Pulled pork is a classic barbecue dish that is made by cooking pork shoulder or butt low and slow until the meat becomes fall-apart tender. Once cooked, the pork is then shredded or “pulled” into strands using forks or your hands. It’s often slathered in a smoky, sweet and tangy barbecue sauce and served on buns for sandwiches.
One of the best things about pulled pork is that the large cuts of meat like pork shoulder and pork butt are very forgiving, meaning they can withstand prolonged cooking times without drying out. This makes pulled pork an ideal candidate for preparing in advance. However, since it is a meat product, you do have to take care when storing leftovers to prevent spoilage and foodborne illness.
How Long Does Cooked Pulled Pork Last in the Fridge?
Properly stored, cooked pulled pork will last 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. To maximize freshness and shelf life, follow these tips:
- Allow the pulled pork to come to room temperature before refrigerating. Covering and refrigerating while still hot can cause condensation that promotes bacteria growth.
- Store pulled pork in an airtight container. An airtight container prevents moisture loss and protects the pork from picking up odors from other foods.
- Refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking. Do not leave pulled pork at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Use within 3 to 4 days. After 3-4 days, the quality and flavor of the pork will decline.
If you cook a large batch of pulled pork that will not be consumed within 4 days, you can freeze the leftovers for longer term storage.
How to Tell if Pulled Pork has Gone Bad
It’s important to rely on both sight and smell to determine if cooked pulled pork has spoiled. Signs that pulled pork has gone bad include:
- An unpleasant or sour odor
- Slimy texture or slippery residue on the surface
- Discoloration, such as graying or green spots
- Mold growth, which may look fuzzy or web-like
If your pulled pork exhibits any signs of spoilage, it should be discarded. As the saying goes “when in doubt, throw it out” – don’t taste food that smells or looks suspicious.
How to Store Leftover Pulled Pork
Here are some recommended storage methods to maximize the shelf life of leftover pulled pork:
Refrigerate pulled pork in airtight containers or resealable plastic bags. Make sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing to prevent freezer burn. Use within 3 to 4 days for best quality.
For longer term storage, pulled pork can be frozen for 2 to 3 months. Portion the pork into useable amounts before freezing. Leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace in containers when freezing to allow for expansion. Defrost in the refrigerator before reheating.
Reheating Pulled Pork
Only reheat the amount needed and refrigerate the rest. Safe reheating methods include:
- Microwave – heat until warmed through, checking temperature with a food thermometer if possible. Minimum temp 165°F.
- Stovetop – heat in saucepan over medium-low, stirring occasionally.
- Oven – preheat oven to 325°F and bake until hot, about 20 minutes.
Bring pork to a safe internal temperature of 165°F when reheating. Only reheat once for food safety.
How Long Does Pulled Pork Last in the Freezer?
Frozen properly at 0°F, pulled pork that has been portioned for individual use will last for 2 to 3 months in the freezer. Pulled pork stored in the original packaging or in a large quantity may last 4 to 6 months.
To maintain quality, flavor, and moisture, pork that is frozen longer is best used in dishes like soups, stews, and chilis where the meat will be cooked in liquid.
Does Reheating Pulled Pork Ruin It?
Reheating previously cooked pulled pork does not necessarily ruin it or make it unsafe to eat as long as food safety guidelines are followed. However, the texture and moisture level can degrade with reheating. Here are some tips for keeping leftover pulled pork moist and flavorful:
– Portion into shallow containers before refrigerating so the pork cools quickly.
– Add a splash of broth, barbecue sauce or other liquid when reheating to add moisture.
– Reheat at a low temperature like 325°F in the oven or over medium-low on the stovetop to prevent drying out.
– Only reheat the amount needed and refrigerate the rest. Multiple reheating cycles accelerate moisture loss.
– Keep reheating time short. Check temperature early and remove immediately once the minimum safe temperature is reached.
– Consider repurposing leftover pulled pork by adding to soups, tacos, pizza and other dishes where the meat is coated in sauce or gravy. The additional liquid helps keep the pork tender when reheating.
Following proper storage times, temperatures and reheating methods can help extend the life of leftover pulled pork and keep it safe to eat without a huge drop-off in quality or texture.
Pulled pork that has been properly cooked and stored can last 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. Signs of spoiled pork include an unpleasant smell, slimy texture, and mold growth. For extended storage, pulled pork can be frozen for 2 to 3 months before quality begins to degrade. Reheating previously cooked pulled pork does not make it unsafe, but can dry it out. Reheat leftovers gently using liquid to maintain moisture and only reheat the amount needed. Following these guidelines allows you to safely enjoy delicious pulled pork for several days after cooking.