Knowing how long you can leave your pulled pork in the slow cooker is important for the best result and food safety. Pulled pork must be cooked for several hours to come out tender and succulent, but how long can you leave your pork in the slow cooker once it’s done?
When cooking pulled pork on low in a slow cooker, a large joint can cook for up to 18 hours. The pork will cook faster on high and should not be left for 8-10 hours. Only use the warm setting to keep cooked pulled pork warm for 2-4 hours.
Slow cookers are a fantastic way to prepare pulled pork. The slow cooker makes tough cuts of meat fall apart easily, all with a small amount of energy and fuss.
When people say pulled pork needs to be cooked for a long time, that length will depend on the size of the pork joint and the heat setting you’re using. You will get more tender and delicious pulled pork by cooking longer at a lower setting.
Best Practices Leaving Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker
The best setting for making pulled pork is to use a low setting and cook the joint for 8-10 hours. By this time, the meat will cook in its own juices, the protein bonds will have broken down, and the fat rendered. Halving the joint can reduce the time to 6-8 hours.
When you remove your pork from the cooker and the juices, leave it to rest for another 20-30 minutes. This gives the inner temperature time to cool down so that the juices are retained when you cut the meat instead of running out.
You can also decrease the cooking time to 6-8 hours when making pulled pork on the high setting, but the result will not be quite as tender and juicy.
When making pulled pork, you’ll likely have two heat-setting options on your slow cooker: low and high. Some cookers have a warm setting, but this is for keeping cooked food warm (we’ll deal with that in the next section).
The most common joint used for making pulled pork is pork shoulder. This is often divided into smaller cuts; in the US called Boston Butt (pork butt) and Picnic Roast (pork shoulder). Both of these are suitable for making pulled pork.
Because it comes from the shoulder, where the muscles get more exercise, Boston Butt has tough meat, making it a more economical and tasty cut. Most weigh about 4-8 lbs and are cooked whole. You can also cut the Butt into two pieces which can help reduce the cooking time slightly.
How Long Can You Keep Pulled Pork Warm In A Slow Cooker?
If you’ve cooked your pulled pork, but are not ready yet to drain and shred it, add the BBQ sauce and serve, you may want to leave it in the slow cooker on the warm setting.
Most slow cookers have a third setting besides low and high, which are cooking temperatures. The warm setting does not cook your food, as it will not bring it up to the required temperature.
However, it’s a great setting to keep cooked food at the right temperature for serving if you need to wait a few hours.
If you use your slow cooker’s warm setting, do not leave the meal for longer than 2-4 hours, and try not to open the lid.
Under 140F is a danger zone for bacteria growth stated by the USDA, and the warm setting sits just above this at around 145 to 165F. Opening the lid can lower the temperature.
If you need to serve your pulled pork much later, drain the meat, prepare it with the BBQ sauce or reduced liquid, and store it in the refrigerator. The cooked pork will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge and should be consumed before this time is up.
Can You Overcook Your Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker?
It is possible to overcook pulled pork in your slow cooker. After a prolonged time, the meat will have all the juices cooked out and become dry and stringy. The protein bonds will break down, and the meat becomes mushy. It will not shred into tender pieces.
At this point, most people agree that it’s inedible—making an expensive meal for a lucky dog.
It’s easier to overcook pulled pork if you use the high setting. This is another reason I recommend against using this heat setting when cooking pork shoulder.
However, how long it will take before your meat overcooks will also depend on the size of the cut. If you know you will be out for a long time, you should use a larger cut of meat with a good amount of fat.
Using the low setting and ensuring the meat will take longer to dry out means you could slow-cook pulled pork for up to 18 hours.
Cooking On High Vs. Low In The Slow Cooker
Sometimes if you’re pressed for time, you may want to cook pulled pork on the high setting. By cutting the joint in two and setting the temp on high, you could have your slow cooker pulled pork ready in 5-6 hours.
Just test the pork around this time for tenderness by shredding a small section.
While this may seem like a good way to save time, it can result in pulled pork that is less tender and tasty than slow-cooked meat. The taste difference may or may not be noticeable, but I recommend slow-cooking on low for full tenderness if you want the best pork.
Slow cooking is known to make tough cuts of meat taste better.
The initial lower heat begins the process of aging the meat by deactivating the meat enzymes. The meat reaches a chewy stage as the collagen shrinks as the temperature rises, but the slow process takes you past this.
Finally, the meat reaches an interior temperature of 160F, the collagen converts to gelatin, and the pork becomes tender, even though it has lost some of its natural juices. The long, slow process is what makes tough cuts of pork cook to perfection.
Is It Safe To Leave Pulled Pork Overnight In A Slow Cooker?
Leaving pulled pork overnight in a slow cooker is certainly possible if you use the long slow cook method and it’s safe to do so.
Ensure you use a large piece of meat with enough covering fat to help prevent the pork from drying out. A suitably large piece of meat can cook for nearly 18 hours on low in the slow cooker, making it the ideal overnight meal.
The cook time will be reduced when using smaller cuts or a high setting, and there is a greater chance of overcooking the meat. Avoid using the high setting if you want your pulled pork to cook overnight.
If you forget your pulled pork in the slow cooker in the warm setting, this can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Luckily most modern slow cookers will automatically shut off after 20 hours on the warm setting, but any food left this long should be discarded for safety’s sake.
In the warm setting, your food will be kept to a temperature of about 145F, nearly the optimal temperature for bacterial growth such as salmonella, known as the ‘danger zone’ of 140F by the USDA.
When making pulled pork, the ideal is to cook the pork shoulder at a low-temperature setting for 8-10 hours, although you can leave it for longer without worry. Smaller chunks of meat at a high temperature will cook faster, so don’t leave pulled pork on high for longer than 10 hours.
When keeping cooked pork warm on the warm slow cooker setting, do not leave the meat for longer than four hours, as this is a risky breeding temperature for bacteria and could cause food poisoning.
Related Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Posts
- 6 Essential Tips For Cooking Pulled Pork In A Slow Cooker
- How To Add BBQ Sauce To Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
- How Much Water Do You Put In A Slow Cooker For Pulled Pork?
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