sandwich can either make or break it.
It can make the sandwich famous, or it can consign it to the ranks of the almost ran meals that nearly made it but couldn’t quite manage to get over that final taste hurdle. In a pulled pork sandwich, the choice of bun, and bread, is everything.
Variety Isn’t Just the Spice of Life
Our endless quest to create the perfect pulled pork sandwich usually directs the entirety of its focus on what’s going on inside the bun, rather than the bun part of the equation.
But as we’ve already said, the wrong bun for the wrong type of sandwich can be disastrous and bring ruin down on the head of its creator, and spill the contents of the sandwich all over the person attempting to eat it.
We all know that one of the most cherished extra ingredients in any pulled pork sandwich is coleslaw, but the liquid content of the shredded cabbage combined with that of the sauce used for the pork can be deadly to any bun that collapses under the weight of the liquid burden.
And if the pulled pork sandwich that you’re going to eat has increased its heat factor by adding dozens of chilis and spices to the mix, building it inside a soft roll won’t detract from the taste of the pulled pork and can make the Scoville pain that the pork will inevitably inflict on your taste buds a lot easier to deal with.
That’s why the right choice of bun for a pulled pork sandwich isn’t just important, it’s absolutely crucial. It doesn’t just hold the whole thing together, it adds to the flavor profile of the sandwich and helps to make sure that every ingredient works in perfect harmony and that the sandwich that you chose is one that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
That might sound like a tall order and a lot for a bun to live up to, but believe us, it’s a burden that they’re (and by they, we of course mean the buns) more than capable of carrying on their tasty shoulders.
Let’s Talk Sandwiches
Believe it or not, the style of sandwich that you prefer can have an incredibly massive impact on the choice of bun that it’s served in.
Being fully paid-up members of the Southern barbecue fan club, we’ve always preferred a traditional closed sandwich, but believe it or not, there are people out there who prefer an open-face sandwich.
If you’re one of the folks who like an open-top sandwich, more power to you, just because we don’t like it, it doesn’t mean that we don’t understand it. We do. Less bread means more pork, and more pulled pork can often mean more taste.
There’s also a growing trend in which the bun or the bread that would usually be a part of the sandwich is actually served on the side in the same way that an extra would be.
But as that technically falls outside of the culinary jurisdiction of a sandwich, we’re not going to talk about it today.
We’re here to talk about buns, bread, and pulled pork sandwiches and that’s what we’re going to do. Just bear with us a little longer and we’ll bring the buns and bread to the fore and get stuck straight in.
Where were we? Oh yes, that’s right. Open top versus closed sandwiches. While there isn’t any form of conflict between the two and the choice of which you prefer is entirely down to individual taste, it makes a huge difference to the type of bun or bead that your pulled pork can be served on, or in.
But, we’ll get to that in due course. Right now, it’s time to talk about buns and bread.
All The Way From France - The Brioche Bun
Contrary to popular belief, the word “brioche” is the same in English as it is in French, and is simply the name that this delicious bread was given when it was first baked in the fifteenth century. A versatile and adaptable bread that can be made in any size, shape, or form, brioche is a rich, light bread that’s fast becoming a roll of choice for both hamburgers and pulled pork sandwiches.
Because brioche buns are made with an unusually high butter content, they’re both incredibly soft and a lot sweeter than almost any other bread.
Their sweetness can help to offset the burn that a number of spicier and hotter pulled pork varieties bring to the table. And because they’re naturally soft, they’re capable of absorbing a lot of sauce before they begin to disintegrate and fall apart in your hands.
Both of these factors have led to the brioche becoming a favorite bun of choice among pulled pork aficionados. Whatever type of pulled pork you want to serve, if you’re looking for a universally capable bun to serve it in, then the brioche should be high on your radar.
Personally, we prefer a brioche bun when we really want the flavor of the pulled pork to shine undiminished, and make sure we use it whenever there’s slaw, bourbon, or beer in the sauce mix.
And it’s also pretty good at handling, and dealing with all of the sauce that traditional barbecue adds to the pulled pork mix.
Staying In Europe - The Kaiser Roll
If you’re anything like us as soon as you hear the word “Kaiser” you’ll start thinking about ‘The Usual Suspects’, but don’t let that film cast a dark cloud over this incredible Austrian bread, as it was originally made for rulers and gentry, before being passed down to the rank and file who soon became besotted with it.
Like Brioche, it’s an infinitely versatile bread that can be molded and shaped to any size that you, or whoever is serving it wants or needs it to be.
The great thing about Kaiser buns is that they’re hard and crispy on the outside and wonderfully soft and fragrant on the inside. When you cut into a freshly baked one, you’ll be overcome by the moorish aroma that flows out of it.
