There’s nothing more tantalizing than a good old pork shoulder, whether you smoke it in a smoker, throw it on the BBQ, or cook it in the oven or slow cooker.
Also referred to as “picnic shoulder” or “picnic roast”, pork shoulder is a triangular cut of meat that as the name suggests comes from the shoulder of a pig’s forelimb.
Unlike other cuts of meat such as lean tenderloin and chops, pork shoulder is a remarkably forgiving cut of meat that benefits from a lengthy cook time.
You can cook pork shoulder whole or in pieces such as making slow-cooked pork roast, or prepped and cooked into smaller chunks to make chili, stews, and much more.
Speaking of which, meat aficionados often ask can you overcook pork shoulder?
And the short answer is “Yes” — just like most other cuts of meat, it’s possible to overcook pork shoulder.
Even though it’s hard to overcook pork shoulder, there are sure-shot signs to let you know the meat is overcooked, most notably when it dries out, is tough and chewy.
Now that you know the answer to this question already, I want to provide more in depth look in this topic. I am sure you will know a lot more if you read till then end of this article.
- FAQ Related to Overcooking of Pork Shoulder
- Why is My Smoked Pork Shoulder Tough?
- 4 Main Reasons Why Smoked Pork Shoulder Becomes Tough
- Reason No. 1: Lack of Marinade
- Reason No. 2: Lack of Right Temperature in Smoker
- Reason No. 3: Cutting into the Pork Shoulder During Cooking
- Reason No. 4: Opening the Smoker Constantly
- Can You Overcook Pork Shoulder in the Oven or in the Slow Cooker?
- How Do You Know if Pork Shoulder is Overcooked?
FAQ Related to Overcooking of Pork Shoulder
Why is My Smoked Pork Shoulder Tough?
Pork shoulder gets more tender as it cooks, so it typically won’t get dry or rubbery if it stays on the heat a few minutes longer.
Pork shoulder generally starts out as a fatty, tough cut of meat that gradually transforms into tender, juicy shreds that fall apart with a touch of a fork when slow cooked for a few hours.
Pork shoulders are loaded with marbling (the white flecks of intramuscular fat in meat), which keep the meat moist as it cooks.
The marbling prevents the pork shoulder from drying, and subsequently increases its tenderness.
That said, here are a few key reasons why your smoked pork shoulder may feel tough and overcooked.
4 Main Reasons Why Smoked Pork Shoulder Becomes Tough
Reason No. 1: Lack of Marinade
The first reason why your smoked pork shoulder may feel tough is the lack of marinade.
Marinating not only infuses your pork shoulder with flavor, but also makes the meat more tender, as it absorbs the liquids and ingredients from the marinade.
Reason No. 2: Lack of Right Temperature in Smoker
Another noteworthy reason that can affect the tenderness of the pork shoulder is the internal temperature of your smoker, where it will dry out the meat if it gets too hot. (Source: Foodcrumbles.com)
Heat triggers the moisture in your meat to evaporate, so too much moisture loss will result in dry and tough meat.
Check the temperature inside your smoker to ensure it is set to low, somewhere around 201-degrees to 250-degrees.
Further, it’s a good practice to keep tabs on the temperature, and make the necessary adjustments to maintain the aforementioned temperature range.
The Z GRILLS ZPG-7002BPRO is one of the best smokers to cook pork shoulder and much more.
It also comes with a digital temperature readout, so you don’t have to open the lid.
Reason No. 3: Cutting into the Pork Shoulder During Cooking
As tempting as it may be, refrain from cutting into the pork shoulder until it’s done cooking.
Cutting into the meat while its cooking will cause the juices to drip out.
And as the juices flow out of the meat, it will make it drier and less tender.
Even if the pork shoulder is cooked, it is recommended that you let it sit at room temperature for roughly 10 minutes before carving, so that the juices can settle.
Reason No. 4: Opening the Smoker Constantly
Even though it may not be possible throughout the cooking process, it is important to keep the lid of the smoker closed at all times.
Each time you open the smoker, the smoke escapes, resulting in meat that’s chewier, and with a less tender texture.
Can You Overcook Pork Shoulder in the Oven or in the Slow Cooker?
As mentioned earlier, it’s possible to overcook pork shoulder in both the oven and slow cooker, which may be caused by several reasons.
Whether you’re cooking pork shoulder in the oven or slow cooker, you need to create a moist environment inside.
You can keep the moist temperature inside with the help of water, wine, meat or vegetable stock.
You don’t want to submerge the meat in the liquid, as doing this will cause the pork shoulder to boil, resulting in a tough meat.
Rather, add the liquid to roughly 1/3 of the way up on the pork shoulder in the slow cooker or oven, so that the meat braises, and doesn’t boil. (Source: Tasteofhome.com)
Adding to this, you should always have your slow cooker or oven settings on “Low”, so that the pork shoulder self-bastes, and stays moist.
If you already have a smoker, you can control the temperature wirelessly with the Flame Boss 500-WiFi Smoker Controller.
This device is easy to use, and allows you to monitor temperature inside your smoker wirelessly on your phone, tablet or computer.
Its patented software technology and variable speed blower helps you to control the temperature very accurately.
If you ask my opinion, then I would strongly suggest to use oven only to cook pork shoulder.
You should never cook frozen pork shoulder in a slow cooker, as it will increase the chances of harmful bacteria contamination before the meat reaches a safe temperature. (Source: Izzycooking.com)
How Do You Know if Pork Shoulder is Overcooked?
The muscle fibers of pork shoulder go through three main stages when cooking — tough, tender, tough.
So, if the meat is dry and tough at the end of the cooking cycle, great chances are that you’ve overcooked the pork shoulder.
However, pork shoulder when overcooked can also feel mushy, and break apart easily.
When this happens, the pork will be tender and not tough, but without any texture.
A reliable, high quality meat probe is a great way to check on the temperature of pork shoulder to avoid overcooking.
The good quality digital cooking grill thermometer for smoker such as Inkbird Bluetooth BBQ Thermometer is highly recommended to constantly check the temperature level more accurately during cooking of your pork shoulder.
In terms of the right cooking temperature, pork shoulder should be cooked in a smoker with a closed lid at 195-degreees Fahrenheit.
If you like softer pork, you can cook at 205-degrees Fahrenheit for around 15 – 20 hours.
This time period could be longer depending on the size of the pork shoulder, and consistency of heat in your smoker. (Source: Heygrillhey.com)
You can check if your pork shoulder is done and not overcooked by inserting the probe through the meat.
If it goes through without a fuss, your pork shoulder is ready for you to indulge.
For bone-in pork, you can wiggle and pull the bone to see if it easily comes off.
And for boneless pork shoulder, try pulling a chunk free with a pair of shredder claws, and your pork shoulder is done if it comes out easily.
Overcooking pork shoulder is not easy, as this meat starts off tough, but gets tender after a long period of cooking.
If the pork shoulder is still tough at the end of the cooking cycle, and sort of rubbery and dry, great chances are that it’s overcooked.
Pork shoulder that’s perfectly cooked should be tender and juicy, and not dry and tough, or too tender, mushy with no texture.