How Long to Thaw Pork Shoulder: Deadline for Defrosting

December 9, 2022

If you defrost pork shoulder in the refrigerator, then it will thaw at a rate of about 5 hours per pound. Thaw the pork shoulder in a cold water bath and you can cut the defrosting rate down to 30 minutes per pound.

I have been smoking pork shoulder for family gatherings for many years now. So, I had to learn how long it took to defrost pork by trial and error. The good news is that I can now share my insight with you so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes that I did!

In this post I will cover how long to thaw pork shoulder completely – I will also give you instructions on the different ways to defrost the meat. Let’s begin!

How long to thaw pork shoulder

How Long Does It Take to Thaw Frozen Pork Shoulder?

Well, this does depend on the method that you are using for thawing frozen pork shoulder.

If you are using the refrigerator method, then a frozen pork shoulder will defrost at a rate of five hours per pound of pork shoulder.

So, if you were wondering:

How long does it take to thaw a 9lb pork shoulder?

Then the answer would be 45 hours or almost 2 days.

In case you were using the cold water method, then the frozen pork shoulder is likely to defrost at a rate of 30 minutes per pound.

As pork butt and shoulder are quite similar, these thawing rates apply to both cuts of meat.

How Do You Defrost a Frozen Pork Shoulder Safely?

The key to thawing pork shoulder safely is to ensure that the frozen pork shoulder is kept at a cold temperature throughout the thawing process.

This is because of something known as the danger zone. See, as long as raw pork is kept cold, then bacteria growth is limited. However, at a temperature range between 40 F and 140 F (known as the danger zone), the bacteria are able to multiply quickly.

If the frozen pork shoulder is left out at these temperatures for long enough, then the bacteria can multiply quickly and increase the risk of food poisoning.

This is why if you want to safely thaw frozen meat, then you need to use the refrigerator. It is the safest method out of all the options.

Simply take the frozen pork shoulder out of the freezer and place it in a large enough container – a baking dish or sheet pan should do. This is to catch any off runoff from the thawing pork shoulder.

I like to also add a wire rack to the container on top with which the pork can be placed. This improves the air circulation around the defrosting pork shoulder and helps to speed up the process.

Then, place the frozen pork shoulder in the back of the refrigerator until it is fully thawed. I like to keep it on the bottom shelf so that the juices don’t drip onto anything else in the refrigerator.

As I mentioned, this should be at a rate of 5 hours per pound. Another way to look at it is that each five pounds of meat will defrost every 24 hours.

Since this is a rough estimate, I do like to leave myself a window of error. I like to start defrosting pork shoulder about 12 hours before my calculations tell me the meat will be thawed.

You can even put the pork in about a day or two before. Keep in mind that once you thaw pork shoulder, you can actually keep it in the fridge for up to 2 days afterwards.

Raw Pork Shoulder With Spices

How Do I Defrost a Pork Shoulder Quickly?

Hey, I get it – you don’t always know that you will need to cook pork shoulder several days ahead of time. In some cases, you may need to make pulled pork in the slow cooker in the same day.

Well, don’t worry, there is a faster method that you can use. This is known as the cold water method.

For this, you will need a large enough bowl or pan to fit your pork shoulder in. Make sure to keep it in its wrapping the entire time.

Place the shoulder in the container. Then, fill it with cold water – it has to be cold water – never use room temperature or hot water for this technique.

While tap water should do the trick, you can add some ice cubes into the water if you feel it isn’t cold enough.

Thaw pork shoulder in this cold water for 30 minutes. Then, toss out the water and refill more cold water into the container. Repeat this every half an hour until the you have thawed pork shoulder completely.

You should be able to thaw pork shoulder at a rate of 30 minutes per pound with this method.

Can You Leave Pork Shoulder Out Overnight to Thaw?

I get this question quite often because, let’s face it, pork shoulder thaws so much faster when it is left out.

The problem is that if you try to thaw pork shoulder at room temperature, the risk for food poisoning is too great.

Remember what I said about the danger zone? Well, when pork shoulder is left out on the counter, it will very quickly enter the danger zone and stay there. This is true when thawing meat of any kind, including pork chops.

If the pork shoulder is left out all night it is sure to spoil. On average, you shouldn’t leave meat sit out for more than 2 hours during a cool season and in the summer never leave it out for longer than an hour.

Can You Thaw Pork Shoulder in the Microwave?

This is another question that people ask me. I get it, microwaving frozen meat is a great way to defrost it quickly.

Unfortunately, microwaves are known for uneven heating. This is made worse by the uneven thickness of the pork shoulder.

So, when you try to microwave frozen pork shoulder, only some portions of it will defrost. Other areas may be still quite frozen. Even worse than this, thinner sections of the shoulder may be cooked all the way through.

How Soon Should You Cook Thawed Pork?

If you have used the refrigerator method, then you can wait for around 2 days before needing to cook the pork.

In the case of the cold water method, you should cook the pork shortly after. You can refrigerate the meat for a short period of time afterwards but I would still suggest that you cook the meat within the hour.

If you have resorted to the defrosting via the microwave, then make sure to cook the pork immediately, there is no time to lose here!

Pork Shoulder With Apple Sage Stuffing

Can You Cook Frozen Pork?

OK, technically, you can cook frozen pork without defrosting it first. It would be a big mistake to do this.

For one thing, the pork is going to thaw at an uneven rate during the cooking process. The surface is going to thaw much more quickly as it is directly exposed to heat. The center, on the other hand, is going to take far longer.

So, the center is likely to still be frozen solid while the surface of the meat begins to cook.

The other thing to keep in mind is that as you thaw meat in the pan or on the grill, liquid in the meat is going to begin to melt.

If the pork is on the grill, this liquid will fall onto the coal or wood below it and extinguish the fire. In a pan, the liquid will bubble around the pork shoulder, essentially boiling it. I can assure you that pork shoulder doesn’t taste good prepared in this way!

If you are short on time, then try the cold water technique. This should help to speed up the process so that you can get cooking sooner.

Prepping Thawed Meat

Once the pork is fully thawed, you can then begin to prep it. This could mean that you brine the shoulder. Or, you could go right into seasoning it.

Mix all the ingredients for your rub in a bowl. Then, apply a thin layer of yellow mustard onto the pork. Sprinkle the rub onto the surface and then press into the meat.

In the meantime, set the smoker or grill temperature to 225 F or 250 F. It should take about 10 minutes to preheat. Once the smoker is ready, then place the pork on the grill and close the lid.

Cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 180 F. Then, take out of the smoker and let the meat rest for several minutes.

You can then shred it, slice it, or prepare it any other way that you like.

There is a bit more to defrosting pork than most people realize. However, now that you know the right way of doing things, thawing an entire cut is going to be super easy for you to manage. Go ahead and get started!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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