Those of you who are new to the wonderful world of barbecue might be wondering what cuts of pork to use when making pulled pork. Is pork tenderloin good for pulled pork? And if so, why?
Is Pork Tenderloin Good For Pulled Pork?
Pork tenderloin isn’t a good choice for pulled pork. The meat doesn’t have enough fat and connective tissue to hold up to a long cooking process, which is what gives pulled pork its distinctive texture. Its lean nature also means that the meat isn’t as flavorful and juicy as you would expect pulled pork to be.
About Pork Tenderloin
The pork tenderloin bisects the loin section of the hog, which is located around the upper rear of the animal. Not to be confused with the loin itself, it has a cylindrical appearance and an extra-tender texture.
This cut ranges from light to dark pink in color, and its flavor is very mild. You would purchase pork tenderloin more for its buttery texture than for its taste, although it’s a good fit for various marinades and sauces.
There’s usually a long whitish membrane running along one side of the pork tenderloin. This is called the silverskin, and it should be removed when the meat is still raw, as it shrinks and toughens up when it’s cooked.
Is Pork Tenderloin Good For Pulled Pork? A Guide
No. As we’ll discuss in greater detail later on, pulled pork should be rich and moist even without the addition of barbecue sauce. Because pork tenderloin is so lean and mild-tasting, it doesn’t satisfy these requirements.
On the other side of the spectrum, the cuts that are most suitable for pulled pork (see section below) need to cook to around 200 degrees before they’re ready to be served. This long cooking process is what makes the meat tender enough to shred.
Moreover, the tenderloin is a small cut—usually weighing around 2 pounds. You’ll want to start with more than that if you’re making pulled pork, especially since the meat will shrink once it’s exposed to the heat.
There’s another practical reason why you should avoid the tenderloin for these purposes: It’s relatively expensive. As a general rule, it ranges from $2.99 to $4.99 per pound. Pork butt, meanwhile, can often be had for as low as 89 cents per pound.
That said, you can certainly add barbecue sauce to thinly sliced pork tenderloin and enjoy it on a toasted bulky roll, just as you would a pulled pork sandwich. It will still be tasty, but it won’t be exactly like pulled pork.
Best Cuts For Pulled Pork
As we mentioned before, you want a cut with plenty of fat and connective tissue when pulled pork is on the menu. The long, slow cooking process will render out the fat and break down the meat’s fibers until it’s tender enough to come apart easily.
There are only two cuts that we would recommend when making pulled pork, and they’re actually two halves of the same section. These would be the pork butt, or Boston Butt, and the picnic shoulder.
The pork butt is located on the upper portion of the shoulder. It has a barrel-shaped appearance, a generous fat cap, and plenty of marbling. The term butt comes from the fact that the meat used to be transported in barrels that were known as “butts.”
The lower section of the shoulder is often referred to simply as the pork shoulder, although it also may be called the “picnic shoulder” or “picnic roast.” It has a more irregular shape than the butt, as well as less intramuscular fat.
When given the choice, we would suggest opting for the pork butt over the picnic shoulder. The high levels of marbling and connective tissue give the meat the flavor and texture that it needs.
Pork shoulder is also an acceptable choice. Bear in mind that this cut is often sold with the skin attached, so you may need to remove that before adding the meat to the smoker.
Recommended Internal Temp For Pulled Pork
Although pork is technically done when it cooks to 145 degrees, you shouldn’t attempt to serve these tougher cuts at this temperature.
Pork fat doesn’t begin to render until it reaches 130 to 140 degrees. That means a great deal of fat will still be in its solid form if you remove the pork from the heat at 145.
Similarly, the collagen will break down at around 160 degrees. When this happens, it transforms into the gelatinous substance that moisturizes the pork from the inside out.
It takes a long time for the smoker to do its work. Aim to smoke pork butt and shoulder for at least 1.5 hours per pound when the smoker is set to 225 degrees. Some cuts might take more or less time, depending on the circumstances.
At around 195 degrees, the pork should be tender enough to shred. Waiting until it hits the 200-205 degree range will make the shredding task even easier. That’s why we would suggest giving it that extra time.
Take care not to wait too long, though. Not everyone realizes this, but it is possible to overcook pulled pork. When it’s left on the heat too long, it will begin to dry out.
Our recommendation would be to pull the meat from the grill when it reaches 190-195 degrees. During the resting process, the temperature will rise a bit more, ensuring that the final temperature hits the sweet spot of 200 degrees.
How To Shred Pork
You have a few options when it comes to shredding pork.
The first and most obvious choice is to use your fingers. This allows you to weed out any large deposits of fat and sinew that might have survived the cooking process. For obvious reasons, you’ll have to wait until the meat is cool enough to handle if you do this.
Using a pair of sturdy forks is quicker, and there’s a good chance you have those tools on hand already. Hold one fork in each hand and use the tines to pull the meat apart.
For those of you who make (or plan to make) large quantities of pulled pork on a regular basis, a pair of shredding claws would be a great investment. The concept is similar to the fork method, but the claws are bigger and easier to handle.
It’s possible to use an electric mixer to shred pork, but you need to be careful. Overprocessing the meat will make it unpleasantly mushy. Whenever time allows, we would suggest that you stick to the shredding claws.
Pork tenderloin has many fine qualities, but none of them are conducive to making pulled pork. Save the tenderloin for other recipes that allow its tender texture to shine.