Because they're so soft on the inside, they can soak up all the sauce that’s part and parcel of every pulled pork recipe, and the somewhat pedestrian nature of the bread means that all you’ll get when you do bite into any sandwich that they’re used to make, is mouthful after mouthful of pulled pork sauce flavor.
But the absolute best thing about Kaiser rolls is that because they’re a little harder on the outside, you can handle them with ease, regardless of what they’ve been filled with. We’re a little bit smitten with them, and they’re another go-to choice for the sloppiest barbecue pulled pork sauces.
As this bun does a great job of holding all the sauce in check, we tend to go a little crazy and add all sorts of toppings like onion rings and deep-fried cheese to our Kaiser sandwiches. Seriously, you need to try it. You haven’t lived until you’ve had fried dairy on top of the sauciest pulled pork.
The Italian way - Ciabatta
It’s time we gave way to the open-faced sandwich devotees and took a look at the best bread to make their favorite kind of pulled pork sandwiches with. There’s no better way to embrace the way of the open face, than with a little taste of Italy, and ciabatta bread.
Anyone who has ever had a piece of ciabatta bread will happily confirm that as soon as you bite into it, its delicate, chewy interior launches a taste sensation in your mouth. And its crusty hard exterior makes it perfect for open-faced pulled pork sandwiches.
The soft doughy insides of this bread mean that it will gladly soak up all of the pulled pork sauce that you want to add to it, while the crusty exterior makes it easy to pick up and eat.
That said, we’ve seen a lot of open-faced sandwich fans use a knife and fork to eat their sandwiches, and we have to be honest, it’s a great way to tackle pulled pork head-on.
As ciabatta is riddled with taste and flavor it’s better used for pulled pork that’s infused with similarly strong flavors – so if your choice of pulled pork revolves around heat and spices, ciabatta is the perfect vessel to bring your open-faced sandwich to life with.
The Hipster Way - Adding A Little Sourdough Flavor
We’re not saying that the surge in popularity of pulled pork sandwiches has anything to do with the emergence of hipster culture, but the two have kind of walked hand in hand with each other, and if you look too closely at their timelines, they do tend to mirror each other.
However, one of the things that we love about hipsters and their gradual world conquest, is their devotion to sourdough bread. Texture-wise, it’s somewhere in between Kaiser bread and Ciabatta, which makes sourdough perfect for both open-face and closed sandwiches.
Dense and filled with flavor, sourdough rolls are sort of like the beer of the bread world, as they’re made by a process of fermentation, which leads to their much stronger taste.
Again, as sourdough buns are packed full of natural flavor, and soft enough on the inside to soak up all the pulled pork sauce that you could ever eat, and are hard enough on the outside to be picked up with ease, they’re a perfect choice of bun for both sandwich camps.
The stronger flavor of the bread can lead to it overpowering some milder pulled pork flavors, so in an ideal world, you’ll only really want to use sourdough as your roll of choice for your sandwich if your pulled pork kicks like a mule and has been made to make your taste buds tremble with delight.
A Little Bit Of Indian Flavor - The Naan
Don’t worry, we know. Technically naans aren’t rolls, they’re leavened flatbreads, but if you thought that the only meal that this staple of Indian cuisine should be paired with is a curry, you’re doing yourself, pulled pork and naans a taste filled disservice.
There’s only one way to enjoy pulled pork with a naan, and that’s by cutting the latter open and stuffing it full of the former.
Naans have a chewy texture an almost neutral flavor (which is why bakers often add garlic and chili to them) which makes them perfect for pulled pork as the way they’re baked prevents any of the sauce from flowing out, and as they’re easy to hold when they’re full, they’re also simple to eat.
It almost feels like we shouldn’t be telling you about naans and their natural affiliation with pulled pork as they’re one of the best-kept secrets in the pulled pork world.
But like all secrets, it’ll only be a matter of time until the rest of the world finds out about them, so make sure that you try them with your favorite pulled pork before everyone else catches up and they become just another pulled pork fixture.
To Toast Or Not To Toast, That Is The Question
There’s a school of thought that thinks it’s always better to toast the bun that you use for your pulled pork sandwich.
And while we think that’s there some merit in this, unless you’re going to serve your pulled pork in an open face sandwich, we can’t see any reason why you’d want to.
It seems like an unnecessary waste of time that’s been designed to ruin a perfectly good sandwich to us. But if you’re a believer, there's absolutely nothing to stop you from toasting the bun you’ve chosen for your pulled pork.
The Final Bun Verdict
That’s that then, the top five buns that you can use to create your perfect pulled pork sandwich.
Regardless of which of them you elect to use (for the record, we’d always recommend a kaiser bun), all that’s left for us to say is bon appetit, and y’all enjoy now, y’hear?