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Pasture raised pork problems

GuinnessGuyGuinnessGuy Posts: 45
edited 7:32AM in EggHead Forum
Last winter I switched over to buying pasture-raised meats from local farmers. The grass-fed beef has been excellent but I pretty much only make my steaks seared-rare. I've been struggling with the pork trying to get the same level of moisture. The hogs are Berkshire hogs and from what I've read they are supposed to have an extra-rich flavor. But from what I've tasted they seem more like "extra-dry". I've tried a shoulder roast (4 lbs) and a very small green ham (2.5 lbs) and both had decent flavor (although not any better than what I had before) but both were clearly more dry. I'm using a water pan and cooking at low temps (225 or so) but I'm just not getting that famous everything-is-insanely-juicy Egg result. Does anyone have any advice on different techniques to use for this type of meat? When I did the ham yesterday I only took it up to 155 degrees internal temp (for the shoulder I went to 180). Still seemed too dry. Can I get away with even less? I know the obvious reply is going to be "just go back to the meat you used to buy". For a number of reasons I can't do that, so for me it's either this stuff or tofu. I'm not trying to "beat" the results I used to get, I'd be thrilled to just match them.


  • gdenbygdenby Posts: 5,878
    I've been doing pastured pork for over a year now (just got a half hog yesterday) and the flesh does tend to be firmer than regular. There's usually a little less fat. If you are getting Berkshire, which is supposed to have much more fat than a more common breed, I'd have to say I'm surprised at the results you are getting.

    The ribs I've gotten have been from smaller pigs that usually found in stores. About 4 pounds for a rack. So they have come out a little dry when cooked as I usually do, 5 hours indirect, dome 250, some mopping towards the end. A shorter cook, a little hotter at the end fixes this.

    Lo-n-slo for butts and picnics have taken longer for the collagen to break down, but have had no problems with moistness. Over-all, the taste has been very good. My mother-in-law said the fresh ham I did for Christmas was the best she had had since childhood.

    So I can only think of a few things. Smaller pieces tend to end up dry. I never had a butt I liked till I got to 6-ish pounds. So the low weight may be the problem.

    Also, meat that has been re-frozen tends to come out dry. Hopefully your meat didn't get thawed and re-frozen a few times. I suppose there is the chance the pig just didn't get as much to eat as it would have liked.

    With Berkshire I can't believe you would need it, but injection or brining may help.

    FWIW, I've been getting mostly pastured, even "certified organic" meats for a few years now. Sometimes its a little harder to cook, due to less fat, and/or stronger connective tissue. Overall, the quality is so much better that I don't mind the higher price. And its comforting to see that the animals are healthy, and, for some of what I've bought, I know the butcher is very clean.
  • 180 is too low to pull (as in pulled pork). conversely, it's overcooked if you want to slice it and serve as a roast.

    you want maybe 140-145 MAX on the plate if you are serving it as a slice of a roast and want moist pork. if you want pulled pork, gotta take it to 195, 200 slowly to allow the collagen to break down.

    trichinosis, if present (hasn't been a case from commercial pork in decades actually), will die when it hits 138 for a very brief period of time. after 138, you are cooking it to your liking. it doesn't need to see 160+ to be "safe".

    your pasture-raised pork is likely to be very lean. do you know what they are fed? grass fed beef and pork is lean, with a 'different' flavor than grain fed or grain finsihed. the grain basically fattens them. if you have grass-fed or lean pork, you will need to cook it as close as possible to medium or lower (medium-rare to rare). commercial pork is very lean, but is often also brined to guard against overcooking. you can cook lean meat without brining, but you won't have any safety measure of that added moisture if you overcook it.

    if the pork is actually fatty, then you will have an easier time keeping it moist, but it will still suffer at anything over 150 on your plate.

    FWIW, if i want a pork chop at 145 on the plate, it comes off at 138 or so and coasts to 145
  • GuinnessGuyGuinnessGuy Posts: 45
    Thanks guys, great info.

