Cook Today, Serve Tomorrow
One of the most frequently asked questions I get goes something like this "I agreed to serve pulled pork for 50 people at the company picnic on Sunday. I plan to cook it on Saturday at home and bring it to the park on Sunday. What's the best way to do this?
You're not gonna like the answer: This is called serving leftovers. Don't do it.
Most foods are at their absolute best when fresh out of the cooker or the faux cambro. They have hot juices, the connective tissues have melted and turned to luscious gelatin, the fat has rendered and lubricates the muscle fibers, browned surfaces are crunchy, and vegetables are bright and crisp. The AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder points out that "The reason you can smell BBQ from a block away is due to volatile organic compounds, and by the next day, many of these aromatics are gone forever."
To hold them for a day, they must be refrigerated. They cannot be kept warm that long unless you have a special oven with hunidity control, and even they aren't perfect. By Sunday many of the juices have evaporated or run off, much of the tenderness is lost, the bark and other crunchy bits are soggy, and oxidation has begun to deteriorate flavor.
If you can't serve fresh food, please rethink your plan. Skip the pulled pork, brisket, and ribs, and just grill up some fresh chicken, burgers, or hot dogs. Attempting to serve brisket, ribs, or pulled pork will only damage your rep. Of course if they have never tasted great barbecue, they might still love your handiwork, but you will know how far off the mark it is.
If you have no choice
If you have no choice, the best approach is to keep the meat whole so there are fewer surface areas from which to lose moisture and oxidize. In other words, don't slice the ribs or brisket, and don't pull the pork. That just exacerbates the problem. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap and then foil.
On Sunday you need to reheat it to safe serving temp, 155°F, and that can take four hours or more depending on the thickness of the meat. You absolutely do not want to reheat the meat quickly--225°F is the hottest you want. Just because it is cooked doesn't mean it will reheat a lot faster. Sure, you can crank the heat, but that will have the same effect as cooking too hot: Proteins will shrink and squeeze out more juices.
If you don't have time Sunday to slowly warm the meat for hours, slice the ribs and brisket, and pull the pork. Pack the brisket in plastic zipper bags with beef broth or stock and about 10% melted butter. Pack the pulled pork or ribs with barbecue sauce and water, not a lot, just enough to moisten things.
Reheat the sealed bags b y chucking them in a simmering water bath or pour the meat into bowls and take it for a ride in the microwave. Steam trays tend to dry things out.
And don't forget to bring lots of barbecue sauce to replace the lost moisture and mask the abused meat.
Click here to read more about reheating leftovers.
This page was revised 1/10/2013
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