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Best Toppings for BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Summers are for sandwiches. Burgers and hot dogs might be what your taste buds initially gravitate toward, but we’re putting an unsung hero in the running for best sandwich: pulled pork. Succulent and juicy, pulled pork can be made in a slow cooker rather than being grilled in the scorching summer sun. Once your pork has been cooked until soft, it can be shredded with a fork and coated with a copious amount of your favorite barbecue sauce before being served atop a fresh brioche or potato roll, or even a plain hamburger bun. 

However, if you stop there and eat your pulled pork sandwich as is, you may be missing out on a world of flavors and textures that await you. Adding a topping to your sandwich can help accentuate certain flavor notes in the sauce, and help bring some novelty to each bite. Here are some of our favorite ways to dress up a BBQ pulled pork sandwich and add texture, flavor, and complexity to this summertime classic. 

Pickled red onions

homemade pickled red onions

Pickled red onions are one of our favorite condiments. Based on their color alone, it’s easy to see why. This bright pink topping stands in stark contrast to nearly every other food, and thanks to the addition of ingredients like sugar and vinegar, each piece of onion has a sublime sweetness and tang to it. But, you can also make a sugar-free pickled red onions recipe to capitalize on all things savory, too.  

Adding these flavorful alliums to your sandwich is just one of many creative uses for pickled red onions. A few strands from the jar in your fridge can boost up the color and the complexity of your BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Plus, you won’t have to worry about any of those cruciferous notes found in other preserved condiments, like kimchi and coleslaw. Perhaps the best thing about these pickled red onions is that they don’t have the same sharp, acidic bite of other types of pickled veggies.

Coleslaw

pulled pork with coleslaw

Coleslaw and pulled pork are one of the most timeless BBQ pairings, and it’s easy to see why. The meat base is rather soft and succulent, so it can use a bit of crunch from the condiment. Plus, if you’re working with a particularly spicy barbecue sauce, you may find that the creamy mayonnaise dressing on the outside of the coleslaw helps quell any of the piquant notes and makes for a more balanced bite. 

Luckily, coleslaw is an easy enough condiment to whip up at home. And if you’re serving these sliders on game day or for a barbecue, you may even be whipping up a batch of this cabbage-based salad anyway. Just remember to grab and taste a forkful of coleslaw before you add it to your sandwich to ensure that it’s not too salty or acidic, or you will risk shifting your entire sandwich off balance. 

Salsa

salsa with ingredients

There’s no condiment quite as versatile as salsa. There are so many different types of salsa, ranging from salsa verde to salsa roja. While your go-to companion for these salsas is often a bag of tortilla chips, we recommend reconsidering how you think about using this condiment in your kitchen. The base has the umami quality of the tomatoes and depth of the garlic, but also the heat from whatever chilies you add to it. Plus, some salsas are made with extra acid or sweetness to give them a more pronounced, well-rounded flavor. 

You should always taste your salsa first before spreading it on your sandwich to ensure that it has the right saltiness and flavor profile you’re going for. Once that’s confirmed, add a drizzle of salsa to the top of your sandwich, or scoop some chunky salsa on instead. 

Sliced red onions

stacked sliced red onions

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We might not be fans of whole red onion rounds, but we can guarantee that someone out there is. Above all, red onions are sharp and bright, and bring a taste that tickles the back of your tongue. This can help bring some life to a particularly dull barbecue sauce, and also add a distinguishable crunch to your pulled pork sandwich all around. 

If you like a little bit of red onion flavor, but not the full punch, you can always find condiments or flavorful additions that use red onions as a central ingredient, like guacamole or salsa. Or, consider caramelizing your red onions in a pan to help bring out the natural sweetness and bolster the flavor of your chosen pulled pork BBQ sauce. 

Grilled veggies

sliced eggplants on grill

Pulled pork sandwiches might be the centerpiece at your summer get-together, but they can be given a nutritious boost with grilled-vegetable toppings like red peppers, eggplant, and charred onions. The grilling process helps encase and capitalize on the smokiness, which will amp up the existing flavor profile of your barbecue sauce or other condiment of choice. If you’re already using the grill for the rest of your cookout favorites, you should make room to grill your veggies, too. 

While grilled vegetables coated in oil are great, you can take things a step further by coating your veggies in a layer of seasonings like paprika, cumin, and coriander. These spices will add some additional depth to your vegetables and help complement the flavors of your sauce and meat. 

Potato chips

potato chips in a bowl

Potato chips are the snack food that gives Bobby Flay’s signature burger a serious crunch. So, it’s easy to see how adding these chips to your pulled pork sandwich can offer the same effect. Each bite topped with a tower of potato chips will be filled with salty, savory crunchiness that no other topping can replicate. 

Our recommendation would be to go with thick kettle chips for this topping, because they can hold up to the sauce on the sandwich more than a limp, thin chip. Moreover, you can experiment with different potato chip flavors, like smoky mesquite barbecue or salt and vinegar. Even if you are working with a thick chip, always add the potato topping right before you’re about to serve, or you’ll risk having a soggy sandwich and defeat the purpose of a crunchy topping in the first place. 

