Reheating Pulled Pork

In the Getting Started with Sous Vide Forum
I am making some pulled pork pork (not sous vide), but I am not serving it until the day after I make it. I've been checking the Internet to find the best way of reheating it. I've read that putting it in a vacuum sealed bag and heating it either by immersing it it boiling water or using a makeshift "beer cooler" sous vide setup is a good way of reheating so that the meat retains its moisture. I've successfully done some beer cooler hamburgers and pork chops using the instructions at seriouseats.com. so I'm familiar with that technique. I thought sous vide reheating would be gentler than immersing the bag in hot water, but the stuff I've read on the Internet was sketchy on the time and temperature for reheating. I was wondering if anyone here had any suggestions. Also I wasn't sure if it would be better to leave the pork butt whole and shred it at the last minute or if I should shred it and sauce it right after it is cooked and reheat it that way. I know that the reheating times are dependent on thickness and volume, but I just need some general guidelines.


5 Replies So Far

I reheat leftovers in the sous vide all the time. Sous vide is absolutely the best way to reheat pre-cooked food without altering the taste or texture.

For pulled pork, I would definitely recommend pulling it, then portioning it into pouches before freezing or refrigerating. A whole pork butt would take too long to reheat (for food safety and convenience reasons). Try to load the pouches no more than 1" to 2" thick, in an even layer. I'm sure the barbecue sauce could be added before sealing or after reheating and would be fine either way. Adding the sauce before sealing would necessarily reheat the sauce along with the pork. Some like their sauce to be cold for contrast.

I find that I can reheat pre-portioned, frozen or refrigerated vac pouches to serving temp (~140 F) in about 1 hour. If the bags are approaching 2" thick or you're filling the sous vide to capacity, you might need up to 2 hours. If the food will be sitting out for a few minutes (i.e. while your guests assemble all the pulled pork sandwiches), it would be a good idea to reheat the food to a little above serving temperature. A few extra minutes at 150 F or more won't adversely affect the texture of pulled pork (because for most of the reheating time, it will be under 150 F), and it would stay nice and hot for the sandwiches. Lastly, make sure you shake up the bag a bit before opening it so you can coat the chunks with those yummy juices that may settle during reheating.
After re-reading your post, I wanted to add a few notes. If you are using a beer-cooler sous vide setup to reheat the pork, keep in mind that the large mass of the cold food pouches will "suck the heat" out of the water, so you'll definitely want to check on the water temp every 30 minutes or so and maybe even start with a higher temperature, like 160 F or higher. If the temp drops below 140 too early, just scoop out some of the lukewarm water, add more hot water.

Additionally, a lot of us use sous vide to reheat foods that were previously cooked sous vide. In that case, we don't really want the reheating temp to go much above the original cooking temp (so we preserve the unique results of the sous vide method).

But for foods originally cooked on a BBQ grill or smoker (or oven), this is not nearly as important. A traditional pork butt cooked on a smoker usually spends 12+ hours at internal temps above 150 F before being removed at ~200 F, so it won't be affected by reheating in a very hot bath for a (relatively) short time of 1 or 2 hours. To see an example of internal temperatures over a long smoker session, click here: StokerLog Example.

I'm sure you (Ralph) already know a lot of that, but I thought it would be helpful general information for everyone. I am certainly not afraid of vac-sealing leftover food from (non-sous-vide) restaurants, then using the sous vide reheating technique to get the most delicious result possible.

Now I need to go find myself a steaming hot, juicy, delicious pulled pork sandwich! Dang it! :-)
Good thing I work next door to Stubb's BBQ. Got my sandwich! :-)

I had my guests over before I received any replies, so I went ahead and reheated the pork in plastic Seal-A-Meal bags for 2 hours at a temp of 145 degrees. (I just guessed at the temp, but it seems I was in the right range.) It turned out fine, although I also reheated some of it in the microwave and honestly I didn't notice any difference so I I'm not sure I'll bother with the hassle of setting up the sous vide for this again.

I should take this opportunity to explain my beer cooler set up which might be a little unique. A relative of my wife receives some pharmaceuticals through the mail in very think walled Styrofoam coolers. They are on the small side, so I'm limited to small quantities, but normally I'm just doing stuff for my wife and me anyway. The cooler is small enough that it just fits into a thinner walled styrafoam cooler that I got at 7-eleven.

I line the cooler with a couple of small plastic trash bags, and turn on my oven to to about 150 degrees. I have an older oven that vents through the back right burner. I put a burner cover over the burner and set the cooler on top of it. The burner cover does not get very hot, (you can touch it with your hand easily), but I figure it does help keep the temp from falling. If I'm going to be using the oven or burners, I don't bother with this.

I partially fill the cooler with hot water and and boiling water to get it to the right temp, mixing with a long mercury thermometer. I get the temperature a few degrees hotter since it going to drop when you drop the cold meat in. I've gotten pretty good at guessing how much hotter I need it depending on how much I'm putting in. (haven't tried it with frozen stuff yet.) I have a remote meat thermometer and I've put a tiny hole in the top of the inner cooler and put the thermometer probe through it into the water. I put a notch in the outer cooler's rim and thread the wire to the transmitter which I leave sitting on the top of the cooler. I leave the receiver near me so I can monitor the temperature easily and add hot water when necessary..

Obviously a beer cooler set up is pretty limited. I like doing the pork chops this way because modern chops have so little fat that it is really easy to overcook by conventional methods. I don't much care for fully cooked hamburgers, and I figure sous vide is the only way to safely get them cooked to medium.
It sounds like you have most of the issues sorted... but I wanted to throw one more idea your way. If your oven can hold at 150F, you might be set.

Take a big pot that fits in the oven. Fill with water and heat on the stove to 150F while the oven pre-heats. When the pot hits temperature, pop the pot with its cover into the oven. When you a ready to heat up the bags with your delicious pork, just pop them into the pot in the oven and let it do its thing.

My oven only goes down to 170F, but I still use this approach to make sous vide version of baked potatoes, and cook some veggies.


Reply to this Topic

In order to add a reply to this topic please log in or create an account, it's free and only takes 30 seconds.