When you prepare a pork shoulder or other pork roast for the smoker and it has the netting attached, are you supposed to leave it on or take it off? And what’s the purpose of all that string, anyway? This guide will provide you with the answers to these questions—and a few others.
Pork Roast Netting On or Off?
As a rule, you should leave the netting on the pork shoulder or other pork roast when you cook it. The string will help keep the meat from falling apart, so it will be more presentable when it’s time to serve it. You can also remove the netting and re-tie the pork roast using kitchen twine.
What Is Pork Shoulder Netting, and Why Is It There?
Distributors will sometimes include pork shoulder netting to help the meat keep its shape. If the cut is bone-in, the meat will usually slough off the bone as it cooks, which makes for a lackluster presentation.
In the case of boneless cuts, the string helps the meat retain a uniform shape both before and after cooking. Removing the bone can give the roast a lopsided or otherwise misshapen appearance. That’s why butchers tend to tie pork butt and pork shoulder after deboning.
Sometimes, the netting is there because the butcher is trying to sell a few small cuts as a whole roast. For pulled pork, it won’t matter so much if you remove the netting before you cook the meat, since you’ll be serving it shredded anyway. If you’re planning to carve this makeshift pork “roast” into slices, though, you should leave the netting in place.
Pork Roast Netting On or Off During Cooking?
In most cases, it’s preferable to leave the netting in place as the meat cooks. Since it’s there to help hold the meat together, removing it earlier would defeat the purpose.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If the netting is made of plastic or any other material that’s liable to melt, you should take it off before you expose the roast to heat.
Some chefs also prefer to “butterfly” the pork roast prior to cooking. They might do this because they want the meat to cook more quickly, or because they want to maximize the amount of bark they’ll get. Either way, if you choose to go this route, you’ll have to remove the netting first.
You might also want to butterfly the roast so you can stuff it. In this case, you should take off the netting, then re-tie the stuffed roast with kitchen twine. For more on this technique, see The Homemade Alternative, below.
Flavor is another factor to consider. Sometimes, when you remove the string or netting, you end up taking big chunks of seasoned crust along with it. That can be disappointing when you’ve worked so hard to achieve that golden-crisp skin.
There are a couple of things you can do to avoid peeling away the seasoning when removing the string. First of all, loosen the strings as soon as you unwrap the meat. This will also make it easier to season the pork properly.
Second, coat the meat and the netting with nonstick cooking spray. You can do this as you’re loosening the strings. The thin coating of spray should keep the seasonings from adhering to the bag during cooking.
How To Remove Pork Shoulder Netting After Cooking
If you opt to leave the netting in place throughout the cook, it’s important to remove it properly afterward. Otherwise, the meat could lose a lot of moisture.
1. Don’t remove the netting until the pork roast has finished cooking. For more information on cooking times for pork shoulder vs. other pork roasts, see the separate section below.
2. Set the pork roast aside to rest for at least 15 minutes, or until it’s cool enough to handle.
3. Position the meat on a cutting board.
4. Use a pair of clean kitchen shears to cut off the netting. Take care not to pierce through the roast itself, or you’ll lose the juices.
5. Discard the strings. Carve and serve the pork while it’s still hot.
The Homemade Alternative
Let’s say you want to keep the pork all in one piece, but you don’t want to cook it in that store-bought netting. If this is the case, you can create a makeshift “bag” that should hold the meat together just as well.
Start by peeling back some of the netting from the smaller end of the roast. Tie off the “naked” part using kitchen twine, then proceed down the length of the roast until you’ve managed to tie the whole thing together. By the time you slide the netting completely off, the pork should stay in one piece.
Is It Safe To Sear The Meat With The Netting Still On?
Yes. The netting should be heat-resistant, meaning it’s fine to sear the pork over high heat while it’s still in place. Again, if it’s made of plastic, you’ll need to remove it before you cook the meat at all.
If you would prefer not to sear the meat in the bag, you have two options. First, you can remove the netting, taking care to leave it in one piece, and set it aside. Once you’ve seared the pork, replace the netting as neatly as you can.
Alternatively, you can tie the roast with twine as outlined above. This will have the same effect the netting would, but you’ll have more control over where you place it.
Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Loin Roast: A Guide To Cooking Times
Before you start to cook, make sure you know what cut of pork you’re dealing with.
Pork shoulder is taken from the central portion of the foreleg, just below the cut that’s known as pork butt. A loin roast, meanwhile, comes from the animal’s back, around the spine. As a result, the meat is lean and tender.
It will take longer to prepare a pork shoulder than a pork loin roast of similar size. That’s because pork shoulder is a tougher cut of meat with more fat and connective tissue. It needs a long time in the oven, slow cooker, or smoker in order to achieve the right texture.
Pork shoulder should cook at a low temperature in order to give the fat and connective tissue time to break down. We would recommend setting the oven or smoker to 225 degrees and letting it cook for about 90 minutes per pound. For best results, cook pork shoulder until it reaches an internal temp of 195 degrees.
The average pork shoulder weighs 6 to 9 pounds. As such, you’ll need to plan ahead if you want the meat to be ready on time. A 6-pound pork shoulder will probably need a minimum of 9 hours in the smoker, whereas a 9-pounder could take 13 to 14 hours.
Pork Loin Roast
As we mentioned, the pork loin is a leaner cut. That means you can crank up the heat to 325 degrees and pull the roast when the internal temperature reaches 145.
How long this will take depends on the size of the roast. A 2-pound center-cut pork loin roast should cook for 20-25 minutes per pound, or 40 to 50 minutes. If the roast is a bit larger–say, 3 to 6 pounds–let it cook for about 15 minutes per pound, for a total cooking time of 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.
If you’ve purchased a pork ribeye roast for the smoker, plan on cooking it at 225 degrees. The meat comes from the rib portion of the loin, so it’s not as lean as a center-cut roast. Remove pork ribeye roast from the smoker when it reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Bottom Line
The netting around a pork roast is designed to make your job easier and your meal more presentable. For optimum results, leave it where it is. As long as you manage to remove it without taking off any of the bark or piercing through the roast, it won’t affect the flavor.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!