Ask any meat cook or connoisseur about an exact time of how to treat pork or any other meat when cooking, and the honest answer will be, it depends. Everyone has a particular style developed over years of experience, and resting a pork shoulder falls into that category. The common thinking is that meat continues to cook when pulled off the grill or smoker, and a certain amount of rest time lets that cooking finish.
For most, the rest time seems to be at the 1-hour mark but, as with anything in the U.S., there’s a lot of variation and opinions on the matter.
The Range of Time Possible at a Maximum
Believe it or not, the range of time for resting a pork shoulder can be anywhere from as little as 15 minutes to as much as 5 hours. The great majority of folks land in the 1 to 2 hour range, which for many lets the meat cool down and the juices distribute again throughout the meat versus where the heat pushed them to the center.
Very few folks are in the 4 to 5 hour range, but there are plenty of unique cooking styles out there where that approach makes sense. The key thing to remember here is your experience.
What works for you and taste is what matters most, not what your neighbor tells you to do because that’s how he likes to eat his pork. For beginnings, assuming 1 to 2 hours is probably a good safe zone, which helps destress planning the entire dinner rollout for the first time.
The Cooler Method of Resting a Pork Shoulder
Using a typical ice cooler big enough for your dish, you can create what otherwise would be the approach used by a professional catering outfit.
With the pork fresh off the cooking grille, wrap it in tin foil if not already wrapped. There’s no need to wrap it twice though, if that’s how you started while cooking in the first place.
Some disagree, but the point is to use a foil insulation layer as the first wrap to keep the heat in the meat in place, and two layers of foil wrap makes sense if going longer than 2 hours’ wait time. With the meat prepared, then the cooler is placed and made ready to accept storage.
Towels are either inserted in first as a nest, or they are wrapped around the foil-wrapped pork, i.e. another layer of insulation. The towels help break down the space inside the cooler when the pork is placed and nothing else is in there.
Done without, and the meat will cool faster due to the empty space drawing out the heat. This is what you want to prevent. Then close the lid and wait the requisite time and keep it closed (don’t keep flapping the lid).
Once the meat gets below 140 degrees, it hits the danger zone and should be eaten right away or refrigerated (you’re safer at 155 degrees). However, this fake Cambro method can work up to 5 hours and it’s easy to prepare at home.
Resting a Pork Shoulder in the Oven
Generally, the same limitation applies in the oven as it does in the ice cooler. The meat can rest for as long as necessary until it drops below 140 degrees. This assumes one is keeping the oven door closed and not creating a draft. Again, the meat should be wrapped in foil as a minimal insulation layer.
The oven should be unheated, and the tray with the meat laid in the middle. This will likely produce about 2 hours of wait time. If, on the other hand, you want to go longer, then preheat the oven to 150 degrees and, when ready, turn it off and place the meat inside.
The ambient heat and the meat will last longer than 2 hours, maybe 3 to 4 hours on the outside. Again, watch if the temperature doesn’t drop below 140 degrees inside the meat.
Resting on the Kitchen Counter
If noticed, temperature is the real barometer to worry about. Leaving a pork shoulder to rest on the counter follows the same rules, watching out for 140 degrees and lower. The meat can rest on a tray wrapped in foil. Being outside and exposed to air, it’s going to cool down faster, but it will still cook and rest for a while.
Simply wrap the meat in foil, place it on a tray and hook up an internal thermometer to it so you can monitor the heat value. When the inside gets close to 140 to 155 degrees, it’s time to make a decision of serving or storing. It’s as simple as that.
Expect maybe 30 minutes to an hour or less for this approach as there is no real insulation or heat block to prevent the meat from cooling down fast.
Resting Time Per Pound
Some folks like to measure their time based on the weight of the meat, similar to cooking time for turkeys based on size. Part of the problem with calculating a standard comes in how hot the meat was when cooked.
If one used a high heat (450 degrees), the outside of the meat is considerably hotter, and it takes longer for the juices to distribute again to the contracted areas on the perimeter. If the meat was cooked at a lower heat (250 degrees), the distribution happens much faster, ergo less resting time.
Given this range above, expect anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per pound of resting, with different results based on cooking temperature. This will also vary depending how fast the meat gets close to 140 degrees in cooling.