Resting Pork Butt In A Cooler – How Holding Meat Helps With Time Management


Holding or resting a pork butt in a cooler after its cooked is common practice among barbecue experts. This barbecue trick has several benefits, especially with your time planning. Resting meat after cooking is a critical step in the low-and-slow smoking process, but holding in a cooler differs from resting.

Why Rest Pork In A Cooler?

Placing the pork butt into the cooler after cooking is more than just allowing the meat to rest. Holding has more to do with time management. If you’re not ready to slice and serve, holding the pork butt in a cooler is a great way to buy some time. As the word suggests, holding the pork will “hold” the meat at a safe temperature until you’re ready to serve.

Holding The Pork In A Cooler Gives You Flexibility

Time management is one of the most challenging aspects of smoking large cuts of meat such as pork butt. These large, tough cuts of meat need to cook for 8 to 10 hours. If you want to serve the pork for lunch, that means you’ll be doing an overnight cook. But how do you keep the meat warm until lunchtime? If your pork butt was cooked overnight and is done by 7am, you can place it into a cooler where it will stay hot until lunchtime.

If you’re planning on serving your pork butt for dinner, you could start the cook early in the morning and have it done by 3pm. You can then place the pork into a cooler and it will stay hot until 7pm when dinner is served.

How Long Can You Leave It In The Cooler?

If you don’t have a thermometer, I wouldn’t recommend leaving the pork butt any longer than 4 hours. Without a thermometer, you will not know if the meat moves into the “danger zone” where microbial growth occurs. If you have a thermometer, it’s safe to leave the pork in a cooler until it reaches 140°F.

If you have a well-insulated cooler, and you wrap the pork butt in a towel, then the butt should stay hot for 4 to 6 hours, depending on the outside climate. If it’s a cold winter’s day and you don’t have any heating, obviously the pork will drop temperature much sooner.

The time your pork will stay hot also depends on the quality of your cooler. A cheap cooler won’t have the same level of insulation, so won’t keep the pork hot for as long.

Is Holding Pork Butt In A Cooler Safe?

Microbial growth occurs between 40°F and 140°F, so if the pork butt moves within this temperature range, it may be unsafe to eat. After you remove the pork butt from the smoker/cooker, the pork butt should have an internal meat temperature of around 200°F. So once the meat goes into the cooler, it will be safe to drop 60°F from 200°F to 140°F. This should take about 4 hours, even longer depending on the size of the meat, the quality of the cooler, and how often you’ve opened the lid.

What Do The Pitmasters Use?

Pitmasters like Malcolm Reed (see video below) use what they call a “Cambro” to rest or hold their barbecue meats. There are dozens of these different insulated food boxes on the market, and you can buy them on Amazon. Check out a Cambro-Style Insulated Food Box here.

Leave The Thermometer Probe In The Pork Butt

Keeping a thermometer probe inserted into the pork butt while resting will give you peace of mind and ensure the meat it kept to a safe temperature. As long as the meat doesn’t drop below 140°F, then it’s safe to eat. Most thermometers these days have different alarms that you can set. If the temperature drops below the parameters you set, the thermometer will alarm. Some of the high-tech thermometers can be controlled with your phone and monitored remotely. The newest thermometers, like Airprobe 3, are completely wireless. All they are is a probe with sensors and Wi-Fi built in.

Leave The Wrapping On

Keep the wrapping on the pork when placing into holding. The aluminium foil or butcher paper will hold in the heat and the juices. If you smoked the pork butt unwrapped, then wrap the meat before holding. The pork butt’s bark will soften when wrapped, so keep this in mind. You can vent the meat by leaving a small opening in the foil to let out some of the steam.

Wrap The Pork In A Towel

The best way to keep the pork hotter for longer is to wrap the meat with a towel over the foil. This extra layer of wrapping isn’t essential, but it will buy you more time. You can use a dishcloth or a thicker towel. Obviously a thick towel will provide better insulation and keep the meat hotter. Before wrapping a towel over the pork butt, insert the thermometer into the meat and leave the foil/paper intact. Then take a towel and wrap it around the thermometer probe and the meat.

Pour In Some Hot Water

Another trick some people use is to a pour hot water onto the towel. To use this technique, wrap the pork butt in a towel and then pour hot water on top. This method will keep the cooler hotter for longer (up to 8 hours). Check out the demonstration video below.

Don’t Open The Lid

Don’t keep peeping on the pork butt if you want the meat to go the distance and stay hot for a long time. Every time you open the lid of the cooler, you’re letting cold air in and causing hot air to escape. If you’ve got a thermometer in the meat, there’s no need to keep checking. As long as the temp is above 140°F, then it’s okay.

Will It Continue To Cook? Breakdown

Resting and holding will also allow for carryover cooking. Pork butt contains a lot of connective tissue that needs time to breakdown. By removing the butt at 200°F internal, the meat will continue to cook and breakdown as the temperate lowers over several hours.

Resting? Why Do It?

You lose a lot of juice if you slice without resting. It will all spill out onto the cutting board, leaving the meat dry. Resting is one of the most important steps if you want a juicy pork butt.

When meat is cooking, all the muscles tighten, and moisture is pushed out. When you take a hot pork butt out of the smoker, the muscles will still be tight, and it will push moisture out. Giving the meat time to rest will allow the muscles to relax and reabsorb the moisture.

Save The Juices

There’s going to be a lot of meat juices in the cooler after the meat has been resting for 4 plus hours. These meat juices are precious, so do all you can to save them as gravy. To save the meat juice from the pork, place a tray or container at the bottom of the cooler to catch all the liquid. The meat moisture will pool at the bottom of the cooler unless you don’t lay something down.

Why A Cooler?

Cooler boxes are lined with foam or plastic and keep warm air from circulating within the box. When the cooler is filled with ice, it helps retain the cold. The science behind coolers is the convection process. So when you place a pork butt in a dry cooler, the insulation will hold in the heat and slow down cooling.

The Best Coolers For Holding

Yeti and Kong are two of the more expensive, high-quality coolers on the market. These coolers are extremely well insulated, so your pork will hold temperature for much longer. A Yeti or a Kong will keep a butt hot for 8 hours if you wrap the meat and don’t open the lid. I like the Kong because it has a built-in side table, so you can do all your prep work beforehand.

Yeti coolers are expensive, but when you see what’s inside, you’ll know why they cost so much. If you want to camp for days without having to keep topping up the ice, or if you want to rest a brisket for 8 hours, then Yeti’s are worth the extra money.

Cooler Hacks – How To Better Insulate A Cheap Cooler

If you can’t afford an expensive cooler, try this hack demonstrated in the video below.

How Long Does It Take To Cook Pork Butt?

WeightTemperatureTotal Cook TimeResting Time (1 hour)
6 pounds220°F9 hours10 hours
10 pounds220°F15 hours16 hours
6 pounds250°F6 hours7 hours
10 pounds250°F10 hours11 hours
6 pounds(Hot and Fast) 300°F5 hours6 hours
Estimated total cook times for pork butt/shoulder

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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