Since cuts like pork butt and pork shoulder need to cook for such a long time, it can be hard to pinpoint the exact time when they might be finished. If you pull the pork out of the smoker late in the day, can you wait until tomorrow to shred it?
Can You Pull Pork The Next Day?
You can pull pork the day after cooking it as long as you reheat the meat first. Cold pork won’t pull apart as easily, because the fat has re-solidified and the collagen has firmed up. In fact, if you’re not serving it right away, it’s preferable to leave the meat whole, then reheat and shred it the next day.
Best Temperature For Pulled Pork
Before we talk about whether you can shred the pork the following day, let’s discuss the ideal internal temperature for pulled pork.
You probably already know that pork butt is the best cut of meat to use when making pulled pork. The meat contains enough collagen and fat to give the shredded pork the correct texture—not to mention a ton of pork flavor.
Pork shoulder is another good choice. While this lower portion of the shoulder doesn’t have quite as much marbling as the butt, it has similar qualities once the meat is cooked.
Whether you choose the butt or the shoulder, make sure the meat reaches an internal temp of at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit before you attempt to pull it. At lower temperatures, the fibers in the meat haven’t relaxed enough to allow it to come apart easily.
Pulling pork is even simpler if the meat comes to an internal temp of 200 to 205 degrees. Remember that it will continue to cook after you pull it off the heat, so a target temp of 195 to 200 is recommended.
The meat should be ready to shred when it is probe-tender. That means that when you insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the pork butt or shoulder, it slides in and out with ease.
Be careful not to overcook the meat. Many amateurs don’t realize that it’s possible to overcook pulled pork. When the pork hits temps above 210, it will start to dry out. You want it to be soft enough to shred while still retaining its juiciness.
How Long Does It Take To Smoke Pork Butt?
When you set the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit, the pork butt (or pork shoulder) should smoke for about 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. It might take a bit more or less time, depending on how reliable your smoker is.
To cut down on the cooking time, you can wrap the meat in foil or butcher paper when it hits “the stall” period—usually at around 150 to 160 degrees. This should shave a couple of hours off the cooking time, depending on the size.
To give you some idea of how long it might take: A whole pork butt weighs about 5 to 10 pounds. If you buy a 6-pound cut, you can expect a 9- to 12-hour cooking time.
Do You Have To Shred Pork Right Away?
The first thing you need to remember is that pork is easier to shred when it’s warm. Once you understand that, your job will be much simpler.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we should point out that there’s no need to pull the pork right away. In fact, it will have a more desirable texture if you pull the meat just before you’re ready to serve it.
If the pork is done and your planned serving time is within the next hour or two, let the pork rest at room temperature, lightly tented with foil. It’s crucial not to skip this resting period, as it will allow the juices time to redistribute.
Let’s say you’re planning to serve the pulled pork the same day, but you still have up to 8 hours to wait. In this case, you should rely on the faux Cambro method. We’ll talk more about this technique in the separate section below.
Finally, know that it’s fine to pull pork the next day if you’d like to plan ahead, or if the meat comes off the smoker too late in the day. Don’t make the mistake of shredding it immediately, or the leftovers will lose some of their flavor and moisture.
Of course, if you’re planning to shred the pork the following day, you’ll need to refrigerate it in the meantime. Again, we’ll discuss this matter in more depth later on.
The Resting Period
Pork butt should rest for at least 1 hour before you attempt to shred it. Otherwise, the juices will spill out over your work station instead of staying inside the meat’s fibers where they belong.
With a large cut like this, you may be able to let it rest for up to 4 hours before the internal temperature dips below 140 degrees. As soon as it does, though, you should refrigerate the pork to prevent dangerous bacteria from setting up camp.
Many experts recommend allowing the pork to rest until just before serving time. If the pork comes off the smoker with 4 hours to go until dinner, then let it rest for 4 hours. Just keep an eye on the internal temperature to be sure it stays out of the danger zone.
The Faux Cambro Method
A Cambro is an insulated container used to keep prepared foods fresh and piping hot. They’re often used by caterers, especially when the food needs to be transferred to a remote location before serving.
You can replicate this technique at home using a cooler. All you’ll need is a supply of hot water, a few clean towels, and a cooler that’s large enough to hold the meat.
To begin, fill the cooler with several gallons of hot water. Close the lid and wait for about 30 minutes before dumping out the water. Line the cooler with clean towels.
When you’ve taken the pork off the smoker, wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil. Add the wrapped pork to the preheated cooler and close the lid. Kept in this way, the pork should remain fresh and hot for up to 8 hours.
We recommend allowing the meat to rest for at least 30 minutes after taking it out of the faux Cambro. That way, the bark will have a chance to firm up slightly through exposure to the moving air, and the meat’s fibers will reabsorb the juices in the meantime.
How To Shred Pork
If you’re pulling pork immediately after the resting period—or right after taking it out of the faux Cambro—make sure to put on a pair of heatproof gloves. The pork will be too hot to handle otherwise, even if you’re using tools to assist.
Speaking of which, if you make pulled pork on a regular basis, you should invest in a pair of shredding claws. These will get the job done in a hurry. A pair of sturdy forks will also work in a pinch.
The meat should be tender enough to fall apart beneath your fingers. However, this is a messy and time-consuming method. We would recommend it only if you have no forks or shredding claws available.
To keep the juices in place, shred the pork in a large pan. A disposable aluminum pan works well. Once the meat is shredded, toss the pieces to evenly distribute the moisture.
You can also sprinkle a bit of your seasoning rub over the pulled pork. This is known as “finishing dust,” and it ensures that every bite will be full of flavor. Remember not to re-use any spice rub that’s come into contact with raw meat.
How To Pull Pork The Next Day
If you have more than 8 hours to go before you want to serve the pork, wait until the meat has had a chance to cool. Wrap the entire pork butt in foil, then set it in the refrigerator.
Once you’re ready to start, set the oven temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the pork in the preheated oven and heat until the internal temperature has reached at least 140 degrees. This should take 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size of the cut.
It’s important not to skip this step. When you chill the pork, the collagen and rendered fat will re-solidify, meaning that the meat will be difficult to shred. If you’re having a hard time pulling the pork, try reheating it slightly.
Can You Reheat Pulled Pork?
When given the choice, it’s preferable to hold the entire pork butt or shoulder in the refrigerator overnight. But if you’ve already pulled the pork, or if you just have some left over, it will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days with the proper storage.
Store pulled pork in tightly sealed containers. Zip-top bags are a good choice for smaller portions, as long as you squeeze as much air out of them as possible before sealing them.
Reheat any pulled pork leftovers to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have any of the pork juices left over, add them to the pan as well. You can also mix in a bit of your favorite barbecue sauce to provide moisture and a kick of tangy flavor.
The Bottom Line
Pulling pork the next day can be a great time-saver. When you plan ahead, you won’t have to worry that the pork won’t be done on time. Just pop it in the oven, heat it to 140 degrees, shred the meat and enjoy.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!