Can You Pull a Pork Butt Off at 185°F? How to Know When It’s Ready for Juicy, Tender Pulled Pork

As any pulled pork enthusiast knows, low and slow smoking is the key to meltingly tender, fall-apart shredded pork. But questions arise on just how low and slow. Specifically, is 185°F low enough to yield incredible pulled pork? Or do you need to push it to 195°F or even 205°F for perfect results?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dig into the nuances of pulled pork doneness, discuss the merits of pulling at 185°F, and most importantly, outline clear signs for knowing precisely when your pork is ready for shredding success. Let’s get to it!

Why 185°F for Pulled Pork?

First, why do some pitmasters advocate for 185°F as the ideal pulled pork temperature? There are a few reasons:

  • Collagen breakdown begins around 160°F and should be significantly melted by 185°F.

  • 185°F leaves pork with a faint pink center that many prefer over fully cooked.

  • Lower temp may help retain more natural pork juices and flavor.

  • Small variances in thermometers mean your pork may hit 190°F when gauge shows 185°F.

So for those who enjoy delicate, sliceable pulled pork with a hint of pink, 185°F can be the sweet spot. The collagen has sufficiently melted while the pork remains ultra-moist and tender.

However, others argue higher temps are needed for true fall-apart shredding. So who’s right?

It Depends on the Unique Pork Butt

Here’s the thing – every pork shoulder is unique. The shape, fat content, thickness, and other factors mean precise temperature needs vary. This is why rigid adherence to a single number can backfire.

Instead of fixating on 185°F or 205°F, it’s better to cook by feel and look for signs of doneness. With experience, you’ll learn to tell when your specific cut of pork is perfectly ready for pulling, regardless of the exact thermometer reading.

Telltale Signs Your Pork Butt Is Ready at 185°F

While temperature guidelines can help, your eyes, fingers, and senses shouldn’t be ignored. Here are the best ways to tell if your pork is ready to shred at 185°F:

  • Probe test – A probe or skewer should slide in with little to no resistance.

  • Fork test – Fork tines should be able to easily shred meat.

  • Visual test – Meat should appear moist with some fat rendered out.

  • Bone wiggle – Bones should twist and slide out cleanly.

  • Bend test – If you can bend/fold meat without cracking, it’s ready.

  • Jiggle test – Meat should jiggle loosely like jello when shaken.

If your pork butt passes these tests at 185°F, then by all means, go ahead and pull it! The meat will be hot, tender and ready for feast.

Should You Cook Pork Butt to 195°F or 205°F Instead?

Cooking pork butt to 195°F or 205°F instead of 185°F certainly has some advantages:

  • More tender – Higher heat melts more collagen for silkier texture.

  • Better shredding – Meat fibers separate easily into stringy pulled pork.

  • Drier meat – Moisture evaporates for a more concentrated pork flavor.

  • Food safety – 195°F+ kills bacteria and pathogens.

So if you prefer ultra-soft pulled pork and don’t mind a bit of dryness, higher heat can work. Just watch carefully to avoid overcooking.

But for many pitmasters, 185°F creates the ideal balance of melt-in-your mouth tender with plenty of juicy moisture.

5 Tips for Perfectly Cooked Pork Butt

To cook pork butt like a pro, keep these tips in mind:

  • Choose high quality pork – Look for good marbling and avoid cuts with bruises or weak spots.

  • Trim fat cap – Leave about 1⁄4 inch of fat cap to help retain moisture.

  • Apply rub – Generously season pork butt at least one hour before cooking, or even the night before.

  • Cook low and slow – Smoke around 250°F for best results. Figure 1-1.5 hours per pound.

  • Rest before pulling – Let pork rest 15-30 minutes wrapped in foil before shredding.

Step-By-Step Guide to Smoking Pork Butt to 185°F

Follow this simple process for foolproof juicy, tender pulled pork:

  1. Prep pork butt with dry rub, trimming any excess fat.

  2. Smoke at 225-250°F until internal temp hits 160°F. Spritz with apple juice or vinegar every 45-60 minutes.

  3. Once 160°F is reached, wrap pork tightly in foil. Return to smoker.

  4. Continue cooking until internal temp hits 185°F, around 1 hour 15 minutes per pound.

  5. When 185°F is reached, test for doneness using probe, fork, etc. If tender, remove pork.

  6. Let pork rest wrapped in foil for 20-30 minutes before pulling.

  7. Using forks or fingers, shred pork, removing any excess fat or bone.

  8. Season with barbecue sauce, serve and enjoy!

FAQs About Pulling Pork Butt at 185°F

Here are answers to some common questions about pulling pork at 185°F:

Is 185°F safe for pork?

Yes, 185°F meets USDA safety guidelines for pork. Key is maintaining temperature while resting.

Should I wrap pork butt at 185°F?

Wrapping around 160°F helps pork butt retain moisture and speed up cooking. No need to unwrap before 185°F.

Do I need to rest pork before pulling at 185°F?

Yes, resting for 20-30 minutes allows juices to redistribute so pork stays moist. Never skip this step.

Can I tell doneness without a meat thermometer?

Yes! Use the probe, fork, jiggle, bend and visual tests to gauge readiness without one.

What if my pork butt stalls and won’t reach 185°F?

Stalls around 150-170°F are common. Be patient, power through, and cook until pass tenderness tests.

Juicy, Tender Pork Perfection Awaits!

While 185°F may be unconventional for pulled pork, with the right cut it can yield incredibly moist, fall-apart tender results. Focus more on physical doneness tests than the number on your thermometer’s display.

With some practice, you’ll learn exactly how your unique pork shoulders look, feel and respond when they reach the prime window for shredding around 185°F. That’s when you’ll achieve the perfect balance of undeniable tenderness with plenty of succulence in every incredible bite of juicy pulled pork. Happy smoking!

How & When to Wrap a Pork Butt in Foil & Place it Back in the Smoker – Baker’s BBQ

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