Sous-vide Pork Shoulder, e.g. Pulled Pork

Building on the technique I’ve used for ribs (posted previously) I did the same thing with a pork shoulder. Rub & rest overnight, smoke (2 hours, low temp, to get a smoke ring & flavor), sous-vide (48 hours at 146 degrees in this case) and then pull & shred.

Unlike a traditional pulled pork, it didn’t fall off the bone (expected since the final temp never got anywhere close to the 200 degrees or so of typical pulled pork) but the taste was amazing and the bite a little toothy.

Then I used the result as meat I could either shred & serve with sauce, fry up in a wok, or turn into a Carnitas or just about anything that tasty pork is good for.

So this technique is a keeper but I’ll keep experimenting with variations to see how to create the best “traditional” pulled pork using it.

Please experiment and let us know your results! Since my thermal bath is only 5 quarts I can only do one experiment at a time with pork shoulders, even though I can fit 6-8 in my smoker.

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October 8, 2011. Recipes, Technique.

9 Comments

  1. Jerry H. replied:

    I am going to make pulled pork this weekend to be served Sunday for the NFL games @ 1:00 EDT, so I need to expedite the process.
    Here’s my plan:
    Friday night (tonight): brine the shoulder
    Sat morning:dry rub & refrigerate for 2 hours
    Hot smoke in a Bradley Smoker for 3 hours
    Bag & cook sous vide until noon Sunday (approx 22 hours)
    My question is what temp to cook sous vide? I want to be able to shred the meat.
    Any suggestions on the temp? or if you see any flaws or a better method please
    let me know…..thanks!

  2. sousvide replied:

    Jerry–Darn good question. My plan is to buy some more shoulders and conduct the experiment, but that won’t help for this weekend. As I mentioned my 48 hours at 146 was really tasty but it wasn’t as fall of the bone as when I do pulled pork the old-fashioned way, so I’d go higher than that.

    I don’t think you’ll kill it at 160 or even 164, but again it’s a little bit of a guess. You could aim a little high and then pull it out part way through, see if you think it’s what you want and then FTC (Foil Towel Cooler) it the rest of the way? Have fun and have a great game feast. Let us know what you decide and how it works out!–David

    • Jerry H. replied:

      I bought about a 7# piece of pork butt. I brined it in a salt/sugar/vinegar brine overnight. I then dry rubbed it & let it rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Next, I hot smoked it in my Bradley Smoker for 3 1/2 hours @ around 200 degrees. I removed it, bagged it and cooked it @ 70 degrees C. for about 16 hours. When I checked the meat early Sunday morning it was already done & very “shreddable”. I then lowered the sous vide controller to 50 degrees C. to hold it until I was ready to serve. It very good but I thought a bit overcooked (dry). The next time I do it I will smoke it for a shorter period of time & lower the cooking temperature of the water bath. I have another question: The collagen obviously broke down @ lower temperatures than are generally indicated in barbecue information. I’m assuming this is due to the long sous vide cooking time?
      Is there any information about this online?

      • sousvide replied:

        Jerry–Yes, the collagen does break down differently and at lower temps with the long cook times (although I’d like to see some graphs on this if I can find them). Not realizing that is why my temp was too high the first time I went for it. That said, there is also a limit to how much fat gets rendered using sv so trimming a little more seems to be indicated. And I haven’t found a rock solid way to determine how to convert any given smoker recipe for big cuts of meat to s.v. (but of course even BBQ chefs disagree over times & temps so there’s room for some art here).

  3. Leigh Jones replied:

    My local supermarket carries bone-in pork shoulder, but for about $.30 more they have boneless tenderloin, which seems a better choice for me. I rotate this with boneless skinless chicken breasts and tri-tip roast by habit. The tri-tip and chicken get an overnight brine and a 12 hour water bath without seasonings the next day, but the pork seems to repel the brine so I just cook it for 22-24 hours without seasoning the bag. The result is a tender roast that can be cross-cut into boneless pork chops or shredded with a fork and used as pulled pork with barbecue sauce or as carnitas for tacos and burritos with salsa. I notice that the pulled pork must be eaten quickly, because it begins to dry out after shredding, but the water bath of 24 hours at 138 degrees doesn’t seem to be guilty of drying it out until the shredding starts. I often finish the pork on a backyard grill, and sometimes the drippings will flame up and overheat the pork due to my lack of attention, but usually this is not the case. I recommend the tenderloin over the bone-in shoulder unless you have a desire to do something with the bones.

    • sousvide replied:

      Leigh — Just to clarify, do you mean Pork Tenderloin (the very small, very lean cut) or Pork Loin (the larger cut that more closely resembles a pork chop minus the bone)? The way you’re describing to cook it sounds more like one for the Loin (which has more fat) so I thought I’d check. Either way, thanks for the ideas & tips!

      • Leigh Jones replied:

        Both are available. The 3-4 lb Farmer John packages look and taste similar, though they may be labeled either as pork loin or pork tenderloin. Additional products are available, including some store packages in the 1.5-2 lb range and some rounder ones in the 2-2.6 lb range labeled pork loin that typically combine two different colors of flesh that separate into two halves as soon as they are removed from the packages. The Farmer John pork loins often have a large end with about 1/4 inch of fat cap over half and a narrower end with all of the fat cap removed and some degree of multiple colors. I have used them all and their flavors and textures are similar when prepared as I’ve described.

  4. Jerry H replied:

    I’ve cooked many pork butts/shoulders since my original reply almost two years ago. I no longer cook pulled pork sous vide. Here’s my simple method and it works very well:
    Dry rub & rest overnight in the fridge
    Smoke 3 hours @ 225-250
    Place the meat in a cooking bag (like Reynolds Turkey Bags)
    Finish in a 250 degree oven ( I use a large crock pot set on low) until 190 degrees internal temperature
    Rest a bit then shred
    Here’s the important part…..add the purged liquid from the cooking bag and some cider vinegar, red pepper flakes and a stick of butter. This will yield a super moist, flavorful product

    • sousvide replied:

      Jerry, I like your approach. It combines traditional BBQ with the convenience and predictability of a conventional oven.

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