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Can I use Coke instead of Dr Pepper for pulled pork?

Quick Answer

It’s not recommended to use Coke instead of Dr Pepper for pulled pork. Dr Pepper is the preferred soda for making pulled pork because it has unique flavors from 23 different ingredients that help tenderize the meat. Coke doesn’t have the same flavor profile and won’t produce the same tender, juicy pulled pork that Dr Pepper does.

The Difference Between Dr Pepper and Coke

Dr Pepper and Coke are both sodas, but they have very different ingredients and flavor profiles.

Dr Pepper contains 23 different flavors extracted from fruits, vegetables, spices, and nuts. This unique blend gives Dr Pepper a distinctive sweet and spicy taste. Some of the flavors in Dr Pepper include cherry, vanilla, prunes, oranges, lemons, cloves, caramel, blackberry, tomatoes, and almonds.

In contrast, Coke’s main ingredients are carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, and caffeine. It has a simpler flavor profile compared to Dr Pepper, with dominant notes of vanilla and cinnamon.

So while both sodas are sweet and carbonated, Dr Pepper has a much more complex blend of flavors compared to the relatively straightforward cola taste of Coke.

Why Dr Pepper is Better for Pulled Pork

There are a few reasons why Dr Pepper is preferred over Coke for making pulled pork:

1. More Acidity

Dr Pepper has a higher acidity level than Coke due to the citrus fruits and spices used to flavor it. The acid helps break down the collagen and connective tissues in the pork as it cooks, leading to more tender and juicy meat.

Coke has a more neutral pH and not enough acidity on its own to properly tenderize pork. So pork braised in Coke may end up tough and dry.

2. Complex Flavors

The complexity of flavors like cherry, vanilla, spices, and citrus in Dr Pepper impart delicious layered notes to pulled pork. It adds sweetness and tanginess that balance out the richness of the pork.

On the other hand, Coke’s simpler cola flavor doesn’t permeate the pork as deeply or provide the same nuanced flavor. The pork braised in Coke will likely taste flat and one-dimensional in comparison.

3. Caramelization

Dr Pepper contains ingredients like brown sugar and molasses which can help caramelize and crisp up the outside of the pork, creating delicious browned bits.

Coke doesn’t contain these ingredients, so the pork braised in it is less likely to caramelize and develop that nice crust.

How Dr Pepper Tenderizes Pulled Pork

There are two main ways Dr Pepper helps tenderize tough pork cuts like shoulder:

Acid-Based Tenderization

– The citric, malic, phosphoric, and carbonic acids in Dr Pepper break down collagen and connective tissues.

– The acid denatures the proteins, causing them to unwind and separate into individual strands that are easier to chew.

– This melting of collagen allows the pork to become very soft and tender.

Enzyme-Based Tenderization

– Dr Pepper contains fruits like prunes and oranges that are naturally high in enzymes like amylase, pectinase, and protease.

– These meat-tenderizing enzymes further break down muscle proteins and connective tissues.

– They also convert the starches into sugars, helping the maillard reaction that browns and crisps the pork exterior.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

Here is a simple recipe and instructions for making tender, juicy Dr Pepper pulled pork:


1 (4-5 lbs) pork shoulder roast
1 cup Dr Pepper
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Trim excess fat from the pork shoulder and rub all over with salt, pepper, and chili powder.
  2. Place the pork in a slow cooker and top with chopped onion and minced garlic.
  3. Pour 1 cup Dr Pepper over the pork.
  4. Cook on low heat for 8-10 hours, until the pork is very tender.
  5. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and shred using two forks.
  6. Strain and skim the fat from the cooking liquid. Put the shredded pork back in the slow cooker and moisten with some of the cooking liquid.
  7. Serve warm on burger buns or over rice. Enjoy!

FAQs about Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

Can I use diet Dr Pepper?

It’s best to avoid using diet Dr Pepper, as it won’t have the same tenderizing effect. The citric acid in diet sodas like Diet Dr Pepper is not enough to properly break down the pork. Stick to regular Dr Pepper for the most tender pulled pork.

How much Dr Pepper do I need?

For a 4-5 lb pork shoulder roast, use around 1 cup of Dr Pepper. Too much and the pork can become overly soggy. Too little and it won’t have enough moisture while braising. 1 cup per 4-5 lbs of meat is the perfect ratio.

Do I need to sear the pork first?

Searing before braising is optional, but recommended. It helps form a delicious brown crust on the exterior of the pork. To sear – heat oil in a skillet, brown the pork shoulder for 2-3 minutes per side, then transfer to the slow cooker.

Can I use another soda instead?

Stick to Dr Pepper for the best flavor and most tender pulled pork. Other sodas like Coke, Sprite or Root Beer do not have the same acidity, sweetness, or ability to penetrate the meat.

How long does it take to cook?

Cook for 8-10 hours on low in a slow cooker. This long braising time allows the meat to become fall-apart tender and infused with flavor. Check for doneness after 8 hours.


While Coke has its merits as a beverage, it is no match for the tenderizing power of Dr Pepper when it comes to pulled pork. Dr Pepper’s unique blend of 23 flavors, higher acidity, meat-tenderizing enzymes, and bit of sweetness makes it the ideal braising liquid. Following the simple recipe and cooking method above will reward you with insanely delicious pulled pork that melts in your mouth. So for authentic southern-style pulled pork, always reach for Dr Pepper over Coke. Enjoy!