The popularity of shredded pork is at an all time high and smart companies are finding ways to produce a more consistent, hand pulled look to their product.
The reason is obvious: consumers want to buy a shredded pork product that closely resembles what they could make at home. The more consistent the shreds, the more it looks like it was pulled apart with forks, the better.
Achieving that hand pulled look is difficult though. Shredding product by hand isn’t scale-able and often requires a large investment in labor, while some meat shredding machines can produce a clumpy product.
So how do you get that hand pulled look consumers want? Simple, you change how you cook your product.
Cooking: The Path to Better Shreds
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A hand-pulled look to your shreds is achieved only when the connective tissue of your pork product is broken down during the cook cycle and the muscle fibers are pulled apart from one another.
Perfecting the look and consistency of your pork shreds starts in the cook cycle. If the cook cycle is too short, or your pork product isn’t held at temperature long enough, the connective tissue doesn’t break down as well, leaving you with “clumpy” and mushy shreds. Left in too long, and your shreds will be very fine.
The method of shredding, whether by hand or in a meat shredding machine, affects the quality of shreds minimally. If your pork product isn’t cooked correctly, you won’t achieve desirable shred quality and consistency.
Cook Smaller, Uniform Pork Chunks
The distance between the outside of the product and the core of the product constitutes how long you must cook the product to break down the connective tissue. Generally, this means getting the product up to 83°C (180°F) and holding for a period of at least 30 minutes.
Whole pieces of pork (defined as larger than 4 inches) can take upwards of 12 hours to reach an internal temperature of 180°F. The extended length of time required to cook the product can cause the outside to become “mushy.”
The best method is to cut pork into 3 or 4 inch sized pieces to improve cooking and product consistency.
Practice Step Cooking
Step cooking is the process of slowly increasing the cook temperature over a period of time to retain purge. Rather than starting the cook process at 190° F, start the process at 145° F and work up to 190° F over the course of 1-3 hours.
Step cooking prevents pork from giving up outside moisture too quickly and retains a greater amount of purge. It also helps prevent the outside from getting “mushy”.
Best Step Cooking for Pork
Pork cuts, whether butts, loins, coushins, bellies or other cuts, respond about the same in the cooking process. It doesn’t matter what cut you use; the main factor is to cut your product down to 3 or 4 inches tall to increase the efficiency of the cooking process.
The best method is to load cook-in-bags with product and spices, and then flatten the bags so product is no more than 4 inches tall. Steam cook (or as high of humidity as possible) the product in a basic cook cycle:
- Cook at 145° F for one hour
- Cook at 165° F for one hour
- Cook at 185° F for one hour
- Cook at 190° F until internal temperature reaches at least 180° F.
- Hold at that temperature for one hour
This process will produce a nice, consistent shred of your pork cut. If the product shreds too fine, cut back the time on the last cooking step. If the product shreds too coarse, add more time to the last cooking step.
Cook-in-bag is not required; however, best practice dictates wrapping the product in foil for the majority of the cooking process to retain moisture, and then take out to smoke for last half hour.
The Ultimate Shred
Cooking your pork product using the tips outlined above will improve the quality of your shreds and give you the hand pulled look that consumers want — whether you shred by hand or using an industrial meat shredding machine.
Play around with the cook cycle of your pork product to dial in the exact process that will produce the shred you want — and then follow that process consistently. Doing so will improve the quality of your product and set you apart from the competition.