Pork shoulder not getting up to temp
Cooking pork shoulder in a smoker is a traditional way to barbecue meat.
Many cooks encounter frustration when the pork shoulder reaches a certain internal temperature, which it holds for a long period of time. This is a normal phenomenon which can be easily explained and understood.
Why is my pork shoulder not getting up to the right temperature?
When you put your pork shoulder into the smoker, the temperature of the meat will begin to climb ever higher at the start of cooking.
However, when the internal temperature reaches between 150 and 170 degrees F, the speed of that increase will decline, and will level off at around 180 degrees F.
This is a routine process, and is referred to as the “stall.”
The “stall” is a frustrating feature of cooking a pork shoulder in a smoker, however there are some techniques that can help get past the slowdown in cooking temperature.
The internal temperature stall happens because of “evaporative cooling.”
As the temperature of the meat increases, it begins to lose fat and moisture due to the heat while cooking.
This lost moisture cools the meat by evaporation, and holds the temperature steady. The internal temperature cannot begin to rise again until the meat has lost all of its moisture by evaporation.
Pork shoulder stall at 180
As noted, the internal temperature of the pork shoulder increases to the temperature of the smoker, but only to a certain point.
That point or plateau is reached between internal temperatures of 150 and 170 degrees F. From that point on, the increase of internal temperature slows dramatically.
At an internal temperature of about 180 degrees F, the temperature rise will cease, or stall, altogether.
The internal temperature of the pork shoulder will obstinately refuse to increase to the target of 200 degrees F, but will instead hold steady.
This period can continue for a long time, perhaps as long as six hours, and can be quite irritating for beginning smokers.
It is a perfectly natural occurrence to encounter when smoking pork shoulder or other large cuts of meat for long periods of time at low cooking temperatures.
Many cooks have found ways to avoid or speed up the “stall,” and these techniques will be discussed below.
What should you do if your pork shoulder isn’t getting up to temperature?
This is a perfectly natural process and the pork shoulder will cook sooner or later.
There are a couple of techniques, popular in cooking other cuts of meat, which you should avoid in cooking pork shoulder, as they will increase the amount of time spent in the stall.
1) Don’t use a water pan. Water pans are often placed in smokers to keep meat moist.
Since the stall is caused by evaporating liquid, and will not end until the available moisture has evaporated from the pork shoulder, the water pan will simply increase the amount of time when the internal temperature of the meat remains at 180 degrees F.
2) Don’t baste the pork after putting it in the smoker.
While it is perfectly fine to prepare the meat in advance by basting it, attempting to baste it while in the smoker will simply add moisture to the meat, when we are hoping to see moisture boil off, and will add that moisture at a lower temperature than that of the smoker.
The basting will simply reduce the temperature of the meat further.
How to get a pork shoulder’s temperature up
The temptation is to increase the cooking temperature of the smoker.
As we discuss below, this should be avoided as it will not reduce the stall, which is caused by natural evaporation. In contrast, one way to speed through or avoid the stall is to increase the initial temperature of the smoker.
Ordinarily, setting the smoker to a temperature between 200 and 225 degrees F is considered the ideal way to cook a pork shoulder.
However, a smoker set at 300 degrees F from the very beginning will reduce the amount of time spent in the stall, or avoid it altogether.
Wrapping in tinfoil.
The pork shoulder should be wrapped when the internal temperature of the meat is between 150 and 170 degrees F. Wrapping the pork shoulder retains the moist steam boiled off by the cooking action.
This prevents cooling, and keeps the meat from remaining in the “stall” any longer than needed. The trapped moisture will also help the pork retain its flavor from juices and fats, which might be lost otherwise.
The basic choices for wrapping pork shoulder are tin foil and butcher paper.
Foil is preferable for wrapping the meat. Tin foil can be easily sealed, and provides better insulation for the meat.
The better insulation will help speed the cooking time, and it will help seal in the juices and moisture, leaving you with a better tasting pork shoulder. The drawback of tin foil is that the pork shoulder will lose some of the charring on its exterior.
Wrapping in butcher paper
If tin foil is not available, butcher paper makes an acceptable wrap for pork shoulder in a smoker. It will not reduce cooking time, like tin foil.
Butcher paper does not retain juice and moisture very well, so that will be lost in the cooking process. It is also difficult to work with and seal. It does produce a wonderful charred exterior on the pork shoulder, however.
Increasing smoker temperature
When confronted with the stall in internal temperature, the temptation is to turn up the temperature of the smoker in response.
It is perfectly normal for the internal temperature of the pork shoulder to reach a plateau for a time, and then, eventually, to increase once more.
Increasing the cooking temperature of the smoker will do nothing to speed the process up, and may succeed only in ruining the pork shoulder instead.
Checking the temperature with a meat thermometer
An accurate meat thermometer is an indispensable tool for anyone who barbecues or smokes meat often.
In the case of an internal temperature stall, a thermometer is a vital piece of equipment, as you will wish to know the temperature of the meat reliably.
Smoking meat, like any other good thing, is an exercise in patience over time.
It is perfectly natural for the pork shoulder in your smoker to have a temperature stall, and in the end, the solution is patience. It will eventually rise to its optimum temperature, and cook to perfection.