You’ve just spent hours making a delectable batch of smoked pulled pork, and the meat came out perfectly. The trouble is, you overestimated how much you would need, and now you’re left with a heap of leftovers.
Not to worry—this is a good problem to have. You can come up with several different ways to repurpose all that meat, which we’ll get into a little later. But how long is pulled pork good for? Read on to find out.
How Long is Pulled Pork Good For?
For optimum results, pulled pork should be consumed within 3 to 4 days. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use up the pork within this window, then you’re better off freezing the meat so you can enjoy it at a later date.
How Long Does Pork Stay Fresh Before it’s Cooked?
When you buy fresh raw pork, it should keep for three to four days in the refrigerator. If you’ve purchased a large piece of pork butt and you aren’t planning on cooking it off for a week or more, put it in the freezer first. It should only take a day or two to thaw, depending on the weight.
There are a few ways to tell whether fresh pork has gone bad during its spell in the refrigerator. For one thing, the meat should be pink in color, ranging from pearly shades to a darker mauve. Any gray or brown patches indicate that the pork has begun to turn.
You can also give the meat a good sniff. If there’s any hint of ammonia or sulfur (the smell given off by rotten eggs), then it’s time to discard the pork.
Even if the pork passes the color and smell tests, slide a finger across the surface. Fresh pork is slightly moist and cool to the touch, but a sticky or slimy residue can begin to form once the pork is past its prime.
How Long Can Pulled Pork Keep in the Fridge?
Once you’ve transformed that fresh pork into a smoky masterpiece, how long is pulled pork good for?
First of all, make sure to refrigerate cooked pork within 2 hours. Once the pork is stored, it can keep for up to 4 days in the fridge–as long as you do the job properly. There are a few different methods for storage, depending on how soon you plan on devouring those leftovers.
If you think you’ll be able to consume the remainder of the pork within a day or two, store the meat in an air-tight plastic container. Zip-top bags and aluminum foil are also acceptable, as long as you press as much air out of the packaging as possible.
The protocol is a bit different when you want to keep your leftovers around for a few days longer. In this case, we would recommend dividing the pulled pork into smaller portions, then placing each serving in its own zip-top bag. You can extend the storage time for another day or so if you wrap the meat in aluminum foil before putting it in the bag.
When storing pulled pork, always keep it in the coldest section of your refrigerator. This will help to keep any food-borne bacteria from forming. Never store leftover meat on the door of the fridge, as this is the warmest area you’ll find in there.
No matter how long you’ve been storing your leftover pulled pork in the fridge, you should always check it for signs of spoilage before you reheat it. If there’s any discoloration or if the meat smells off, toss it out.
Can You Freeze Leftover Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork can be frozen, and this is a wonderful way to preserve your leftovers when you wind up with too much. Although I love pulled pork as much as anybody, I don’t want to run the risk of getting tired of it by eating it for too many days in a row.
To freeze pulled pork, try to retain any cooking juices that are left behind when you’re shredding the meat. Pour the juices into a glass measuring cup, set them aside to cool, and discard any fat that rises to the top.
Remove the juices to a container that has a tight-fitting lid, then freeze them along with the pork. When it’s time to thaw the pork, remove the juices and reheat them along with the meat.
Another way to help the meat retain its moisture is to set aside a few whole chunks of cooked pork butt before you shred it. If you freeze the segments whole, the meat won’t dry out as much when it’s reheated. Of course, this only works if you know you’ll have a lot of pork left over.
Never attempt to freeze pork until it’s had a chance to cool completely. Otherwise, ice crystals may form on the meat, which ruins the texture.
Pack away the pulled pork using the methods described in How Long Can Pulled Pork Keep in the Fridge?, above. Again, try to squeeze all the air out of the zip-top bags to prevent freezer burn. Label the containers with the date and the contents before adding them to the freezer.
Try to reheat and enjoy the pulled pork within 3 months. It will keep for about 6 months if the freezer is set to the right temperature, but you’ll get better results if you use it up sooner. Besides, who wants to wait that long?
One final note: Don’t refreeze any pulled pork that has already been defrosted and reheated. The meat will lose its integrity and have more in common with sawdust than with anything you’d want to eat for dinner. That’s why it’s in your best interests to separate the pork into individual portions before you freeze it.
How Do You Reheat Leftover Pulled Pork?
When it comes to reheating pulled pork, you have several options.
If the pork has been frozen, make sure you’ve removed the reserved cooking juices from the freezer. When the liquid has thawed enough to be transferred to a saucepan, heat it over medium-low until the ice is completely melted and the juices are lukewarm.
To warm up the pork using the oven, use a low temperature. We’ve found that 225 degrees works best. When the pork has fully defrosted, set it in a roasting pan. Use a set of shredder claws or two forks to shred the meat if it’s still in whole pieces. Mix in the reserved cooking juices.
Cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil and set it in the oven. Let it heat for about 30 minutes. If you’d like, you can mix in barbecue sauce and heat it for 5 minutes more. The pulled pork should register 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer before you serve it.
You can follow the same instructions using an aluminum pan set over a gas or charcoal grill. It’s also acceptable to use a pellet grill that’s set to 225 degrees.
To reheat the pork in a slow cooker, mix together the shredded pork and reserved juices. Place in the slow cooker and use the “warm” setting for 2 or 3 hours. You can also use the “low” setting and cut the reheating time in half, but if you do, make sure to stir the pork often to make sure it isn’t sticking to the sides.
It takes even less time to reheat pulled pork on the stovetop. Add the pork and juices to a large saucepan, set it over a medium-low burner, and let it heat for 15 minutes. Stir the meat with a set of sturdy tongs to ensure even heating, and add more liquid if necessary to prevent sticking.
Finally, you can reheat pulled pork in the microwave if you’re pressed for time. Put the meat and reserved juices in a microwave-safe container, cover it loosely, and set the microwave to “low.” Let it reheat for just one minute at a time, removing the pork to stir it after each cycle.
What Can I Do To Use Up My Leftover Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork is a very versatile ingredient, which is one of the things we love about it. Don’t limit yourself to barbecued pork sandwiches–there’s a whole world of flavor out there, just waiting to be explored. Here are a few ideas to help you make those leftovers disappear from the fridge.
Host a Taco Night
Even if you only invite your own family, this method is sure to be a hit. Set out the reheated pork with a pile of warm corn tortillas, diced onion, minced cilantro, some lime wedges, and your favorite salsa. Serve with refried beans and rice on the side. Leftover pulled pork also makes a great topping for nachos.
Make a Baked Potato Bar
For a hearty lunch or light dinner, serve baked potatoes alongside a few servings of pulled pork. Add shredded cheddar cheese, minced scallions, sour cream, and pickled sliced jalapeno, and have everyone build their own.
Take Mac and Cheese to a New Level
Follow your favorite recipe for macaroni and cheese, using a mild cheese such as Monterey Jack. Before you add the casserole to the oven, mix in a serving or two of pulled pork. Sprinkle smoked paprika over the top.
If you’re like me, pulled pork doesn’t hang around in the fridge for very long. But if you do wind up with leftovers, it’s good to know how long you’ll have before the meat starts to deteriorate. Remember: If you think you’ll run out of time, you can always freeze the leftovers before it’s too late.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!