When it comes to smoked meat, nothing is as sweet and delicious as smoked pork belly. Imagine having the burnt ends of brisket but as the whole meat instead of just the edges. Sounds yummy, right? Once you taste your burnt ends, there is no going back.
How to Choose Pork Belly
Pork belly refers to uncured, non-smoked, unsliced bacon (basically just bacon before it is sliced). A smoked pork belly will have a crunch texture outside with a moist, buttery consistency on the inside. As the name suggests, Pork belly comes from the underside of a pig’s belly and is made from layers of meat and fat.
You can find pork belly at your local grocery store easily, and if you don’t, ask if they have it in the back. You can also go straight to a butcher and ask for this cut of meat if you can’t find it anywhere. Make sure it’s a trusted butcher who meets all the environmental hygiene requirements.
Find the pork belly piece with the most meat for better results.
Tips for Buying Pork Belly
Since pork belly is a competitive product that isn’t found in most grocery stores, you might end up buying a less than ideal cut. To make sure you get the best part, find 4-5 pounds of pork belly with no skin and a balanced meat-to-fat ratio. Look for the center cut specifically, as this has the best ratio and makes great pork belly burnt ends.
Some specialty grocers have small portions of pork belly and if you are ordering from them, call ahead to get the best part. You can try grocers like The Fresh Market or Whole Foods Market. If you’re looking for wholesale sellers, you can try out big box stores like Costco and package pork belly commercially. Buying it wholesale is economical and helps you have more than you can freeze until you need it.
The best and final resort is to purchase from nearby farmers or butchers. Get in touch with butchers who provide compassionate, ethical treatment for their animals. Avoid farmers that overly limit their animals’ movements, fail to provide them with the proper nutrition, or inject them with drugs to make them fat. Finding reliable farmers is your greatest hope for obtaining high-quality goods. If you can’t get pork belly from reliable sources, you may also contact internet artisan butchers.
Everything You Need Is
Before preparing your meat, ensure you have:
- A good smoker- you will want to pull out your trusted smoker for this task
- 4-5 pounds of pork belly
- Aluminum foil
- A good thermometer
- Your favorite pork barbecue dry rub. You can also make your own with the right ingredients
- Honey-look for locally sourced or wildflower honey
- Lump charcoal
- Smoking wood chunks
- 5 hours for preparation and cooking before eating
The Kind of Wood You Can Use
There are multiple kinds of wood you can use. The best is apple wood and cherry wood. Others that you can use include maple, hickory, pecan, or any other fruit woods, such as peach.
How to Prepare Your Smoker and the Pork Belly?
Start by preheating your smoker to 250˚F. For the pork belly:
- Separate the skin and remove the top layer of fat. Trimming the skin and layer of fat can be a little hard, but it would be better if you try it yourself. The butcher might take off a lot of the top layer of fat, which is quite a loss. You can trim the fat depending on your preference, remove a thick layer to leave a relatively thin layer, or leave most of it on. To trim the fat, use a very sharp knife and make horizontal gashes across the top of the pork belly, removing the top layer of fat and skin along the way.
- Cut the meat into cubes. What you want from your pork belly’s burnt ends are little bite-size pieces. When cutting your meat, aim for 1-1/2 to 2 inches cubes. The meat will shrink a little as they cook, so these pieces are about the perfect size. If you can’t handle the pork belly because it is too slippery, put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until the fat firms up a bit, and then cut the meat.
- Rub with dry rub. Once you have your cube portions, drizzle the pork belly with some olive oil or other oil of your choice, and sprinkle generously with pork rub. Cover every side and crevasse of the meat with your rub, and then arrange the slices on a wire cooling and baking rack. The wire cooling and baking rack make it easy to put the meat on and off the grill. It also allows for more smoke circulation.
- Place the pork belly on the smoker. Take out the smoker grates and place the pork belly cubes on them. Ensure to leave enough space around each piece for adequate smoke and airflow. You can place your pork belly cubes directly on the smoker rack gratings. If they are too wide apart, put the cubes on a cooling or baking rack, then place them onto the grates to ensure they don’t move or fall through during the cooking process.
