Karl’s Coca-Cola Pulled Pork Lettuce Cups

Broadly adapted from an Epicurious recipe

Thinking about what to make for this Sunday’s dinner. I suggested Coca-Cola pork. This idea was well received, so I started looking up recipes and sides to go with it.

Karl’s Coca-Cola Pulled Pork Lettuce Cups

Karl’s Coca-Cola Pulled Pork Lettuce Cups

Coca-Cola pork seems to be a dish without a history.  Coca-Cola© was invented in Atlanta in 1886 by Dr. John S. Pemberton as a patent medicine. At the time, cocaine was a common and legal ingredient in many patent medicines. In 1903 the company stopped using fresh coca leaves—which contained cocaine— in the recipe and started to use “spent” leaves—leaves processed to extract the cocaine.

Note: Do not use Diet Coke or Coke Zero for this recipe. Much of the reason for using a soda in cooking is for the caramelized sugar. Sugar substitutes—like aspartame and acesulfame K—break down when exposed to the high heat of roasting.

While may be assumed to have first been used in cooking somewhere in the American South, it is lost to history who first used Coke with pork. With the world wide spread of Coca-Cola over time, pork recipes using it now seem to fall into four broad categories: Southern, Asian—Chinese, Japanese, or KoreanHawaiian, and epicurean. The cut of pork also vary widely between recipes, pork belly, pork loin, pork shoulder or ribs.

The simplest recipes simply braise the pork in a can of Coke. Other recipes add a few or many additional local or epicurean ingredients—like sesame oil, five spice powder, saki, Liquid Smoke, or balsamic vinegar.

Starting with the Epicurious recipe, I changed the cut of pork, several of the ingredients and quantities to please myself. As I was shopping for ingredients, I spotted some Butter lettuce and I thought that lettuce cups would be a good way for lightening up this protein heavy dish. To go with my pork I made some glazed carrots and potato salad.

After Dinner Note: It was almost frightening to watch my family turn into Bugblatter Beasts. As my family gobbled down third and fourth helpings I may assume that this was a successful dish. Daughter Miriam said that she could eat this every day. Wife Jan thought that this would make a good food truck dish.

Karl’s Coca-Cola Pulled Pork Lettuce Cups



1 can (12 oz.) Coca-Cola Classic
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tbs. Karl’s Orange Infused Sugar
2 Tbs.  ketchup
2 Tbs. peanut oil
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. white vinegar
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. ginger, fresh grated
½ tsp. thyme, ground
¼ tsp. black pepper,
2 cloves garlic (optional)

3 lb. pork shoulder, boneless

Coca-Cola sauce

1 can (12 oz.) Coca-Cola Classic
2 Tbs. Karl’s Orange Infused Sugar
1 Tbs. butter (optional)
1 Tbs. ketchup
1 tsp. white vinegar
¼ tsp. dry mustard
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, cracked to taste

2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbs. water

1 head butter lettuce

1 Tbs. green onion, white part only, sliced


1. Place one cup of Coke and the rest of the marinade ingredients into a bowl and mix until the sugar completely dissolves.

Tip: Save the rest of the Coke to add to the Dutch oven when the liquid level starts to get too low—about hour four of roasting.

Note: I left out the garlic, because my daughter is not reacting well to most members of the allium family.

2. Put the meat into a seal-able gallon plastic bag and pour the marinade over the meat.

Tip: Squeeze the sauce to completely cover all sides of the meat with the sauce.

Note: Press all of the air out of the bag and seal it tightly. Place the bag in a bowl to catch and drips.

3. Refrigerate the meat for at least eight hours.

Tip: Do not marinate your meat for more than 12 hours.

Note: While a short marinade will add flavor, too long a time in an acidic solution—like Coke—will cause the meat to be mushy.

4. Eight to nine hours before serving, preheat the oven to 500º F.

5. Transfer the pork to a Dutch oven—fatty side up—and pour all of the marinade over the meat.

Note: After 1-2 hours the roast will be too tender to turn over in the pot without it falling apart. I avoided this problem by never turning the meat and basing it every hour.

6. Cover the Dutch oven and set it on the lower rack of the oven.

7. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 300º F.

Tip: This high heat start quickly heats the heavy pot and brings the cold liquid up to temperature.

8. Every hour baste the meat with the sauce in the bottom of the pot.

Tip: After an hour of cooking, there will be a layer of grease covering the sauce. This oily sheet prevents the liquid sauce from boiling away too quickly. You want to scoop the sauce, not the oil and pour it over the top of the meat. This basting both creates a glaze over the meat and keeps it from burning.

9. About two hours before dinner start making your Coca-Cola sauce.

10. Put all of the sauce ingredients—except the cornstarch—into a small pot.

11. Bring the pot to a high simmer, uncovered, and reduce the volume by two thirds—about 1-1 ½ hours.

Tip: You want to drive off the water, but you do not want to scorch your sauce. Stir and scrap the bottom of the pot frequently.

12. Wash and separate the butter lettuce leaves.

13. Tear or cut the larger leaves into pieces and let them air dry.

Tip: You want your lettuce cups to be about 3-4 inches across—big enough to wrap around a good bit of meat.

Note: Butter lettuce is a bit delicate and will bruise and go brown easily. You do not want to blot it dry too roughly.

14. Remove the pot from the oven about half an hour before serving.

. Spoon any remaining sauce from the Dutch oven into a fat separator.

Tip: Recover the pot and let the meat rest, until you are ready to shred the roast.

Note: How much of the grease you discard depends on your diet—fat is flavor. I used two tablespoons of the flavorful grease to coat my roasted carrots.

15. Pour any pot sauce into the small pot of Coca-Cola sauce and continue simmering to reducing the volume.

16. Thicken the sauce with the cornstarch.

Tip: Use only as much as you need to thicken the sauce without it becoming gloppy.

17. Use two forks to shred the pork into bite sized pieces.

Tip: The meat was too tender to take out of the pot in one piece.  I took out chunks of the meat and shredded it on a plate. I then returned the shreds to the pot.

18. Pour most of the Coca-Cola sauce over the meat and toss to coat the shreds completely.

Tip: Save some to serve on the side for diners who might want more.

Note: I use some of the Coca-Cola sauce to glaze my carrots.

19. Transfer the pork to a serving bowl and garnish with the sliced white parts of green onion.

20. Serve warm with the lettuce cups on the side.


Filed under Main Dishes, Pork

2 responses to “Karl’s Coca-Cola Pulled Pork Lettuce Cups

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Coca-Cola glazed Roasted Carrots | Jabberwocky Stew

  2. Pingback: Karl’s Potato Slaw Salad | Jabberwocky Stew

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