How long is pulled pork good for? Well, that depends. Whether you’re refrigerating or freezing your leftovers or if you’re just not sure if it’s been on the counter too long, I’ll help you answer all your questions about the safety and longevity of your leftover pulled pork!
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As a South Carolinian, it’s in my blood to love pulled pork.
I love making easy slow cooker pulled pork for my family for dinner, mixed with Carolina Gold bbq sauce. We recently enjoyed some incredible pork my nephew smoked to serve at his own graduation party. My husband and I even served pulled pork at our own backyard wedding rehearsal dinner.
Whether you’re cooking a small 4-pound pork shoulder, an 8 pound Boston butt roast, or having a whole-hog backyard barbecue, you’ll likely end up with some leftovers.
Let’s go over how to properly store your pulled pork so you can safely enjoy your leftovers the next day, next week, or even in a few months!
About pulled pork
Pulled pork is made by cooking a large cut of pork low and slow until it’s tender and falling apart. While pork is safe to eat at 145 degrees, pulled pork needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 200 or 205 degrees so the fat can render throughout and the connective tissues can completely break down.
Cooking and shredding a batch of pulled pork can be a time-consuming process, but leftover pork lasts a long time in the freezer. A great time-saving strategy is to make your pulled pork in large batches and and freeze it in portions for easy use later.
General food safety
As a certified ServSafe food safety manager, I’m happy to share the official guidelines that food service professionals follow. ServSafe is the most recognized food safety certification program in the restaurant industry today.
The general rule is that foods that require refrigeration should spend as little time as possible in the food temperature danger zone (between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit), to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and prevent food poisoning.
How long is pulled pork good at room temperature?
Ready-to-eat foods like pulled pork are safe to eat at room temperature for up to four hours after being removed from a hot appliance. If you plan to store the leftovers, however, be sure to refrigerate the meat within two hours.
If I left my meat out for longer than 2 hours, will reheating it kill any harmful bacteria that may have grown?
Reheating will kill foodborne bacteria, but that won’t necessarily make your pulled pork safe again. “…some foodborne bacteria produce poisons or toxins that are not destroyed by high cooking temperatures if the food is left out at room temperature for an extended period of time. An example is the foodborne bacteria Staphylococcus. This bacterium produces a toxin that can develop in cooked foods that sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.” — USDA
How long can you keep pulled pork in hot-holding?
For food that will be served over a long period (like a party!), it’s safest to put food in some sort of hot-holding appliance. A chafing dish or commercial food warmer can hold hot foods above 135 degrees Fahrenheit, outside the danger zone, so you don’t have to watch the clock when it comes to food safety.
How long does pulled pork last in the fridge?
Cooked pork should last three to four days when properly refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA. To safely store leftover pulled pork, put any leftover meat in the fridge within two hours of being removed from a hot appliance.
Refrigerator storage tips
- Use an airtight container to help keep bacteria out and moisture in.
- Refrigerate leftovers in shallow food containers for quick cooling.
- Refrigeration slows bacterial growth, but will not stop it. If you need to store your leftovers for more than a few days, freeze it instead!
- Don’t refrigerate your leftover pork in aluminum foil. Foil is not airtight, so bacteria can still get in.
How long does pulled pork last in the freezer?
Home-cooked pork stays safe indefinitely when frozen properly. However, quality can suffer or the meat can dry out after two or three months. Using high quality freezer bags and removing as much air as possible reduces the risk of freezer burn.
Freezer storage tips
Here are some tips to prevent freezer burn and easily reheat what you need:
- Food needs to be frozen at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum shelf life. The good news is that this temperature is standard for a typical residential freezer.
- Meat may be safely refrozen if it has been thawed in the fridge below 40 degrees. However, if it was thawed on the counter or microwave, it needs to be eaten or discarded. Be aware that thawing and refreezing meat, even when done safely, can affect taste and quality.
- Freeze leftovers in small or individual portions. Smaller portions thaw more quickly. Plus, you can take out just what you need for a quick dinner or a couple pulled pork sandwiches.
- Flatten your pulled pork within the bag before freezing. This makes for fast, even thawing later and convenient stackable storage!
- Always label your stored leftovers with the date. That way you’ll know at a glance if they’re within the recommended time for best quality. Use the restaurant practice of FIFO, or “first in, first out” to use the oldest ingredients and leftovers before newer ones.