Banana peppers

banana peppers in a bowl

Banana peppers are like the bell pepper’s much cooler cousin. Banana peppers have a distinctly waxy, crunchy coating and a mild flavor that pales in comparison to even mild chilies like the jalapeño. Ripe banana peppers have a sweet flavor undertone to them, but the peppers can also be pickled to bring out more piquant and acidic notes. 

These yellow peppers are the topping you didn’t know your BBQ pulled pork sandwich needed. They’re fresh, bright, and can be served either fresh or pickled, depending on the profile you want to impart on your sandwich. We recommend using this variety instead of sliced bell peppers, because their small size ensures you get a taste with every bite. You can purchase banana peppers from the produce section of the grocery store, or look for a jarred variety alongside the olives and other preserved foods. 

Maple syrup

maple syrup on wooden tray

If you haven’t started pouring maple syrup on your pulled pork, now is the time. Maple syrup is the secret to adding a rich and sweet flavor to pulled pork, as well as whatever barbecue sauce you coat it with. Add a little drizzle of the syrup onto your sandwich right before serving, and delight in each bite filled with maple goodness and natural flavor. 

You can also think ahead and add maple syrup to your pork as it’s simmering in your slow cooker. The maple syrup has a more oaky flavor than brown sugar, so it will add a bit more complexity to the meat than you thought was possible. You can also kick things up a notch and add in some warming spices like cloves and cinnamon, or help round out the flavor with the help of fruity ingredients like apple cider vinegar and plain apple cider. Bourbon-infused maple syrup would also make an excellent topping for your BBQ pulled pork sandwich. 

Fried egg

person frying egg in kitchen

Fried eggs are well-known as a topping on other foods, including serving as a protein-rich addition for burgers or avocado toast. Top your pulled pork sandwich with a fried egg for the perfect accompaniment to this handheld treat, because the gooey yolk will drip down into the meat, coating your mouth in a layer of umami and hearty flavor. 

Fried eggs also play well with other common pulled pork sandwich toppings, including mustard, cheese, and pickles. Just be sure to serve your egg hot from the stove, since a lukewarm fried egg will give you a gelatinous bite that’s just not enjoyable to eat with the layers of succulent, sweet barbecue sauce. This duo works together beyond sandwiches; one of the best ways to use leftover pulled pork with eggs is to add them to a breakfast casserole.  

Mac and cheese

mac and cheese in dish

Mac and cheese is known for being a hearty enough dish on its own. The layers of soft pasta, combined with whatever array of melty cheeses your heart craves, is a delectable meal at any hour of the day. But, when you pair this dish with the savory sweetness of pulled pork, you’ve got a combination that can’t be beat. 

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It’s not unheard of to add pulled pork to mac and cheese, so why not switch things up and do it the other way around? Simply scoop a small heap of mac and cheese on top of your bun, add your meat, and gently push it all together into an oversized sandwich. A drizzle of hot sauce or barbecue sauce will help better fuse the two ingredients. 

Kimchi

pulling kimchi out of jar

There are so many delicious ways to use kimchi out there, including as a flavoring for fried rice or as a topping for macaroni and cheese. But perhaps the best way to harness the power of this fermented condiment is to add it to your BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Not only will the kimchi add a Korean twist to your sandwich — courtesy of ingredients like fish sauce, ginger, and red pepper flakes — but you also will get the crunchiness that your sandwich so desperately needs. It’s salty, spicy, and umami, all in every bite. 

You should first taste your kimchi before you go ahead and spoon some on top of the sandwich. Some kimchi varieties will run hotter than others, so you’ll want to find one with the perfect amount of heat that you can pair appropriately with your barbecue sauce.

Pickles

homemade pickles in jars

There are many reasons why pickles should be crowned as the best topping that ever existed. Not only do you get the satisfying crunch from the cucumbers, but the veggie also soaks up the flavors of the brine. You can opt for a sweeter or a more acidic brine, or pair it with flavors like garlic, dill, and grape leaves to give it a classic flavor kick. 

When it comes to selecting pickles for your pulled pork sandwich, the world is your oyster. However, the best types of pickles have some sort of complexity that elevates them from just a cucumber in brine to something more unique. If you haven’t tried a spicy pickle yet, we recommend tasting one before adding it to your BBQ pulled pork sandwich for an extra hint of heat. 

Mustard

mustards with mustard seeds

Mustard is far more than just that cheap, bright yellow condiment in the squeeze bottle; it can be a canvas for punchy flavor notes that tickle your nose and draw attention to your taste buds. You just have to select the right type of mustard to do the job. 

This condiment is often added to pulled pork as it’s braising, but that’s not to say you can’t add more on your bun before you pile it high with your meat. We recommend going with a Dijon mustard for this, because it’s filled with brown or black mustard seeds, so it has an earthier profile than yellow mustard, and also gets an extra kick from white wine. Mustard can even complement pickled toppings on your sandwich, because it has that entry-level bite from the vinegar. 