How to Cook Your Burnt Ends?
Once you place your pork belly cubes on the grates, it is now time to put wood on the coals. You want to have enough wood to use for the first three hours, giving you even smoke throughout. You can use apple or hickory wood for this.
Use tongs or grill gloves to push the wood chunks into the hot coal to avoid burning yourself. Close the firebox door or the lid of the smoker, depending on the smoker you’re using. Put the grates into your smoker to start smoking the meat. Smoke the pork belly for around three hours or until you see a dark mahogany bark forming on the surface of each piece.
How to Wrap?
After three hours, once the dark mahogany bark forms on the surface and the fat starts to render, it is time to wrap the cubes. You can test if the pork belly cubes are ready by squeezing them. They should retain their form when squeezed but should also be pliable. If they are ready, remove them from the smoker and increase the smoker temperature to 300˚F.
Now, transfer the cubes to a sheet of aluminum foil. Put the cubes in single layers, tightly packed against each other. Now fold the edges of the foil to make a packet around the meat. If you see that the meat is overcrowded, use multiple sheets. You want to make sure each pork belly cube is on its own, in a single layer.
Pour apple juice over the meat and drizzle with three tablespoons of honey. Toss everything together. Alternatively, you can cover the burnt ends with ½ cup of brown sugar and a drizzle of honey. You can also add 1-1/2 sticks of butter around the pan for extra flavor. Tightly fold the foil, leaving no space for air or steam, and return the packet to the smoker.
Packed or Pan?
Some recipes for burnt ends, both brisket, and pork belly, use an aluminum pan covered with aluminum foil for wrapping. Between this and using the packet method, which is best?
Using the aluminum pan can result in a softer outer layer. This is because the pan leaves space for air to move around between the meat and the covered lid, leading to steam formation. The steam will soften the exterior of the pork belly, softening the bark and causing it to melt away, leaving you with a soft, chewy exterior.
Since you want the crunch and texture from the bark, it would be best to use the packed aluminum foil instead of the pan. When you cover the meat tightly in foil, the apple and juice, and honey will act as a braising liquid. This will help the pork belly remain soft and juicy while still retaining its crunchy bark.
It’s Time for the Glaze
After about 45 minutes or an hour while wrapped in foil in the smoker, the cubes should now be very tender. Remove the foil from the smoker and check on the meat. The cubes will almost fall apart when you apply slight pressure, and their internal temperature should be around 205-210˚F.
Once the pork belly is done, add ½ cup of BBQ sauce and distribute evenly between the packets. You can also drop some honey over the tips. Toss gently to coat the cubes, as you exercise caution not to tear the cubes.
After coating the meat with sauce and honey, put the open foil packets back on the smoker for another 30 minutes. Don’t close the foil packets. Let it cook until the sauce becomes thick or to your liking.
If you have followed the recipe correctly, your smoked burnt pork belly ends should have a thick coat of caramelized sauce that looks like caramelized meat candy.
The Full Recipe for My Favorite Pork Belly Burnt Ends
- 4-5 pounds of pork belly
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
For the rub, you can use your favorite dry rub or use these ingredients to make some:
- ¼ cup sugar (brown)
- 2 tablespoons coarse Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 4 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
- 1/3 cup honey
- Trim off the skin and top layer of fat. Cut the meat into 1-1/2 inch cubes
- Rub the meat with some olive oil, then use the dry rub, or combine ingredients for the dry rub and rub all over the meat, covering each piece.
- Arrange pork belly cubes on wire cooling or baking rack. Place on the smoker under a temperature of 250˚F. Smoke for 3 hours or until a dark mahogany color starts to form.
- Transfer the pork belly cubes to aluminum foil, add your sauce, honey, and butter, and evenly coat all the pork belly cubes.
- Wrap the foil tightly and return to the smoker for another hour until the meat turns tender and has an internal temperature of 205-210˚F.
- Remove from the smoker and add your glaze, apply evenly, tossing gently to coat the meat. Place the open foil packs back on the smoker.
- Cook for about 30 minutes until the sauce is to your liking.
- Remove from the smoker and serve while warm.