Pulled pork is made from the upper shoulder of the pig; a large cut called the butt which can weigh over 11 pounds.
Even with a portion lost to bone and fat, that’s a lot of meat and, unless you have many mouths over to help eat it, there will be leftovers.
And if you’re cooking ahead for a party or picnic, how can you bring a refrigerated or frozen butt back to hot and tender and ready for pulling?
Nothing beats hot off the grill; the goal is to get as close in flavor, moistness, and bark as possible.
In this article, we’ll look at how to reheat pulled pork from two perspectives, cooking ahead and leftovers. We’ll cover what to avoid, common reheating methods, and consider options and controversies on the road to reheated pulled pork perfection.
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Saved to Savor Another Day
The meal was great, and you and your guests are happy and just about full. But there’s still a lot of pulled pork leftover. You watch with regret as it cools, losing its fresh cooked perfection. But you’re happy, contemplating how good it will be the second time around. Because you have a method, right?
If you don’t, keep reading. If you do, keep reading and let’s compare notes.
Before exploring storage and reheating methods, let’s consider a deadly danger to avoid at all costs: dried out pork.
Dangerous and Disappointing Dry-out
The dreaded dry-out is the bane of every cook’s existence. When freshly off the fire, Meathead Goldwyn waxes poetic on freshly cooked meat:
hot juices, the connective tissues have melted and turned to luscious gelatin, the fat has rendered and lubricates the muscle fibers, browned surfaces are crunchy…
He then catalogs the dismal results of time and loss of heat: a loss of tenderness, juiciness, crispness (the bark), and flavor.
That being the case, the first step in moist and tender reheated pork is proper storage.
Putting Up the Pork
For the grilled in advance pork, keep it whole unless you know you’ll only have 15-20 minutes to reheat and serve. The longer it’s in one piece, the better it will hold onto its moisture.
If you’re going to pull before storage do so while the meat is still uncomfortably hot to the touch. You’ll have already invested in a set of heat-proof gloves, right? Here’s where they come in.
There are a couple of storage methods. They all involve minimizing air, sealing in moisture, and keeping safe temperatures, and necessarily require a fridge or freezer.
Wozniak Method – Originally developed by champion pitmaster Mike Wozniak, Meathead Goldwyn tweaked his method for cooking in advance:
- Once the pork has reached 175° F internally, tightly wrap it in aluminum foil. Be sure all edges are sealed off.
- Place foil-wrapped meat into a watertight plastic bag like a clean (fragrance-free) trash can liner.
- Bury in ice in a cooler.
- At this point, the meat is too hot for the refrigerator. It will raise the already-inadequate temperature of the fridge, taking stored foods out of their safe temperature ranges.
- Move the meat to the fridge when its temperature is in the 40s.
Heating the Pork
The pork was cooked low and slow; that’s the way to reheat it. Doing so preserves the moistness and flavor.
Pulled or whole, a pork butt can safely be refrigerated at 40° F for up to 4 days. If it’s been a while since the pork was cooked, step one is:
A cooked pork shoulder can be frozen 2 to 3 months, says the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Beyond three months it will still be good; just not as tasty.
Completely thaw meat in the fridge, giving a full 24 hours to do so.
Reheating Pulled Pork – 4 Common Methods
There are four commonly used methods (listed alphabetically, not by preference):
How to Reheat Pulled Pork on the Grill
Using direct heat will leach the moisture from the roast, leaving a large blob of dry. Avoid this by using the 2-zone indirect cooking method.
For charcoal grills, arrange charcoal to one side of the grill. For gas grills, keep one or two burners unlit.
- Heat the indirect side to 225° F.
- Take the (thawed) meat from the refrigerator and coat with barbecue
- Wrap pork in two layers of foil, adding ¼ cup of water before sealing it up.
- Place over indirect heat until the probe thermometer reads 165° F.
- Unwrap and place over direct heat for a few minutes to crisp up the bark.
- Remove from grill, pull pork, and serve.
Reheat it in the Microwave
Beyond the belief of diehard grillers that microwaving grilled food is sacrilegious, is the concern of chemicals from plastic contaminating foods. Harvard University set out to clarify this issue:
- Contrary to popular belief, microwaving in plastic containers will not leach dioxins (chemicals known to cause cancer) into your food. Plastic does not contain dioxin; burned things do. It’s why you don’t want to eat charred or burned food of any kind.
