Bringing the Heat: The Ideal Pulled Pork Temperature

August 21, 2022

An internal temperature of 190 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for pulled pork.

I have been making pulled pork for as long as I can remember, but it took me a while to realize that internal temperature was pretty important. It is the key to getting your dish just right.

This post will give you an in-depth explanation about the pulled pork temperature and show you how to perfect this dish each and every time. Let's get started!

Pulled Pork Temperature

Is Pulled Pork Done at 190 Degrees Fahrenheit?

As I mentioned, I find 195°F to be the perfect internal temp for this dish - at this point it is considered cooked and ready. However, you may have found posts or articles that set the desired temperature at around 200 or 205 degrees.

So, you may be wondering:

Is 200 Degrees Fahrenheit Good for Pulled Pork?

Technically, both of these instructions are right. This is due to a phenomenon known as carryover cooking. Understand, when you take a large piece of meat off the grill, it will continue cooking, up to ten degrees at a time.

pulled pork for dinner

Therefore, once you remove the pork from the heat source at the 195 degree mark, the meat will cook, reaching around 200°F. You also have the added bonus of not drying out the meat while cooking it through.

Here's another question you may have:

Is Pulled Pork OK at 185 Degrees Fahrenheit?

You will find some people recommending to take the smoked pork off the grill at 185°F. I personally find that the internal temperature at this point isn't high enough to give you tender and delicious pulled pork.

Of course, if you are worried about overcooking your smoked pork then you can certainly take it off the grill or smoker at an earlier time. Id still wait for the recommended mark, however.

Breaking Down the Cooking Process

To understand the importance of the temperature of the meat, you have to first understand what happens when you cook pork butt. Here is the lowdown:

At around 105 - 122 degrees, the proteins in the meat begin to denature and at about 120 degrees, it will turn opaque in the center. The meat is quite juicy and firm at this point.

At 140 degrees, the meat turns from pink to brown-grey color and releases a lot of juice. It will shrink in size and take on a chewy texture as the collagen, a connective tissue, begins to denature. Meat is both firm and moist.

When the pork reaches 160 degrees the collagen begins to dissolve to gelatin - this process accelerates and continues up to the 180 degree mark. Past this heating mark, the muscle fibers begin to tear apart, making it easy to pull the pulled pork apart.

The Benefit of Low and Slow Cooking

This is the beauty of smoking meat - it is cooked low and slow. While the pork butt is provided with the enough warmth to cook, the lower heat ensures that the proteins are denatured slowly. This reduces the risk of overcooking even as it allows for the meat to fall apart more readily.

The Importance of Using a Meat Thermometer

Prior to enrolling in culinary school, I would time the cooking process instead of relying on the internal temp. The issue here, though, is that the risk of error is too high. After all, cooking time can be impacted by the size of the pork butt. The settings on your smoker is yet another factor.

Learn from my mistakes and use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Once you give this trick a try I can guarantee that you will never go back!

The Role of Pork Butt in Pulled Pork

Believe it or not, the cut of meat ties into the the perfect heating mark for pulled pork.

Now, pork butt, also known as Boston butt, is sometimes used interchangeably with pork shoulder, but this isn't exactly correct. The pork butt consists of portions of the neck, shoulder blade, and upper arm. It is pretty tough and it is made up of quite a bit of connective tissue.

The pork shoulder - sometimes referred to as the picnic shoulder - is from a similar part of the pig but the pork shoulder is thinner and has less marbling and fat. Pulled pork can be made from smoked pork shoulder as well. However, I generally find that the texture and taste aren't on par with pork butts.

The extra collagen in the pork butt is what makes gives that full, delicious flavor and that fall-apart texture. It is difficult to replicate.

A Guide to Smoking Pork Butt

Now that you understand the basics of the internal temperature, here is a comprehensive guide to making pulled pork:

Step 1: Trim the Fat

Trim the excess fat but don't go overboard. The fat adds to the moisture of the pulled pork so make sure that some remains.

pulled pork in a burger

Step 2: Season the Meat

Liberally apply the rub to both sides of the meat. It should be well-coated. Let the meat marinate for 60 minutes at room temperature. If you want the pork butt to marinate for longer, leave it in the refrigerator. Take it out 60 minutes before you want to cook it.

Step 3: Preheat the Grill

While the meat is marinating, fire up your gas grill, pellet grill, or charcoal grill. The gas grill can be set to medium-low, while the charcoal grill can be low and the pellet grill can be set to 225 degrees.

When it has heated up, scatter wood chips over the charcoal. The wood chips will add a smoke flavor.

Step 4: Begin Smoking Process

Place the pork butt on the grill, fat side facing up. Place the meat thermometer in the pork shoulder. Make sure it isn't touching the bone however as this can cause the reading to spike.

Close the lid. Cook the meat for about 2 hours per pound of meat.

When the meat hits the 160 degree mark (in about 4 hours), it will reach a stall. At this time, the temperature will only rise in tiny increments. To speed things up, follow the next stage:

Step 5: Wrap in Aluminum Foil

Tightly wrap the pork butt in aluminum oil and then place back on the grill. In about an hour, it should hit the 190 degree mark.

Remove the pork from the grill and then let the pork rest for up to an hour to a few hours for that rich flavor and tender, juicy texture. Then serve.

A Note About Using Aluminum Foil

The only downside to using foil here is that you may not get the crispy bark that you want. If you want that bark, you can wait out the stall. However, you may end up adding hours to your cooking time so be prepared for this setback.

How to Shred Pulled Pork

The shredding process for pulled pork is just as important as the smoking. There are several techniques that you can use:

Double Pork Method

This is the most common method. You simply use two forks to tear the flesh apart. Once the pork has had a chance to rest, place the finished product in a large pan. Then, place the forks back to back with the tines facing apart from each other. Dig them slightly into the meat and then begin to pull in opposite directions.

Use Meat Claws

These resemble bear claws quite a bit. The benefit of these is that they get the job done more efficiently. You also have to use less of your own energy. They are a good investment if you are planning on making pulled pork or any kind of shredded meat on a regular basis.

Use a Hand Mixer

A lot of delicious recipes with shredded meat are made using a hand mixer. If you want the quickest method possible, then this appliance may do the trick. Just remember to pull the bones out before using the hand mixer.

The meat will still be hot to the touch so wear some type of gloves to protect your hands.

This is what you need to know about cooking pulled pork to perfection. Yes, this method can seem downright scientific but you should trust the process. If you follow the guidelines here you can guarantee that you will master smoking pork shoulder in no time at all!

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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