How to Defrost Pork Shoulder? (+Thawing Tips)

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Prepping a big chunk of pork for a large feast or social gathering is time consuming and can often ruin our plans.

So if you don’t want to see your carefully thought-out plans going to waste, then you’d want to learn how to quickly defrost a pork shoulder.

You can thaw pork shoulder by either putting it in the refrigerator or submerging it in cold water.

The cold water method is significantly faster, and usually takes no more than half an hour per pound of meat.

However, you can shorten this time even more by using one simple trick.

In this article, I’ll explain what’s the fastest way to defrost a pork shoulder safely and show you how you can smoke it on your grill.

How to thaw a pork shoulder?

Thawing a large cut of pork is a test of your will and patience.

It’s something that sits at the back of your mind and bothers you every time you pass through your kitchen.

Fortunately, you can defrost a pork shoulder in no time by simply immersing it in a water bath.

Here’s how to quickly defrost a pork shoulder:

  1. Take out the wrapped pork shoulder out of the freezer. If you’ve unwrapped it, then place it in an airtight plastic bag.
  2. Fill a large bowl or your kitchen sink with cold water. Using warm or hot water increases the risk of bacterial contamination.

    Placing frozen pork shoulder in a large bowl filled with cold water

  3. Submerge the pork in the water. Make sure the entire shoulder is completely submerged underwater to prevent spoilage.
  4. Change the water every 30 minutes until the meat has completely thawed. Keeping the meat in cold water during the entire process is essential for your safety.
  5. Carefully sanitize your kitchen counter and sink. Wash the sink with soapy water, then use bleach to disinfect it from pathogens.

    Frozen pork shoulder in a kitchen sink under running water

It’s important to keep the meat sealed tightly as this will prevent flavor and color loss.

This is why it’s best to leave it in its original wrapping and remove it once the meat has completely defrosted.

In case you’ve already removed the packaging or your meat came without one, you can place it inside an airtight plastic bag.

Another important point you should remember is to change the water once every half an hour.

This is done to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination and food poisoning since the temperature of the water will eventually rise above 40°F (4.4°C).

And bacteria simply love to hang out and multiply in these temperature ranges.

That’s also why you should never use warm or hot water to defrost larger cuts of meat.

Anyways, thawing pork shoulder using a water bath will take you about 30 minutes per pound of meat.

This means you’ll need about two and a half hours to defrost a whole five pound pork shoulder or five hours for a ten pound cut.

This also applies to pork butt as well, since it’s part of the same primal cut.

However, you can take this a step further and leave the meat under running tap water instead of using a water bath.

This way you’ll provide the meat with a continuous supply of heat which will slowly strip away the frost.

Put in simply, the temperature of the water will always stay the same whereas with the water bath method, it will become colder as a result of the heat transfer from the meat which in turn will increase thaw time.

Once the pork shoulder has been completely defrosted, you should carefully sanitize your kitchen sink and all nearby surfaces.

I usually wash my sink with lots of soapy water, rinse it, and then disinfect it with a diluted solution of bleach and water.

The only downside to the “cold water method” is that the meat can’t be frozen back again.

So if you’re going to use it, you’d better be sure that pork shoulder will go down on the smoker.

Suggested read: Smoked salmon internal temp

Is thawing pork shoulder on your kitchen counter a good idea?

As tempting as it may be, defrosting a piece of pork shoulder on your kitchen counter is the last thing you’d want to do.

That’s unless you live in an igloo, of course.

In which case, I really envy you.

All jokes aside, leaving out meat for more than two hours at room temperature is simply begging for trouble. See, all the horrid bacteria such as Salmonella, Eschericia coli, and Campylobacter can double their numbers in less than 20 minute at room temperature.

Frozen pork shoulder on a kitchen counter

And even though they can be destroyed during cooking, the toxins these bacteria release don’t get neutralized as easily and can lead to food poisoning.

So if you don’t fancy visiting the hospital any time soon, I’d recommend you defrost your pork shoulder or pork butt in the fridge or in cold water instead of leaving it to thaw overnight.

Speaking of which.

How long does it take to defrost pork shoulder in the fridge?

If you want to keep your options open, then you’d want to know how to thaw a pork shoulder in the refrigerator.

Especially if some of your relatives suddenly stops eating pork.

After all, why should you waste a perfectly good piece of pork when you can safely refreeze it?

All you’ll need to defrost the shoulder meat is a baking dish and a wire rack.

