It can be agonizing when you’ve waited all day for the pork shoulder to achieve the right temperature, only to have it stall out in the final stage. If you hit the pork shoulder stall at 190, is it all right to take the meat off the smoker? If not, what should you do?
Pork Shoulder Stall at 190
When the pork shoulder stalls at 190 degrees, it could be because the cut is especially large. Cold or windy conditions, or poor airflow inside the smoker, could also be to blame. If you’ve opted to spritz or mop the pork as it cooks, the excess moisture can slow the cooking process.
About Pork Shoulder
Like its companion cut, the Boston butt, pork shoulder needs to cook at a low temperature for hours. This will tenderize the meat and allow it to retain its juicy texture.
A whole pork shoulder, which consists of the lower picnic shoulder and the Boston butt, can weigh as much as 18 pounds. If you buy the picnic shoulder portion alone, it should weigh around 4 to 10 pounds, which makes it much easier to manage.
The cut can be sold either boneless or bone-in, and butchers usually leave the skin on. It’s up to you whether or not to remove the skin, but it gives the finished roast a crispy exterior that serves as a nice complement to the tender meat.
Understanding The Stall
Because of its size and the fact that it requires a low-and-slow cooking process, pork shoulder is prone to the phenomenon that pitmasters call “the stall.”
When the meat cooks to a certain point—usually about 150 degrees Fahrenheit—it hits a plateau. The temperature stops rising, often for several hours. This can be nerve-racking for beginners, and it’s not much fun for the experts either.
What causes this? As the meat cooks, it expels moisture, which collects around the surface. At around the 150-degree mark, the heat from the smoker is no longer sufficient to combat the cooling effect of the liquid. That’s why the temperature halts in place.
You can attempt to speed through the stall by taking the pork shoulder off the heat and wrapping it in foil, then returning it to the smoker. Since the foil traps heat and moisture inside, the temperature will rise swiftly, bringing you closer to the finish line.
Why Does Pork Shoulder Stall at 190?
We’ve already established that the stall is common around 150 degrees. But what happens if you’ve powered through that stall only to hit another one when the temperature reaches 190?
Some barbecue enthusiasts are fortunate enough never to encounter this second stall. Others have reported that the temperature does continue to rise at this point—it just does so very slowly. Sometimes, it can take 10-15 minutes for the temperature to climb a single degree.
You might even skip the initial stall entirely, and find that the temperature halts at the 185-190 degree mark. The cause remains the same: The evaporative cooling effect is fighting against the heat of the smoker and winning the battle.
The stall can occur at various temperatures. The size of the pork shoulder, its overall moisture content, even its shape—all of these can affect the point at which the meat stops cooking.
The temperature and humidity level outside the smoker can be mitigating factors as well. If you’ve ever attempted to smoke a large cut of meat on a cold or windy day—or during a heat wave, for that matter—you’ll understand the role that ambient temperatures can play in the cooking process.
How Long Does The Stall Last?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict the exact length of the stall. That’s why many pitmasters rely on the foil wrapper method to move things along.
The size and shape of the pork shoulder can affect the length of the stall, as well as the temperature at which it occurs. A large cut will contain more moisture, meaning the stall will last longer.
On the other hand, if the pork shoulder has a great deal of surface area, the moisture will evaporate faster, which could mean a shorter stall. This is one of the reasons why some chefs will divide a larger cut in half. This method also results in more bark, which is another plus.
A well-designed smoker is invaluable when it comes to beating the stall. When the cooking chamber is well-ventilated, moisture evaporates more quickly. Many pellet smokers are designed with a fan inside, which hastens cooking by encouraging airflow.
If you’re using a water pan, the stall could last longer because the humidity inside the cooking chamber will remain high throughout the smoke. This practice can result in an intense smoke flavor, but it also means you’re in for a long wait.
On a similar note, spritzing the meat will extend the cooking process. Any moisture added to the surface of the meat reduces its temperature, thereby prolonging the stall.
Tips and Tricks
The most common method for combating the dreaded stall is the aforementioned foil wrapper. There’s a reason why this is called the “Texas crutch”—it speeds the cooking process along with minimal effort on the chef’s part.
You can also use butcher paper as an alternative to foil. This is our preferred technique, as the paper will allow the smoke to permeate the wrapper.
Finally, you can just accept that the stall is a natural part of the process, and plan ahead. Set the smoker to 225 degrees, and expect the pork shoulder to cook at a rate of about 1 to 1.5 hours per pound.
Can You Eat Pork Shoulder at 190 Degrees?
Yes. Technically, pork is safe to eat when it cooks to 145 degrees. However, pork shoulder needs to hit a higher temperature, or the meat will be tough and stringy.
It’s fine to take pork shoulder off the smoker at 190 degrees if you’re tired of waiting for the meat to push through the stall. This is true especially if you want to serve the meat sliced.
If you were planning on making pulled pork, though, it’s best to let the meat cook to at least 195 degrees. At 190, the pork will probably be tough to shred, although it will still taste delicious. Be patient, and you’ll reach the target temperature eventually.
The Bottom Line
Pork shoulder can hit the stall—whether it’s the first, second, or third—at many different stages throughout the smoke. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, and it won’t affect your results.
If the stall happens at 190 degrees, don’t panic. Resist the urge to check the temperature too often, and allow the meat to finish cooking at its own pace. You’ll be rewarded with meat that’s benefited from extra exposure to the smoke, and that isn’t a bad thing.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!