How to Reheat Pulled Pork – Keeping it Moist and Delicious

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?

Close up of reheating pulled pork in a sous vide bath
© Mark Jenner / FoodFireFriends.com

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.

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:

  1. Once the pork has reached 175° F internally, tightly wrap it in aluminum foil. Be sure all edges are sealed off.
  2. Place foil-wrapped meat into a watertight plastic bag like a clean (fragrance-free) trash can liner.
  3. Bury in ice in a cooler.
    1. 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.
  4. 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:

The Thaw

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.

  1. Heat the indirect side to 225° F.
  2. Take the (thawed) meat from the refrigerator and coat with barbecue
  3. Wrap pork in two layers of foil, adding ¼ cup of water before sealing it up.
  4. Place over indirect heat until the probe thermometer reads 165° F.
  5. Unwrap and place over direct heat for a few minutes to crisp up the bark.
  6. 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:

  1. 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)
  2. 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).

  1. 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.
  2. Place wrapped meat in a baking pan.
  3. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 165° F.
  4. Broil a few minutes to restore some of the crispness of the bark.
  5. Remove from oven.
  6. 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.

  1. Place cooked pork into bags and vacuum seal
  2. Chill in an ice water bath for 45 minutes
  3. Freeze

When ready to serve:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to 165° F
  2. Immerse plastic bags for 45 minutes per inch of thickness
    1. If frozen, add an additional 30 minutes
  3. Check the internal temperature and once of a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit is reached, carefully remove from water bath and open bag
  4. If whole, pull pork and place on serving platter. Resting time is unnecessary.

Other Options

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.

  1. Place uncovered roast on a rack set into a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. 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!)
  3. Pat dry.
  4. Sear in an oiled skillet 1-1½ minutes per side.
  5. 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.

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com. I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

8 thoughts on “How to Reheat Pulled Pork – Keeping it Moist and Delicious”

  1. Hey Mark, this was really helpful. I wanted to know if I could reheat my pulled pork leftovers (again) and this post answered the question. It’s saved me time cooking another meal today, and instead be able to work on something I really needed to do this week! So thank you for taking the time to share your tips and knowledge, and giving me time in the process :). Jay

    • Glad it helped, Jay. Thank you 🙂

  2. Hello! Once you wrap it in the foil, around how long would it take to heat up in an oven roster??

    • Hi Christine,

      This can depend on so much, such as how moist the meat is, any liquids added, overall weight, size and shape of what’s being reheated (thickness in inches and hence how long heat takes to get to the centre) so it’s very hard to judge and is why I added to cook to a temperature, not a time. I use my smoker thermometer, probe into centre and have the wire coming out of the top of the oven door into the thermometer unit and just go by temp.

  3. An emergency caused me to remove a Boston Butt from the smoker at 170 degrees. I left it whole, wrapped in foil and refrigerated it over night. Can I put in the oven until it reaches the desired 200 degrees internal, rest it, and shred it for “pulled pork”?

    • Hi Michael,

      Yes, this would be fine as long as it’s still ‘fresh’ when removed from the fridge (i.e. not left in there for weeks and it turns!).

      The fact it was taken to 170 degrees will have killed all surface germs, and it’s been refrigerated so no new ones should have grown – and it was smoked until 170, with smoke on the surface being a preservative. The fact it was wrapped before cooling will have kept as many juices in as possible, and having only been taken to 170f, the connective tissues will not have melted, and all the fat will not have rendered out, plus the fact a butt is so fatty and forgiving a cut to smoke i’m sure it will still be moist after resuming cooking.

      I guess it won’t be quite as good as if it was cooked right through in one go, instead of a pause and refrigeration mid-process, but I’d also be willing to bet in a blind taste test if it was put up beside one cooked right through, that very, very few people would be able to tell the difference, especially after pulling it and adding sauce.

  4. Why is there a difference in temperature depending on the reheating method? For th crock pot method it is 140, but for microwave it is 165? What if the whole shoulder is put away at 40 for a few days? Is it better to pull it and then heat it or heat it and then pull it?

    • Hi Leva,

      That is a very good question…and I don’t have a solid answer! The times and temps were taken from other peoples advice and curated into this content. However, after you pointing out the discrepancies, it’s made me think:

      All ‘official advice’ is to make sure reheated meat is taken to above 165f. And as a public facing website, I have to agree and MUST also state this, otherwise I could potentially put people in danger if they reheat food unsafely!

      Therefore I have just gone back through the article and updated all temps to 165F reflect this.

      The thing is, many people in BBQ / smoking circles argue that meat which has been rubbed (containing salt) and smoked – such as pork butt normally is – has effectively been preserved, because salt and smoke have been used to preserve meat for centuries (or millenia?), so it doesn’t have to be taken to too high a temperature to kill bacteria, the salt and smoke keeps them away. And they like to not go so high, because there’s danger of the meat being dried out further.

      This might be partially true. However, pork butt is so fatty and moist, it will not dry out.

      But more importantly, there is the issue that the meat has been pulled, the insides exposed, and most of the inside has NOT been in contact with salt or smoke, so can easily pick up and grow bacteria (in my opinion.)

      So I agree that the meat should be taken up to 165F and I have changed the article to be in line with this.

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