If you spend any time at all reading the numerous BBQ forums on the interwebs, you'll see a question asked quite often. "The meat's done too early, how do I keep it warm until dinner?" When cooking low 'n' slow over an extended period of time, you can run into this situation quite often.
Here's how to deal with it:
- When the meat hits the desired internal temperature (you are checking internal temps and not cooking by the clock, right?), pull if off the cooker and double wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil.
- Poke your thermometer through the foil so you can continue to monitor internal temperature of the meat.
- Then wrap the meat in an old towel or blanket for extra insulation, leaving the thermometer or lead from your thermometer probe accessible.
- Place the wrapped meat into a dry cooler. Some folks like to preheat the cooler with warm water, but that's a personal preference.
- Periodically check the meat's temperature. As long as it stays above ~150* or so you should be okay. Remember the danger zone for meat is between 45*-140* or so. If the meat spends more then a couple of hours in the danger zone, be safe and don't eat it.
- When it's time to serve, unwrap the meat and serve it as you normally would.
Using this method, I've personally been able to hold ~65lbs. of pork butt for 5+ hours. However, if the meat drops below the saftey threshold I'd recommend you move to plan B. Pull the pork, refrigerate, and reheat at mealtime. I'll cover reheating another time.
Check out a much more detailed description at http://www.nakedwhiz.com/coolerholding.htm
I usually try to error on the side of being too early and pad my start time a little. Given my choice of having meat done too soon or too late, I'll take too soon any time. I'd much prefer to hold the meat than to try to hurry it up.