Pulled pork is a pillar of smoked barbecue food. But how do you make sure that the next day’s leftovers are just as good? Here’s how to reheat pulled pork while letting it stay moist, tender, and delicious.
Pulled pork is glorious. Taken from the upper shoulder of the pig (also called the ‘butt’), it comes from a large cut of meat. This means lots of delicious, juicy meat to use, but it also means that there is almost always lots of leftovers to get through.
Leftovers are great, but it can be difficult to reheat them to the same standard that you first cooked them.
In this article I’m going to outline six of the best ways to reheat pulled pork, and grade them on how effective they are at retaining meat flavor, texture, and overall quality.
How to reheat pulled pork on the grill
Where else would I start apart from good old grilling?
When it comes to grilling, there are two main methods of cooking: One by grilling directly; the other by grilling indirectly.
Direct grilling exposes meat to extremely high temperatures, which will just suck the moisture out of the meat.
Indirect grilling however, cooks the meat through a steadily managed ambient temperature while allowing it to retain all the juices that made it delicious in the first place.
This is exactly what we want.
If you have a charcoal grill, arrange your coals under one side of the grill. Light them and close the lid of your grill to bring the temperature up to 225°F/107°C. Once it has reached our target temperature, place the pork on the other side of the grill away from the hot coals.
If you have a gas grill, simply replicate this by lighting one burner on high, and place the meat over one of your unlit burners.
Double wrap the pork in foil, and add about one-third of a cup of water into the wrap. Wrap it up and place in your indirect heat zone.
Once your meat reaches 155°F/70°C, remove the pack from the grill and unwrap it. If you want to give the meat a quick sear or a bark-like finish, put it over direct heat for a couple of minutes.
How to reheat pulled pork in the oven
While it might not be as quick as using your microwave, reheating pulled pork with your oven is just as easy.
In fact it’s also much healthier, as well as more efficient at retaining moisture and quality of taste. It’s also especially useful if you have a large amount of pork to reheat.
Preheat your oven to 250°F/120°C. Remove any remaining fat layer from the chilled pulled pork, and add a little apple juice if the meat needs more moisture.
Transfer the meat to an oven-safe bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Place the bowl in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the meat has reached an internal temperature of 165°F/75°C.
How to reheat pulled pork in a crock pot or slow cooker
It should come as no surprise that using a crock pot is a great way to reheat pulled pork without letting it lose much of its moisture or taste.
The added benefit is that, although it’ll take longer to cook, you can leave it to do its thing for a few hours before coming back to it when it’s ready to serve.
Photo: Foodie Crush
Transfer the meat to the crock pot. Add the remaining meat juices and apple juice. It’s important to add a little more moisture here because of the long cooking time and the amount of steam that the slow cooker will release.
Set the crock pot to warm, and allow to cook for a few hours. It’ll be ready to serve once the internal temperature reaches 165°F/75°C.
How to reheat pulled pork with steam
This method might strike you as slightly unusual, but steaming is a great way to slowly reheat food without letting it dry out or lose its juices.
You’ll need a large pot, as well as a steaming basket.
Place the pot on top of the stove, and pour in a generous amount of apple juice. Place the steaming basket on top of the pot, and bring it to the boil.
Place the pork in the steaming basket, and allow the steam for 20-30 minutes or until the pork’s internal temperature reaches 165°F/75°C.
How to reheat pulled pork by sous vide
A method often favored in professional kitchens is via sous vide, whereby we vacuum pack meat before then submerging it in boiling water.
The reason why this method is so good is that by sealing the meat, we allow the pork to slowly come to temperature while also cooking in its own juices.
Pour the juices over the meat before then vacuum sealing it.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Transfer the packed meat to the water and submerge it.
Turn off the heat and leave the meat to cook. This should take about 20-30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165°F/75°C.
How to reheat pulled pork in the microwave
OK so this might feel like cheating, but the quickest and easiest way to reheat meat is undoubtedly using a microwave.
The convenience of using a microwave does come at a price however, as microwaving meat – particularly high quality meat that’s been specially prepared – tends to dry it out and lose a significant amount of its flavor.
But if you’re in a rush then sometimes there’s no getting around it. So here’s a way to do it that will limit the loss of quality you might normally get when microwaving meat.
After removing the top fat layer of juices, stir the pork slightly to allow more of the unsolidified juices to permeate more of the meat. This is important for retaining moisture so be sure not to skip this step. If you don’t think you have enough juices, then add a few drops of apple juice to help moisten the meat.
Transfer the meat to a microwave-friendly bowl, before placing in the microwave. Heat on high for one minute before stirring the meat. Heat for a further minute and stirring again. Take a temperature reading with a meat thermometer, and aim for an internal temperature of 165°F/75°C.
Why is dry meat so bad?
Having to reheat meat can be the bane of any cook’s existence as it’s so easy to get it wrong and leave your meat dry.
In the case of smoked meat this is especially infuriating.
What makes BBQ smoking so beautiful is that it gets the very best out of meat. It has delicious juices stored in the fibres of the meat; the fat has rendered to produce a sweet and salty taste; and its textures have broken down to make it tender and succulent in the mouth.
To lose this through bad reheating is to lose everything that’s so perfect about smoked meat.
Planning on serving up some pulled pork? Check out my guide on how to work out the perfect amount of pulled pork to serve.
What’s the best way to store pulled pork?
Storing meat correctly will make or break the quality of your meat when reheating it, so really the process of reheating it properly starts the moment you have finished cooking it the first time round.
After you have smoked and served it up, gather any leftovers and portion them between plastic containers. You may only need one container, or you may need several.
In either case, once you have portioned them you need to pour the remaining drippings and runoff from the meat into the containers too. This will help the meat retain its moisture and flavor once reheated.
Once you have portioned it and poured over any leftover juices, seal the lids on the container and transfer to the refrigerator if you are planning on serving it the next day.
If you are planning on serving it beyond this, then transfer it to the freezer. Pulled pork can stay frozen for up to about 4 months.
Just a couple of final notes. When the pork has been left to chill, the juices will form a fatty layer on top. I recommend removing this prior to reheating because most forms of reheating won’t get the best out of this fatty layer.
Finally, if you have chosen to freeze your meat then I recommend defrosting it by leaving it in your refrigerator overnight. This will allow it to thaw safely, without leaving the meat vulnerable to the effects of bacteria.