Perfectly cooked meat is something to which we all aspire, especially as grillmasters. From time to time, though, you might find yourself with a batch of leftovers that aren’t as moist as you’d hoped. Here are a few ideas about what to do with dry pork leftovers.
What To Do With Dry Pork Leftovers
If your leftover pork is a bit dry, you can add a bit of liquid to the pan when reheating it. Leftovers also make great toppings for Tex-Mex dishes like tacos and nachos. For pork that’s too dry to be enjoyed on its own, we would suggest repurposing the meat into another dish, like a chili or a casserole.
Why Is My Pork Dry?
Before we talk about what to do with dry pork leftovers, let’s explore the root of the problem.
Possibility #1: Overcooking
The majority of the time, the reason your pork is dry is that you overcooked it. While pork is juicy and tender when cooked to the right temperature, overcooking will dry out the meat’s fibers, leaving you with a product that resembles sawdust or straw.
Possibility #2: Undercooking
Some cuts might suffer from the opposite problem: they didn’t cook long enough for the collagen to break down and the fat to render out. That’s true, especially for larger cuts that are naturally tough to begin with, like pork butt and spare ribs.
Attaining the ideal internal temperature is the key to avoiding dry pork. When you invest in a reliable instant-read thermometer, you’ll be more likely to achieve this goal.
Possibility #3: Inadequate Resting Time
You may know that it’s critical to rest cooked meat for a while before you attempt to cut into it. But did you know that if you fail to do so, the meat might be dry and tough?
Here’s why: When the meat is cooking, its natural moisture is drawn toward the surface. Once it’s removed from the heat, these juices will redistribute, settling back into the meat’s fibers.
If you cut into the cooked meat too soon, the juices will flow out onto your cutting board instead of heading back to their rightful place. The result? Dried-out slices of pork.
Let larger cuts rest for a minimum of 15 minutes. 30 minutes to an hour is preferable. For ribs, a resting time of 15 to 20 minutes is ideal. Even small boneless pork chops need to rest for a while, although 5 minutes is usually sufficient.
A Word About Internal Temp
Now that you understand how important it is not to overcook or undercook the pork, you need to learn the distinction between the various cuts.
Small and lean cuts, such as pork chops or tenderloin, are at their best when cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the meat can be considered medium rare, as it will still have a hint of pink in the center.
Is it safe to cook pork to 145 degrees? Yes—at least, it’s safe these days. The USDA used to recommend an internal temp of 160 for pork. However, improved farming practices have reduced the risk of trichinosis, so it’s now considered safe to eat pork at 145 degrees.
Just because the pork is technically safe at that temp doesn’t mean that you should remove all cuts when they hit 145. Tough cuts like pork shoulder, Boston butt, and ribs should cook to at least 195 degrees before you attempt to consume them.
Why the difference? It’s because these cuts contain more connective tissue, which requires time as well as heat in order to break down into gelatin. They’re also fattier, meaning the meat will have a rubbery texture if it doesn’t cook long enough.
The bottom line? Make sure you know which cooking technique and temperature is recommended for each cut of pork you buy. This will help you avoid the pitfalls of dry pork.
What To Do With Dry Pork Leftovers: A Guide
For pork that’s just a little bit dry, try warming it over low heat. If you have any leftover cooking juices, use those to rehydrate the pork. Alternatively, you can use a bit of chicken stock or water.
You can reheat leftover cooked pork on the stovetop, in the oven, or on the grill. If you choose the latter option, keep the heat as low as possible, around 200 degrees. High heat might cause the meat to dry out even more.
Often, when you’ve allowed the meat to rest only to find that it’s too dry, you can mask the problem by smothering it in your favorite barbecue sauce. A spicy vinegar-based sauce, such as a North Carolina-style blend, is a good bet in this situation.
If you want to add the sauce to the meat as you reheat it, wait until the last 10 minutes or so, particularly if the sauce contains a lot of sugar. Otherwise, the sugar in the sauce will burn and give the pork a bitter taste.
Make a Casserole
The more ingredients there are in a dish, the less likely you are to notice if one of them is inferior.
Mix your leftover dry pork with sauteed aromatic vegetables, cooked egg noodles, sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese. Top with bread crumbs and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until the top is crisp and the mixture is bubbling at the edges.
Plan a Tex-Mex Fiesta
Leftover chopped or shredded pork is a wonderful excuse to host a taco night. Even if the meat is on the dry side, the flavors and sauces will mask the texture.
To make authentic street tacos, top warm corn tortillas with pork, chopped onions, cilantro, and salsa verde. Add a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of Cotija or queso fresco.
You can also add a platter of nachos to the mix. Chop the meat into small pieces, then pile it onto a stack of tortilla chips. Add sliced fresh jalapenos, diced tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese. Heat until the cheese is melted, then top with minced scallions. Serve with salsa on the side.
Make a Stew or Chili
When you’ve already got a supply of cooked pork on hand, you can whip up a tasty stew in no time. This is one of the reasons why we like to use a simple blend of salt and pepper when smoking a large cut like pork shoulder.
Speaking of which, try to make sure that the flavors of your dish complement the seasonings you used on the pork. For example, if the pork is on the spicy side, add it to a pot of chili seasoned with cumin and cayenne pepper.
Pork with more basic seasonings can be added to whatever dish you prefer. You can even make a stew with diced pork, carrots, onions, and peas, then top the mixture with a pie crust and bake it in the oven until it’s piping hot.
Dry pork isn’t our favorite outcome, but it isn’t the end of the world either. Whether you’re dealing with a few leftover pork chops or a large batch of pulled pork, you should be able to repurpose the meat to great effect.