In years past, Americans bought nearly 4 million pounds of pork shoulder and pulled pork in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Depending on the size of your slider buns, that’s enough to make 16 million to 32 million pulled pork sandwiches.

With that much meat on the line, and with Super Bowl LII fast approaching, we started to wonder: Of the appliances we test, which yields the best-tasting pulled pork?

More on these devices, and Super Bowl Recipes

Ultimately, the magic of this dish comes from cooking a cheap, tough cut, like a pork butt or shoulder. Low and slow heat melts the fat and collagen and produces a complex meaty flavor that lends itself perfectly to barbecue sauce. You can make pulled pork dozens of different ways—braised in an oven, smoked in a grill or smoker, or left overnight in a slow cooker, to name a few.

To land on the best method, we decided to make a batch the traditional way, in a smoker, using a grill that’s anything but traditional—the Big Green Egg. We first tested the Egg, a ceramic kamado-style charcoal grill and smoker, this past summer. The grill allows you to precisely control cooking temperature over long periods of time without adding extra charcoal.

Then, going for speed, we opted to try a countertop appliance with a cult following—the Instant Pot. The popular multi-cooker, which its manufacturer claims can replace at least seven other small appliances, allows you to braise pork slowly using the slow cooker function or rapidly on pressure cooker mode. We tested both.

As a control, we cooked a batch of pork the old-fashioned way—in an oven using a highly-rated KitchenAid KDRS407VSS range. That gave us a baseline for what this beloved dish should taste like. Here’s what we found, along with a few tips for getting the best results no matter which method you choose.

The Setup

For all four cooking methods, we cooked the pork shoulder plain, without salt or seasoning, and, in three cases, without any liquid. We added just a little water to the Instant Pot for our pressure-cook test, following the instructions in the Instant Pot manual. For the Big Green Egg and the oven, we cooked the meat at temperatures typically used for smoked or oven-braised pork.

Because no two pork shoulders are the same, we also butchered multiple cuts of pork shoulder into large chunks, mixing the pieces to randomize them into four weighed batches. If you’re a barbecue fanatic, you’re probably clutching your chest right now—no, we didn’t cook each shoulder whole on the bone. But for the purposes of our test, we had to control for the variability of meat.

The Taste-Off

In a blind taste test, six of our formally trained sensory tasters performed the enviable task of tasting all four batches, first plain and then with barbecue sauce. Sitting in our test sensory lab, they were each served unlabeled pork in identical dishes and didn’t learn the differences until the tasting was complete. Once our experts weighed in, we served the leftovers—of which there were plenty—to lucky CR staffers who gave us their own, albeit untrained, opinions. Here are the results:

The Big Green Egg

Total cook time: 4½ hours.

How we cooked it: Smoked over indirect heat, at 275° F, using a combination of lump hardwood charcoal and mesquite wood chips.

What we thought: Pork cooked in the Big Green Egg was noticeably different from the batches made in the Instant Pot and oven. The meat developed a crisp crust from the dry heat of the coals and turned a dark shade of brown, permeated with bright pink streaks (from the smoke ring) around each piece of meat. Our trained sensory experts found the smoke flavor big and distinctly different from other meat samples in our test. Meanwhile, the deep smoky flavor made this batch a favorite of the testers who prepared it and of one CR staffer who hails from Texas Hill Country—a region renowned for its barbecue.

Who it’s best for: Cooks with the time and patience to experiment before game day. Cooking a whole shoulder provides the best balance of smoke and pork flavor because a whole cut absorbs less smoke than small chunks of meat. Using smaller quantities of wood chips, as well as milder varieties (try oak or pecan wood), adds the complexity of a smoky flavor profile without overpowering the meat. You can also try this method on a gas grill by cooking the meat over indirect heat using a smoker box filled with chips.

The Instant Pot, Slow-Cooker Mode

Total cook time: 7 hours.

How we cooked it: Using the high slow-cook setting, we cooked the pork with the lid on. We removed the meat before the Instant Pot switched to the keep-warm setting.

What we thought: Our trained tasting panel thought the samples cooked in the Instant Pot slow cooker were the most tender, soft, and moist but had slightly less flavor than the other methods (probably because the meat didn’t brown in a hot oven and wasn’t seared before slow cooking). Some staffers, including the testers who prepared this batch, found the final results a bit soft.

Who it’s best for: People looking to make pulled pork with as little effort as possible. If you’re worried about overcooking the meat, start testing it after about 5 hours by attempting to shred the pork into strands with a pair of forks. Some recipes say to cook the pork in sauce, which might allow the meat to take on the flavors of the cooking liquid.

The Instant Pot, Pressure-Cooker Mode

Total cook time: 2 hours (20 minutes to sear the meat, 70 minutes to cook, and 30 minutes total to build and release the pressure inside).

How we cooked it: We seared the individual pieces of pork in the Instant Pot, using the sauté setting. Then we deglazed the pot using about ½ cup of water, placed the meat on the steaming rack, locked the lid in place, and cooked on high pressure for a little more than an hour.

What we thought: Our expert tasters appreciated the well-developed pork flavor in this batch, probably a result of browning the meat before cooking it. That helped develop richer flavor without the need to sear in a separate pan. The texture was excellent, lending itself well to sauce and proving to be moist but not overly mushy on a bun.

Who it’s best for: People who get a late start on game day. Even with the added time to brown the pork, this method took less than half the time of others and was the only approach you could employ a couple of hours before kickoff—if, that is, you still want to eat by halftime.  

The Oven

Total cook time: 5 hours.

How we cooked it: In a 9x13-inch tempered-glass roasting dish, in a 300° F oven set to bake.  

What we thought: Our expert tasters and regular staffers alike found the flavor to be meaty and complex, probably a result of the pork browning in the hot oven as it cooked. And because some of the cooking juices collected in the pan and some evaporated, the meat stayed moist while not becoming overly soft, making it rich enough to stand up to the sauce.

Who it’s best for: Cooks who don’t want to buy any extra equipment. Cooking at 300° F hits the sweet spot, allowing the pork to brown without drying out. For added flavor, try braising the pork in stock, cider vinegar, or sauce, or cook it plain and add the pan drippings to your favorite barbecue sauce.

The Winner

Pulled pork fans, we’re calling this one a draw. Seriously.

Each of the methods we tried had something unique to offer. The Egg imparts a deep and complex smoky flavor that could be refined with practice. The Instant Pot offers two ways to prepare pork, one with minimal effort, the other in only 2 hours—both with excellent results. And the humble oven, producing meaty and complex pork with little effort, proves you don’t need extra equipment to please a crowd.

The bottom line: We’re willing to bet that pork made using any of these methods will win over your guests, especially with a little beer and football in the mix. Just let us know when to head over—we’ll bring the buns.