Thin saucy shreds of smoky pork stacked on a bun with a side of coleslaw—now that sounds like a summer barbecue.
Although traditionally prepared in a smoked barbecue style, pulled pork can nowadays be prepared in less time-consuming ways and served chopped or shredded as opposed to the traditional ‘pulling’ of the meat.
Meat is expensive and definitely not a product you want to see go to waste. Its short shelf life makes the option of freezing very appealing. But when it comes to those delicious shreds of pulled pork, is freezing really the best option?
Here is your ultimate guide to freezing pulled pork to retain the best flavor and texture.
Types of Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is usually made from a pork shoulder cut, also referred to as ‘mixed cuts’ or ‘Boston Butt’.
The traditional and rather time-consuming method of preparing pulled pork involves soaking the meat in brine to provide extra moisture needed for a long and slow cooking process. The pork is then seasoned with a dry rub and smoked over wood for 12 or more hours.
Of course, home cooks don’t have this kind of time to prepare dinner, and that is why more convenient ways of making pulled pork have become popular. Non-barbecue methods for preparing pulled pork include using a slow cooker, crock pot, regular oven, or pressure cooker. Plus, you can always add barbecue sauce during or after cooking.
The pork can then be shredded or chopped and mixed with more sauce to serve. This way, a pulled pork recipe can be cooked within 60 to 90 minutes.
Can Pulled Pork Be Frozen?
Whether raw or cooked, meat generally freezes well. Providing the meat is in good condition, and has been well stored prior to freezing, there shouldn’t be any problem with freezing and thawing meat. The same applies to pulled pork.
However, with its fine texture, you will want to consider how you can prevent pulled pork from drying out when freezing it. Another factor to consider is how any additional sauce may affect the freezing process.
How to Prevent Pulled Pork from Drying Out when Freezing
Even before pulling the pork, there are two things you can do to prevent the loss of moisture and tenderness. The first is to only shred as much pork as you need and to leave the rest whole for freezing. This will allow the moisture to stay inside the bulk of the meat portion.
Secondly, keep the cooking juices. Once the cooking liquid has cooled, scoop off the top layer of fat and discard it. The remaining cooking liquid can be frozen and added to the meat on reheating to add additional moisture and flavor back into the pork shreds.
Considerations when Freezing Pulled Pork with Sauce
When freezing the pork with sauce, keep in mind that the sauce also needs to be freezer-friendly. Mayonnaise or cream-based sauce, for example, does not freeze well and will spoil your entire meat dish if frozen together.
How To Freeze Pulled Pork
When freezing meat, especially leftover pork, you may want to eliminate as much exposure to oxygen as possible. The best way to do this is by vacuum sealing the pulled pork.
Protecting the pork this way from the air will prevent freezer burn, preserve flavor, freshness, and also make reheating a very simple process.
If you do not have access to a vacuum sealer, follow the below steps to best preserve pulled pork in the freezer.
Step 1: Cool
Let the meat cool to room temperature if it is still hot from cooking.
Step 2: Portion
Divide the meat into portion sizes big enough for what you may require at any given time. This way, you can remove only what is needed at a time as opposed to having to defrost and use the entire batch at once.
Step 3: Cling Wrap
In order to prevent contact with air, it is best to wrap the meat in a layer of plastic wrap before packaging it. Lay each portion of meat onto a separate piece of clingfilm and wrap it tightly ensuring all the corners are well sealed with no gaps where air can enter. Alternatively you can use aluminum foil.
If you are freezing pork in a bbq sauce, skip this step and move straight to step 4.
Step 4: Bag It
Once wrapped, place the meat into a large resealable freezer bag. Press out as much air as possible before sealing the freezer bags. If you are freezing the pulled pork with sauce, scoop each portion into a resealable freezer bag and press out all the air before sealing the bags tightly.
Step 5: Label and Freeze
Label the bags with the date and place them in the freezer.
How To Thaw Frozen Pulled Pork
Your main considerations when thawing and reheating pulled pork is food safety and keeping the pork from drying out. The time required for defrosting will depend largely on whether the pulled pork was frozen with or without sauce as well as on the portion size.
Refrigerator: The best and safest way to thaw pulled pork is in the refrigerator. Remove the bag from the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove it from the packaging once thawed.
If you are planning to reheat pulled pork straight away for consumption, you can also use one of the below methods.
Stovetop: Empty the frozen contents of the freezer bag into a pot or non-stick pan. If you have frozen the meat with sauce, run the freezer bag under cold water for a minute just to release the frozen edges so you can remove the contents from the freezer bag.
Add a little water to the saucepan, if needed, to prevent drying out. Heat on a low temperature setting to thaw. Once defrosted, turn up the heat and warm through to serve.
Oven: Remove the frozen pulled pork from its packaging and place it in an oven-proof dish. Add a few tablespoons of water, if there is no sauce, to prevent drying out. Cover the dish with a layer of foil or a lid and place it in the oven at 350˚F (or 180˚C).
As the oven warms, it will defrost. Give it a stir and let it heat through to serve. The time needed will depend on the portion size as well as whether it has been frozen in the sauce.
How To Thaw Vacuum Sealed Pulled Pork
If your pulled pork has been vacuum sealed and frozen, you can throw the entire bag of meat (sealed) into a pot of water and let it boil for 5 to 10 minutes depending on the portion size. Turn the heat off and let it sit in the water for another 10 minutes before removing and adding to your dish.
This way, the juices stay intact and thaw together with the meat resulting in a tender, juicy product.
Whether barbecued, oven-baked or cooked in a pressure cooker, pulled pork is one luxury that should never be wasted. Freezing is the optimal way to preserve this meaty porky goodness for up to six months.
Since pulled pork freezes well, you can enjoy a delicious meal conjured up through hours of slow cooking without lifting a finger. Simply pull a portion out of the freezer, reheat, and enjoy.
Up Next: How to reheat pulled pork
Image by urban_light/depositphotos