Pulled pork is a delicious barbecue staple that’s perfect for big gatherings. The tender, fall-apart texture makes it an easy crowd-pleaser. But like many meats, pulled pork can dry out quickly, especially if you’re planning on having leftovers the next day. Dry, stringy pulled pork just isn’t appetizing. Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to keep pulled pork moist and delicious for days after cooking it.
Should You Refrigerate or Freeze Leftover Pulled Pork?
First things first – should you refrigerate or freeze leftover pulled pork? Both methods can work well, you just need to account for a few differences.
Refrigerating pulled pork keeps it fresh for 3-4 days. Make sure to store it in an airtight container or heavily sealed bag. Refrigeration is best if you plan on eating the leftovers within that timeframe. The texture won’t suffer too much.
Freezing pulled pork can keep it intact for months. Portion out the pork into freezer bags or airtight containers before freezing. Make sure to remove as much air from the packaging as possible. Allow the pork to cool completely before freezing. One downside to freezing is that the texture may become a bit mushier after thawing.
So refrigeration is preferable if you’ll be eating the leftovers soon. Freezing is better for long term storage. But you can still get moist, flavorful pulled pork using either method – it just takes a few extra steps.
Use the Right Pork Cut
The cut of pork you use makes a big difference in how well it holds up as leftovers. Pork shoulder, also called Boston butt, is the best option for pulled pork. It contains quite a bit of fat and connective tissue that keeps the meat succulent and moist. The long cooking time tenderizes the pork, resulting in pull apart texture.
Lean cuts like pork loin may seem like an appealing low fat option. But they easily dry out, even after just one day in the fridge. The lack of fat means there’s little moisture being retained in the meat. Choosing pork shoulder is crucial for delicious leftovers.
In addition to fat, seasoning also helps retain moisture. Generously seasoning the pork before cooking ensures the flavor goes beyond the surface. Use a rub that contains salt, sugar and spices. The salt penetrates deep into the meat to tenderize it and retain juices. Acidic seasonings like mustard and vinegar also help.
Make sure to season the pork the night before for maximum effect. Simply coating right before cooking won’t be as effective. You want time for the seasoning to really work into the meat.
Cook Low and Slow
The right cooking method ensures tender, moist pulled pork. Low and slow is key – cook the pork shoulder at around 300??F for 8-12 hours. This gives the tough cuts time to become fall-apart tender. A shorter cook time won’t properly break down the connective tissues.
You want an internal temperature of around 203??F before removing from the oven or smoker. This ensures the pork reaches that ultra moist, pull apart consistency throughout. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat – slow cooking is essential.
Rest Before Pulling
After the pork has cooked for hours, you’ll be eager to dig in. But letting it rest first is an important step. Resting gives time for the juices to redistribute evenly in the meat. If you start shredding right away, a lot of moisture will escape.
Tent the pork with foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes, up to 1 hour. The internal temperature will rise a bit more as it rests, ensuring thoroughly cooked, moist meat. Pulling pork when it’s above 205??F means you won’t lose too much moisture.
Pull and Douse with Sauce
Once sufficiently rested, you can start pulling and chopping the pork. Use forks or bear claws to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. To prevent dryness, mix some of the pork’s juices into the meat while shredding. This adds back any moisture lost during cooking.
Then douse the pulled pork with barbecue sauce. Use about 1/2 cup per pound of meat. Adding sauce provides tons of flavor and also helps reintroduce moisture.
Portion Out for Storage
Pulled pork can be stored in bulk in a large container. But for optimal freshness, it’s best to portion it out. This limits how much you reheat each time, reducing moisture loss.
Separate the pork into meal-sized airtight containers or freezer bags. Squeeze out excess air before sealing. You can freeze portions immediately or keep them in the fridge for a few days.
If freezing, leave a bit of space at the top of containers or bags. Liquids will expand as the pork freezes, so too little space can lead to ruptured packaging.
The way you reheat leftovers also impacts moisture levels. Microwaving leads to dry, rubbery pulled pork. Oven heating gives you more control.
Place the refrigerated or frozen pork in a baking dish,cover with foil and heat at 300??F. Check frequently and stop heating once warmed through. Add a splash of water or sauce to the dish if needed.
You can also reheat in the slow cooker on low for 2-3 hours. Add extra sauce and a cup or two of water or stock to provide moisture.
Use it in Other Dishes
You don’t have to serve leftover pulled pork on its own. Using it in recipes is a delicious way to ward off dryness.
Try making tacos, nachos, pizza, sandwiches, quesadillas, stuffed potatoes or omelets. Mixing the pork with sauces and other ingredients introduces extra moisture and flavors.
Get creative with the recipes. Pulled pork makes just about anything better!
It’s easy to end up with dry, tasteless pulled pork leftovers if you’re not careful. But following a few simple guidelines gives you delicious moist pork for days after cooking. Choosing the right cut, seasoning well, cooking properly and storing with care are the keys to success.
Pulled pork is a smart choice for large get-togethers since you know you’ll have plenty of leftovers. Now you can look forward to enjoying pulled pork sandwiches for lunch all week or throwing some in a last-minute weekday dinner. With the right strategies, the possibilities are endless for leftover pulled pork!