As a Grillaholic, you’re probably well aware of pork belly’s alter-ego: bacon. And while bacon has long-since been a staple for any decent home cook, we think pork belly deserves its chance to shine in the domestic environment. The unsliced version of pork belly has a rich, complex flavor, and has been utilized by chefs worldwide. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a Michelin-starred chef to cook up some perfectly crispy, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly this summer. In fact -- quite the opposite! Pork belly, although time-consuming, is extremely easy to cook.
For some, cooking pork belly can sound like an intimidating task. The name suggests some butcher-only, esoteric cut of meat that we laypeople have no business handling. When you think of it as (basically) unsliced bacon, though, it becomes much more familiar. To be precise, the pork belly is exactly what you’d think: it’s found on the underside of the animal and is covered by the spare ribs. The pork belly is extremely high in fat, which means it needs to be cooked slow and low.
And at Grillaholics, when we hear slow-and-low, one thing comes to mind: smoking.
Before we get to smoking, though, we’ve got to talk sourcing. You may need to visit a butcher to get this somewhat-specialty cut of meat. It’s typically very inexpensive, though, so don’t worry about breaking the bank.
We’d suggest you ask your butcher to leave the skin on the pork belly, as that is going to crisp up beautifully. Once he’s got your pork belly ready to go, you may want to have the butcher score it with a crosshatch pattern. That’s going to help the brine seep into the protein, while also accelerating the cooking process just a bit.
From there, you can rub it down with salt and pepper, or go the bacon route with a good brine. If going the brine route, we tend to go for something on the sweet side in order to cut through the fattiness of the pork belly. Just remember: keep it simple, and keep it salty! Outside of that, the possibilities are endless.
Smoking pork belly is going to take five or six hours (roughly an hour per pound), but it’s going to be worth every second. The slow cooking method with pork belly is going to allow the fat to render over the course of several hours, essentially basting what muscle protein exists on the meat. We’d suggest a smoking temperature of about 165 degrees, and whichever wood chips you prefer -- it’s hard to go wrong here!
Once your pork belly is fully smoked, you’ll want to sear it on a hot grill or griddle. Don’t be afraid to go super dark on the sear, either! The crispier you can get that outer layer, the better.
So what now? How do you actually eat the pork belly? The possibilities are endless. Aside from just digging in (no judgment here), one of our favorite options is a PB&J. That’s Pork Belly, not Peanut Butter. Some thinly sliced pork belly and a homemade jam, right on top of some buttery, well-toasted brioche? That’s heaven on Earth.