You can’t beat a tasty pulled pork bun filled with beautifully tender pork, marinated in a delicious barbecue sauce.
There’s just something so moreish about the meat that has been cooked slowly for several hours at a time.
But in order to avoid any unwanted foodborne bacteria and to ensure that your pulled pork is ready to eat, you will need to ensure that it reaches a certain internal temperature.
So what is the best internal temperature for pulled pork?
First we will need to know the optimal temperature for both pork shoulder and pork butt, as these will need to be slow cooked first before they can be shredded for pulled pork.
This is of course 195℉ so that the meat has finished cooking properly.
Today, we’re going to cover everything that you need to know about the optimal internal temperature for pork, as well as how you can create your very own pulled pork.
So you’ll have everything that you need to create your favorite treat from the comfort of your very own grill.
Let’s get started with everything you need to know about the internal temperature for pulled pork!
The Optimal Internal Temperature For Pulled Pork
As we all know, pulled pork doesn’t start off as that shredded delicious treat. First, you will need to cook either pork shoulder or pork butt so that you can shred it later once it’s had a chance to cook.
But when you’re cooking your pork over a slower heat, you will need to ensure that it has reached a certain internal temperature first so that you know it’s 100% safe to eat.
The optimal internal temperature for pork shoulder and pork butt is 195℉.
This is the absolute minimum internal temperature it will need to reach before it will become softened enough to shred using your fork.
If you allow your pork to reach an internal temperature of between 200℉ to 205℉, this will make the meat even more tender, and therefore even easier to shred apart.
It would be recommended to allow it to reach this higher temperature if you can, however, you will need to ensure that you don’t overcook it so that it becomes tough and chewy.
All You Need To Know About Pork Shoulder
You can of course use virtually any cut of pork that you would like to in order to turn it into pulled pork.
However, the best cut of meat to use will be either the pork butt or the pork shoulder.
It’s easy to feel intimidated by this cut of meat if you’ve never had to cook with it before. But it’s really not as intimidating as you first think.
All you really need to do is ensure that you leave the cut of pork to cook for longer in the smoker.
Even though you may want to cut off any excess bits of fat that you find on your pork shoulder, this isn’t recommended.
This fat will naturally baste your meat as it cooks, which gives you the tender, moist meat that you’re after.
When your pork shoulder has finished cooking, you will notice that there are actually less obvious amounts of fat than when you first started the whole cooking process.
Another fantastic thing about pork shoulder or pork butt is that it’s a fairly cheap cut of meat.
This is because it’s often considered to be quite fatty, so you won’t have to pay as much for this cut of meat as you would for other larger cuts of meat.
The Secret To Getting Beautifully Tender Pulled Pork
So now that we know what the internal temperature of your pork will need to be, as well as which cut of pork will be best, we can start to look at how to make tasty pulled pork at home.
You will of course want to use the correct cooking method, especially when cooking meat over a longer period of time.
If you don’t cook your meat correctly, this could leave you with overcooked meat that is chewy and tough. Exactly what you don’t want to achieve when you’re trying to create pulled pork!
The key to achieving this tender, soft goodness that we need for pulled pork is to set your grill temperature as low as 250℉.
The trick will then be cooking your pork over a longer period of time in the smoker.
Cuts of pork such as pork shoulder and pork butt tend to have a high collagen content. When this is cooked over a longer, slower cooking process, this allows the collagen to break down into gelatin.
This is what helps to keep the pork moist as well as tender enough to make pulled pork. So this is why you should always opt for pork shoulder instead of other cuts of pork that are leaner.
What Happens During The Cooking Process?
So how exactly does this cooking process help us to get beautifully tender pulled pork?
When your pork shoulder or pork butt is cooked over a lower heat for a longer period of time, it allows this collagen to break down into gelatin, as we have discussed above. But how does this work?
When you start your pork shoulder off at 105℉, this allows specific enzymes inside the collagen to start to denature.
This is when the collagen starts getting turned into gelatin, which effectively bastes the meat as it cooks, and therefore keeps it moist.
Once your pork shoulder has started to cook over 120℉, it will gradually become opaque. You will notice that any red meat such as steak cooked at this temperature will become pink.
Next along the cooking process starts to reach the higher temperature of 140℉, which is when the pork shoulder will again change color from that slight pink to a tempting brown.
Now here is where you want to be careful, as if you cook your pork shoulder at any temperature higher than this, you will be risking it becoming tough and chewy.
In order for your pork to be safe to eat, you will need it to reach an internal temperature of 145℉.
But if you stop cooking your pork shoulder when it has reached an internal temperature of 145℉, it won’t be tender enough to shred into pulled pork.
You will need to wait until your pork shoulder has reached a higher internal temperature of between 195℉ to 200℉.
This is because collagen will continue to be converted to gelatin until the meat has reached an internal temperature of roughly 160℉.