Pineapple

grilled pineapple on plate

Pineapple and pork is a classic duo — like on a Hawaiian pizza. You can integrate this beloved pairing into your BBQ pulled pork sandwich by piling it high with grilled pineapple slivers. Each bite will marry together the succulent pork, sweet barbecue sauce, and acidic, bright profile of the pineapple. Plus, the charring on the exterior of the fruit will play into the smokiness of the sauce in a way that fresh pineapple just can’t. 

A key caveat: For grilled pineapple, fresh is better than canned fruit. You want fruit pieces that will hold together well under the heat of your grill, rather than something that will fall through the grates and smolder. Plus, the fresh fruit will give you iconic grill marks that make this fruit look all the more tantalizing. 

Tzatziki

tzatziki in bowl with lemon

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Tzatziki might feel like it’s a suggestion all the way from left field. What is this Mediterranean sauce doing on a classic American pulled pork sandwich? The fact of the matter is that tzatziki provides more for this sandwich than just novelty. A classic tzatziki sauce recipe is made from ingredients like cooling Greek yogurt, garlic, fresh herbs, and lemon juice. It’s punchy, yet also refreshing — a quality due in large part to the small flecks of cucumber floating around in it. 

The star of the show still needs to be your barbecue sauce, but you can use some tzatziki to lend a helping hand. Add a little drizzle of the white sauce to the bottom of your bun before you pile on the meat. The freshness of this Greek condiment can also support other fresh toppings, like sliced peppers or extra cucumbers.

Avocado

avocados and olives on table

Ollo/Getty Images

Avocados are fresh, bright, and creamy. There’s seemingly no better pairing for a dense sandwich, and it’s one topping that we have been increasingly intrigued by for the past few years. You don’t have to just slice up your avocado into thin pieces to add to your sandwich. Instead, you can whip up an avocado salsa or a slaw to avoid biting into whole hunks of the fruit. 

While bringing the avocado to your BBQ pulled pork sandwich is logical, you can also bring your sandwich to the avocado and whip up a batch of keto-friendly avocado boats. Spoon your pulled pork onto the interior surfaces of a halved avocado, add a drizzle of your favorite sauce and cheese if you’d like, and dig in. It’s the bread-less way to enjoy this delicious pairing. 

Cheddar cheese

pile of shredded cheddar cheese

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Almost everything is better with cheese, from burgers to nachos to, of course, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. The cheese should just melt right down into your sticky pork and fill each bite with unctuousness. It won’t upset the balance of your sandwich all that much, and still opens up the opportunity to use other toppings, too. 

Cheddar isn’t the only cheese you can add to your pulled pork sandwiches, either. You can opt for shredded mozzarella if you like a less sharp flavor, or mix mozzarella with the melty cheddar to get the best of both worlds. American cheese is also known for its meltability, which is perfect for when you want to ensure that every bite is filled with cheesy, soft goodness. If you want to take this concept to a new level, consider making an upgraded grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with pulled pork. 

Grilled mango

cut mango cubes

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If you’re wary of the flavor and texture of pineapple, swapping one tropical fruit with another is a perfect way to infuse flavor into your sandwich. The top choice for this sandwich is, surprisingly, mango.

This bright orange fruit has just the perfect juicy bite and robust texture that will hold together in a salsa — or it can be just as easily sliced into thin slivers for your sandwich. Not only does the fruit complement the succulent shredded pork, but it will highlight the sweet notes of the sauce and make for a tropical version of a classic American sandwich. Mango tends to be dense if left in cubes, so we recommend slicing thin slivers for your sandwich or adding it into another ingredient, which is where the aforementioned salsa can come into play.

Arugula

arugula greens in hands

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Before you ask: No, we’re not trying to make a BBQ pulled pork sandwich into a salad. Rather, we’re recommending that you try a handful of fresh arugula on your sandwich, because this topping will add a peppery, organic bite to an otherwise one-note filling. The heavy sauce and denseness of the pork can make eating it quite tedious and overwhelming, but the arugula will surely add a bright flavor that will take this sandwich to a new level. 

Anyone who has had arugula in a salad, sandwich, or other dish knows that it can be a bit of an acquired taste. To help the flavors better mesh with the meat, we recommend limiting the amount of arugula you add to your sandwich so that it has a supporting role, rather than overtaking the entire sandwich. 

Green onions

green onions on white background

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Green onions are the perfect pulled pork sandwich topping for someone who likes the taste of onion, but without the sharpness of raw red or white onions. The flavor of these alliums is uniquely earthy and vegetal, and can provide a soft reprieve from the heaviness of your sandwich. The key, though, is to ensure that you slice your green onions very thinly on your sandwich. Failing to cut your onions into small pieces will lead to bites that are 90% onion and 10% pork, which can turn you off to the idea of adding the allium to BBQ pulled pork sandwiches in the future. 

You don’t need a lot of green onions on your sandwich to get the flavorful boost that you’re craving. A small pinch will suffice for a standard-sized sandwich. 

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