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Everyone loves pulled pork! When made right, it is smoky and delicious, but what is the best temperature for smoking pork? Find the answer with this detailed look at the best internal temperature to aim for when smoking meat for pulled pork.
Explore the highs and lows of smoking pulled pork to the perfect internal temperature and find out which internal temperature is best, 190 °F or 205 °F; with this, let’s look at smoking the perfect pulled pork!
Pulled Pork Explained
Pulled pork is a juicy, smoky, salty treat you and your guests will swoon over. Pulled pork is a shredded pork dish that can be served dry or with a wide range of sauces. This delicious dish is a barbecue classic because the pork was practically made for outdoor smoking!
To produce a perfect pulled pork, you must start with the pork. Generally, two cuts are used for making this dish: Boston butt and pork shoulder. These two cuts are large pieces taken from the pig’s shoulder and lend themselves to slow smoking.
To achieve the perfect shreddable pork, it must be smoked slowly to the ideal internal temperature to make the meat tender and easy to pull apart. For most smoke enthusiasts, they must cook their pork to an internal temperature between 190 °F and 205 °F to get that perfect pulled pork flavor and texture.
Pulling Pork at 190 °F
If you’ve cooked a lot of pork in the skillet or oven you might be thinking that pork doesn’t need to be cooked to such a high internal temperature, and you would be right! Technically, cooked pork is safe to eat at 145°F, but when smoking pork for pulled pork, letting it get to higher internal temperature locks in a juicy, tender flavor.
Smoking is a low and slow cooking method that takes hours, but it is well worth the wait for nicely juicy pork! But how long is enough, and how hot should the pork be for perfect pull ability?
Many barbecue lovers will say that 190 °F is the perfect internal temperature to aim for. At this point the pork is loaded with juices, still pink and flavorful, and very nicely tender. Here are some tips on how to get your pork to this temperature sweet spot:
- Set the smoker to 225°F for the first 4–6 hours.
- Monitor the temperature of the pork using a probe-style thermometer. Always check the temp at the thickest part of the pork.
- Consider wrapping the pork after it reaches about 150 °F. This locks in the juices while the pork finishes.
- Take the pork off the smoker when it reaches 190°F and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. The internal temperature will continue to climb about 5-7°F.
- Shred the pork in a hotel pan with two forks or meat-shredding claws.
Pork that is cooked past 190°F runs the risk of overcooking. If pork shoulder or butt is left on the smoker past 205°F it can become dry and too smoky, so there is a small window between 190°F and overdone.
Pulling Pork at 205°F
Temperature with pork is so crucial that passionate pit masters will spend a whole day monitoring their pork for that ideal temperature, but it’s more of a window than just one spot.
A pork shoulder or butt smoked between 190 °F and 205 °F will be perfectly tender, juicy, and easy to pull, but if you let the pork climb any higher, it will be overdone. 205 °F represents the highest acceptable internal temperature for pork set to become pulled pork.
At 205 °F the meat is still juicy and delicious, but if you don’t watch it closely and take the pork off the heat at the right moment, you will ruin your dish! Here are a few tips to help keep the meat extra juicy while you shoot for 205 °F:
- Set the smoker to 225 °F. Keep an eye on its temperature and keep the lid closed for even cooking.
- Very closely monitor the temperature. Consider using a Bluetooth thermometer to watch your meat from anywhere.
- Spritz the pork with apple cider vinegar to add moisture and help it stay cool.
- Once the pork reaches 150 °F it can optionally be wrapped. This is a good idea if you shoot for a higher internal temperature to protect the meat from overcooking.
- Be ready to take the pork off the smoker early if it reaches 205 °F quickly.
- Rest the pork for 30 minutes before shredding.
The risk of overcooking is the most significant disadvantage of this higher internal temperature. However, with close monitoring, a piece of pork smoked to 205 °F will make juicy and delicious pulled pork.
Comparison of 190°F vs 205°F
Smoking is a culinary science, but how do you know which internal temperature is right for you? It is a question of your tastes. Both temperatures will produce an excellent pulled pork, but a few factors must be considered.
At 190 °F the pork will be slightly pink, juicy, and tender enough to pull. It will have more meatiness than a piece of pork that renders longer. Whereas pork smoked to 205 °F will be full of tender juiciness but lack some pink porky flavor.
Here is a comparison chart to break down the pros and cons of each temperature:
|Characteristic||At 190 °F||At 205 °F|
Pulled pork is always a people-pleaser. This succulent meat is perfect for any occasion and is rich when cooked to the right temperature. If you aim to impress with your pork, shoot for 190 °F but never let your pork cook past 205 °F.
If you keep a close eye on your temperature, then your only worry about this pulled pork is if you have enough buns!