This is considered to be the sweet spot for cooking, as the collagen will convert into gelatin even quicker at this point, up until it reaches 180℉.
This causes the tasty muscle fibers of your pork shoulder to loosen up and reach that tenderness that we are looking for.
So it may appear at first that the meat is drier than we need it to be, but there will actually be lots more gelatin throughout the meat.
When Should You Remove The Pork From Your Smoker?
Now that we understand the optimal internal temperature of pork shoulder a little better, you may be wondering if you can remove your cut of meat from your grill once it has reached the 160℉ mark on your digital meat thermometer. The answer is no, you shouldn’t remove it just yet!
This is because you will want to make sure that all of that delicious fat has had a chance to render during the cooking process, which will then make the whole shredding process even easier.
The optimal internal temperature of pork shoulder if you intend to make pulled pork is 195℉. You can even allow your pork shoulder to cook until it reaches 200℉.
This will ensure that your pork will be beautifully tender and ready to shred and place in your chosen marinade.
For truly soft pork, you can even leave your cut of meat on your grill until it reaches an internal temperature of around 205℉ to 205℉.
If you let it cook for longer than this, you will run the risk of it becoming overcooked.
Cooking Your Pork Butt Over 195℉
So to cook your pork shoulder or pork butt ready for making pulled pork, you will need to trim off any excess fat.
Remember not to overdo it so that some fat can baste the pork while the joint of meat cooks.
Now is also the time to season your cut of pork with any barbecue rub that you would like to. Allow your pork to rest around room temp for at least half an hour before you start to cook it.
Preheat your smoker or grill so that it’s ready to go. For a propane grill, you will need to set the heat on a low to medium heat.
If you have a charcoal grill, you will need to build up your fire so that it’s ready to go. If you are using a pellet grill, you will need to set it to around 225℉.
Using a pellet grill is an excellent way to flavor your pork with your preferred choice of wood chips.
You can also add wood chips over the coals in your charcoal fire, or add a smoker tube to your propane grill filled with the wood chips of your choice.
Now you can finally place your cut of pork onto your grill rack. Make sure to place the fat facing upwards so that any fat that renders can baste the meat as it cooks.
If you are using the type of probe thermometer that will allow you to measure the internal temperature of your pork as it cooks, then you will need to insert this so that the tip is inside the middle of the meat.
Make sure to avoid placing it so that it touches any bone, as this will alter the reading.
Now you can close your grill’s lid and leave your pork shoulder to cook for around 2 hours for every pound.
Once your pork shoulder has reached an internal temperature of around 160℉, you will notice that it doesn’t rise again for a couple of hours.
This is known as the stall by keen smokers. You can either wait until the temperature starts to rise, or you can use the method known as Texas crutch to get this cooking process to hurry up.
This will require taking your pork shoulder off your grill once it reaches this 160℉ point, then covering it in aluminum foil.
Place your now covered pork shoulder or pork butt onto your grill, then allow it to cook until it reaches the 195℉ mark or 205℉ if you are aiming for the higher temperature.
Sometimes using this aluminum foil method can cause the bark of the pork to become soft.
So for those who enjoy a crisper bark, they prefer to wait it out in terms of internal temperature.
You can also then remove the aluminum foil around 20 to 30 mins before your pork has finished cooking if you want it to stay crispy on the outside.
Once your pork shoulder has reached your preferred internal temperature, you can then remove it from the grill.
You can then wrap it in aluminum foil if you haven’t done so already, and you will then need to leave it to rest for anything between 30 minutes to 2 hours before you attempt to start shredding the meat.
Tips For Shredding Your Cooked Pork
There are several methods that you can use for shredding your now cooked pork shoulder.
You can try to simply shred it using your fingers if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.
This is an excellent way to get rid of any gristle or excess fat that might have been left over after you’ve finished cooking. But it will take a long time to use this method.
Another popular method is to use a pair of forks to shred your pork shoulder.
Simply turn the fork tines so that they are facing outwards, and then use this to separate the meat into tender shredded chunks.
You can also use shredding claws if you plan on making this recipe regularly.
Lastly, you could use a hand mixer to help shred your pork shoulder. While this is considered to be the quicker method for shredding your pork, it runs the risk of making your delicious meat mushy.
So there you have it! You now know everything there is to know about cooking pulled pork to perfection.
You will need to ensure that your pork shoulder or pork butt reaches an internal temperature of between 195℉ to 205℉ so that it will be beautifully tender and easier to shred for your pulled pork.
This will typically mean cooking it over a longer period of time, over a slower heat.
You now have everything that you need to create tasty, unforgettable pulled pork any time that you want to.
Simply select the best cut of meat, set your grill to the right heating settings, and cook away! We hope that you enjoy creating pulled pork from the comfort of your very own grill.
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