Low and slow? Or bacterial breeding ground?
October 13, 2016 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Guys I've been trying to smoke a couple pork shoulders for the past four hours. Can't get the temp over 120F. Go time is in 3 hours and I'm about to just throw them in the oven, because they're totally smoked but barely cooked. But the question is, are they safe to eat?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pulled pork will stall after reaching a certain temperature. Google "Pulled pork plateau." Cover them with foil and toss them in the oven. They're probably smokey enough.

I am not the FDA but I once did a pork butt for 14 hours and none of my guests died. I think once the outside is nice and smokey you're pretty safe.

Again, I am not any sort of official in charge of such things, just a guy who likes to barbecue meat really slowly and hasn't yet killed anyone.
posted by bondcliff at 12:19 PM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

It will be safe. A pork shoulder generally needs a good 6 hours (or more) to cook. You'll want the internal temp to be 190 F. It's a really slow process. It's technically safe before then, but that's when all the collagen breaks down and you'll have gorgeous, fall apart meat.
posted by Bistyfrass at 12:26 PM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'd either keep going or put them in the oven, but I wouldn't throw them out just because they are only halfway done. Temp rising is not the only part of cooking a pork shoulder: all of that connective tissue needs to spend a good amount of time at those low temps in order to relax and break down. Personally, I'd leave it going in your smoker a while longer, but there's no shame in putting them in the oven as bondcliff says.
posted by gauche at 12:26 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am not an expert, and really I don't know much of anything about this. But my understanding of smoking, at least traditionally, is that the way this preserves the meat is two-fold:

(1) the smoke deters the flies that would otherwise land on the carcass and deposit their eggs, leading quickly to maggots. Important if you're hoping to preserve a whole bison in the bush... probably not really relevant in the enclosed environment of your smoker.

That allows safe time for (2) the meat to be in the air (and usually near to the heat of the fire) to dry out. Bacteria can't grow once the water content of the meat is low enough, and this is where the long-term resistance to spoilage comes from. Think beef jerky. And when jerky does finally go bad, it's from the fats going rancid due to bacteria that feed on fat, and not from the exact same mechanisms that spoil fresh meat.

It sounds like maybe you're going more for "bbq some meat that should come out cooked and tender, and also with some flavor from the smoke of some tasty wood", but maybe your smoker is setup more traditionally?

FWIW, I make a lot of jerky in one of those plastic dehydrators with the trays. It circulates slightly warm air, for several hours. I would be surprised if the air right at the output is as hot as 120F. Before I had that, I tried using the oven, at the lowest setting of 200F, and it was just flat-out too much heat.

The food safety rule (at least last time I took the course) is nothing should be between 40F and 140F for more than an hour. But, I'm sure there's a significant over-protection factor in coming up with that one rule of thumb that must apply universally to all restaurants and commercial food-handling. I imagine it may just simply not apply / not be compatible with preservation through drying.

But again, def. not any kind of expert here.
posted by teatime at 12:27 PM on October 13, 2016

I now realize you meant an internal temperature of 120F, not the smoker cabin being at 120F. Whoops. Makes it pretty clear you're cooking / bbq'ing, not preserving. So I guess, disregard me.
posted by teatime at 12:29 PM on October 13, 2016

I have read a pound an hour for smoking a pork shoulder but my findings have been closer to 2-2.5 hours per pound is more likely. After 6 hours the meat will have absorbed as much smoke as it can, after that your just slow cooking it. At this point you can wrap it in foil and continue it in the oven (same temp). The stall is from evaporative cooling caused by the meat's juices evaporating off the outside of the meat. It's also worth noting that as long as you maintain your low temperature, it's virtually impossible to overcook pork shoulder (it just gets softer). Good luck smoking.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:08 PM on October 13, 2016

The USDA guidelines have changed the safe internal temp for pork from 160F to 145F.

If you're plateauing at 120F you're not safe. You'd have to be above 130F to even begin killing pathogens, and even then it's a slow process.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:32 PM on October 13, 2016

This sounds like a job for a traditional pressure cooker or insta-pot. I have no idea if it's safe, although I too think that the smoking makes it just fine.

That said, I would NOT eat this if your meat was from a discount source, big box store, or big grocery chain. If you are comfortable with how the meat was butchered and handled prior to smoking, enjoy them once properly cooked!!
posted by jbenben at 1:52 PM on October 13, 2016

They need longer to cook. You need to get the shoulder up to around 205 degrees to pull it properly. As long as you continue to cook it, you'll be fine. You may need to put it in a hotter oven to finish cooking, 7 hours on a bbq for pulled pork is really not enough time.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:02 PM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

whats your smoker temp at? how confident are you that its actually reaching that temperature. 6-8 (or more hours) at around 200/205 should do the trick, but if you think youre at 200 and its really closer to 160 you may have a hard time getting those butts cooked.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 3:47 PM on October 13, 2016

Response by poster: I (thought I) posted as the second comment that I was referring to the smoker temp, not the meat temp. It sat at 100-120F for four hours being smoked but not really cooked.

Given that I think teatime must be onto something with the antibacterial value of smoking because I finally threw it in the oven for a couple of hours at 325F and it came out delicious and nonfatal. I fed it to a crowd of about 50 and haven't got wind of any notable distress/deaths yet.

Sorry for the confusion but thanks for the great answers!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:01 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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