When pork butt and pork shoulder are cooked over a low fire for a long time, the meat becomes tender enough to shred with a fork. Most barbecue fans already know that, of course. But what does the internal temperature have to be in order for the magic to happen?
The answer is a simple one, but the process itself is fascinating. When you’ve finished reading, you’ll have all the information you need regarding the perfect pulled pork internal temp.
Pulled Pork Internal Temp
Pork butt needs to be cooked to 195 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s tender enough to shred. If it’s allowed to cook to 200-205 degrees, the meat will be even softer, which makes it that much easier to pull apart. We would recommend giving it the extra time, provided that you remove it from the grill before it has a chance to overcook.
About Pork Shoulder
To make great pulled pork, you need to start with the right ingredients. Pork butt (or Boston butt), which is actually part of the pork shoulder, is the cut of meat you want.
Some beginners are put off by the appearance of the cut. Dark pink in color, with plenty of connective tissue and a high percentage of fat, pork butt looks like it needs a lot of work in order to be edible. While that’s technically true, all it really needs is a long time on the smoker.
It’s not a good idea to trim too much fat off the pork. All that fat acts as a natural basting liquid for the meat, making the finished product moist and tender. There may still be a few chunks here and there, but for the most part, the fat should render out as the meat cooks.
Because it’s such a fatty cut, pork butt is relatively inexpensive. It typically sells for about $2 per pound, depending on where you live. During certain times of the year, it may even be available for as little as 89 cents per pound.
Making Pulled Pork
It’s important to cook pork butt correctly. Otherwise, the meat will turn out tough and chewy. That’s why it’s the best choice when making pulled pork.
If the meat is so tough to begin with, how does it get soft enough to be shredded using only a fork? That’s the magic of slow cooking, which happens when you set the grill’s temperature to 250 or lower.
Tough cuts of meat like pork butt contain high amounts of collagen. When they’re cooked using low-and-slow applications, the collagen will break down into gelatin. This gives the meat a rich flavor and texture that can’t be duplicated with leaner cuts.
The Cooking Process
Let’s take a closer look at what happens to the meat while it’s cooking.
At around 105 degrees Fahrenheit, certain enzymes begin the denaturing process. When the temperature hits 120 degrees, the meat begins to turn opaque. This is also the point at which red meat begins to turn pink. If you’ve ever eaten a very rare steak, chances are that it was removed from the heat at around the 120-degree mark.
As the temperature climbs to 140 degrees, the meat changes color again, from pink to grayish brown. If it’s allowed to climb past that, it will release a great deal of juice and shrink down as the meat becomes chewy and tough. This is why steaks cooked past medium are less juicy than their medium-rare counterparts.
Pork is safe to eat when the meat reaches an internal temp of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. However, just because the pork can be safely consumed at this temperature doesn’t mean you should stop there. Here’s why.
The conversion from collagen to gelatin begins to occur when the meat reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The collagen melts more quickly when it reaches this sweet spot, continuing on this trajectory until the 180-degree mark. The muscle fibers will begin to loosen, so even though the meat itself is dry, the gelatin has more room to spread out.
Pulled Pork Internal Temp / What Temp to Pull Pork Butt
So, when you’re getting a digital readout of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, is it time to take the pork butt off the smoker? Not quite. You want to make sure all that lovely pork fat has had a chance to render out, which will make your job easier when it’s time to shred the meat.
You should cook the pork butt until the internal temperature reaches at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit. The pork will continue to cook during the crucial resting period, which will bring it up to around 200 degrees. At these temps, the meat will be so tender that it will start to fall apart when you prod it with a fork.
If you’d like the pork to turn out even softer, it’s fine to leave it on the grill until you get a readout of 202 to 205 degrees. Try not to let it cook for any longer, though. It is possible to overcook pork butt. If this happens, your pulled pork will be unpleasantly dry.
How To Cook Pork Butt to 195 Degrees
Prepare the pork butt for the grill by trimming the excess fat and seasoning it with your favorite barbecue rub. At this point, you can let it sit in the fridge overnight, or allow it to rest at room temperature for about half an hour.
When you’re ready to start cooking, preheat your grill or smoker. Set a gas grill to medium-low, build a low charcoal fire, or set your pellet grill to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
We prefer using a pellet grill for pulled pork because the wood pellets impart a wonderful smoke flavor. Alternatively, you can toss a handful of wood chips on a charcoal fire. It’s also possible to use wood chips on a gas grill by using the foil pouch method.
