A pulled pork butt has to be cooked over a low fire or on a slow grill for a considerable length of time in order for the meat to become tender enough so that it can be pulled apart with a pair of forks. But because you can’t see inside the butt to see whether it’s cooked to a tender state, you need to rely on a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature.
For this, you also need to be aware of the ideal internal temperature of a perfectly cooked pulled pork butt to ensure that you get it right. So, what is the ideal internal temperature of a perfectly cooked pulled pork butt?
Best Internal Temperature For A Tender Pulled Pork Butt
Essentially, your pulled pork butt will reach the right tenderness stage when the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees Fahrenheit (90.5 degrees Celsius).
However, if you can cook the meat for just a little longer until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit (93 to 96 degrees Celsius), you’ll have the tenderest pulled pork you’ve ever tasted.
Preparing The Pork Butt For A Long Slow Cook
When you first get your hands on a pork butt, you might be surprised at what it looks like. The meat is usually dark pink in color and will have a lot of fat attached. That’s because the butt is actually part of the shoulder and is regarded as quite a tough cut.
When preparing the pork butt for cooking, it’s important not to trim off too much of the fat. This is because the fat will act as a natural baste and will help the meat to stay nice and moist rather than dry and tasteless.
Why Are Pork Butts The Best For Pulled Pork?
Pork butts lend themselves perfectly to long slow cooking. In fact, this is a necessity in order for the meat to become nice and tender and full of delicious flavor.
You’ll also find that these tougher cuts of pork will contain a high amount of collagen. When cooked slowly, this collagen then breaks down into what we know as gelatin. This gelatin gives the meat its delicious flavor and lovely soft texture. You can’t achieve this with leaner cuts of meat.
What Happens During The Cooking Process?
In order to understand how such a tough cut of meat can result in the perfectly tender pulled pork that we know and love, we need to explore what happens during the cooking process.
The entire process begins once the internal temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius). At this temperature, the enzymes within the meat start the denaturation process. This process is when the proteins alter their original rigid structure and become looser and more fluid.
Once the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius), the meat starts to change color. In general, pork will become opaque or slightly pink in color.
As the internal temperature rises to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), the meat will continue to change color and turns to a grayish brown. However, for a truly tender pulled pork butt, you need to go well beyond this, and here’s why.
At an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius), the collagen in the meat will start to turn into gelatin. This is also the temperature when the pork fat will start to render out of the meat.
After another rise of 20 degrees Fahrenheit to an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius), the muscle fibers in the meat start to loosen, thereby allowing the gelatin more room to spread out and keep the meat nice and moist.
Is It Possible To Overcook A Pork Butt?
It is absolutely possible to overcook a pork butt. This is why you should stop the cooking process once the internal temperature reaches no more than 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96 degrees Celsius).
The meat will still continue to cook a little once you take it off the heat. If you cook your pork butt beyond this internal temperature, the meat will start to become dry and lose its flavor.
Here’s How To Cook The Perfect Pulled Pork Butt
If you follow these simple directions, you should end up with a perfectly cooked and tender pulled pork butt.
- Trim off any excess fat
- Season the meat with a good barbecue rub
- Place the meat in the fridge overnight or let it sit at room temperature for around 30 minutes.
- Preheat the grill or smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107 degrees Celsius). If you’re using a gas grill, you should set it to medium-low. If you use wood chips or pellets, your pulled pork will end up with a nice smoked flavor.
- Put your pork butt on the grill rack with the fat side facing upwards.
- Insert your meat thermometer or temperature probe into the thickest part of the pork butt. This will allow you to easily monitor the internal temperature of the meat as it cooks. Make sure that the tip of the probe does not touch the bone because this will create an inaccurate reading.
- Close the lid of your grill and let it cook. You should allow around 2 hours per pound of meat.
- When the temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius), it will cease rising for a few hours. This is perfectly normal and is referred to as “the stall” in expert circles.
- If you don’t want to wait a few hours for the temperature to start rising again, you can speed up the process. Just take the pork butt off the grill and wrap it in aluminum foil tightly. Put it back onto the grill and allow it to continue cooking.
Bear in mind that wrapping the meat in foil at this stage will soften the skin, and it won’t be crisp. However, you can overcome this by removing the foil for the last 20 to 30 minutes of cooking time.
Once the internal temperature has reached the required level, you can take the meat off the grill. Wrap it in foil if you haven’t done so already, and let it rest for at least half an hour before shredding it.
What’s The Best Way To Shred The Pulled Pork?
To shred the pulled pork, you can just use your fingers to pull the meat apart. However, this is very time-consuming, although it’s a good way to remove any pieces of gristle or fat that may still be present.
Alternatively, you can just use two forks to pull the meat apart. Better still, there are commercially available shredding claws that will make this job much easier and faster.
If you need to shred the pulled pork really quickly, you can also use an electric hand mixer. However, you have to do this carefully so that the meat doesn’t become mushy rather than shredded.