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Pulled pork has a deliciously smoky flavor, with a texture that should be tender and moist without being wet and sloppy.
However, if this is your first time cooking pulled pork you might be wondering: Can you overcook pulled pork?
In this article, we cover some key information about cooking pulled pork, including tips on how to prevent overcooking it.
The Short Answer
While pulled pork is difficult to overcook, it is still possible to overcook pulled pork. You want your pork to be tender and to easily pull apart, which is an indication that the connective tissue has broken down.
However, you don’t want it to be so overcooked that the muscle fibers themselves start to lose structure and turn to mush, or even worse, completely dried out. This results in a texture that will ruin your sandwich or burger, and simply isn’t how pulled pork should be served!
How to Avoid Overcooking Pulled Pork
Keep It on a Low Heat Setting While It Cooks
The secret to moist, tender pork is to keep the temperature low and to cook it slowly. You don’t want to rush the process, as you will risk drying it out or overcooking the meat so much that the texture becomes sloppy.
As a result, you will want to place the oven on a relatively low heat setting and cook the pork at 300°F (150°C). This is why planning ahead is so important when it comes to cooking pulled pork, as you don’t want to ruin all your hard work by cooking it at too high of a temperature.
If you have the time, 225 degrees Fahrenheit is an excellent sweet spot for low-and-slow cooked pork shoulder.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Pork as It Cooks
Most importantly, to avoid overcooking your pulled pork you should keep a close eye on your pork as it cooks in a Dutch oven. There is a fine line between your pork being tender and sloppy. As a result, you should be mindful to check your pulled pork when it’s nearing the end of its cooking time.
You should cook until pork is just starting to turn tender, about 4 hours depending on the size of your joint. Remove the lid after 4 hours and continue cooking until a knife shows little resistance when twisted inside the meat and a dark bark has formed or about 1 hour longer.
As soon as the pork joint pulls apart in easy chunks, it’s a clear sign that it is done and ready to be served up! The texture can easily become mushy or dry if the joint of pork cooks for too long.
How to Keep Pulled Pork Moist and Warm When Cooking Ahead of Time
As it takes hours to achieve the deliciously tender and moist meat of pulled pork, you might find it more convenient to cook ahead of time. This will ensure that your meat is juicy and succulent and that you’re not worried about it being done on time.
However, when doing this, you will need a way to keep the pork moist and warm before you serve it up. There are a few different ways that you can go about keeping pulled pork warm and moist so that it is perfect to serve to your guests.
The main trick is to re-introduce liquids to the meat every so often to combat the escaping steam.
To do this, you could consider keeping the pulled pork in a crockpot to keep it warm and periodically spray chicken broth to keep it moist. This not only contributes more flavor to the dish than water would, but it can also help keep the steam from escaping as much.
As it is generally easier to keep the pork at a specific temperature, you will generally want to have the crockpot on a lower heat setting and just let it simmer. This uses the heat that the pulled pork has left, while also preventing it from cooling down too much before you serve it to your guests.
You don’t want to use a higher heat setting, or you might end up overcooking the pulled pork, which would just dry it out even more.
Another option to keep your pork warm is to use the cooler method. You can wrap the meat in tin foil, place it in a cooler on some towels and then cover the meat with more towels and close the lid. This will keep the meat piping hot for a good 6-8 hours should it be finished cooking too early.
Tips When Cooking Pulled Pork
Test Your Pork Throughout the Cooking Process
It’s important to know that every pork joint is different and will likely have a different cooking time. How long your pork joint takes to cook will depend on the size. The internal temperature needs to get to at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit, and the time it takes to get there will depend on the temperature that you cook it at.
Bear in mind that the color of your pork could be misleading. The exterior should look dark brown in color. If the pork hasn’t reached the desired internal temperature, or isn’t tender, then you should close the lid and let it cook for another 30 minutes before you check again.
Let It Rest
Always give your pulled pork the time to rest! Allow the pork to rest wrapped in foil for at least 30 to 60 minutes for the best results.
Always Pull, Never Chop
It’s called pulled pork for a reason! Resist the temptation to cut the pork into chunks. Maintain the moisture by pulling the pork apart by hand.
Yes, you can overcook pulled pork. To prevent this from occurring, you need to make sure that you are cooking the pork joint on a low temperature and that you’re keeping a watchful eye on your joint as it cooks.
If you’re dealing with pork leftovers, head on over to our guide on reheating pulled pork next for tips on how to maintain that wonderful moisture for your leftover BBQ.