According to government guidelines, there are different ways to thaw out a pork shoulder if it is frozen and needs to be cooked sooner rather than later.
Some ways are considered better and safer than others. As a general rule, you want to avoid food poisoning when thawing out any type of meat.
Freezing does not kill the bacteria that can make a person fall ill; it only puts bacterial activity at a pause—into hibernation, if you will—for as long as the meat maintains a temperature of 0°F (-18°C) or below.
Once you start thawing the meat out, you expose it to the so-called “danger zone,” the temperature range from 40°F (4.4°C) to 145°F (63°C) in which pathogenic bacteria thrive and replicate to dangerous levels.
So how do you thaw out a frozen pork shoulder that you are ready to cook?
The three best ways to thaw a frozen pork shoulder are in the fridge, submerged under running water at 70°F (21°C) or below, or in the microwave at the defrost setting.
It is not wise to thaw it out while cooking because the outside will burn before the middle of the pork shoulder is thawed out and cooked. Only once the meat is thawed out entirely can the cooking process begin.
It is similarly unwise to thaw frozen pork shoulder by leaving it out on the counter for longer than 1-2 hours. Pathogenic bacteria will grow to a dangerous level inside it and it may give you and the rest of the folks at the table food poisoning.
We will discuss the different ways to thaw out the pork shoulder in detail, how to tell it is thawed out completely, how to avoid thawing out the meat, and the reasons behind it.
As always, we will offer things to look out for in the symptoms of food poisoning and what you can do to avoid falling victim to this horrible sickness.
The Different Methods of Thawing Out a Frozen Pork Shoulder
As stated before, there are different ways to thaw out frozen pork shoulder.
The three main methods are using the refrigerator, submerging it under running water at 70°F (21°C) or below, and putting it in the microwave on the defrost setting.
Let’s take a look at each method in detail:
The Refrigerator Method
This is the best way to thaw out meat like pork shoulder.
It takes some time, there’s no doubt about it. But if you plan ahead, this won’t be an issue.
You will want to place the frozen pork shoulder in the refrigerator 24 to 48 hours before you plan on cooking it. The bigger the cut, the longer it’ll take to thaw out completely, so plan accordingly.
Place it on a plate or in a container to catch any drips and place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge. This gives it plenty of time to thaw out completely.
Once the pork shoulder is thawed out completely, you can cook it immediately or place it back in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.
You don’t want to thaw meat on the top shelf because as it begins to thaw, there is a higher chance that bacteria will grow faster. The warmer temperature on the top shelf will cause this—and you don’t want to take any chances when it comes to food poisoning, now do you?
Submerging It Under Running Water
This is the second best way to thaw out frozen pork shoulder.
You will need a sink that can hold the pork shoulder under running water at a temperature of 70°F (21°C) or below. If your water is warmer than that, you must let the tap run until it reaches the right temperature. That is, it feels cold to the touch.
Once the water feels cold enough, place the frozen pork shoulder in the sink and let the cold water run over it, turning it over every so often. You will want to thaw out one pound of pork shoulder per gallon of water. This method will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw out completely.
After the pork shoulder is thawed out, cook it immediately or place it in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.
The Microwave Method
This is the quickest way to thaw frozen pork shoulder, but it is not recommended.
The reason for this is that there is a higher chance of bacteria growing on the meat because you’re heating up the meat. If you must use this method, then make sure to cook the pork shoulder immediately after thawing it out.
To use this method, you will want to take the frozen pork shoulder and place it on a microwavable plate. Put it in the microwave on the defrost setting and let it go for five minutes.
Take it out and check to see if it is thawed out. If not, then put it back in for another 3-5 minutes. Keep doing this until the pork shoulder is thawed out completely.
As stated before, cook the pork shoulder immediately after thawing it out. Do not place it in the fridge and try to cook it later because of the bacteria that could have grown on it.
Now that we have gone over the different ways to thaw a frozen pork shoulder, let’s talk about how to tell if it is thawed out completely.
How to Tell If Frozen Pork Shoulder Is Thawed Out Completely
The best way to tell if pork shoulder is thawed out ultimately is to use a food thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat and ensure the temperature is above 40°F (4.4°C). If it is, then the pork shoulder is thawed out, and you can cook it immediately.
By its appearance, you can also tell if frozen pork shoulder is thawed out. It must be thawed out if it is still icy or has large ice crystals. If there is just a bit of frost on the meat or tiny ice crystals, it is thawed out enough to cook.
When cooking pork shoulder that has been frozen, make sure to cook it until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C). This will ensure that any bacteria that may have been present on the meat has been killed and that the pork shoulder is safe to eat.
On Food Poisoning and What Not to Do
Never let meat thaw out on the countertop. Bacteria can proliferate at room temperature, so it is best to avoid this if possible.
Another thing to avoid when thawing out pork shoulder is using hot water. This might seem like a good idea because it will speed up the process, but it can cause bacteria to grow on the meat. Lastly, do not cook a frozen pork shoulder.
The outside may look beautiful and crisp, but the inside is contaminated with the micro-organisms that cause food poisoning because it is not cooked internally.
Contrary to what most people think, meat that can cause food poisoning doesn’t become safer to eat once heated or cooked. While it is true that heat kills the bacteria, it doesn’t inactivate the heat-resistant toxins that they leave behind.
All this information is for your safety, but should you feel sick with vomiting or diarrhea, get medical attention as soon as possible. The CDC explains more on its website.
Those are the number one symptoms of food poisoning. It is most dangerous for the young, old, and those with weak immune systems or who have other illnesses like diabetes. We hope this information is kept close to you because it can save your life and keep you from becoming ill.