Because pulled pork is usually made in large batches, it’s natural for barbecue enthusiasts to wonder: Can you freeze pulled pork and reheat it later? Happily, the answer is yes. Read on to find out how you can master the process and enjoy succulent pulled pork long after the hard work has been done.
Can You Freeze Pulled Pork?
You can freeze pulled pork if you don’t think you’ll have a chance to eat it within the next 3 to 4 days. The key is to help the meat retain as much moisture as possible, since the freezing process will dry it out. Add any leftover cooking juices and rendered fat to the packages when you freeze the pork.
About Pulled Pork
This mouthwatering dish is made by slow-cooking pork shoulder (also known as pork butt or Boston butt) until the meat is so tender that it literally falls apart when prodded with a fork. It can be prepared in a slow cooker, but we prefer to give it the royal treatment by cooking it low and slow on the grill.
Before cooking, the pork can be seasoned with a blend of brown sugar and various spices, known as a rub. The ingredients may vary, depending on what you’re planning to do with the pork once it’s finished. If you intend to use the pork in a variety of recipes, keep the rub simple so you can adjust the flavors accordingly.
If you’d like a visual demonstration on how to make pulled pork on the grill, take a look at this handy tutorial.
Freezing Pulled Pork: A Small Guide
If you want to be satisfied with the results, you’ll need to make sure the pork retains as much moisture as possible before you freeze it. The best way to do this is to save any cooking juices from the pork and set them aside to cool in a heatproof cup. As the liquid cools, a layer of fat will form on top. Skim off the fat and discard it, then freeze the remaining juices in a tightly lidded container. When you thaw the pork, take out the juices at the same time, then use them in one of our reheating methods (outlined below).
Another tip: If you know you’re going to be freezing some of the pork, leave those segments whole instead of shredding them. This will help to hold the moisture inside.
Wait until the pork has cooled completely before attempting to freeze it. For best results, use zip-top freezer bags and squeeze as much air out of the bags as possible before adding the pork to the freezer. The more air there is in the bag, the higher the risk of freezer burn. A vacuum sealer would come in handy here, but if you don’t have one, you can press the air out manually.
It’s also a good idea to label the containers or zip-top bags with the date, as well as the contents. Put it in the freezer as soon as it’s been packaged and labeled.
You should also plan on freezing and reheating the pork only once. If you try to repeat the process, the meat will lose its texture and a great deal of flavor.
How Long Does Pulled Pork Last?
Kept in the refrigerator, pulled pork will last three to four days. If you’ve sealed the bags properly and kept the freezer set to the correct temperature, frozen pulled pork can be enjoyed up to six months after it was cooked.
Methods for Reheating
#1: In the Oven
Preheat your oven to 225 degrees. Put the defrosted pork in a roasting pan and add any reserved juices. If the pork is still in large chunks, use two forks to shred the meat, then mix in the juices.
Cover the pan with a tight lid or a sheet of aluminum foil. Place in the oven and let it heat up for 20-30 minutes, depending on how much pork you have.
Add barbecue sauce, if desired, and heat for another 5 minutes or so. When the internal temperature of the pulled pork has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit, use a set of sturdy tongs to give it one last good stir before serving.
#2: On the Grill
Set a gas grill to low, or build a medium fire in a charcoal grill. If you’re using a pellet grill, set the temperature to 225 degrees.
Place the pork and juices in a disposable aluminum pan. Mix well.
Add the pan to the grilling rack, making sure to put it over indirect heat if using a charcoal grill. Close the lid and allow the pork to heat up for 20-30 minutes, depending on quantity.
If desired, add barbecue sauce to the pork and mix well. Let the mixture heat for another 5 minutes, or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees. Serve as desired.
#3: In the Slow Cooker
Add the pork and reserved juices to the slow cooker. For this method, it’s suitable to add the barbecue sauce at this point as well. Just be sure to mix it all together well.
Use either the “warm” setting to reheat the pork for 2-3 hours, or the “low” setting for 1 hour. If you use the faster method, you should check the pork from time to time to make sure it isn’t sticking, especially when there’s barbecue sauce involved.
The pork is ready to be served when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
#4: On the Stove Top
Place the pork and reserved juices in a heavy skillet or large saucepan. Set the burner to medium-low and cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes, or until the pork is heated through. You might need to add a splash or two of water or chicken stock to keep the meat nice and moist
Add barbecue sauce, if desired, and continue to cook until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees.
If the pork is still frozen when you want to reheat it, there’s another way. Set the sealed bag in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Let it sit in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for a additional 10 minutes. One caveat: You should only use this method if the zip-top bag also contained the reserved juices from the pork. Otherwise, the meat will be too dry.
#5: In the Microwave
We’re not crazy about this method because the meat won’t heat as evenly, but if you’re pressed for time, it will do in a pinch. You don’t even have to wait until the meat is fully thawed, as long as you can safely remove it from the container first.
To thaw, remove the meat from its packaging and place it in a microwave-safe container. Use the defrost setting to slowly thaw the pork, rotating it halfway through if the microwave doesn’t already revolve on its own. This should take about 7-8 minutes per pound.
Once the meat is thawed, cover the container and cook it on a low setting for one minute at a time until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. If necessary, add a splash or two of water or chicken stock to keep the pork moist. Add your desired sauce and mix well before serving.
Can You Freeze Pulled Pork With BBQ Sauce On It?
As a rule, pulled pork freezes better without sauce because the added moisture causes it to freeze in a big clump. This can make it difficult to portion out. While we would recommend freezing the pork before putting any sauce on it, it may be permissible to freeze them together, as long as the sauce is up to the challenge.
Before you attempt it, make sure the sauce is capable of freezing without suffering any ill effects. Try freezing a small portion in an ice cube tray and then thawing it out as a test. If it separates, or if it just doesn’t look good, don’t freeze the pork with the sauce on it.
If you do decide to go for it, freeze the sauced pork in smaller containers than you would normally use. That will make it easier to thaw only as much as you need.
As always, seal the bags tightly and squeeze out as much air as possible before freezing.
The Bottom Line
So, can you freeze pulled pork and still end up with a delicious meal? Sure, as long as the meat has been stored and reheated using the right methods. If you enjoy great barbecue as much as we do, this is great news—you can make a double batch ahead of time and freeze the leftovers for a later date.