Pulled pork is a classic barbecue dish that takes time and care to prepare properly. The pork shoulder or butt is rubbed with spices, smoked or roasted low and slow until fall-apart tender, then shredded or “pulled” into bite-size pieces. The smoky, succulent pulled pork is then served on buns, nachos, baked potatoes, or other dishes, often topped with a tangy barbecue sauce.
Can Pulled Pork Be Left Out Overnight?
One frequent question home cooks have is whether you can safely leave pulled pork out at room temperature overnight after cooking and shredding it. There are a few factors to consider when determining if overnight pulled pork storage is a good idea or potential food safety risk.
The 2-Hour Rule
The general food safety guideline for cooked foods like roasts, stews, and pulled pork is not to leave them sitting out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Bacteria grow rapidly between 40°F and 140°F. Leaving foods that can spoil in this “danger zone” for too long allows bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Clostridium perfringens to multiply to unsafe levels that could lead to foodborne illness.
Effects of Spices
Heavily spiced foods like pulled pork may have more leeway for safe room temperature storage. Many spices and herbs, including chili peppers, garlic, salt, and oregano, have natural antimicrobial properties that help control bacteria growth. The acidic barbecue sauce or vinegar coleslaw typically served with pulled pork can also make the pork less hospitable for fast bacterial overgrowth.
Amount of Pork
A large batch of pulled pork like for a crowd may be more prone to bacterial growth issues if left at room temperature too long. A smaller amount of shredded pork that cools faster initially may be safer for a longer period than a big steaming pot or roasting pan full. It depends on the total volume and how quickly the pork cools down after cooking through the danger zone temperature band.
Pork Internal Temperature
Properly cooking the pork to at least 145°F internal temperature, then maintaining temperature control after shredding, helps reduce the initial bacterial load for safer room temperature holding. Pork not cooked to a high enough safe final internal temperature before shredding allows more bacteria to survive and multiply faster at room temperature.
Like any cooked food that sits uncovered overnight, there is also the risk of environmental contamination from insects, rodents, pets walking nearby, or other sources. Even if the pork itself would be safe after overnight room temperature storage, foreign contaminants could be introduced.
What Do Food Safety Experts Recommend?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service advises against letting any cooked meat, poultry, fish, or egg dishes, casseroles, or soup sit out at room temperature longer than 2 hours before putting them in the refrigerator. They recommend 1 hour if the room is over 90°F.
The USDA particularly warns against letting large batches or containers of food stay in the danger zone too long and reiterates the 2-hour maximum guideline for party platters, big pots of soup or stew, and large roasts like a pork shoulder before refrigerating leftovers. Food safety specialists with the Mayo Clinic and North Carolina State University Extension service agree pulled pork should not be left out more than 2 hours after cooking before chilling.
Overnight Fridge Storage
Instead of room temperature, storing pulled pork overnight in the refrigerator is the safest bet. According to the USDA, cooked pork roasts and other meat dishes should be refrigerated in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking to help them cool down through the danger zone faster. Then they are safe for storage in the fridge 3 to 4 days.
You can keep leftover pulled pork refrigerated for the same recommended time period of 3 to 4 days. Make sure to reheat it fully to an internal temperature of 165°F before serving again.
Freezing Pulled Pork
For longer term storage of leftover pulled pork, you can safely freeze it for 2 to 3 months. Portion the meat into usable amounts in freezer bags or containers allowing headspace for expansion. Try adding some of the barbecue sauce or other pan juices to keep it moist and flavorful. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
Can You Leave Pulled Pork Out Overnight: The Verdict
Food safety experts caution against leaving freshly cooked pulled pork or other meats out at room temperature overnight. The danger zone between 40-140°F is prime territory for bacteria like Staph and Clostridium perfringens to multiply to unsafe levels that could cause food poisoning. Your best bet is to refrigerate pulled pork within 2 hours of cooking.
Tips for Safely Handling Pulled Pork
Here are some top food safety tips for handling pulled pork:
- Cook pork to at least 145°F internal temperature.
- Hold hot pork for serving at 140°F or higher.
- Refrigerate pork within 2 hours of cooking.
- Store cooked pork in shallow containers in the fridge.
- Use pulled pork leftovers within 3-4 days.
- Reheat pulled pork to 165°F until hot.
- Freeze extra pulled pork for longer storage.
The Bottom Line
Leaving freshly cooked pulled pork out on the counter, stove, or buffet table overnight is generally not recommended. To be safe, you should refrigerate any leftovers in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Then use within 3 to 4 days or freeze pulled pork for longer storage. Taking these simple food safety precautions helps prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and reduces the risk of foodborne illness from delightful barbecue pulled pork.
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Can I store pulled pork at room temperature overnight after cooking it?
No, food safety experts do not recommend leaving freshly cooked pulled pork or other meat dishes out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. To prevent bacteria growth, refrigerate pulled pork in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking.
How long can pulled pork sit out after being cooked?
Pulled pork should not sit out for more than 2 hours after cooking before being refrigerated. The danger zone between 40°F and 140°F is ideal for rapid bacteria growth on perishable foods.
Can you reheat pulled pork that has been left out overnight?
It is not recommended to reheat pulled pork or any meat that has been left out overnight. The potential bacteria growth creates an unsafe risk of foodborne illness. Leftover pulled pork should be discarded if left at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
Is leftover pulled pork safe to eat after a week in the fridge?
Properly stored pulled pork will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator according to USDA guidelines. After a week, it is best to discard leftover pulled pork even if refrigerated the entire time.
Can you freeze leftover pulled pork?
Yes, pulled pork can be frozen for longer term storage. Portion into usable amounts, allowing headspace and seal in freezer bags or containers. Frozen pulled pork should maintain best quality for 2 to 3 months before use.