Sweet and savory pulled pork and onions

Let’s make a pulled pork sandwich but we’re gonna change it all up.

Read Time: 7 minutes

This week I wanted to make pulled pork sandwiches, but I made a few changes to make sure it was different from any pulled sandwich I have written about before.

What is this sandwich?

This sandwich is not a traditional or authentic sandwich with a history, it’s just something that came together in my kitchen. But like many original ideas, some sort of inspiration sent me down this direction. In this case, I saw a thekitchn.com Pulled Pork Showdown post come through one of my social media feeds talking about how they tested a few different easy pulled pork recipes. Obviously, I clicked the link.

Spoiler: their favorite was the Pioneer Woman’s pulled pork recipe and it was the one they liked the most in part because she roasted her pork shoulder in a covered pot, balanced on top of onion halves. This meant the cooking pork dripped and flavored the onions and the results of the recipe are tender pulled pork and soft, super tasty onions that can be mixed into the pork to create extra excitement.

When I read the description of the Pioneer Woman’s recipe I thought it was a really smart idea so I tried it with a variant of my cheater chopped pork recipe and surprising no one, it turned out fantastic.

My first version of the sandwich was just pork and onions with no barbecue sauce. I didn’t want to use my Eastern NC style sauce and the pork was savory on its own and had even more flavor when the onions were added but something still felt a little simple. The second day I made this sandwich, I looked around my fridge and found a Japanese-style barbecue sauce that I wrote about in late 2022. Turns out, this was the answer to pulling the whole sandwich into a cohesive unit. Read on to learn about the other components of this sandwich.

First, just like last week and all the weeks before, we need some bread.

Hawaiian buns

I created this recipe last year based on another bun recipe that I make often. Most Hawaiian bun recipes out there are hit with a little bit of extra sugar and pineapple juice. In my recipe, I fully swap out the water with pineapple juice and I do add a tiny bit of extra sugar, but it’s still not a super sweet bun.

Otherwise, it’s just like making normal burger or sandwich buns. I paint them with an egg wash before baking which leaves them with a shiny and brown exterior.

The sugar and sweetness from the pineapple juice do help the buns to brown a bit more in the oven.
My typical bun recipes usually make 6 buns, but my Hawaiian bun recipe makes 8 buns.

Here’s my Hawaiian bun recipe that produces soft and slightly sweet sandwich buns which work great with pulled pork sandwiches or burgers.

2 hours and 45 minutes
Hawaiian sweet sandwich buns

A sweet sandwich bun with just a hint of pineapple flavor. This is a great choice for almost any sandwich.

Get Recipe

Savory and sweet pulled pork and onions

As I said earlier, the directions for this recipe are based on my cheater pulled pork which is great if you do not have a smoker and you want some easy-to-prepare pulled or chopped pork. That recipe does use a little apple cider vinegar which this recipe does not use, but this pulled pork has a secret weapon that pushes it into flavor city (better than flavor town).

The pork in this recipe is covered with a simple rub consisting of brown sugar, salt, and ground black pepper and then the pork is placed on top of as many onions as you can fit in your oven-proof pot or pan.

I heat up the meat in a skillet for each sandwich and then toss it in a bowl with sauce before building the sandwich.

The winning part of this recipe is that with about 10 minutes of effort, you can get seasoned pulled pork and a whole bunch of soft, sweet, and savory onions in a pot and ready for the oven. Yes, it does take roughly 4 hours of cooking time to get the onions and pork finished, but none of that time is active. You can just sit there and watch 8 episodes of Who’s the Boss and then “Ay-oh! Oh-ay, Angela!,” your pork and onions are fully cooked.

This is four Vidalia onions peeled and sliced in half and placed in the bottom of an oven-proof pot.
I seasoned the onions with some of the same simple rub that is used on the pork.
The pork is rubbed with brown sugar, salt, and pepper and baked on top of the onions for about 4 hours.

As I was saying before Tony interrupted, if you’re taking the time to cook the pork in a pot like this, you might as well make the onions as well because they only take about 2 minutes of effort to get them cut in half and peeled. Once the pork is done, you can easily remove it to a cutting board to rest and then scoop out the softened, sweet, and savory onions with a strainer and keep the two items separated if you want or you can chop or pull the pork and mix the softened onions in.

