Pulled pork: question on doneness

A couple of weeks ago, I made my first attempt at barbecuing pulled pork. It was a 7.5 lb Boston butt. I did research using my bbq books and a few online resources on how to cook it. I finally went with indirect smoking/bbqing at 250 degrees for about 9 hours using a vinegar-based mop sauce every hour. The final temp was around 190 internal when I pulled the butt off the bbq pit. When I started to “pull” the pork into shreds, it did not seem as tender as I had hoped (it was still good and got good reviews from the family and guests I had over). However, from some of the online videos, it seemed like it wouldn’t be as tough to shred or pull. Maybe I am just inexperienced. But here’s my question: if I find that my pork is too tough, am I pulling the meat off the grill too early and should let it cook longer to break down more? OR if I cook it too long and make it tougher because it’s overcooked?

Any help or insight?


This site says well done is 170 so it looks like it was overcooked.

Modern pork is very lean and doesn’t tolerate overcooking at all.

Pulled pork is generally cooked to an internal temp of around 190-200. I generally find my meat pulls and shreds nicely at around 195-197, but I prefer my pork chopped rather than pulled, so I usually will pull it before it completely gets to the slumping, pulling stage.

Now, yes, with pork those sorts of temps would generally be thought of as overcooked. However, when you use shoulder or any cut with a lot of collagen in it, what you need to do to get that soft juicy consistency is slowly render the collagen out and have it turn into gelatin. The gelatin coats the strands of “overcooked” pork and keeps it moist and delicious.

Collagen breaks down somewhere in the 150-180F range. If you monitor your temps during your cook, you will see the temp climbing steady and then plateau (and maybe even drop a few degrees) for several hours in the 170s. This is where the fat and collagen breaks down. It won’t begin climbing again until most of the collagen has been converted into gelatin.

So, for this technique to work correctly, you must use cuts with a lot of collagen/connective tissue. This means shoulder. Loin and other lean cuts won’t work for pulled pork.

Different pieces of meat will be done at different times and even at slightly different temperatures. I use my senses and not a thermometer as a guide. When the meat begins to look like its slumped in on itself, the bone pulls away with almost no resistance, and a fork can easily be inserted and twisted into it, it’s done.

My guess is that your pork could have used a little more time (an hour or so) on the barbecue (or, if you want to cheat a little bit, use the “Texas crutch” and foil it, which kind of steams it and makes it pull easier). 190 is just between the chopped pork/pulled pork stage.

What pulykamell said.
I usually do mine to 201. Why 201? Beats me, I recall seeing that number on a BBQ website, I used it, and it worked great so that is what I have used ever since.

Nonononono. Pulled pork should be cooked at least to 190, and I prefer at least 200. It’s easier to pull at 200, but it has never been particularly difficult at 190. I’m perplexed as to why that would be.

Were you pulling the shreds apart where the grain of the meat runs? In other words, where it naturally pulls apart? Is your thermometer properly calibrated?

Otherwise, the first thought that popped into my mind is that you may have cooked it too quickly. I know 9 hours at 250 sounds right, but it usually takes me twice that long for a 9-pounder on my Big Green Egg.

Not trying to be an ass, but the word you’re looking for there is braise.

I’ve had pork not pull easily at the low 190s. Each hunk of meat is a little different, that’s why I don’t like using thermometers and prefer to go with my senses and the tests I enumerated above.

9 hours at 250 sounds about right to me as well. I cook my barbecue slightly hotter, in the 250-275 range, so I’ll pull pork after 7 hours sometimes.

Yes, braising would be the best term there, but saying it steams is not incorrect, either.

In my experience, you have to let the meat “settle” until it’s good and cool all the way through. While it’s still hot, the protein is still all tense. 7.5 lbs is a big chunk so would take hours to cool down.

Interesting. I’ve never heard of pulling a butt or a shoulder after it cools down. As a matter of fact, I find it to be almost impossible when it isn’t still hot or very warm.

Not incorrect at all. Steaming always invokes quick cooking in my mind, though.


I do mine to 200, cooking at 220. It takes 12-18 hours, depending on the size of the butt, but I’ve never had problems pulling it.

Thanks for the advice guys. I think I am going to try another one soon and cook it a little longer. I guess I had been confused about the pork being well done at 190 and pulled the butt off the grill a little too early because I was worried I was overcooking it. But now that it’s been a little better explained to me, I think I will try going a little bit longer next time. That means getting up a bit earlier in the morning next time…

Thanks. Any more tips?

Well, warm, but not hot. I burned my fingers the first time I tried it, and the fibers didn’t separate very well.

Ditto on the let it cool bit. I always let mine cool down to just about room temp. Never had a problem yet. Of course, I usually do pulled pork when it’s 105 outside, but still…

Though I don;t let it cool, I usually wrap it in foil & drop it in a small cooler for an hour or two after cooking. Of course, it’s still too hot to handle (probably around 170, or so) for any length of time when it comes time to pull it. The settling helps a lot, though.

Shawn, you also may want to make sure your thermometer isn’t reading to low. You can also try lowering the heat a bit and letting it go longer.

I’ll let mine sit for about 20 minutes. But I can’t pull it with my bare fingers–much too hot. As I said, I prefer chopped pork these days, so I take it out at 185 or so and get out the cleaver, but when I do pulled pork, I get two forks out and shred them that way. Some people wear gloves and do it by hand.

Here’s another question. I’m using an offset smoker. I’ve used charcoal charwood in other smoking attempts, but found that they did not retain heat as long. When I did the Boston butt for 9 hours, I used Kingsford “professional brand” natural charcoal briquets (which apparently use vegetable binders). In the 9 hours, I went through about 20 pounds of charcoal, which I had to replace about once an hour. Is that a reasonable rate? I was attempting to keep the temp around 240 to 250 in the chamber (according to the thermometer I bolted into the lid). I would start up about a half chimney of charcoal when the temp started dropping again. I also used a digital probe thermometer to check the temperature of the meat and the chamber at times.

Anyway, what kind of fuel do you use and how much of it?

Thanks. Now I want to go try again!

IMHO, that’s a hell of a lot of charcoal, and a lot of work on your part to maintain temperature. Your experience reminds me of a friend of mine, who uses a Weber bullet, and burns what seems to be about 4-5x of the lump charcoal I use with my big green egg.

The egg is ceramic monster that insulates well, and correspondingly needs little attention once it reaches equilibrium. I use about 5 lb charcoal for a 12-hour burn with the egg, and in my experience, I can pretty much set it and forget it. I use a remote thermometer to monitor the smoker and the meat, but I’ve had little trouble so far in establishing a relatively constant temperature.

Here’s a link to my favorite charcoal review database. This one is my choice.

I’m keepin’ my dirty joke to myself since you all are such awsome cooks! You deserve better and I’m takin’ notes. Thanks for this tread. I’m whippin’ out some BBQ this Forth!

I have now officially seen everything on the internet. Charcoal database/reviews? Wow - you win, Kyrie. I thought I liked BBQing, but you totally win. (As if having a BGE didn’t clinch it to begin with…)