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How to Reheat Barbecue

It takes hours to smoke great barbecue, but how do you reheat barbecue leftovers without drying out the meat or ruining the smoke flavor? The big secret is to start by storing leftover barbecue right. Then, use the right reheating method for the type of barbecue you have.

Reheating Barbecue
Reheating Barbecue

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Reheating Barbecue: The Quick Answer

Wrap leftover barbecue tightly in aluminum foil. Place the packet in the oven, preheated to 300°F (150°C). Heat to an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C). Add a liquid like broth, barbecue sauce, butter, or apple juice if the meat appears too dry. Remove from oven and serve it immediately. This is not the best method, but it is easy and certainly better than using the microwave. Read on for the best methods.

Reheating Barbecue: The Best Solutions

First of all, some notes on safety.

MeatMinimum TempBarbecue Temp
Beef145°F/65°C203°F/95°F
Pork Shoulder145°F/65°C200°F/93°C
Pork Ribs145°F/65°C195° to 203°F
Beef Ribs145°F/65°C195° to 200°F
Poultry165°F/75°C165°F/75°C
Barbecue Temp is the temperature meat should be pulled from the smoker

In the world of food safety, there is a rule. Keep foods out of the danger zone, or the 40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C). This is the range of temperatures where bacteria can grow. We don’t want that. Leftovers, even though they are fully cooked, can still become contaminated.

To properly reheat cooked meats, you need to 165°F (75°C) before serving. Once you have reached this temperature, you can hold it at 135°F (57°C). I know what you are thinking. If beef is cooked at 145°F (36°C), why do we have to reheat it to 165°F? Safety! The smoked brisket has been handled a lot since it came off the smoker and before it gets put away for later.

Planning for Leftovers

Smoking barbecue can make a lot of food. Also, if you are going through the effort to smoke a pork butt or a rack of ribs, why not throw on more. It doesn’t change the cooking time. If you are planning on leftovers, plan on how to handle them.

If you intend to get back to those leftovers in the next four days, wrap them as airtight as possible and refrigerate them as soon as the meat has cooled to less than 135°F. Otherwise, you will want to freeze the barbecue.

Best Option: Vacuum-sealed bags are the best way to store leftover barbecue. They prevent freezer burn and ice crystal formation. You can also boil (not boil) leftover barbecue right in the bag. And while you can use a Ziploc bag for hot water bath reheating, sealed bags work much better.

Be careful when vacuum-sealing ribs. The bone can puncture the bag so position the ribs carefully. I recommend cutting full racks in half before sealing them.

vsdk Vacuum Sealer

VSDK Vacuum Sealer

Pulling Barbecue for Freezing

Typically, we cook barbecue meats (i.e., Brisket, Ribs, Pulled Pork, Chicken) to high temperatures between 193°F and 203°F (90°C to 95°C). However, if you are cooking an extra item like a whole brisket, rack of ribs, or pork butt for the express purpose of packing and freezing, you should subtract 5°F (2.5°C) from the target temperature. This will help prevent the meat from becoming mussy during the reheating process.

Once you remove the meat, cover it and allow it to sit at room temperature. Once it has reached this temperature, it is time to wrap. The best method is to vacuum seal it. This holds in all the moisture and keeps air away from the meat. You can store vacuum-sealed barbecue in the freezer for up to a year, but the flavor and texture will degrade the longer it is stored.

If you don’t have a vacuum sealer (which you should), store it in zip-top bags. Force out as much air as possible before sealing. You can store barbecue this way for up to six months, but again the longer you do, the more the flavor and texture will worsen.

Thawing Barbecue

Before reheating barbecue, it needs to be completely thawed. So, two days before you plan to reheat, move the meat from the freezer to the refrigerator. It might take three days to thaw a whole brisket or large pork shoulder roast.

You can thaw your barbecue in a warm water bath. And by warm, I mean 40°F (5°C). This method is the same as thawing your holiday turkey in a sink full of cold water. This is another reason why owning a Sous Vide, or Immersion Circulator, is a great idea. It keeps the water moving and can be set to hold at the exact temperature for the fastest thawing.

Reheating Barbecue: Best Method

Sous Vide or a hot water bath is the best method for reheating barbecue. Particularly if it has been vacuum-sealed (see a thread here?). You will need a container large enough to hold the food item. Note that you may need a weight to hold the barbecue under the water, particularly a problem if it isn’t vacuum sealed.

Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Nano

Anova Culinary Precision Sous Vide Machine

Set the Sous Vide Machine to 165°F (75°C) and let it run until the food is brought up to temperature. Typically, a whole brisket or large pork roast will take about two hours. The problem with sealed food is that testing it requires puncturing the bag with your instant-read thermometer. Fortunately, you can reheat for longer in the Sous Vide. The food can’t dry out, so don’t worry about leaving it in the water for several hours. It will reach 165° and simply remain there until you are ready to serve.

With this method, racks of ribs, pulled pork, chicken pieces, or sliced brisket can be reheated in about an hour.

What About the Bark?

Bark development on brisket point
bark development

You put effort into getting great bark on the surface of your barbecue. So how do you reheat barbecue without losing the bark? The good news is that you don’t really need to worry about it. If the food was wrapped within an hour of leaving the smoker, properly stored, and reheated, then the bark should be fine. If you want to dry down the surface a little, once the meat is reheated, place it back on the smoker or in the oven at 225°F (110°C) for ten to fifteen minutes.

Reheating Barbecue: Smoker/Oven Method

You can simply return your barbecue to the smoker. Set the temperature to 225°F (110°C) and cook until the internal temperature rises above 145°F (65°C). To prevent the meat from drying out, add a layer of fat. This can be several pats of butter or a thin coating of tallow. Fat is flavor and moisture. You don’t need to cover the meat. In fact, wrapping or covering the meat will steam it, removing flavor. I recommend placing the meat in a pan to keep the added fat from running away.

Beef Tallow Recipe
Beef Tallow Recipe

Since meat loses the ability to absorb smoke as it cooks, putting it back on the smoker won’t do much for the smokiness or the flavor. If you find it easier, you can simply reheat barbecue in the oven and warm it as you would on your smoker or pellet grill.

Finishing and Serving

Once your barbecue has been reheated, it should be served immediately. You can keep it warm, but once it leaves the heat, it is ready to be eaten. There is no need to rest or hold the barbecue for tenderness.

Derrick Riches
Derrick Riches

I began writing about Barbecue & Grilling in 1997 with one mission, to help the backyard chef have the best experience possible.

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