How Long to Thaw Pork Shoulder: Defrost Like a Boss

September 12, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

If you defrost pork shoulder in the refrigerator, it will thaw at a rate of about 5 hours per pound. Thaw the pork shoulder in a cold water bath, and you can cut the defrosting time down to 30 minutes per pound.

I have been smoking a delicious pork shoulder for family gatherings for many years now. Smoked pulled pork is one of the tastiest (and easiest) recipes in my recipe book. But to make it, you’ve got to fully defrost the pork shoulder first.

In this post, I will cover how long it takes to completely thaw pork shoulder – I will also give you instructions on the different ways to defrost the meat. Let’s begin!

How Long to Thaw Pork Shoulder

How Long Does It Take to Thaw Frozen Pork Shoulder?

It depends on the method that you are using for thawing your frozen pork shoulder.

If you are using the refrigerator method, then a frozen pork shoulder will defrost at a rate of five hours per pound of pork shoulder.

So, to thaw a 9 lb pork shoulder, you’ll need 45 hours, or just under 2 days.

If you are using the cold water method, then a frozen pork shoulder will defrost at a rate of 30 minutes per pound. That 9 lb pork shoulder will be fully defrosted in around 4 1/2 hours.

As pork butt and shoulder are quite similar, these thawing rates apply to both cuts of meat. These defrosting times apply to other large cuts like brisket and ribs, as well as frozen turkey. These big cuts of meat all thaw at an approximate rate of five hours per pound.

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How Do You Defrost a Frozen Pork Shoulder Safely?

The key to thawing pork shoulder safely is to ensure that the frozen pork shoulder is kept at a cold temperature throughout the thawing process.

This is because of something known as the “danger zone.” See, as long as raw pork is kept cold, then bacteria growth is limited.

Stay away from a temperature range between 40°F and 140°F (known as the danger zone). Bacteria are able to multiply quickly at these temperatures, which increases the risk of food poisoning.

Simply take the frozen pork shoulder out of the freezer and place it in a large enough container – a baking dish or sheet pan should do. This is to catch any juices that escape the packaging of the thawing pork shoulder.

Then, place the frozen pork shoulder in the back of the refrigerator until it is fully thawed. I like to keep it on the bottom shelf towards the back where the fridge is coldest.

As I mentioned, this should be at a rate of 5 hours per pound. Another way to look at it is that approximately five pounds of meat will defrost every 24 hours.

Since this is a rough estimate, I like to leave myself a little wiggle room. I like to start defrosting pork shoulder a couple of hours before my calculations tell me the meat will be thawed.

You can even put the pork in about a day or two before you need it to be thawed. Once you thaw pork shoulder, it will keep it in the fridge for 3-5 days afterward.

Frozen pork shoulder on a table

How Do I Defrost a Pork Shoulder Quickly?

Hey, I get it – you don’t always know that you will need to cook pork shoulder several days ahead of time. In some cases, you may need to make pulled pork in the slow cooker or your smoker that day.

Well, don’t worry, there is a faster method that you can use. This is known as the cold water method.

I use my sink with a stopper in the drain. If you’ve got a large bowl or pan that fits your pork shoulder, you can use that too. Keep the pork in its plastic wrapping the entire time it defrosts.

Place the shoulder in the sink or container. Then, fill it with cold water – it has to be cold water – never use room temperature or hot water for this technique.

While tap water should do the trick, you can add some ice cubes to the water if you feel it isn’t cold enough.

Thaw pork shoulder in this cold water for 30 minutes. Then, toss out the water and refill more cold water into the container. Repeat this every half an hour until you have thawed the pork shoulder completely.

The pork shoulder will thaw at a rate of approximately 30 minutes per pound with this method.

raw pork shoulder slices

Can You Leave Pork Shoulder Out Overnight to Thaw?

I wouldn’t. Look, I get this question quite often because, let’s face it, pork shoulder thaws much faster when it is left out on the counter.

The problem is that if you try to thaw pork shoulder at room temperature, the risk for food poisoning goes way up.

Remember what I said about the danger zone? Well, when pork shoulder is left out on the counter, it will very quickly enter the danger zone and stay there. This is true when thawing meat of any kind, pork chops, chicken – you name it.

If the pork shoulder is left out all night, it is sure to spoil. On average, you shouldn’t leave meat sitting out for more than 2 hours at room temperature, and if it’s over 90°F, don’t leave it out for longer than an hour.

Can You Thaw Pork Shoulder in the Microwave?

It’s another question that people ask me – I get it, microwaving frozen meat is a great way to defrost it quickly. But you shouldn’t try to thaw your pork shoulder in the microwave.

Unfortunately, microwaves are known for uneven heating. This is made worse by the uneven thickness of the pork shoulder.

So, when you try to microwave frozen pork shoulder, only some portions of it will defrost. Other areas will stay frozen. Thinner sections of the shoulder may get cooked all the way through.

Microwave defrosting works great for smaller cuts of meat (under a pound). Any bigger than that, and I use my sink or my fridge to thaw the meat.

How Soon Should You Cook Thawed Pork?

If you have used the refrigerator method, you can wait for around 3 to 5 days before you’ve got to cook the pork.

If you’re using the cold water method, you should cook the pork shortly after thawing. You can refrigerate the meat for a short period of time afterward, but I would suggest that you cook the meat within an hour.

If you thaw pork in the microwave, cook it immediately afterward.

raw pork shoulder cubes on a plate

Can You Cook Frozen Pork?

You can do it – you can also pick a fight with Floyd Mayweather.  It’s not a good idea, and things are going to end badly.

For one thing, the pork is going to thaw at an uneven rate during the cooking process. The surface is going to thaw much more quickly as it is directly exposed to heat. The center, on the other hand, is going to take far longer.

So, the center will still be frozen solid while the surface of the meat begins to cook.

I can assure you that pork shoulder doesn’t taste good prepared in this way!

If you are short on time, then try the cold water technique. This should help to speed up the process so that you can get cooking sooner. If you’re really short on time, leave your pork shoulder in the freezer and buy a fresh one from your grocery store or butcher.

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Prepping Thawed Meat

Once the pork is fully thawed, you can begin to prep it.

Mix all the ingredients for your rub (1/4 cup per 10 lbs) in a bowl. Then, apply a thin layer of yellow mustard (2 tbsp) to the pork. Sprinkle the rub onto the surface and then press it into the meat.

In the meantime, set up your smoker or grill for indirect grilling at 225°F or 250°F. Toss some apple, hickory, or whatever flavor wood chunks or chips you’d like on the coals. Once the smoker is ready, then place the pork on the grill and close the lid.

Cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 203°F, or until the meat is probe tender. Then, take out of the smoker and let the meat rest, tightly wrapped in foil, and clean bath towels in a cooler for around two hours.

You can then shred it, slice it, or prepare it any other way that you like.

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There is a bit more to defrosting pork than most people realize. However, now that you know the right way of doing things, thawing an entire cut is going to be a breeze. You’ve got this! Go ahead and thaw that meat, and get grilling.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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