I've got a question about pulled pork, specifically, resting the smoked butt before pulling it.

I've noticed that some recipes for pulled pork call for wrapping the pork butt in foil and then putting it in a paper bag for the rest period. I normally just wrap them in foil and rest the butt in a roasting pan. Can anyone explain any advantage there may be to the paper-bag method? Thanks.

The Principal Cook


The P. May 31, 2017
Agreed, cv. That’s actually what I thought when I posted the question. I still subscribe to Cooks, but I find myself spending more time here than digging through my collection of magazines. Interestingly enough, I first came across Kenji when he wrote for Cooks Illustrated.

So much of the lore of cooking is simply that. Kenji’s work and the work of Harold McGee and others puts this lore to the test of scientific rigor and frequently finds it lacking.

Being a Tar Heel, I can’t do pulled pork only in the oven. That’s just not right around here. ;-)

My method follows the Cooks Method minus the paper bag. I rub it the night before with a blend of brown sugar, kosher salt, onion powder, garlic powder, dry mustard, and red pepper flakes. The next day, I smoke it over charcoal, hickory, and fruit wood for 4 or 5 hours at around 220 degrees and then wrap it in foil and finish it in a 300-degree oven to get the meat to 200 degrees. This step usually takes around 2 hours. I let it rest for about an hour and then pull it by hand and with 2 forks.

I know I’ve done it right when I can pull out the bone (scapula? pelvis?) by hand. And the smoke flavor gets stronger if you have any leftovers, which may be fodder for another discussion!
SMSF May 31, 2017
Sounds fantastic! Yum....
Leith D. May 30, 2017
Interesting cv! So now we know why to rest it in a paper bag, which I guess I'll be doing from now on :)
702551 May 30, 2017
We know why Cooks Illustrated said to rest in a paper bag in 1997. Whether or not that works is highly questionable, and not just because of Kenji's articles. I have made pulled pork a variety of ways and I don't believe that shoving your pulled pork after it's done cooking is going to preserve additional juices.

Frankly, I'd rather follow Kenji's advice over Cooks Illustrated. Kenji has a damned good track record of debunking previously "cherished" kitchen mantras, and I think this Cooks Illustrated "advice" is a candidate for being complete bunk.
702551 May 30, 2017
Unsurprisingly Kenji at Serious Eats provides a lot of analysis in this oven-based pulled pork article:


and touches on many points concerning both flavor and moisture. He does not bother with a paper bag nor do I.

Of course, he has a sous-vide barbecued pulled pork recipe as well:


and says the temperature at which the pork shoulder is cooked in the sous vide water bath is the primary influencer of the moisture in the end product. Again, there is no mention of anything about resting in a paper bag.

I suggest people who are interested in cooking pulled pork read both Serious Eats articles.
The P. May 30, 2017
Interesting answers, everyone! Thanks!

I first saw the paper-bag method in Cooks Illustrated. I'd ask, CV, but there's a pay-wall between the magazine (to which I've subscribed for years) and their online site (or at least there used to be). And I'm cheap! :)

Never thought of the KitchenAid, Leith. I usually pull by hand and with forks. I also chop up the bark. The texture does soften a bit. Next time, I'll uncover it during the rest time.

Happy cooking!
702551 May 30, 2017
Here's what Cook's Illustrated says in the July 1997 recipe head note for Barbecued Pulled Pork:

"While developing an accessible pulled pork recipe, we determined that the shoulder roast, which has the most fat, also retains the most moisture and flavor during a long slow cook. For flavor, we massaged a spicy chili rub into the meat, wrapped the roast in plastic, and refrigerated it for at least three hours to "marinate." Next we cooked the roast first on the grill to absorb its smoky flavor (from hickory chips—no smoker required), then put it in the oven to finish cooking (largely unattended). Finally, a rest in a paper bag allowed the flavorful juices to be reabsorbed by the meat. As a final step towards the best and easiest pulled pork recipe, we developed three barbecue sauce recipes from North Carolina and South Carolina."

The recipe ingredient list and instructions are indeed behind a paywall, but the recipe head note is viewable to anyone.

Source: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/1316-barbecued-pulled-pork-on-a-charcoal-grill (Cook's Illustrated)
PHIL May 30, 2017
I'm not sure what the purpose of the bag is. Usually I hand put it so there are some big pieces as small ones. I shred it as soon as I can handle it. Pull pork is so good it needs very little handling in my opinion.
PieceOfLayerCake May 29, 2017
I just rest it uncovered. If you cover meat, especially by enveloping it, it looses a bit of the texture on the surface. Usually, the shoulder is large enough that even with a 30 minute rest, the meat will still be quite hot, but will have cooled enough to handle. That way I can use my hands to pull apart the meat. I prefer hand pulled pieces versus fork shredded.
702551 May 29, 2017
If you use your hands or something like a meat fork, you will have some larger pieces of pork and some that is more finely shredded.

If you use two dinner forks or a machine (like a mixer with a paddle as Leith does), you will have a more homogenous shredded result, which I think eliminates much of the charm and rusticity of pulled pork.

Your call.
Leith D. May 29, 2017
Never heard of the paper bag method! I rest it, cut it into chunks then shred it in my KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment. It saves a ton of time and is less messy.
BerryBaby May 28, 2017
Never heard of the wrapping and resting. I take it out of the oven and start pulling it apart without resting. I do it in the pan so the shredded meat is soaking up the juices and, yes, fat. Been doing this for over 40 years so whether it's right or wrong, it works for me. BB
The P. May 29, 2017
Thanks for the answer.

I, too save the juices and (some) of the fat, but I let it rest for an hour or so because it's too hot to handle. What I'm asking about is not whether to let it rest, but what makes resting in a paper bag different from what I have been doing.
702551 May 29, 2017
Your best course of action would be to ask the author(s) of those recipes which call for resting in a paper bag. It's a shame that many recipe authors give these sort of instructions without providing a reason.
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