- Don’t use plastic wrap or storage bags because they, especially if in contact with fatty foods like meats, can leach two chemicals – bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates – used to help plastic hold its shape. These are known as endocrine disrupters – they interfere with how the body uses hormones, with seriously harmful effects. It’s with good reason that you now see plastic products promoted as BPA or phthalate-free.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates containers made for microwave use. Before it can have that safe statement on it, a food container manufacturer will have tested their product and delivered those test results to the FDA.
- If you’re still not convinced, use microwave-safe glass.
The microwave process is simple:
- Place food in a container that states it is microwave safe and cover. Safe covers include white paper towels, wax or parchment paper, and a domed container (glass or plastic)
- Microwave for just a couple of minutes until pork reaches 165° F. Consider using a medium or low setting to preserve moisture.
Kitchen Oven Reheating
Being indoors is necessary at times (bad weather, night), a time-saver (no firing and cleaning a grill), and a cost saver (no lighting fluid or charcoal).
- While the oven is preheating to 225°F, wrap the meat in a double layer of foil. Before closing the foil, compensate for moisture loss through evaporation or leakage by adding a few ounces of your liquid of choice such as: Apple juice, beer, broth or stock, water, white wine.
- Place wrapped meat in a baking pan.
- Bake until the internal temperature reaches 165° F.
- Broil a few minutes to restore some of the crispness of the bark.
- Remove from oven.
- Shred using oven-proof gloves or cut cross-grain with a cleaver and serve.
How to Reheat Pulled Pork Sous Vide (pronounced soo veed)
Sous Vide is French for “under vacuum“. It is another indoor method, done in a special kitchen appliance or on the stovetop.
In sous vide cooking, food is vacuum sealed in a watertight bag and placed into a bath of hot water (never boiling water) for the required cooking time.
According to SeriousEats.com, a moist pork shoulder can result from cooking 18 to 24 hours and being finished on the grill or in the stove.
This method lends increased moistness to the finished product. Once cooked, the pork could be stored for up to a week in the fridge.
But let’s stay with storing and reheating what’s come off the grill. MolecularRecipes.com offers general guidance; it would seem to make more sense to shred the pork before it’s frozen.
How much time you have before serving would likely be the biggest factor in choosing when to shred. Since it’s going into a hot water bath, thawing isn’t necessary.
- Place cooked pork into bags and vacuum seal
- Chill in an ice water bath for 45 minutes
When ready to serve:
- Bring a large pot of water to 165° F
- Immerse plastic bags for 45 minutes per inch of thickness
- If frozen, add an additional 30 minutes
- Check the internal temperature and once of a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit is reached, carefully remove from water bath and open bag
- If whole, pull pork and place on serving platter. Resting time is unnecessary.
A steam tray is ideal for serving but use one of the methods above to reheat.
According to barbecue fan forums, it’s a cinch to use a crock pot or slow cooker. Using either, the trick is to get the temperature up to 140° F (Note: BBQ Fans Forums said 140f, though I have to say to be completely safe you should take internal temp up to 165f to be sure it’s safe to eat!). Add moisture by folding in a little apple juice or defatted pork juice.
The gurus at America’s Test Kitchen say a two-step oven-skillet approach worked best for delivering a close-to-fresh tenderness and flavor.
Skip the foil, which created excess steam and made the reheat process take longer.
- Place uncovered roast on a rack set into a rimmed baking sheet.
- Heat at 250° F until the internal temperature reads 120° F, this usually takes 1½ hours or less, (Though again, I have to say you should reheat to 165f internal, to be sure it’s safe to eat!)
- Pat dry.
- Sear in an oiled skillet 1-1½ minutes per side.
- Remove from heat, pull, and serve.
Reheated and Ready to Serve – A Time or Two
How many times can pulled pork be reheated?
Some may be quick to say, “Just once!” because the yo-yoing of temperatures can encourage bacterial growth. But, based on wisdom from FSIS, food can be reheated more than once. There are a lot of “ifs” in this process:
- if when served the pork was kept above 165° F
- if it is refrigerated within 2 hours of serving
- if it’s stored at 40° F or below
Above and below those temperatures, lies the ‘Land of The Happy Bacteria Breeding Ground.’
Naturally, each reheat will mean a loss of flavor and texture. In the unlikely event you have a large surplus leftover pulled pork at the end of your picnic/dinner, freezing it would be the safest move. Just remember the longer it’s around, the lower the quality will be. It will be safe to eat, just not quite as enjoyable.
Grilled leftovers? Definitely yes. When done right, reheating pulled pork will deliver a good, satisfying barbecue experience worthy of the name.