Place the pork on the grill rack, fat side up. If you’re using a meat temperature probe, now is the time to insert it into the thickest portion of the pork butt. Don’t allow the tip of the probe to touch the bone, or you won’t get an accurate readout. Close the lid of the grill and allow the pork to cook for about 2 hours per pound.
At the 160-degree mark, the temperature will stop rising for several hours. This dreaded phenomenon is known as “the stall” in pitmaster’s circles. Although it’s annoying, the stall is an expected part of the process. You have two choices: Either wait it out, or employ the “Texas crutch” to speed the cooking process.
If you’d rather shave a few hours off the total cooking time, here’s how the Texas crutch works. Just remove the pork butt from the grill when it reaches the 160-degree mark, then wrap it tightly in a layer of aluminum foil. Return it to the grill and continue to cook until it reaches your desired temperature.
The foil can cause the bark on the meat’s exterior to soften, which is why many pitmasters refuse to use it. If you want crispy bark, we would advise waiting out the stall. You can also attempt to revitalize it by removing the foil for 20 to 30 minutes toward the end of the cook, but this doesn’t always yield satisfactory results.
When the pork butt is done, remove it from the grill. If you haven’t already wrapped the meat in foil, now is the time to do so. Let the pork rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before shredding it.
About Shredding Pulled Pork
When it comes to shredding slow-cooked meat, you have several alternatives. It’s possible to just pull the meat apart with your fingers. This is a good method because it allows you to pull out any pieces of fat or gristle that survived the cooking process. However, it’s also the most time-consuming method.
Alternatively, you can use a couple of forks to shred the meat. Turn the forks so that the prongs face outward from one another, and use them to pull the meat apart. If you plan on making pulled pork on a regular basis, we would recommend investing in a pair of shredding claws to make the task go more quickly.
As a last resort, you can use an electric hand mixer. This is the fastest method, and one that comes in handy if you’re making a big batch of pork. However, it’s important to use caution, as the meat can turn to mush in a heartbeat when it’s over-processed.
What Should the Internal Temp be for Pulled Pork?
Pulled pork shreds easily when it cooks to about 200-205 degrees. I would recommend taking it off the heat when it’s cooked to 200, then letting it rest for 30 to 60 minutes. During the resting period, the temperature will rise, thereby softening the meat even further.
Is It Possible to Overcook Pulled Pork?
Yes. You want the pork to be tender enough to shred, but not so soft that it has an unpleasantly mushy texture. If you’re worried about overcooking the meat, take it off the heat when it achieves an internal temp of 195 degrees. Try not to let it cook past 210.
What’s the Best Smoker Temperature for Pulled Pork?
I like to set the smoker to 225 degrees when making pulled pork. It’s just high enough to bring the pork to the perfect internal temp while the fat renders and the connective tissue breaks down. 250 and 275 degrees are permissible too, but that’s as far as I would go. If the smoker temp was set any higher, the pork would still cook through, but it might not have the right consistency.
What Cut of Meat is Best for Pulled Pork?
Pork butt, or Boston butt, is the number one choice. Despite the name, this cut actually comes from the shoulder region, and it consists of rich, flavorful meat. The second-best option is the pork shoulder, which is located just below the butt, toward the foreleg.
How Long Does it Take to Cook the Pork?
Pork butt is a sizable chunk of meat. A pork butt typically weighs 4 to 10 pounds and yields 2 to 5 pounds of pulled pork. Since you want to smoke the meat at 225 degrees for 1-1/2 to 2 hours per pound, it can take anywhere from 6 to 20 hours to cook, depending on the cut.
Can You Shred Pork at 185 Degrees?
At temperatures below 195, the meat won’t shred as well because the muscle fibers haven’t broken down enough. For that all-important fall-apart texture, wait until the meat has cooked to at least 195 before pulling the pork off the heat.
When Will the Stall Occur?
When the pork butt cooks to about 150 degrees, the internal temperature will stop rising for a while. This phenomenon is called the “stall,” and it happens when the heat of the smoker is no longer sufficient to combat the cooling effects of the evaporating moisture. It can last for hours, but eventually the pork will continue to heat up.
What’s the Best Way to Shred Pork?
Invest in a good set of shredding claws, especially if you plan to make large batches of pulled pork. These will make the job much easier. Alternatively, you can use two forks to shred the meat, or just use your fingers—assuming the pork is cool enough to handle.
195 degrees is an acceptable temperature for pulled pork. That said, we would recommend waiting until the thermometer reads 202 degrees. The extra time will make your shredding duties go much more smoothly, and the meat will retain its moisture and rich texture.