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Can You Undercook Pork Shoulder? (Explained)

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Can you undercook pork shoulder?

Pork shoulder, like any other meat, can be under-cooked. Pork should never be served under-cooked.

While the danger of trichinosis from American pork raised by modern farmers is minimal, other kinds of bacteria can cause food poisoning if the pork is not thoroughly cooked.

Pork shoulder is the cut of meat from the upper front leg of a pig. Because it contains a great deal of fat, it is a tough cut of meat if not cooked properly.

If properly cooked, it can be one of the tastiest cuts of meat. Pork shoulder can be prepared in many ways, including braising, roasting, and smoking.

Any of these methods, properly done, can turn a tough pork shoulder into a tender and juicy meal.

The key to correctly cooking a pork shoulder is to ensure that it reaches the correct internal temperature.

This is done not only for food safety reasons, but because an under-cooked pork shoulder remains tough and chewy.

The best way to determine the correct temperature is to use a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

If the internal temperature is 200°F, the pork shoulder is ready to take from the oven. (It should still rest for a few minutes before being sliced for service, and the temperature may rise slightly during that time.)

If a meat thermometer is unavailable, there are other techniques to determine whether the pork shoulder is properly cooked.

In order to properly cook a pork shoulder, so that it is not under-cooked, you may wish to try one of these cooking methods:

1) Braising: Braising involves cooking the pork shoulder in liquid at low heat for a long period of time. Braising helps reduce the fat and muscle fibers in the meat, and should make the pork tender.

In addition, the meat will become infused with the flavor of the liquid used, whether it is wine, meat or vegetable stock, or water with herbs and spices. It is important not to cover the pork shoulder in too much liquid.

2) Slow cooking in an oven or smoker. Slow cooking also heats the pork shoulder at a low temperature for many hours. The fat and muscle fibers break down and become more tender.

3) Cooking in a crock pot. A crock pot relies on low heat and long time periods, like the other two methods.

While this is also a good way to prepare a pork shoulder, care must be taken to make sure that the meat reaches the ideal internal temperature for food safety purposes.

At what temperature is a pork shoulder done? 

The USDA recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of at least 160°F.

However, while this works for thinner cuts of pork, pork shoulder is a large, thick cut of meat, with a great deal of internal fat.

Lower temperatures may be safer for other cuts of pork, with the USDA stating that a meat temperature of 145°F is safe for killing food-borne bacteria.

This temperature will still leave a pink interior in other cuts of pork. Lower internal temperatures may not be sufficient for a properly done pork shoulder, however.

Pork shoulder needs to be cooked longer, and at a higher temperature, to become tender.

Therefore, pork shoulder should always be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 200°F.

At the same time, it is possible to overcook a pork shoulder, and the temperature needs to be carefully monitored.

An internal temperature of over 205°F for any length of time may leave the meat tough and chewy.

When should you pull a pork shoulder off the smoker? 

A correctly cooked pork shoulder should be tender and juicy. If it is not, something may have gone wrong in cooking.

One way to cook the pork shoulder is to simply cook it until the meat falls off the bone, or it can easily be pulled apart by a fork.

This method requires close observation. This method is best done in a slow-cooker or oven. Opening a smoker frequently to check is not a good practice.

How long should pork shoulder rest after leaving the smoker or oven?

After removing the pork shoulder from the smoker or oven, it should rest for a minimum of three minutes before cutting.

A longer period of ten minutes before slicing and serving is even better. The rest will allow the juices to settle throughout the meat. 

If the pork is cut too soon after being removed from the smoker, the juice will still be unsettled. It will flow out, and the meat will be dry.

Signs of an undercooked pork shoulder

There are various methods to determine if pork shoulder is under-cooked.

A meat thermometer giving an internal temperature reading is the most accurate method. If a thermometer is not available, there are several other ways to determine if your meat is cooked properly.

The ideal internal temperature for a pork shoulder is at least 200°F. 

If a thermometer is unavailable, use a knife to cut into the thickest part of the pork shoulder. If the juice runs clear, the meat is fully cooked. 

You can also cut a small piece from the meat, and examine it. If it is still pink in the middle, the meat isn’t fully cooked yet.

Final thoughts 

Pork shoulder can be a very economical cut of meat, and provide a delicious meal for an entire family.

However, while it is easy to cook, it is important to be certain that it is cooked thoroughly and at the correct temperature.

If pork shoulder is not cooked properly and fully, it will be tough and unpalatable.

More importantly, under-cooked pork may contain bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning. As with any meat, you should always be careful to practice safe food handling methods.