Pulled pork generally comes off a larger portion after it has been thoroughly cooked soft, and the meat is infused with melted fat from the heat process. This is what gives pulled pork such an intense taste and culinary experience when served.
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However, what a lot of folks don’t know is that the meat may have been cooked at least a half day before and was kept warm for hours after it was taken off the stove or grille.
The sitting process, usually in some kind of insulated container, helps the meat prepare even more. This is the benefit of a cooler approach to resting a pork shoulder or pork butt after cooking.
Why put pulled pork in a cooler?
If any kind of meat is brought out of the oven or grille and left on a plate in the open air, it’s going to lose its internal heat very quickly and revert back to room temperature.
This loss of heat can actually make the food unsafe to eat if not served right away.
Generally, meat will cool down within about 15 minutes after being taken out of an active cooking environment. However, if the heat is contained and prevented from dissipating, the meat can cook much longer. This is done through a insulated cooler process.
What does placing pork shoulder in a cooler do?
A typical cooler, or warming container in professional kitchen applications, allows cooked pork to continue to maintain its high heat after being pulled out of the direct heat location. This does a couple of things.
First, it allows the meat to slowly reduce in heat from its ideal internal heat point before it starts to begin burning.
The slower process then allows the meat juices, which have been pushed outward to the edge as the cooking process occurs, to return to the core of the meat. And finally, the meat keeps cooking, softening even further as a result of the sitting processing in an insulated container.
A cooler is ideal for home equipment as it is insulated and will keep the heat of the food trapped inside for hours if the inside is also layered and insulated as well.
Letting the juices soak back into the meat
The insulation process does eventually lose the heat built up in cooking and carried by the meat, but it is a much slower process than if the pork was exposed to open air.
Doing so reduces the shock to the meat with the temperature change. Fast-dropping temperature tends to dry out the pork, even when pulled. Instead, with a slow drop, the meat stays moist and extremely tasty to eat, a particular feature people really love about pulled pork prepared and served correctly.
What temperature should pulled pork be stored at?
For safe eating prior to refrigeration, pulled pork should be stored until it gets to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Once meat gets below that level, leaving it out for an extended period allows bacteria to build up, which in turn can create food poisoning risks. When meat is cooled below that point, it should be stored in a refrigerated container that stops the bacterial process that will otherwise occur. Left too long, and the meat goes bad and should be thrown away entirely.
Foil, towel, cooler
Remember, layers are the key to trapping the meat’s heat in, especially with pulled pork that has been shredded already. This otherwise allows the heat from cooking to escape even faster. Simply put the entirety of the meat together inside a foil wrap and close tightly without gaps of air.
Then wrap it in towels and place inside an appropriate size cooler without much room or empty space. The whole process will enhance the remaining resting and internal cooking of the meat. And you’ll end up with a really tasty dinner.
The length of time letting the pulled pork rest is a bit of a personal choice. Again, temperature is the key, so you should always measure with a meat thermometer.
Once you’re getting near 140 degrees, it’s serve or store. Some folks are able to maintain a resting pork for up to four hours. Others swear by an hour or two at best after cooking. Find your sweet spot with practice and experience. And by all means, enjoy your hard work!
This article was written by Robert McCall, the founder of bbqdropout.com. Robert also owns and operates the BBQ dropout YouTube channel where he demonstrates his first-hand experience cooking all kinds of meats and strives to provide helpful, authoritative content for people looking how to barbecue.
He primarily hand writes the bulk of the content but occasionally will leverage AI assisted tools, such as chatGPT, to properly edit and format each blog post on this website. This ensures a pleasurable reading experience for visitors. Read more about our editorial policies here. If there are any improvements that can be made to this article, reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org