sous vide pulled pork in the crockpot .... can it be done?
I cook pulled pork regularly, mostly in the crockpot but also occasionally in the oven, low and slow @ 225, until the meat reaches 200 degrees. A fair bit of fat and moisture is rendered out of the meat. After the bones are tossed, I'll often have only 1/2 the original weight left.
So I'm thinking that why not cook it in the crockpot, but wrapped airtight in a plastic bag (or some places sell the pork shoulder already in completely sealed packages.
Has anyone tried this out, or done it specifically in a sous vide machine? What were the results like?
'What is a PID?'
Stands for 'proportional-integral-derivative' controller. Basically, it can regulate the temp of a water bath by turning the power to a device (like a crock pot) on and off as needed. Here's one:
I have heard of people using a low temp oven to maintain a temperature in a water bath. For a while, you can maintain a lower temp bath (say 140) to within a reasonably tight window using that method. Eventually the temperature will rise in the bath (approaching but not reaching the oven's temperature) though you could keep the temp down by adding cool water occasionally.
A few things to consider:
- While cooking near 200, pork shoulder doesn't take long... but cooking at much cooler temp (around 145, say) takes a very long time for the pork to get tender. I have cooked at 145 f for 18-20 hours for a dense filet mignon-like tenderness, and 30-35 hours for flake-it-with-your-fork tenderness.
- The pork does not look all that appetizing coming out of the bag. My favorite way to make pork shoulder: Slice it 1.5 inches thick before cooking, and sprinkle with salt and sugar. Chill it in the bag after cooking (15 minutes on the counter, 30-60 minutes in an ice bath, then fridge). Before serving, grill it over very hot charcoal or hardwood fire. Slice and serve.
You need that final high heat sear for appearances and charred flavor.
Hmmm ... well I'm giving it a shot today to see what happens. Regardless, it'll be an interesting experiment. I thought it would would take higher temps with pork shoulder to liquify the collagen than a mere 140. Is it the vastly extended times that accomplish this?
I've got about 3.5 pounds of pork shoulder remaining, after I've cut away the blade bone. This cut was really nice - only 7.5 ounces of bone total. So that's a lot of meat, and this time without a big slab of fat on one side. A good deal at just under $2/#.
I sliced it up into 4 big pieces so that I've got, more or less, a relatively even thickness. And put it all into one layer that took up most of a one gallon plastic zip-lock.
I filled up my crockpot about 3/4 of the way full with water with hot tap water, set it to high and lowered the bag in slowly to get most of the air out. Once the water gets to 175 or hotter, I'll switch it down to low and let it sit through tomorrow sometime to check on it. I figure that it'll be worth looking at in about 10 hours?
I like the idea of searing it afterwards. Mmmmmm. We shall see ....
"I thought it would would take higher temps with pork shoulder to liquify the collagen than a mere 140. Is it the vastly extended times that accomplish this?"
Yep. You can coax collagen to melt at a temp of 131 or 140. It just takes longer. But this is one of the major upside of cooking sous vide - you can melt connective tissue at a temp that does not cause meat to shrink or dry up.
"Once the water gets to 175 or hotter, I'll switch it down to low and let it sit through tomorrow sometime to check on it. I figure that it'll be worth looking at in about 10 hours?"
If you set it to high, I'd probably check out the bag after about 5 hours. Timewise, it will cook more or less the same as if you cooked it without the bag. Give it a squeeze and see how much give the meat has. Different crockpot run at different temps when set to 'high' so it's hard to predict.
If you can't check after 5 hours, consider setting your crockpot to 'low' instead. I think it might just be a little safer of a bet for a 10 hour cooking time. Usually you want your meat to be tender but still have some texture. After 10 hours it should pull easily either way.
You can indeed seal a pork shoulder in plastic and then cook it in the crock pot. However the end result is not going to be what it sounds like you are expecting.
It's called 'sous vide' cooking, which reasonably leads one to believe that the vacuum sealing is the crucial part, but really the thing that matters most is the temperature control.
When you cook a vacuum-packed pork shoulder at crock pot temperatures (lets say 205 f), you're still going to lose just as much volume from the meat as you would otherwise. The meat fibers contract (and thus push out juices) as a function of temperature. The difference is you'll be left with a sealed bag of shrunken meat surrounded by meat juices and rendered fat, rather than a sauce or braising liquid flavored by those juices and fat.
If you want to avoid meat shrinkage and loss of yield, you need to cook at a lower temperature. Incidentally, you can do this in a (non-digital) crockpot if you use a PID.
The biggest upside of sealing in plastic, in absence of lower temperature cooking, is that you effectively prevent many volatile flavor compounds from escaping into the air while cooking. In other words, your pork will wind up tasting especially porky.