Smoke it too long and it’s dry. Not long enough and you’re making people sick. So what’s the perfect internal temp for pulled pork?
In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you’ll learn:
- The perfect internal temperature for pulled pork
- Tips on when to pull it
- And much more!
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Best Internal Temp for Pulled Pork
The best pulled pork internal temp is 190° F, but you can go as far as 200°F if you have the patience to wait and prefer your meat to be a little more tender.
However, it’s crucial that you don’t leave the meat on the grill until it reaches 200 degrees because it will continue cooking after you pull it.
Pulled pork is called that because you want to be able to pull it apart with relative ease. If the meat is undercooked and you start shredding it before you reach at least 185, you’ll find it tougher and won’t come apart as easily. Pork can be a difficult meat if it isn’t treated with respect and patience.
Best Cut For Pulled Pork
Pork shoulder, or Boston butt, is simply the best for pulled pork. It has the perfect fat-to-meat ratio, and it pulls apart beautifully once it’s cooked to temperature.
Don’t be turned off by pork shoulders’ appearance at the grocery store; it’s not the most attractive cut. It’s also reasonably priced, which is fantastic, but some people associate that with lower quality. This isn’t the case.
You want to ensure you get one that isn’t too fatty or stringy, but you should be able to eyeball a quality cut with relative ease. It’s will look obviously bad if it’s bad.
Once you get your pork shoulder home, you want to spend a little time prepping it for the grill or smoker.
Depending on your taste and health consciousness, you may want to cut some of the fat off the shoulder. That’s your prerogative, and The Grilling Dad is merely a guide, but don’t cut too much of the fat off because when you throw it on the smoker, the fat will melt down and baste the meat making it much more tender.
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If you value your arteries over moist pork, good for you, but the flavor and texture will suffer for your aspirations to live forever.
Pulled pork can be for special occasions like the fourth of July, so if you’re cooking it, I encourage you to throw caution to the wind and leave the fat on for maximum flavor.
Smoker Temp For Pulled Pork
When you’re trimming the fat (hopefully not too much) from the shoulder, you’ll notice that it’s a relatively tough-looking cut of meat. At this point in the process, you may be doubting your skills and wondering how this would ever become a tender mass of pulled pork. The secret is patience in the form of cooking it low and slow.
Setting your grill to 250°F will cause the low heat to permeate the shoulder and melt the fat while basting the pork in delicious juices. High levels of collagen need time to cook down before the shoulder becomes tender.
Cooking it at a higher temp will cause you to sear the outside and undercook the inside. The point of pulled pork is an even cook throughout, so when you begin to shred it, you have an entire shoulder of tender meat.
Trust me; you don’t want to have to throw away pieces of pork that didn’t cook correctly; patience is always rewarded in the long run.
What’s Happening To the Pork While It’s Smoking?
Your pork shoulder’s journey to an internal temp of 185-200°F is a fascinating one. It isn’t like throwing something in the microwave; it’s an ancient process that takes time.
Right around 100 degrees, there are specific enzymes that begin a complex process of change that turn the meat from an inedible hunk of flesh into the hit of the party.
It’s all very scientific, and I’m giving you The Grilling Dad’s best overview, but I think it’s important to have a general understanding of what’s going on inside your grill and out.
Technically, your pork shoulder is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temp of 145°F, but you shouldn’t start making sandwiches with it until it gets a little hotter.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a great deal of collagen in the pork that needs time to turn to gelatin, and that won’t happen until around 160°F.
Porcine collagen, as the science people call it, does contain a lot of protein, but you want it to break down in your pulled pork because if it doesn’t have a chance to, you will have tough meat.
When we get close to the sweet spot of 185°F, the collagen turns to gelatin, and the gelatin helps to moisturize the meat and break down pesky muscle fibers.
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What Temp Should You Remove the Pork from Your Smoker?
You might be tempted to stick in the thermometer to check your pulled pork internal temp and think it’s okay to remove it at 160 degrees. This is your BBQ, and it tastes good, but maybe wait just a little bit longer and give that fat a chance to melt down further and tenderize the meat.
Remember, the shoulder will keep cooking for a time after pulling it, so keep that in mind when trying to hit the perfect internal temperature.
Depending on your target, either 190 or 200, consider taking the meat off the grill with a five to seven degree window on the lower side of your preferred temperature. If you’re shooting for 190, consider yanking it at 183. If 200 is more your speed and you’re not afraid of overcooking, 195 should be your mark.
If you want to tempt fate and try and hit 200 on the nose, you are drastically increasing your chances of overcooking and finding yourself with an unbearably dry pulled pork. If you can hit the temp perfectly, you will be rewarded with an exceptionally moist final product, so good luck to you.
Tips for Smoking Great Pulled Pork
Follow these tips for the most succulent, mouth-watering pulled pork you’ve ever tasted:
How lean you want your pulled pork is a matter of preference, so cut as much or as little fat off the shoulder as you wish. You will want to trim some of it off, but it really is up to you. I’ve expressed my concerns about over-trimming, so use your discretion.
Once you’ve trimmed to your specifications, rub that shoulder down with the dry rub of your choice. Don’t be afraid to coat it; much of that will melt off the surface and season the meat inside. You don’t want to be the person who serves bland pulled pork at such an important barbecue, do you?
If you have some time before you plan on cooking, throw it in the fridge overnight and let the rub work its magic. If you’re more pressed for time, cover it, and leave it out to let the shoulder get as close to room temperature as possible.
Prep the Smoker
Now you’re ready to rock, so set your smoker on a low 250°F. Depending on your cooker, you may have different settings, so consult your manual if there’s any confusion.
There are those that swear gas grills make the best pulled pork and others who love the smoky taste imparted by charcoal smokers or the pellet variety. In my opinion, if it’s seasoned correctly and cooked to the correct temperature, there’s no such thing as bad pulled pork.
Place your shoulder on the grill with the fat side up, and if you’re utilizing a meat thermometer, stick that baby in the thickest part of the meat, so it doesn’t fall out.
Related >> How To Calibrate A Meat Thermometer
Once it’s reached the optimal pulled pork internal temp, take it off the grill and wrap it in tin foil immediately. Let it rest for at least thirty minutes before you begin the shredding process. Don’t get too hasty; letting it rest is crucial for allowing all the juices to return to the meat and give you the best results.
At What Temperature Will Pulled Pork Stall?
Pulled pork will reach what is known as the “stall” or the slow down around 140°F-160°F. During this time, the temperature may not seem like it is rising anymore, but we promise that it will eventually. Stay diligent and don’t remove your pork from the smoker until it reaches 185°F.
How to Shred Pulled Pork
The best way to shred pulled pork is by using shredding claws which are specially made for shredding meat! But if you don’t have a pair of those on hand, you can also use two forks, or your hands!
Here’s how long you should smoke your pork shoulder for