Now you have pulled pork and sweet and savory onions ready for sandwiching.

After roughly 4 hours in the oven, the pork is very tender and cooked through. Remove the meat and then you’re left with the residual liquid and soft, sweet onions.
Remove the onions from the bottom of the pot and strain off the liquid. This liquid contains a good deal of fat so removing it from the onions means there won’t be as much congealed fat when you reheat them.

Once the meat is removed from the liquid, you should let it cool a bit before pulling it. I typically just give it a good separating with two forks and then when I’m actually making the sandwich if any pieces look larger than others, I can chop them or pull them a bit more to make smaller pieces. That’s all up to you in this situation though.

This recipe produces savory pulled pork that tastes great with or without sauce.
The barbecue sauce (recipe below) just brings a different level of depth to the flavors.

This recipe makes a lot of pork. Unless you’re having a party, you’re not going to eat it all in one sitting. Here’s how I make sandwiches with leftover pork and onions.

Reheating the pork and onions

Depending on your level of effort, you can reheat the meat and onions for this sandwich in the microwave or in a pan on the stove. I did both. Reheating in the pan does mean that you will be able to add some extra texture to the meat with a bit of extra browning and crispiness. But in my opinion, the microwave version which produces hot, but still soft pulled pork works out just fine too.

Microwave: sandwich amount of pork in a bowl with 2 or 3 tablespoons worth of onions = 1 minute in the microwave.

Heating the pork and onions only takes 4 or 5 minutes on the stove.

Stove: sandwich-sized amount of pork in a medium skillet over medium heat: 5 or 6 minutes or until you start to see a little color on the pork. Once you start seeing some color, add 2 or 3 tablespoons worth of onions and let them cook until you remove the pork.

After I heated up the meat and onions, I would toss the meat with some Japanese-style barbecue sauce and place it all on a toasted bun.

Teriyaki-focused barbecue sauce

In late 2022 I wrote about a tonkatsu sandwich with a katsu sauce recipe that I had worked on and tested quite a bit. One of the sauces that I bought—that wasn’t quite a katsu sauce—was Bachan’s Japanese barbecue sauce. This stuff is very savory and strongly flavored with teriyaki and umami-forward seasonings similar to hoisin.

I saw the sauce in the back of the fridge when I was making the second sandwich for this blog post and decided to use it to season and coat the pulled pork. It was very good.

So, I decided to make a couple of test versions to try to recreate it and forced my wife to help taste test. I came up with a version that, while certainly not an exact copy, got pretty close and met my expectations with the pork.

This is the barbecue sauce that I based my new recipe on, and these are also the brand of pickled jalapenos that I bought this week.

Bachan’s ingredient list mentions sesame oil and I did add some to one of my small test versions of this sauce and it was hard to get the proportions correct since sesame oil has such a powerful flavor. I ended up not using it because I preferred a thicker barbecue sauce in the end. Bachan’s is somewhat thin in saucy texture.

5 minutes
Japanese-style barbecue sauce

A sweet and savory barbecue sauce that leans heavily into teriyaki sauce.

Get Recipe

Pickled jalapenos

This sandwich is fatty, savory, and rich and with the cheese, it’s a slight bit creamy. It’s missing some tangy or pickle-y flavors. So, I decided to also bring in pickled jalapenos which I felt could offset the flavors, and bring in some vinegar and spice tones to balance everything out. You could use regular pickles if you’re not a fan of spice, but if you just use 3 or 4 pickled jalapenos, it doesn’t make the sandwich super spicy.

I have a pickled jalapeno recipe (below), but I did not make the pickles in this sandwich. As you can see in the image above I used store-bought which worked just fine. But here’s my recipe if you’re less lazy than I was this week. It’s a good recipe with an addictive, spicy heat.

25 minutes
Pickled MSG jalapenos

Need a spicy kick with a bit of crunchy texture in your next sandwich? They're also perfect to spice up your next nacho or taco night.

