Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onion Sauce

It’s not hard to get good flavor from a heritage pork shoulder, nicely browned on the outside then braised for hours in a low oven, until the meat is moist, juicy and falling-apart tender. Add some fresh-pressed apple cider to the mix, and a healthy dose of caramelized onion, and you’ve got a sweet-savory mix that is out of this world.

This is one of Tai’s favorite dishes and the relative ease of preparation belies the moans & groans of satisfaction whenever I serve it. Big enough to serve a crowd, or to keep our family of two in leftovers for several days, homey and warming, yet with a flavor complex enough for the most sophisticated palate. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.

Adapted from Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized OnionsGourmet, December 2001.

Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onion Sauce


  • 1 4-lb pork shoulder, preferably bone-in, fat layer trimmed to no thicker than ¼-inch (I get mine at Flying Pigs)
  •  4 garlic cloves, cut into thick slivers
  • sea salt & pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 ½ lbs onions (5 or 6 medium onions), sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Rinse pork and pat dry. With a small, sharp knife, make slits all over the pork; stuff with garlic slivers. Season liberally with salt & pepper.
  3. In a Dutch oven sized to fit the pork snugly, heat butter or oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Brown meat well on all sides (2 to 3 minutes per side), turning to get sides and ends. Transfer pork to a clean plate. Add onions to the Dutch oven and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and starting to turn brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to sauté until onions are golden and lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes more.
  4. Stir in cider and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add pork, cover and braise in the preheated oven until very tender (meat should fall off the bone), 3 hours or more. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest while you reduce the sauce. On the stovetop, bring pan juices to a boil and boil hard until the mixture is thickened and reduced, about 5 – 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Break the pork into serving-sized chunks and top with hot onion sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or other grain.

Serves 8.


  1. Trimming the majority of the fat off of the pork shoulder yields a far less greasy sauce with a more pronounced onion flavor. Unless you are using a very lean pork shoulder, there is still plenty of fat in there, never fear: but I’ve made it with a full inch of fat layer left on, and I wished I hadn’t. The texture and flavor of the sauce is much better with a limited amount of the fatty layer left on the pork.
  2. Tai loves this dish as it is, and I do find it delicious, but always riding the edge of too sweet for me. I always wonder how a bit of smoky spice would be: some chipotle or ancho, perhaps, or a bit of smoked paprika. Someone out there try it and let me know, please!
  3. I have lots of plans for the leftovers: sandwiches, tacos, pasties, quesadillas. Options abound.


Refrigerated for up to 5 days. The sauce will separate on cooling; re-warm in a saucepan or microwave, then whisk briskly in a large bowl. It should come back together easily.


Fall through winter.


    • We have a pork shoulder in the freezer that has been waiting for the perfect recipe. This is it! The shoulder is thawing in the fridge, and it will be a fabulous dinner tonight with butternut squash and a salad. We will be looking forward to leftovers for the rest of the week.

  1. Hey ladies,

    Let me know how it goes – I haven’t made this one in a while, as every time I get a pork shoulder I seem to make chile verde. 🙂 (Obviously I’ll have to make this one again -not only do I remember how good it was, but I’ve simply got to replace that horrible photo!).


  2. This is my favorite recipe and the very reason I bought a dutch oven this summer. It makes the best pulled pork sandwiches in the world and reheats like a dream. I normally make it the day before, leave the meat in the sauce, let it cool in the fridge and peel off the layer of fat from the top, then reheat the whole thing in the oven, and then pull out the meat to simmer down the onions. This way I get all the flavor and moisture from the fat during the cooking process, but still feel like I’m lowering the amount of fat from the end product. Yummy!

  3. Georgia

    I made this tonight and it was AMAZING!! Added some sliced apples to the caramelized onion mixture and wow. Thanks for posting!

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