Hot tip: Keep it versatile
Set some pork aside to freeze before adding barbecue sauce. You’ll be happy to have some naked shredded pork ready to go for anything that has a flavor profile other than bbq sauce, like pulled pork tacos or pork chili!
How long does fresh pork shoulder last?
Raw pork should be used or frozen within 3-5 days. Once frozen, it will stay safe indefinitely but is best used within four to twelve months. Use a vacuum sealer or wrap meat with plastic wrap before storing in heavy freezer bags to help preserve optimal quality.
Tips for storing raw pork
Maybe you got a great deal on a fresh pork butt but aren’t ready to cook it yet. Or maybe you’ve cut a larger fresh cut in two pieces to freeze half for a later date. My vintage slow cooker is too small to cook a whole pork shoulder, so I often do this!
Here are a few tips for storing raw pork:
- Ice crystals or freezer burn don’t mean your pork is unsafe to eat. You’ll want to cut the freezer burned portion off before cooking for best taste. Freezer burn looks like a leathery grayish area on the surface of the meat and is caused by dehydration due to exposure of the meat to the cold air inside the freezer.
- Using a vacuum sealer is the best way preserve the quality of your frozen meat, raw or cooked. My dad freezes small portions of pulled pork or raw burgers with his vacuum sealer with no noticeable loss of quality even a year later!
- Wrap raw meat in plastic wrap or aluminum foil before freezing in a freezer bag or airtight container to protect against freezer burn. This is the next best thing to do if you don’t have a vacuum sealer!
Thawing and reheating pulled pork leftovers
Here are a few different ways to safely thaw and reheat leftover pulled pork.
Thawing from frozen
- In the fridge: It doesn’t take much time to thaw an individual portion of pulled pork if you have frozen it flat. You can thaw it overnight in the fridge or move it to the refrigerator the morning you plan to use it.
- In water: If you need it thawed quicker, you can submerge the sealed bag in a bowl of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes or so. A small portion of about a pound may thaw in around an hour using this method, while a 3-4 pound package may take 2-3 hours. This is my preferred method for thawing frozen meats!
- In the microwave: You can defrost frozen meat at about 30% power. Sometimes the outside will begin to heat up while the middle is still frozen, especially if you have frozen it in thicker packages. When food re-enters the temperature danger zone like this, it’s safest to eat immediately after reheating.
Reheating after refrigeration
Reheat pulled pork in a microwave-safe dish or on the stovetop on low or medium heat. Using high heat may dry out your pork or make it crisp.
Leftover pork dried out?
You can mix in a little chicken broth or even water to remoisten the meat. If you plan ahead, save some of the cooking juices along with the meat! I like to freeze some of the cooking juices mixed into my pulled pork to prevent it from getting dry in the freezer.
Thawing large cuts of fresh pork from frozen
- In the fridge: The safest and easiest way to thaw a large cut of pork is in the refrigerator, but you do have to plan ahead. It takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of a large solid piece of meat. If the fresh pork was frozen immediately (you didn’t have it in the fridge for three days prior to freezing) you can keep it in the fridge another 3-5 days before cooking.
- In cold water: You may also use the cold-water thawing method, submerging the airtight bag in cold water and changing it every 30 minutes until fully thawed.
- In the microwave: If you thaw a large cut of meat in the microwave, plan to cook it immediately afterward.
It’s also safe to cook raw pork straight from frozen, but it will take about 50% longer than the recipe states.
Signs of spoilage
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the old adage “when in doubt, throw it out!” You don’t want to waste food, but you don’t want to risk getting food poisoning for the sake of a sandwich either.
While I’ve included official food safety guidelines above, if you see, smell, or feel signs of spoilage it’s best to play it safe and eat something else. Signs of spoiled meat include:
- Appearance: Mold or discoloration
- Texture: A slimy surface or mushy texture
- Smell: A sour, sulfur-like, or rancid smell
What to do with your leftover pulled pork
Okay, so now that you’ve safely cooked and stored your pulled pork, it’s time to figure out what to do with the leftovers!
For pulled pork mixed with bbq sauce, you can try something like bbq pulled pork mac and cheese or pulled pork nachos. If you’ve saved un-sauced pork, try turning it into something with a different flavor profile. Carnitas tacos or pulled pork chili are great options!
And of course, you can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned barbecue pulled pork sandwich, covered with plenty of Carolina Gold bbq sauce.
For even more ideas, check out these 50 Creative Recipes that Use Leftover Pulled Pork!