Letting a pork shoulder sit after it’s been cooked is a regular tradition in slow-cooking the meat to full tenderness. Much of the method theory involved is that the juices, which are cooked to the point of trying to leave the meat and get to the outside, leave the center dry.
By letting the meat sit while it is still warm lets the juices flow back to the center, which improves the taste tremendously.
However, to do that for maximum effect, the meat needs to be maintained at a high enough temperature to keep it safe, generally above 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where a cooler comes in.
How long will pork shoulder stay hot in a cooler?
Using the right type of cooler, a meat fresh out of the oven could be kept sitting and cooking in its own heat for hours. A lot depends on the cooler and the internal insulation used.
The cooler itself will already be insulated to some extent. However, pork shoulder and other meats can cool down to room temperature as fast as 15 minutes if exposed to air, and there can be plenty inside the cooler itself. So, the trick is to wrap the meat in reflective foil, then wrap it in towels which take up the air space in the cooler, then place it in the cooler itself and close.
Testing the temperature remotely or occasionally to make sure it stays safe. This method gets the longest amount of time, being three to four hours in some cases.
Should you try and keep pork shoulder hot in the cooler?
Generally, pork shoulder that is cooked and comes straight off the grille or from the oven will already be considerably hot if cooked to the correct internal temperature. This is why a meat thermometer is an absolutely essential tool.
Don’t try to guess from the look on the outside of the meat, which will be far more cooked than in the center.
Use the thermometer and, when the right internal temperature is reached, then pull the pork shoulder off, wrap it in foil, and wrap it in towels for placement in the cooler.
Doing so will trap the heat, and the meat will continue to cook, slowly decreasing in temperature. Do not let it sit on a dish in the open air.
It will literally cool off in less than 15 minutes doing so. And once meat gets below 145 degrees Fahrenheit with internal temperature, it either needs to be eaten or refrigerated for safety.
How do you keep a pork shoulder warm in a cooler?
Again, the trick is layers of insulation. The cooler itself will help block outside air, which is considerably colder, from affecting the meat. But air inside the cooler will also work against the heat.
So, the meat needs to be wrapped in layers as soon as it is taken out of cooking. Foil works best for the inner layer because it fends off the juices and nothing gets messy.
The metallic nature of the foil reflects the heat back in towards the meat, cooking it longer. Towels then take up the room in the cooler that would otherwise be a gap around the meat, lowering its temperature. Instead, the towels act like a dense jacket.
Slow-cooking and letting pork shoulder sit after reaching optimum internal temperature is a bit of personal taste. Some people go for an hour, while others have a system that works for them up to three hours.
The time difference can dramatically change the taste, oftentimes producing a juicier meat overall the longer the pork shoulder has to sit. So experiment a bit. Start with short time periods and work up to a longer time period each time.
Find your comfort zone and then write down the details in a kitchen log or diary so you know how to replicate the approach again and again.
You will find your pork shoulder dinners will start getting better and better with experience, as well as with application to your specific cooking equipment (a big change factor as well). Alternating between the BBQ and oven will also provide some education as well, so try both. And then enjoy your juicy dinner!