Pulled pork is an icon of barbecue whether you prefer it with an eastern North Carolina vinegar-based sauce or with a sweeter tomato-based sauce like a Kansas City-style sauce. However, pork butts (or shoulders, if that’s your preference) are a large cut of meat that is prone to leaving plenty of leftovers. So you might find yourself asking “how long is pulled pork good for?”
The United States Department of Agriculture answered the question of how long is pulled pork good for in the fridge by saying that all types of cooked pork should be used within four days of being cooked. That includes that low-and-slow smoked pulled pork. If you’ve bought a pork butt or shoulder and are bringing it home to smoke, the USDA recommends keeping it in the fridge for up to five days.
Here at Angry BBQ, we’ve spent our fair share of time around pulled pork. Whether that’s smoking it ourselves or enjoying it, we know a thing or two about it. We want anyone interested to be able to enjoy it whether that’s fresh off the smoker or leftovers later on. We want to share what we’ve learned about safely handling pulled pork so we can all stay safe.
So how can you keep your pulled pork around for longer? What about your raw pork butt or shoulder? What the heck is the difference between a pork butt and a pork shoulder? Get your sauces ready, let’s dig in and find the answers to how long can pulled pork stay in the fridge.
How Long Is Pulled Pork Good For?
So the USDA recommends that you should consume leftover pulled pork within three to four days after it’s been cooked. That’s with the understanding that you’ve stored it properly. In order to prevent spoiling, even in the fridge, you should be storing your leftover pulled pork in an airtight container, like a storage bag. Extended exposure to air can accelerate the growth of food-borne bacteria that will spoil the meat.
How To Tell If Pulled Pork Has Gone Bad
You know you’ve got up to four days until the USDA says you should dispose of your pulled pork. However, that doesn’t mean your pulled pork is guaranteed to be good on day four. So how can you tell if your pulled pork has gone bad?
One of the most obvious ways you can tell is if you pull your container of pulled pork out and it’s molded or otherwise visually changed. While barbecue sauce affects the coloring of pulled pork, you should still be able to tell if it’s changed since being put in the fridge.
Another obvious way to tell is if the pulled pork smells sour or ammonia-like. While pork that has developed a tangy smell while raw would likely be spoiled, a vinegar-based sauce will smell a bit tangy as well. You’re looking for obvious changes in the smell from when the pork went into the fridge.
So you’ve smoked a large amount of pulled pork and you don’t think you’ll be able to consume it all within that four-day window as per the USDA. So how can you keep it for a longer time?
How To Properly Store Pulled Pork Long-Term
Just because you won’t be able to eat all that leftover pulled pork in four days doesn’t mean you have to throw away all that wonderful smoked pork. The best way to save it for longer is to freeze it. This will give you leftovers that don’t take too long to thaw and you can enjoy your efforts at the smoker in the coming months.
The best way to freeze pulled pork is by storing it in double-bagged freezer bags. You need to squeeze all the air out to help prevent freezer burn as much as possible. Freezer-burned meat is still safe to eat, but it does affect the texture and even the taste of the meat. Portion out the pulled pork into either serving-sized amounts or meal-sized amounts so it will be easy to take out and thaw.
How Long Does Pulled Pork Last In The Freezer
So how long-term of a solution is the freezer for pulled pork? Well, just like everything else we’ve talked about, the USDA has something to say about that. The freezer is a safe place to store food indefinitely, but food can lose quality over time. To maintain the best quality of your pulled pork, you’ll want to only keep it in the freezer for a maximum of three months.
Just remember, if you come across a bag of pulled pork in your freezer that you know has been in there for longer than three months, it’s still okay to eat. Just toss it with a little extra sauce.
How To Properly Thaw Frozen Pulled Pork
Just like most meats, there are some tried-and-true methods for thawing frozen pulled pork. If you’re a planner, the best way to thaw your pulled pork is by putting it in the fridge the day before you need it. Make sure you put it on the bottom shelf of your fridge on a plate or other container that can catch any liquid from thawing.
If you’re rummaging through your freezer looking for a solution for that night’s dinner, you’re not the only one. We’ve all done it at some point. You still have a solution for thawing that will get the job done without using the microwave. Submerge the bag of pulled pork in a large bowl of cold water. It may take up to an hour to thaw, just switch out the water after about 30 minutes or so to ensure it stays cold.
If you’re really in a hurry, you can turn to the microwave to thaw your pulled pork. Remove it from the storage bag and place it in a microwave-safe dish to thaw. This can reheat your pork unevenly, so keep an eye on it.
How Long Is Raw Pork Butt Good For?
While we’ve covered cooked pulled pork and how long it lasts in the fridge, we also should talk about where pulled pork comes from. Whether you prefer a pork butt or a pork shoulder, you don’t want that large cut of meat going bad in the fridge before you get it cooked down.
According to the USDA’s Fresh Pork From Farm to Table page, you’ve got up to five days to cook or freeze your pork butt or pork shoulder. You can freeze it indefinitely, but for best results, you’ll want to thaw and cook it within six months of putting it in the freezer.
What’s The Difference Between a Pork Butt and a Pork Shoulder?
If you’ve ever stared into a meat cooler at your local grocery store trying to figure out the difference between a pork butt and a pork shoulder, you’re not alone. The simplest explanation is that while both are from the same primal cut in the pig, the pork shoulder carried (ahem, shouldered) more of the load when the pig walked around than the pork butt. The shoulder is therefore learner and tougher than the pork butt.
You can use either cut of meat to make pulled pork, but typically pulled pork is made from the butt because of the intramuscular marbling that renders for juicy and tender meat.
For an in-depth breakdown of the two cuts, check out our breakdown here!
Wrapping It Up
So how long does pulled pork last in the fridge? You’ve got up to four days to eat or freeze it per the USDA. If you’ve got a raw pork butt or shoulder in the fridge, you’ve got up to five days to cook it or freeze it.
If you’ve got plenty of leftover pulled pork, and let’s be real, pork butts are pretty big pieces of meat, we’ve got you covered with some of our favorite leftover pulled pork recipes.
What’s your favorite way to use leftover pulled pork? Let us know in the comments!