In my experience, the best internal temperature for pulled pork is between 195 and 205 degrees. The meat has to be cooked low and slow to properly break down the meat’s connective tissue to get to the level of optimum tenderness.
I learned how to make pulled pork at culinary school, and over the years I’ve honed in on these skills to get the best out of my pulled pork recipes. Today, I’m here to tell you all that I know about pulled pork temperature, and to make sure that you’ll be ready to master the art of cooking pulled pork by the end of this article.
What is the Best Pulled Pork Temperature?
Even though pork is safe to consume at 145 degrees, you should cook pulled pork for much longer than that so you get better results.
In my experience, an internal temperature of 195 to 205 degrees is perfect for pulled pork. The flesh becomes moist, tender, and easily shredded at this temperature.
Even if the food is safe to eat at a lower internal temperature, the connective tissues will remain intact. So, if you don’t cook the pork long enough, you will get tough, flavorless meat that will be difficult to shred. Bear in mind that you’ll need a meat thermometer to keep track of the meat’s internal temperature.
It’s okay to let the meat start resting after it reaches about 195 degrees because it will continue to cook after you turn off the heat. Moreover, you can continue cooking pulled pork until the thermometer reads 205 degrees F before taking it out of the cooker. However, don’t let it cook any longer than this, or the meat will start to dry out.
In either case, give the meat at least 30 minutes to rest before shredding. This way, the meat will properly absorb the juices, making pulled pork incredibly soft and juicy. Additionally, once it has cooled, shredding is considerably simpler.
The Smoking Process of Pulled Pork
Let’s discuss what I’ve noticed when smoking pulled pork over the years. At around 105 degrees, some of the meat’s enzymes start to denature. The pork begins to change from red to pink when the temperature approaches 120 degrees.
At 140 degrees, the color of the pork changes from pink to a brownish hue. If meat cooks any longer, it will release plenty of meat juices, causing the meat to shrink and become chewy. This is why medium-well steaks aren’t as juicy as medium-rare steaks.
Once the pork’s internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, you can safely consume it. Even though you can safely eat the pork at this temperature, I still advise smoking for a longer cooking time when preparing pulled pork.
When the meat reads 160 F, collagen starts to melt into gelatin until it reaches 180 degrees. Beyond the 180-degree mark, the meat’s muscle fibers start to separate, making it easier to pull the pulled pork apart. Your cooked pork butt should have a dark mahogany color on the exterior when it reaches 205°F.
Best Cut for Pulled Pork
Pulled pork can be prepared using different pork cuts. That said, in my experience, pork butt and pork shoulder have proven to be the best cuts to use over pork roast and pork loin.
Pork butt, also known as the Boston butt, is cut from the upper shoulder of the pig. The Boston butt is perfect for shredding because it is a fatty cut. The pork shoulder is less fatty, but it releases a delicious meaty flavor and holds up well in the cooker.
Pork shoulder, also called the picnic shoulder, is cut from the front leg of the pig, which is an area that receives exercise. That’s why the meat from the pork shoulder contains less fat than the area of the pork butt.
Personally, I love using pork butts for pulled pork because the meat is typically more tender and juicy. However, it’s not that you need to be more cautious when cooking the pork butt. This is because the meat can become overly mushy when overcooked.
How to Make Pulled Pork?
When making pulled pork, you will need a high-quality pellet grill, gas grill, or charcoal grill. Let’s look at the ingredients you’ll need.
- 4 pounds of pork butt
- 1 cup of apple juice
- 1/4 cup of kosher salt
- 1/4 cup of light brown sugar
- 2 cups of apple wood chips
- 2 tablespoons of onion powder
- 2 tablespoons of garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons of chili powder
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper.
- 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Step 1: Pour all the spices into a bowl and thoroughly mix. Next, run the spice mix all over the pork butt. Make sure you apply the rub to the sides and surface of the meat. After rubbing the meat, let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. This step will allow the rub to properly permeate through the meat.
Step 2: If you’re cooking with a pellet smoker, preheat it to 225 degrees. For more flavorful meat, add flavored wood chips to the smoker. I use apple wood chips because of their sweet and mild flavor.
