Never eat dried out pulled pork again! When your pulled pork has lost moisture, here’s how to add a little something to it.
Pulled pork, a Southern staple and a bona fide delicacy, is traditionally made from the pork butt. Also known as the “Boston butt,” this cut is the somewhat wedged portion of the pork shoulder, the one above the picnic cut, that’s high in fat, connective tissue, and connective membranes.
The best way to prepare this cut of meat is to cook it low and slow over smoldering wood in the meat smoker, so that it absorbs the flavors from the smoke and comes out with a crispy, deeply flavorsome crust called “the bark.”
When the weather isn’t permissive of outdoor cooking, the pork butt can just as well be slow-roasted in a Dutch oven or loaded in the crock pot or slow cooker. The result is tender meat that’s ready to be pulled apart, smothered in barbecue sauce, and served on the table.
Although pork butt is ameliorated by slow cooking to the proper internal temperature, it can come out dry if it is overcooked. You can find yourself in a similar situation if you cooked it properly, but kept it warm for too long or reheated it on the next day.
If dry pork butt is the problem you came here to solve, we have good news for you; in the remained of this article, we’ve rounded up different ways to salvage and revive it.
The Best Ways to Moisten Dry Pulled Pork
Two scenarios can land you in a dried-out-pulled-pork situation:
The first is when you’ve overcooked it (and the piece of meat has lost moisture), and the second is when you’re reheating the leftovers (and they’ve dried out).
How to Moisten Just-Cooked Pulled Pork
Suppose you just took the pork butt out of the smoker or oven and you can already tell that it’s overcooked. The tell-tale signs are an outside bark that’s black and crusty and an interior of the meat that feels tough and dry—and gives you too much resistance when carved or pulled apart.
Fear not: There is a great way to moisten this piece of meat, even when the cooking time has been extended beyond what is reasonable and the damage has already been done.
Decide what to do with the bark. If the bark on your pork butt is way too hard to be edible, there’s not much that you can do at this point but cut it off and feed it to the dogs or throw it away.
Pull apart the pork belly as usual. It is important to pull apart the pork belly while it is still hot out the pit or oven. Otherwise, the meat will be stiff and difficult to shred. Use a pair of meat claws or a couple of sturdy forks.
Choose your moistening liquid. Normally, you would smother the pulled pork in barbecue sauce. Since the meat is tough and dry, it is a good idea that you go for a more watery liquid instead, such as one of those listed below:
- Equal parts chicken broth and beef broth, seasoned with a pinch or two of your rub and simmered for 4-5 minutes to meld the flavors together;
- Equal parts apple cider and apple cider vinegar;
- Unfiltered apple juice;
The best method of these three comes down to your preferences, and those of the folks gathered at the table. The broth will make your pulled pork savory, the apple cider/apple cider vinegar mixture will make it tangy, and the unfiltered apple juice will make it sweet.
For the best results, give the meat a little taste and determine which of the flavors need balancing out? Is it lacking salt? Use broth. Too salty? Add some sweetness with apple juice. Okay, but lacking that je-ne-sais-quoi? Go for the cider and vinegar mix.
Apply it to the dried out pulled pork. Spread the pulled pork on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil and apply the moistening liquid to it. You can sprinkle it with your hands, spray it on with a spray bottle, or dab it on with a basting brush.
Since this is just-cooked meat, the pulled pork will be steaming hot and have no problem absorbing the moisture. Toss, plate, and send to table.
How to Moisten Leftover Pulled Pork
Leftover pulled pork, especially at backyard cookouts and large gatherings, should never be left out at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours lest it become unsafe to eat. In practice, this means you will keep the leftovers at 140°F in your gas grill or oven and refill plates on the table as needed.
This keeps you and the folks at the table safe. However, it causes parts of the pulled pork to slowly but surely dry out and toughen up. To moisten leftover pulled pork, place it in an aluminum pan, smother it in broth, cider, or juice, then slide it in a 300°F oven until it’s hot and steamy.
You can, of course, do this in a cast iron skillet or a stainless steel pan over medium heat on your gas grill or the stovetop. The steps are the same, with the key difference that you’ll need to stir the pulled pork every now and then so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the cooking vessel.
Cooking Pulled Pork to Perfection
How do you never end up dried meat again, some of you may be thinking?
The next time you make pulled pork, whether in the smoker or in the oven, follow the simple steps below for cooking it to perfection.
Making Pulled Pork in the Smoker
For this pork recipe, you will need:
- A pork butt that’s 5-7 pounds in weight;
- The dry rub consists of 2 cups brown sugar, ½ a cup kosher salt, 6 tablespoons mustard powder, 2 tablespoons onion powder, and 1½ tablespoon cayenne pepper.
- The mop consists of 1 cup unfiltered apple juice and 1 cup apple cider vinegar.
Trim the fat off the pork butt using a sharp fillet knife.
Combine the ingredients for the rub in a bowl. Apply the rub all over the pork butt, giving the meat a pat or two here and there to help the rub adhere. Rest at room temperature for 45-50 minutes before sliding it in the smoker.
Use the time to soak the wood chips in water and start the fire. Add the wood chips halfway through the time, between the twentieth and thirtieth minute. By the time the pork butt has finished resting, the temperature in the cooking chamber of your smoker should have stabilized at 250-275°F.
Place the pork butt, fat side up, close the lid, and let the low temperature work its magic on the meat. Before applying the mop to the meat, you want to give it enough time to develop an outer bark. So mop the meat at the second or third hour of cooking depending on its size.
The pork butt’s done when it’s reached an internal temperature of 200°F. How quickly this happens depends on the type and model of your smoker, the size of the meat, and the temperature in the cooking chamber, all of which will vary from cook to cook.
The key is to use a meat thermometer, as this is the only accurate way to tell when the pork butt’s done. As soon as it is, remove it from the smoker, pull it apart while it’s steaming hot, and rest it for a good 15-20 minutes before serving.
Making Pulled Pork in the Oven
To make pulled pork in the oven, you will need the same ingredients for the rub and mop. But, instating of mopping the meat, you will be braising it in the liquid.
Trim the fat off pork butt and cut it up into large pieces that fit comfortably in a Dutch oven. (Set them aside and don’t put them in the Dutch oven yet.)
Mix a dry rub out of 2 cups brown sugar, ½ a cup kosher salt, 6 tablespoons mustard powder, 2 tablespoons onion powder, and 1½ tablespoon cayenne pepper, then apply it liberally all over the pieces of pork butt.
On the stove, add a dollop or two of cooking oil to the Dutch oven, making sure that the cooking surface is completely covered with it. Heat the Dutch oven over high heat for 2-3 minutes, then sear the pieces of pork butt in batches.
Add 1 cup unfiltered apple juice and 1 cup apple cider vinegar to the Dutch oven and cover it with the lid. Slide it in a 300°F oven and braise, for 2-3 hours, until the pork has turned nice and tender. Remove the lid and continue cooking for 1 hour.
While the pork is still steaming, lay it on a wooden cutting board and pull it apart with the help of meat claws of a couple of sturdy forks. Toss it with BBQ sauce and send it to the table while it’s still warm.