Get Recipe

Cheddar cheese

I used a half slice of extra sharp cheddar in these sandwiches. I ended up building the bottom of the sandwich with meat, onions, and sauce and then placing some cheese on top and broiling it for a minute or so to melt in a toaster oven. This sandwich doesn’t need cheese so you could leave it off or replace it with your favorite variety if you wanted.

The sandwich recipe

Here are some photos of beautiful sandwiches that you can look at. Keep scrolling and you’ll find the recipe.

For most of the sandwiches I built them with the pork on the bottom and onions on top, but it’s just as good if not better if you just toss the onions and pork together.
The onions capture so much flavor from the pork during the cooking process that they elevate the sandwich to a new level.
During the reheating process for this sandwich or any pulled pork sandwich, you can sear the fully cooked pork a little bit longer to add some extra texture to the sandwich.
The sweet Hawaiian bun and the sweet onions are balanced by savory pork, creamy cheddar cheese, and pickle-y spice from the jalapenos.
Pulled pork and sweet onion sandwich with Japanese-style barbecue sauce view printable page for this recipe

This pulled pork and onion combination packs a lot of flavors and excitement into a fantastic sandwich.


Pulled pork and sweet onions
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 pound bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt
  • 4 Vidalia or sweet yellow onions
Japanese-style barbecue sauce
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon teriyaki sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 12 teaspoon soy sauce
Sandwich assembly
  • 1 Hawaiian bun
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Japanese-style barbecue sauce (from above)
  • pulled pork and onions (from above)
  • 12 to 1 whole slice of cheddar cheese (optional)
  • pickled jalapenos


Pulled pork and onions: pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).

In a small bowl add brown sugar, salt, and black pepper. Mix well. This is your rub.

Cover and rub your pork fully with all your rub. Make sure no parts of the pork are unseasoned. 

Slice both ends off of 4 Vidalia onions. Cut them in half and peel.

In a dutch oven or large oven-safe pot, add all your onion halves, cut side down. Add the fully rubbed pork and place it in the middle of the pan on top of the onions.

Add a lid or cover to your oven-safe pot and add it to the preheated oven. You can cover the pot with aluminum foil if you don't have a cover.

Cook for 3 and a half hours with the lid on the pot.

Once 3.5 hours are over, remove the cover/lid for the pot and cook for an additional 30 minutes. 

Remove the pork from the pot, place it on a cutting board, and allow the meat to rest for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the onions from the liquid with a strainer. Move the onions to their own container or the container where you plan to put the pulled pork.

After the meat has rested, pull meat from the bone and use two forks to separate it. At this point, you can mix in the onions or keep them in separate containers. 

Japanese-style barbecue sauce: in a medium-sized bowl add all the ingredients for this sauce. Stir well to incorporate. 

Store in a sealed container in your refrigerator. 

Sandwich assembly: toast your bun if desired.

In a small to medium pan over medium heat, add a bun-sized amount of your pulled pork and a few of the cooked onions. Cook until everything is warm, about 5 minutes. 

After 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and toss the pork in a few tablespoons of your Japanese-style barbecue sauce.

Add the sauced pork to the bottom bun and then top with onions or mix the onions in with the pork.  

Add the sliced cheese to the top of the meat and onions and place under the oven broiler on high for 3 or 4 minutes or until the cheese is melty.

Top with a few slices of pickled jalapenos and then finish the sandwich with the top bun. 

Leave the pickled jalapenos out if you’re anti-spice, but a regular pickle would work well here too.
You know what they always say: two sandwiches on the tray are worth more than two sandwiches in a bush.

Check back next week

I think we might make a croissant or two next week. But also, some other bread.

And remember to subscribe for free email sandwich updates if you’ve enjoyed what you have read. And you can support this site by joining my Patreon community for behind-the-scenes updates about future sandwiches.

Support this sandwich blog and unlock behind the scenes content. Follow along with what I am working on next. Click the banner below to join our Patreon community.

Enjoyed reading? Subscribe and I'll email you the next time I post a new sandwich.


1 comment on Sweet and savory pulled pork and onions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.