Pulled pork wouldn't pull
June 3, 2012 5:34 PM   Subscribe

What went wrong with my slow-cooked pork shoulder today? It came out differently than it usually does, and wouldn't pull apart with forks.

I did what I always do: spice rub. Sear on all sides. 225° oven in a cast-iron dutch oven for 1.25 hours per pound. The piece was 1.82 lbs, so I had it in for two hours and twenty minutes. Took it out, put a digital thermometer in, and it read 198°. Went next to fork shred it, and it wouldn't pull apart. It seemed like the fat inside hadn't liquified. I ended up having to carve it.

- It was a smaller piece than I usually get -- I usually get 4 lbs, but that makes too much, so I tried for a smaller piece this time.

- It was more marbled with fat than usual (my spouse chose it at the store), and held together with a string net. I took the net off before searing it.
posted by misoramen to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Time. Those connective tissues (it's not just fat) take a long time to break down, even after reaching a certain temperature. Hours per pound isn't a very useful method in this situation.
posted by jon1270 at 5:43 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd say 4 hours is a minimum amount of time. Maybe next time you have a smaller piece, cook it longer in a slow cooker?
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:53 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband usually cooks his pernil (Puerto Rican style pork shoulder) for about 8 hours at 225 degrees. I couldn't tell you what weight it was (off the top of my head), but they're usually about $10 at our local grocery. At that point, we usually just pull out the bone by hand, and it's already begun collapsing in on itself. Yum.
posted by Verdandi at 6:02 PM on June 3, 2012

Ah, he just corrected me-- 8 hours at 275 degrees.
posted by Verdandi at 6:02 PM on June 3, 2012

Sometimes pork shoulders just don't cook as quickly as you think they should. Sometimes they cook much too quickly. When I'm barbecuing one, I start checking the internal temperature after an amount of time equal to about one hour per pound. It needs to be 190+ for the shoulder to pull nicely, in my experience. That's the only way I can be sure that they'll be done the way I want them to be.
posted by Shohn at 6:11 PM on June 3, 2012

I do 8 hours minimum in the slow cooker when I'm doing pulled pork.
posted by COD at 6:50 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree that it's time, not temperature, that matters here. Once the internal temp of the pork reaches the point at which the connective tissues begin to break down (whatever that temp is; I've never measured the temperature myself), it then takes some amount of time for that process to complete.

I've found that, for pork of any moderate size, no less than four hours of low, slow cooking is required.
posted by ronofthedead at 7:36 PM on June 3, 2012

Like everyone else here, I can confirm that this isn't simply a matter of internal temperature/doneness; I like to look for a clear "slump" or change in the shape of the cut. Last time I cooked a pork shoulder (the Momofuku Bo Ssam recipe in the NYT) I think I cooked it for seven and a half hours. They say: "Place the pork in a roasting pan and set in the oven and cook for approximately 6 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily to the tines of a fork."
posted by pullayup at 8:25 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like using bone-in shoulders for this reason. Not because of any nonsense about the meat tasting better close to the bone, it's that the bone functions as a pop-up timer. When it's at temperature, grab the bone with tongs. If it pulls out easily, it's ready. If not, more time.
posted by karlos at 8:50 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Time, time, time. A good, fatty shoulder isn't going to overcook and get tough, it's just going to get more tender and bathed in unctuousness as the connective tissue slowly breaks down.
posted by desuetude at 11:40 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to add my voice - 2:20 isn't nearly long enough to dissolve the connective tissue to make it fall apart.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:21 AM on June 4, 2012

What makes slow-cooked meat tender is that the collagen in the meat has dissolved into gelatin, and this is a lenghty process, so I'd say two-and-a-half hours is nowhere near enough time for this to happen.

There's more on the science of slow cooking here.
posted by essexjan at 1:41 AM on June 4, 2012

Yup, more time.

A crock pot is good for this, BTW.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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