Here’s how to defrost pork shoulder in the fridge:

  1. Take out the meat from the freezer. You can leave the wrapping on or remove it.
  2. Put a wire rack on top of a baking dish. This will promote air circulation and speed up defrosting.
  3. Lay the pork shoulder over the wire rack. Carefully place the shoulder on top of the wire rack.
  4. Place the baking dish at the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. This will prevent any runoff and cross-contamination.

Frozen pork shoulder on a wire rack, prepared for defrosting in the fridge

Unfortunately, defrosting a pork shoulder in the refrigerator will take you 5 hours for every pound of meat you have.

This means you’ll need to spare an entire day to thaw a single 5 lbs shoulder roast.

Another thing you could try is to place the pork shoulder along with its wrapping inside a bowl of cold water and then put it in your fridge.

Since water conducts heat twenty times as well as air, this should technically speed up the entire process.

However, unlike the water bath method, you won’t need to change the water every 30 minutes since the pork shoulder will be kept at a constant temperature.

You’ll be able to tell if the meat is thawed by inspecting it for ice crystals or using a wooden skewer.

A fully thawed piece of meat shouldn’t have any visible frost or ice crystals.

Another, more reliable way to check if the meat is completely thawed out is to measure its internal temperature with a food thermometer.

When a pork roast is defrosted, it should have an internal temp above 40°F (4.4°C).

Anyways, once it’s fully thawed, pork shoulder can stay in the fridge between 3 and 5 days before it spoils.

And in case you change your mind, you can simply put it back in the freezer for later use.

Even though this is the “safest” way to defrost meat, I personally shy away from it since I don’t like waiting.

Learn More About Meat Storage: How Long Can Uncooked Chicken Stay in the Fridge?

Can you smoke a frozen pork shoulder?

We’ve all had moments where time simply wasn’t on our side and the only thing we wished for was a quick fix.

And If we have to be completely honest with ourselves, then we’ll have to admit that rushing didn’t help us in any way.

Smoking a frozen pork shoulder isn’t much different.

Yes, I know, it takes a lot of time to simply smoke a large piece of pork, so another three hours on top make it all seem like an eternity.

But no matter how badly you might want to fire up your smoker and throw on that bad boy, doing so can put you at risk of food poisoning.

If you try to smoke a frozen slab of meat, it will take too much time to thaw and stay inside the “Danger Zone” long enough to get contaminated with bacteria.

This is why you should always defrost meat before putting it on the smoker, including pork shoulder and pork butt.

Pork shoulder on a smoker

And even if you disregard the potential health implications of cooking frozen pork, there’s still the matter of taste.

Smoking a frozen pork shoulder will cook it unevenly and result in a largely unappetizing piece of meat.

If after all you end up deciding you don’t want to smoke the meat I can maybe inspire you with my list of ideas for pork shoulder roast recipes.

You may also be interested in checking: How Long To Bake Pork Chops at 350°F

How to prepare the defrosted meat for smoking?

Smoking pork shoulder is one of the easiest things in the barbecue world. You simply pick a good type of wood for the smoker and that’s it.

Unlike beef, there’s no need to worry about the quality of the pork meat or obsess over what type of seasoning to use.

Since this type of pork roast is high in both collagen and fat, it will always yield you a juicy hunk of meat as long as you follow some simple guidelines.

The first thing you’ll need to keep in mind to get a bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt.

This will allow the meat to keep its juices and prevent it from drying out.

Related: 10+ Smoked Pork Butt Recipes

In terms of trimming, the only thing you need to do is score the top of the pork in a criss-cross pattern.

This will help the fat dissolve easily and keep the meat moist.

For the dry rub, I like using a mixture of brown sugar, black pepper, paprika, garlic, and onion powder.

Dry cured pork shoulder on a cooking paper

The brown sugar creates a wonderful crust that captures all of the earthy flavors from the barbecue smoke.

As a final note, you should aim for an internal temperature of 170°F (76°C). This will completely render the fat and keep the meat juicy.

Don’t forget to read: At what internal temperature is Pot Roast done?

My Conclusion

Defrosting a frozen pork shoulder can be a time consuming effort.

Fortunately, by applying a few simple tricks you can drastically reduce the time needed to fully thaw this wonderful pork roast.

But whether you choose to put it under the tap or use the water bath method, you should always sanitize your kitchen sink and counter afterhand.

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can share them down in the comments.

A Recipe With Pork Shoulder To Try Next: Rich Pork Buns Steamed Without a Dedicated Steamer

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