    So on the pulled pork, when it hits 190+ and the collegen melts, does this actually re-hydrate the meat? I mean, if I were to pull it off at 175 would it be half dry meat and half connective tissue? I can't quite think through how ALL the meat in pulled pork stays super moist all the way to 195 degrees and yet ALL the meat in a chop is dry as a bone at 165.
  • the meat in a chop is different than the meat in a butt. a butt sees a lot of action and is a tough piece of meat because of that. the shoulder or butt gets a continuous work out and would be tough if cooked to "normal" temperatures, say 140-145. you can slice it thin and do a quick seared steak from it, or cure it and make it into buck board bacon, also sliced thin. the toughness might not be noticed that way if it's cut to bacon-thin dimensions. but if you cooked the butt instead at 250, it would steadily rise in temp to about 155 before you saw the temp hold steady to a long slow plateau between 155 to 175. checking the thermomoter repeatedly it qould appear stuck on 165, couple degrees either way, maybe even temps dropping a couple degrees then back up.

    what is happening is a break down of the collagen sheath around the muscle fibers. the more muscle is used, the more collagen and connective tissue. so. if you pulled it out the minute the shoulder hit 165 you'd likely have dry overcooked meat. all the moisture (that you look for in a steak, for example) would be long gone. that's water, after all. so why take it to 200? by then, the tough collagen becomes LITERALLY gelatin. that wets the otherwise overcooked meat and gives it the moist mouth feel you want. also, the meat fibers are no longer bound together, and so the meat isn't tough. there's also usually more fat in those cuts, and that melted fat further moistens the meat.

    if you cooked a chop, from a rib roast, well. that doesn't have a lot of connective tissue. so if you go over 140-145, then moisture is gone. if you tried to continue cooking it low and slow to make it pullable, the fact that there's much less connective tissue means you won't get the moisture from the gelatin. it'll fall apart (some folks use tenderloin, for example, for pulled pork), but you'd have to sauce the heck out of it to end up with anything moist. the fibers would be freed, so it'd be tender. but dry and tender.

    so we cook the already-tender and less-fatty cuts (chops, tenderloin) to the minimum temp required for them to be 'done'. anything much over that ("well done," for example) means they'll be dry and tough.

    but the fattier and tougher cuts need to be cooked long enough to allow the collagen and fat to melt and moisten the meat, which means the fibers break apart also, making it tender
  • GuinnessGuyGuinnessGuy Posts: 45
    Damn, that's a seriously good explanation. Alton Brown would be jealous :-) I was always thinking of it like a beef steak or something where there's a pocket of fat or connective tissue in one place and a pocket of meat somewhere else. I didn't realize the two were bound together fiber by fiber. So what you are saying completely makes sense now. Thanks again!
  • soupsoup Posts: 1
    So, can a lean pasture-raised pork shoulder be successfully cooked low and slow for pulled pork? Should it it be brined first for best results?
  • I've had the same problems when cooking a pastured pig shoulder.  I've used a BBQ guru and kept the temp of the pit right around 215, and took my 5-lb shoulder off after a long day of cooking just at it hit 200.  Smelled delicious, pulled right off just like it's supposed to, but one bite ... dry.  I haven't tried brining, but maybe that's the solution?
  • JohnBJohnB Posts: 182
    Try brining your chops. I usually brine mine in water with kosher salt and sugar for 6-plus hours or overnight. I get all my chops from pasture hogs and have had great results. The brining adds moisture to the meat.
  • gerhardkgerhardk Posts: 938
    The pork I buy is a hybrid of Landrace / Yorkshire sows with a Berkshire boar, they aren't grass fed but are fed only non-GMO corn that is grown on the farm, without the addition of any growth hormones or animal by-products.  The meat is flavourful, moist and not too fatty seems like a good product to me.  I have tried heritage breed of pork once from a butcher in Toronto but really wasn't that happy with it but it may have been my old offset smoker which was almost impossible to maintain a constant temperature in.  
  • drbbqdrbbq Posts: 1,152
    Great thread guys! Really!

    I'd say that yes the meat will kind of re-hydrate when it melts in to the pullable state. But I'd also suggest wrapping it it foil with a splash of apple juice at 175 to finish it up. It'll go quicker and the moist environment will help.

    As for the ham, there's a reason most hams get cured and it's because they get dry real easy during cooking. So I'd brine that for sure.
    Ray Lampe Dr. BBQ
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