Why isn’t my pork shoulder shredding?
A pork shoulder will not shred easily unless it has reached an internal temperature of at least 195 degrees.
Pork shoulders are an extremely tough piece of meat before being cooked and need to reach a high internal temperature to ensure all the collagen has broken down. Imagine collagen to be a protective sleeve surrounding each muscle tissue and holding the tissue in place. At 160 degrees, the collagen begins to break down leaving the muscle tissues with no structure. This lack of structure results in the meat becoming extremely tender and juicy. The secret of bbq is for the meat to cook above 160 degrees for as long as possible. The longer it stays above 160 degrees, the more collagen can break down resulting in perfect pulled pork.
Pork shoulders that are difficult to shred have not been over 160 degrees long enough for the majority of the collagen to break down. As a result, the meat will be dry and be very difficult to shred.
Is a pork shoulder undercooked or overcooked when it doesn’t shred?
A pork shoulder is undercooked when it does not shred.
Pork shoulder can be eaten at any internal temperature over 145 degrees. However, for the shoulder to shred easily, the temperature needs to be at a minimum of 195 degrees.
At 145 degrees, the collagen has not had a chance to break down and turn into gelatin. As a result, all the muscles are still tightly held together leaving the meat extremely tough.
An overcooked pork shoulder results in the meat being tender but dry. An overcooked pork shoulder will have an internal temp over 212 degrees. This high internal temperature results in any moisture the shoulder gained from the breakdown of the collagen evaporating out of the meat.
What internal temperature should the pork shoulder be so it can shred?
Pork shoulders should be at an internal temperature of 195-205 degrees to be shredded easily.
This internal temperature provides the time for the collagen to break down. After all the collagen breaks down the muscle tissues are left with no structure, making it extremely easy for the meat to be shred.
Before pulling the shoulder off the cooker, probe the meat in several different areas to ensure the whole shoulder is at the desired internal temperature.
How to fix a tough pork shoulder?
The best way to fix a tough pork shoulder is to continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 195 degrees.
If the shoulder was just pulled off the smoker and you find it to be still tough, throw it back on until it reaches the 195-205 degree target! The undercooked meat needs time for the collagen to break down and tenderize the meat. The shoulder is probably in the middle of the stall right now and after a couple of hours, it will transform into a delicious piece of meat!
If you are unfamiliar with the stall, it’s the part of the cook where the shoulder begins to sweat and pulls all the moisture from the middle of the meat to the outside. This keeps the meat’s temperature consistent and stops it from rising in temperature for several hours.
This is the reason why gauging a pork shoulder doneness should be based on its internal temperature, not the time it has been cooking. The stall can last anywhere from one to three hours and pulling the pork shoulder at least an internal temperature of 195 degrees is the best way to avoid tough pork.
Should you put it back on the cooker?
If you recently pulled the shoulder off the cooker and found it to be tough, you can place the shoulder back on the cooker!
When a pork shoulder comes out tough, it is just undercooked and can be saved! If you pulled the shoulder off and let it rest then found it to be tough, you can put it back on the cooker as long as the shoulder did not dip below an unsafe internal temperature of 145 degrees.
How long should pork shoulder sit before shredding?
Rest a pork shoulder anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before serving.
This provides a chance for the juices to redistribute themselves through the shoulder making every bite flavorful. Shoulders are a large piece of meat compared to other cuts and can benefit from a slightly longer rest time for the shoulder to absorb any liquid that may have escaped and redistribute them juices throughout the meat.
If you are eating later in the day the shoulder can be rested anywhere from 2 hours to as long as 6 hours in a cooler. Just wrap the shoulder in foil, preheat the cooler with boiling water, and line the cooler with towels. This will allow the shoulder to retain its temperature and stay food safe!