On the other hand, if you’re using a charcoal grill, wait until the coals are covered in a thin layer of light gray ash. Then, pile them up on one part of the grill to generate more heat. Afterward, add the pork cut in the center of the smoker.
I recommend placing the pork away from the area where you heaped the coal. This way, the meat will cook more slowly and allow the meat’s juices to permeate properly. Once the charcoal grill heats to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, add a quarter cup of wood chips to the coals and close the grate.
Step 3: Cook until the pulled pork internal temp reads 165 degrees. I recommend basting the pork with apple juice to make the meat even more moist. You can use a spray bottle for this. The pork’s temperature should be between 165 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit after around five hours of the cooking process. Once the meat reaches this internal temp, take it out of the smoker and wrap it in two layers of aluminum foil to keep the juices locked in.
Step 4: Allow the meat to cook for one more hour and check the temperature by sticking the meat thermometer probe through the foil. The pork cut should be around 190 degrees at this temperature. Your meat should look really tender at this internal temp. You can take the meat off the smoker at this point or let it cook until it reaches 205 degrees. Once the meat is off the smoker, allow the pork rest in the foil for about 30 minutes.
Step 5: Shred the pork into bite-sized pieces once it has cooled enough to touch. You can shred pork in a couple of ways. I recommend pulling pork with shredding claws. This shredding tool can easily shred huge chunks of meat. If you don’t mind getting your hands oily, shredding with your hands is another effective solution. Forks also work well for shredding. Just stick two forks together at the center of the meat and pull away.
Step 6: Pull out all leftover large pieces of fat or gristle. After this step, you’re free to serve and enjoy this dish with your favorite sides.
What to Serve with Pulled Pork?
Here are some of my favorite sides to eat with pulled pork.
- Coleslaw: Coleslaw is one of my go-to sides when eating pulled pork. This side has a sweet-sour flavor that perfectly complements the delicious smokiness of the pork. You can also mix the coleslaw and pulled pork and put it on a bun. Don’t go heavy on the mayonnaise, so your buns don’t fall apart.
- Cornbread: Pulled pork pairs well with cornbread. The meaty flavor of the pork tastes even better with the doughy mouthfeel of the bread.
- Baked Beans: The sweetness of baked beans contrasts nicely with the smoky, juicy pork. You can even add the pulled pork to the baked beans and stir in a pan.
What to Do with Leftover Pork?
You can transform leftover pulled pork into more tasty dishes. But first, you have to reheat the meat. Simply spritz some apple juice or water on the meat and cook for about an hour at 275 degrees. Take out the meat when the desired temperature reads above 165 degrees and use it to make pulled pork sandwiches or delicious carnitas.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I Overcook Pulled Pork?
Overcooking pork means your meat will be mushy and soft, making it less enjoyable to eat. For this reason, I don’t advise overcooking pulled pork. To prevent the pork from overcooking, ensure the pulled pork internal temp doesn’t exceed 205 degrees.
2. When Does Pork Butt Stall?
The internal temperature of pork will initially rise during the slow cooking process and then stall between 140 and 160 degrees. The reason why this is known as a “stall” is because the meat appears to stop cooking during this time for a few hours.
Don’t be worried if you notice the pork shoulder stalls. You might be tempted to raise the cooker’s temperature at this stage, but I strongly advise against it. Stay patient, and the meat’s temperature will start to rise again in a few hours.
3. What Temperature Should I Set My Smoker?
I set my pellet smoker at 225 degrees when smoking pulled pork. This smoker temp is high enough to render the fat and break down connective tissue while slow-cooking the meat to the ideal internal temperature. You can also set the smoker’s temperature to 275 degrees. Make sure you don’t go above this temperature. If you cook above this temperature, the pork won’t cook evenly.
4. Can I Shred Pulled Pork Cooked Below the Recommended Temperature?
Yes, you can shred pork cooked below the advised 195 degrees internal temperature, However, the pork won’t shred well at temperatures below 195 because the muscles have not properly broken down. For this reason, shred the slow-cooked meat once it has reached a temperature of at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit before removing the pork from the heat to ensure it has that amazing fall-apart texture.
We’ve reached the end of today’s article. This information should help you prepare pulled pork to perfection. So, follow my temperature guide and recipe and play with any of the suggested sides to enjoy the most delicious pulled pork you’ve ever had!