Pulled Pork Jalapeño Poppers
An absence of smoking pulled pork during the pandemic may have made me a little too eager to get this barbecue staple back into my life—I cooked up so much last summer that I had nearly two whole butts worth of leftovers that I froze. I have a perpetual list going of ways to make use of leftover pulled pork, so this bounty allowed me to make progress on trying out a number of those ideas, like pulled pork burgers and Cubano dogs. I can now add these pulled pork jalapeño poppers to that list, and while I originally thought of this as one of my lesser ideas, these poppers ended up surprising me with how good, and unique, they were.
This meat was leftover from a mojo pulled pork I had done earlier in the summer, and while the seasoning ventured into a different flavor territory than standard barbecue, the final product had a pretty light touch that made it ripe for enhancement.
My original thought was to go as simple as possible and just mix the pork with barbecue sauce before stuffing it in halved jalapeños, but when I started with this two ingredient mixture and gave it taste, I knew I could do better. I didn't add too many other things, but mixed in some cream cheese and cheddar, which added a great tang and sharpness. All that was missing was a little hint of freshness, which I went back and forth between whether to use cilantro or chives, and opted for the latter, although I think either would have tasted at home here.
Once the filling was to my liking, I began stuffing it into jalapeños that I had stemmed, halved, and deseeded earlier. I had a lot of filling, so I generously mounded it high in each pepper, then topped each with a little extra cheddar cheese before situating all of them over indirect high heat on the grill.
Since pork was already cooked, I just needed to grill these long enough for the cheese to melt and the jalapeños to soften slightly. I actually didn't want to cook them too long because the meat could easily dry out, so I began checking on how things were going just ten minutes into the cook. It took another ten minutes though until I thought the cheese had the color, and the peppers had the tenderness, I was after. At that point I pulled these off the grill and sprinkled them with some additional chives prior to serving.
They looked so great that I popped one before it had cooled enough, but despite that tongue burning high heat, I could taste that these were something special. While they were born from leftovers, mixing the pork with the sauce and cheeses brought new life to it and also helped it remain plenty juicy too. The barbecue sauce had a lot of complexity in its own right, but it was the addition of cream cheese that I thought was key in deepening the flavor profile even further, while also bringing in a familiar jalapeño popper element. The cheddar was just the icing on the cake, especially the extra browned bits on the top. The jalapeños ended up being pretty spicy, and that made these all the better in my mind because there was enough fruity heat to match up against the extra flavorful stuffing, which was also hearty in a filling way that made these poppers stretch further than the standard cream cheese and bacon ones. I've actually had this idea for pulled pork jalapeño poppers jotted down for many, many years and am glad my overdoing the amount of pulled pork I smoked up finally led to getting them out into the world.
Pulled Pork Jalapeño Poppers
- Yield 5-6 servings
- Prep 10 Minutes
- Cook 20 Minutes
- Total 30 Minutes
- 2 cups leftover pulled pork
- 2/3 cup barbecue sauce
- 3 ounces cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely minced chives, plus more for garnish
- 6 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 10 large jalapeños, halved and seeded
- In a medium bowl, mix together pulled pork, barbecue sauce, cream cheese, chives, and half of the cheddar cheese. Fill each halved jalapeño with cream cheese mixture. Top each jalapeño with remaining cheddar cheese.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place jalapeños on cool side of the grill, cover, and cook jalapeños have softened, filling is warmed through, and cheese has melted, about 20 minutes. Transfer jalapeños to a serving tray, garnish with chives, and serve immediately.