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How long can you leave a Boston butt out?
For the perfect pulled pork, leave your boston butt out for at least 30 minutes, however this time can be as long as 2 hours on the counter or 6 hours in a cooler.
Boston butts are typically very large cuts of meat allowing them to hold their internal temperature above the safe eating temperature for a very long time.
For the best quality of pulled pork, the butt’s internal temperature should be around 205 degrees.
The combination of a large piece of meat and this high internal temperature provides a lot of freedom in how you long you can leave for your boston butt out for.
Many professional pitmasters swear letting their boston butt rest for 2-4 hours elevates their pulled pork to a whole different level of quality.
The reason for this is simple, resting the butt gives it time to reabsorb a ton of moisture while still being food safe.
Most boston butts are wrapped at some point in the cook to trap any moisture from the meat that might be trying to escape.
Resting in this foil lets the butt reabsorb a portion of this liquid that was lost during the cooking process.
How long you leave your butt out really depends on what you need from the meat. If the cook ran a little long and people are over and ready to eat, let it rest for 30 minutes on the counter before shredding it.
If your cook went fast and serving time is not for another 5 hours, preheat a cooler, wrap the butt in towels and let it rest until it is time to eat.
What internal temperature can a pork shoulder get down to?
Pork shoulders can get down to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and still be considered food safe.
It is important to note, the pork shoulder and the foil used for wrapping are sterile. If you use an oven or clean cooler for resting the pork shoulder then the temperature can hit the limit of 145 degrees and still be safe due to the sterile environment.
This temperature is also the lowest you should go for shredding the pork as well. If the temperature dips any lower it makes the shoulder more difficult to shred as the fat will begin harden and you will lose the extra moisture it provides when it has been rendered.
Why would you want to leave pork shoulder out?
Resting a pork shoulder creates the highest quality pulled pork you can possibly make.
There are a couple of different reasons why resting a pork shoulder is crucial to create great pulled pork.
Resting a pork shoulder allows all the juices to redistribute from the meat’s surface to the center.
When the meat is cooking, the protein fibers begin to firm up and expel moisture.
As you let the meat rest, this process begins to reverse itself. The protein fibers will begin to relax and reabsorb some of the moisture the shoulder lost throughout the cook.
As a result, rested meat retains more moisture when the time for shredding comes.
The reason protein fibers can relax while resting is the loss of the collagen surrounding each fiber.
Collagen is the protective film surrounding the muscle fibers and provides a structure to the muscle. As the shoulder cooks, the collagen breaks down and turns into gelatin.
This gelatin actually works to add moisture back into the meat, replacing any that was lost throughout the cook. When the shoulder is allowed to rest for a significant of time this gelatin begins to thicken leading to more of it staying in the meat when it is pulled.
Finally, resting a pork shoulder allows the internal temperature of the shoulder to decrease before it is shredded.
If you were to shred the meat right off of the smoker, with the shoulder having an internal temperature of 205, there will be a ton of steam as you shred the meat.
This is valuable moisture you are losing from your pork shoulder! This liquid cannot be recovered so it is worth letting the internal temperature decrease so this moisture stays within the meat.
How to keep a pork shoulder warm?
You can keep your pork shoulder warm in an oven or in a cooler wrapped in foil and towels.
If you choose to use the oven, remember your goal is to keep the pork shoulder warm, not continue to cook it! The best way to achieve this is to preheat the oven to 170 degrees before pulling the shoulder off the smoker. If you are wanting to keep the pork shoulder warm for 3-5 hours, then turn off the oven after putting in the pork shoulder. If you need to keep the shoulder warm for longer than 6 hours, leave the oven on at 170 degrees. This method will ensure your pork shoulder stays above a food-safe temperature but does run the risk of being overcooked by the time you pull it.
Using a cooler is your second option for keeping your pork shoulder warm. A good cooler will keep a pork shoulder warm for about 6 hours before any significant drop in temperature. The beauty of the cooler is the ambient temperature being more consistent than a turned-off oven along with no risk of overcooking the meat.
Should you leave the pork shoulder in a cooler?
Using a cooler is a great way to rest your pork shoulder for 5-6 hours and will create amazing pulled pork.
Pork shoulders should be cooked to an internal temperature of 205 degrees and are considered food safe down to 145 degrees. Considering shoulders are typically 6-10 pounds and retain heat very well, they can rest for a very long time and still be food safe. Resting your shoulder in a cooler is a great way to increase this resting time without fear of overcooking your shoulder.
Before placing the shoulder in the cooler, preheat the cooler by adding a pot of boiling water to the cooler for about 15 minutes. After this time period, dump the water out and line the bottom of the cooler with towels to better insulate the cooler. After pulling the shoulder from the smoker, wrap it in towels and then place another towel on top. This setup will allow you to hold the shoulder for at least 6 hours and potentially even 8 or 10 hours depending on the quality of your cooler and the outside temperature.
The cooler is an extremely convenient way to rest the shoulder because it retains heat better than an oven that is turned off. There is also no fear of the shoulder being overcooked. If you are cooking the shoulder and it needs to be transported, resting the meat in a cooler is the perfect option to transport the meat while ensuring it stays hot until the time to eat!
Should you leave the pork shoulder in an oven?
Resting a pork shoulder in the oven is a great way to keep a shoulder warm for an extended period.
There are two different ways to rest a shoulder in the oven. The first is to preheat the oven to 170 degrees and when you place the wrapped shoulder in the oven, turn off the oven. This will allow the shoulder to rest in a warm environment without fear of the shoulder overcooking. However, an oven is not as efficient in staying warm as a preheated cooler with towels is. This can be a great way to keep a shoulder warm for about 3-5 hours.
The second way is to set the oven to 170 degrees and keep the pork shoulder warm for as long as needed. This way will ensure your shoulder is warm, however, you run the risk of the shoulder overcooking. Even though the ambient temperature is 170 degrees the liquid within the wrap will begin to simmer and will slightly cook the meat. While this isn’t a bad thing to happen for a short period, extended time of this happening will turn the pork mushy and you will lose all of the bark on the shoulder.