When it comes to preparing pulled pork, one of the most common questions is whether the pork should be cooled before pulling it. There are arguments on both sides of this issue, with some cooks insisting that hot pulling is the only way to go, while others argue that allowing the pork to rest and cool slightly first results in juicier and more tender meat. In this article, we’ll look at the reasons behind both approaches and help you decide which method may work best for you.
The case for hot pulling
Proponents of hot pulling argue that you should shred the pork immediately after cooking, while it is still piping hot. Here are some of their main arguments:
- It’s easier to shred – When the pork is hot and tender, it will pull apart very easily. The meat shreds smoothly without much effort.
- Maximizes moisture – Hot pulled pork is meant to be served immediately after shredding. If you let it cool too much, the meat can dry out. Pulling while hot helps lock in moisture.
- Enhances flavor blending – The hot pork will absorb any juices, rub, or barbecue sauce it’s mixed with for maximum flavor.
- Traditional method – Many barbecue experts argue that hot pulling is the traditional and authentic way to make pulled pork.
- Faster process – You can pull pork straight from the cooker and serve immediately, skipping an extra resting step.
Given these benefits, it’s easy to see why shredding the pork while piping hot has its ardent supporters in barbecue circles. If you want tender, fall-apart pork with rich blended flavors, hot pulling may be the way to go.
The case for cooling first
On the other side of the debate, many cooks and chefs argue that allowing the pork to cool slightly before pulling results in superior texture and moisture:
- Prevents overshredding – Hot pork can turn to mush if pulled too vigorously. Cooling firms it up so you can control shredding.
- Juicier meat – The cooler temperature helps lock in moisture as you shred.
- Easier to handle – You can pull pork into larger chunks if it has cooled a bit.
- Holds shape better – Pork that’s been cooled before pulling will be firmer and hold its shape when serving.
- Easier to reheat – Shredded pork that has cooled can be easily reheated later without overcooking.
Cooks who endorse this method often aim for an internal pork temperature of around 150??F before letting it rest and cool. At this temp, the collagen has broken down but moisture is still preserved.
How long to cool pork before pulling?
If you decide to let the pork cool before shredding, timing is important. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Don’t wait until completely cold – You still want the pork to be warm enough to pull easily.
- Rest for at least 30-60 minutes – This gives time for juices to redistribute.
- Aim for internal temp of 130-160??F – This is the ideal window for easier shredding with moisture locked in.
- Pull when still warm, not hot – Meat should be cool enough to handle but still warm to the touch.
Checking the internal temp periodically as the pork rests is the best way to monitor doneness and determine the prime window for pulling.
Some cooks strike a middle ground between the hot pull and cool pull camps. Here are two compromise methods worth considering:
Partial hot pull
This involves shredding a portion of the pork while hot, usually the most tender center sections. The ends or outer portions can then rest until easily shredded.
Rest under foil
After cooking, let the pork rest loosely tented in aluminum foil for 30-60 minutes. This steams it gently as it cools, keeping it warm and moist for pulling.
So should you pull pork while it’s piping hot or after it has cooled and rested? There are good arguments on both sides. Hot pulling prioritizes ease and blended flavors, while cooling advocates focus on moisture and texture. Much may come down to personal preference and the specific recipe.
For the juiciest pulled pork, cooling for at least 30-60 minutes before shredding does help lock in moisture. But the pork should still be warm enough to easily shred and absorb flavors. Finding the right window as the meat transitions from hot to warm can yield the best results. Experiment with both methods to see which works best for your preferences and recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do some recipes say to shred pork when hot?
Recipes often advise shredding pork immediately while hot because it shreds very easily at high temperatures when the collagen has broken down. Hot pulling also allows the pork to absorb any juices or sauce for maximum flavor blending.
What is the benefit of letting pork cool before pulling?
Letting pork rest and cool slightly before pulling can help lock in moisture and prevent overshredding. The meat firms up a bit when cooler, making it easier to shred into desired sizes and shapes.
How long should you let pork cool before pulling it?
For best results, pork should cool for at least 30-60 minutes before pulling to allow juices to redistribute. The goal is pork that is still warm but not piping hot when shredded, around 130-160??F internally.
Can you leave pulled pork to cool overnight?
It’s best not to leave pulled pork to cool in the fridge overnight before reheating. The shredded meat can dry out significantly when exposed to the air for that long. Reheat any leftovers within 2-3 hours after initially pulling the pork.
Is pulled pork better hot or cold?
Pulled pork is typically best served freshly cooked and still warm, rather than straight from the fridge. Cold pulled pork tends to lose moisture and can seem rubbery or dry. Gently reheat any leftovers to restore moisture and flavor.
Follow these steps for juicy, flavorful pulled pork using the cool pull method:
- 3-5 lb pork shoulder roast
- Dry rub (brown sugar, spices, etc)
- Barbecue sauce or liquid for braising
- Generously season the pork shoulder with dry rub 1-2 days before cooking. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
- Cook the pork at 225-250??F until internal temp reaches 200-205??F, about 1 hour per pound.
- Remove pork from heat and loosely tent with foil. Let rest for 45-60 minutes.
- Unwrap the pork and check temperature. It should read 130-160??F when ready to shred.
- Using two forks, shred and pull pork into strands, discarding excess fat or sinew.
- Toss pork with accumulated juices and barbecue sauce. Serve warm.
- Choose a fatty cut like shoulder for juicy pulled pork.
- Add liquid like broth or juice when cooking to keep pork moist.
- Pull a test section before shredding the entire roast.
- If pork seems dry, stir in reserved defatted cooking liquid.
The Science of Pulled Pork
Why does allowing pulled pork to rest make such a difference in moisture and texture? Here’s a look at the science behind it.
Collagen is the connective tissue that makes pork tough when raw but tender when cooked. As collagen slowly breaks down over low, moist heat, it transforms into rich gelatin.
When pork cooks, juices are driven toward the center. Resting allows these juices to slowly spread back out into the meat, keeping it moist as it cools.
There is an ideal temperature window of around 130-160??F when pork collagen has broken down but moisture remains. Pulling in this window prevents overshredding.
Watch out for these common mistakes when pulling pork:
Cooking the pork beyond 205??F can dry it out. Use a meat thermometer for accuracy.
Skipping rest time
Be patient and allow the pork to rest before shredding for juicier results.
Pulling too hard
Shred pork gently into larger pieces rather than pulverizing it into tiny strands.
Not reheating properly
Only reheat pulled pork to 165??F or moisture can be lost. Use broth or sauce to keep it tender.
Here are some tasty ways to serve juicy pulled pork:
Pile pulled pork on buns and add your favorite barbecue sauce. Serve with coleslaw and pickles.
Stuff warm tortillas with pulled pork, salsa, avocado, and shredded cabbage.
Top baked tortilla chips with pulled pork, cheese sauce, beans, salsa and jalapenos.
Wake up to savory pulled pork layered in a breakfast bowl or wrap.
Toss shredded pork with mixed greens, vegetables and a tangy vinaigrette.
Top pizza dough with tangy barbecue sauce, pulled pork, red onion and pineapple.
Store leftover pulled pork:
- In an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days
- In the freezer for 2-3 months
- Reheat gently in the oven or on the stovetop with sauce/broth
Allowing pulled pork to rest and cool slightly before shredding can yield juicier, more tender results than hot pulling. Aim for an internal temperature of 130-160??F before gently pulling into strands with two forks. Be sure to reheat any leftovers properly to avoid drying out the meat. With the right timing and technique, cooled pulled pork can give you the ideal texture and flavor.