A stalled pork shoulder in the smoker can be one of the most aggravating things a BBQ enthusiast can confront.
Most people who are new to smoking meats may assume they have done something wrong. Maybe they put the smoker at the incorrect temperature? Or is it possible that the smoker has poor ventilation?
While both of these are plausible explanations, the truth is that a temperature stall is almost certainly unavoidable when smoking pork shoulder. So, more than likely, it isn’t your fault at all.
Why is My Pork Shoulder Temperature Dropping?
Before we get too far into this, let’s talk about the main reason this could be happening to your pork shoulder: the infamous Stall.
The goal of smoking pork shoulder is to cook it until the fats and connective fibres in the tissues break down and render. During resting, these broken-down juices redistribute back into the meat, resulting in a sinfully tender and savoury pork shoulder.
However, once the pork shoulder (or other smoked meats) reaches a certain internal temperature, all of the moisture begins to sweat out and move to the outside, where it evaporates. As a result, the meat cools. The rate at which the smoker cooks the pork cannot keep up with the rate at which its moisture cools it off. This is referred to as “Evaporative Cooling.”
However, the pork won’t stay stalled forever. It will only be stalled for as long as there is moisture for it to evaporate. The remaining moisture is retained by the broken-down collagens, proteins, and fats, which is exactly what you need for a creamy pulled pork.
The more moisture there is in the meat, the longer the stall will likely last.
The stall usually occurs between 150 and 175 degrees(F). This is roughly 5 hours into the smoke. Have a reliable meat thermometer on hand once the pork begins to creep up to 150 degrees (F) so you can accurately monitor it. Keep in mind that the stall could last anywhere from 2 to 8 hours, but it will eventually pass.
Poor Weather Conditions
There is no “off season” for smoking delicious meats and using a smoker in colder weather is perfectly fine. But it can slow down the cooking time if not carefully controlled.
In cold weather, 225°F may be insufficient to smoke a pork shoulder. You’ll need to turn up the heat and keep an eye on the meat, so it doesn’t overcook.
Windy conditions can also be problematic. Wind can “steal” heat from the smoker and direct it away from the meat, causing it to stall.
(Extremely hot conditions have the opposite effect and can cause the meat to smoke too quicky.)
Too Much Basting/Spritzing
Basting the pork shoulder while it cooks or spritzing it with apple cider vinegar or apple juice, is a regular thing. However, if you use a heavy hand while doing this, you may accidentally add too much moisture, forcing it to cool or prolonging the stall. A classic case of “too much of a good thing”.
The Water Pan
Water pans are regarded as a double-edged sword in the smoking community. A water pan’s purpose is to help stabilise the temperature inside the smoker. It redirects the heat and distributes it evenly to the pork shoulder because it sits directly above the coals and directly beneath the meat.
However, the added moisture inside of the smoker can cause the meat to smoke more slowly.
The more fat there is on the pork, the longer it will take to smoke. People who prefer skin-on or untrimmed pork shoulder are more likely to encounter this issue, as skin-on pork shoulder has a larger fat puck. That fat will require more time to break down completely and may trigger a stall.
How Can I Increase the Pork Shoulder Temperature?
Using a Wrap
This is the most popular way of helping pork to move past a stall. By removing it from the smoker, quickly wrapping it, and returning it to the smoker.
The wrap’s purpose is to trap as much heat as possible within. The more heat the wrap captures, the faster the moisture evaporates, and the quicker pork escapes the stall.
Tin foil or butcher paper can be used as a wrap, though butcher paper is more popularly used.
This is due to the fact that tin foil can actually wrap too securely. This can result in an excessive amount of moisture being captured, which can degrade the bark.
Butcher paper, on the other hand, provides a more ventilated wrap. This will support in the health of the bark.
Can I Increase the Temperature of The Smoker?
Yes, turning up the heat can help a stalled pork shoulder, but it’s not recommended.
Increasing the heat may get the pork shoulder to an acceptable temperature and out of the stall, but the fats and tissues require adequate time to break down and reabsorb.
Increasing the temperature of the smoker can cause the pork to become tough and difficult to shred.
Don’t be alarmed if you notice your pork shoulder temperature dropping or refusing to rise; it happens to everyone.
This could happen for a variety of reasons, some of which may not even be your fault. Just keep in mind:
• The stall is normal and happens to everyone. It will not remain stalled indefinitely and will eventually move itself out.
• If you suspect that the stall is not the source of the problem, inspect your equipment and ensure that the smoker’s lid is secure and properly ventilated.
• Avoid cranking up the heat on the smoker to get through a stall. Instead, try wrapping the pork.
• Keep an eye on how much you baste the pork. Too much basting can result in an excess of moisture.