Pork shoulder temps for slicing and pulling
As a rule, pork shoulder in a smoker is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 200°F. There will be no resistance when you attempt to probe the meat with a fork or toothpick.
This is a good rule to follow when making pulled pork on the smoker. After the pork is removed from the smoker, it should rest and the internal temperature should fall to 160 degree°F before you pull it apart and serve it.
If you want to have pork shoulder for slicing, you will have to reduce the internal cooking temperature somewhat, so that the meat doesn’t completely fall apart.
Why is it important to wait for pork shoulder to come down in internal temperature?
The pork shoulder needs to rest in order to let the juices distribute within the meat.
If this is not done, then the juices will flow away on to the plate and be lost. This will leave the meat stringy and tough.
Should you let pork shoulder come down in temperature before pulling it apart?
Pork does not need to come down to room temperature before slicing or pulling apart.
However, it should rest between three and ten minutes before serving.
This will allow the juices in the meat to settle. Serving the pork before that time could cause the juices to be lost, and the pork will be dry.
How do you know when pork shoulder is fully cooked?
The answer to this question depends on whether you intend to turn that lovely pork shoulder into pulled pork or sliced meat for platters or sandwiches.
If you intend to make pulled pork, then the pork shoulder is fully cooked when the internal temperature reaches 200°F in the thickest part of the meat.
If the temperature rises much higher, the meat will become tough. Similarly, under-cooked pork shoulder will remain tough.
If you intend to slice the meat, there are two differences to keep in mind.
In order to be able to slice the pork shoulder, it must be de-boned at some point.
That is a difficult process for a beginner, so unless you have removed a pork shoulder bone before, it is probably a good idea and a time-saver to ask the butcher at your meat counter to do it in the store.
Removing the bone will leave a ragged end which must be tied up with cooking thread before putting the pork shoulder in the smoker.
This will prevent any thin edges from over cooking and becoming dry, and will make the shoulder easier to slice later.
Because we are making a pork roast in a smoker, rather than in a roasting tray in an oven, we want the temperature to be a little lower than for pulled pork.
We want pulled pork to be 200°F internally, because that allows the collagen in the pork enough heat and time to turn into gelatin. This transformation breaks down the meat.
The pork shoulder is no longer tough, but it is juicy and tasty, and ready to fall apart on your fork.
In contrast, we want pork shoulder intended for slicing to hold together.
We want some of the collagen to turn to gelatin, to give it flavor and remove the toughness, but we want some of the structure to remain, so that the meat stays in one piece for slicing.
An internal temperature of 175°F will be more than sufficient to cook the pork shoulder.
The temperature of 175°F is also sufficient to meet the USDA food guidelines for cooking meat safely, and should be enough to kill any micro-organisms in the meat.
Cooking pork shoulder for slicing is different, and adds variety to your barbecue.
It can also be a great time-saver. A pork shoulder cooked for pulled pork may take as long as eighteen hours to smoke properly to the higher temperature.
By reducing the temperature, many hours may be saved, and it is reasonable to assume that a pork shoulder for slicing can be cooked in six or seven hours.
The pork shoulder probe test
Your pork shoulder is fully cooked when it is fork-tender. That means that a fork or toothpick can easily pierce the meat without resistance.
The pork will fall apart easily with only a little pressure. This is particularly important if you have removed the bone from the pork shoulder. If the pork is cooked on the bone, then the meat should be about to fall off the bone.
Letting it rest properly
Whether you are cooking your pork shoulder for pulled pork or for sliced pork, it is important to let the meat rest properly before serving it.
A rest period of between three and ten minutes is appropriate.
During this period, the internal temperature of the pork will actually begin to increase, and may increase by as much as 10°F.
Some people prefer to rest pork shoulder even longer using a cambro, either purpose-built or improvised from materials around the house.
A cambro is an insulated box, used by caterers, designed to keep food above 140°F.
To improvise a cambro, begin by wrapping your pork shoulder in tinfoil.
You then place the pork shoulder in the smallest cooler you can find that will hold the meat.
Some people prefer to fill the cooler with hot water, others prefer to wrap the meat in towels to keep the heat in. Either way, the cooler will hold the heat in, and keep the pork warm while it rests,
However, smoked pork shoulder which is treated like a pork roast for sliced meat can make a welcome change to the smoked meat menu.
In addition to being different, this method of preparation has the added virtue of saving time.