Pork belly has long been considered a delicacy of Asian cooking, but the amount of pork belly cooked worldwide has truly surged recently. For example, Allrecipes.com has seen the number of searches for pork belly recipes increase by over a hundred percent within the last year! Around the world, recipes inspired by global cuisine have seen an increase in the use of pork belly, with smoked pork belly in particular being in the forefront of recent food trends.
Pork belly has been an increasing trend in recent months, especially as quarantine has gone on around the world. People have become driven to create the best smoked pork belly recipe, and in this article, we’re going to answer some of the most asked questions about it.
Is smoked pork belly the same as bacon?
One of the more commonly asked questions about pork belly is whether or not it is the same or similar to bacon. Well, yes and no. Pork belly is the cut of meat from which bacon is made. During the manufacturing process, a pork belly is cured, smoked, and sliced, creating bacon.
If you take a pork belly and then smoke it, cur it, and cut it yourself, then you’ve made homemade bacon! However, if you chose to shred the meat and make pulled pork, then you’ve made something that, while delicious and bacon-adjacent, isn’t truly bacon.
What temperature is best to smoke pork belly, and for how long?
Smoking a pork belly is a process that takes quite a long time, but it’s also nice and simple. Really, as long as you can fit your pork belly in your smoker, you should have no trouble with any of these steps.
There is a lot of disagreement among aficionados about what the ideal temperature is for smoking a pork belly, but the general consensus is to cook low and slow. The reason for this is that pork belly is quite a fatty cut of meat, compared to other pieces of pork. Cooking the pork belly at a low temperature for a long period of time allows for the fats in the meat to render out and baste the rest of the meat in wonderful flavor!
We’d recommend smoking your pork belly at 225˚F for an extremely long time, up to eight hours! Cooking low and slow in this way allows plenty of time for the meat to become tender, and the flavors to develop.
Make sure that whatever you do to cook your pork belly, the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165˚F before you eat it - this will ensure that the meat is safe to eat. We’d recommend buying a food thermometer for this exact purpose.
How do you prepare pork belly for smoking?
Preparing the pork belly is a fairly simple endeavour - you simply need to ensure that you apply a liberal amount of seasoning and that there’s a lot of surface area for the seasoning to work into.
We’d recommend cutting a lattice on the top layer of fat on the pork belly. Aim for one-inch squares - these will make sure you achieve a good balance between seasoning and fat content.
After scoring the squares into the fat layer of the pork belly, apply your seasoning. There are a lot of different blends and suggestions out there, and we’ll be talking about them in a little bit. Whichever blend you use, you must make sure to get the spices all over the pork belly - that’s why we cut the crosshatch pattern, to ensure the spice comes into contact with as much pork as possible.
What spices/seasoning combos are best for smoked pork belly?
When smoking pork belly, you’re really aiming for a barbecue-style flavor profile at the end of the cooking process. Therefore, it’s all about hitting the delicate balance between sweetness, spiciness, smokiness, and acidity.
We’d recommend making sure to incorporate some brown sugar into your spice blend. The inherent sweetness and darkness of brown sugar contrast really well with both the saltiness of the pork and the other flavors in the spice blend.
For a bit of heat, we’d suggest using smoked paprika, chili powder, and black pepper in your blend. These three spices give your dish a good balance of different types of heat, from sharp to rounded. If you aren’t a fan of chili powder (we get it) then we’d recommend substituting for cayenne pepper powder. The two powders typically have a similar heat profile, but cayenne can be a little more interesting, at least in our opinion.
Finally, we’d always recommend adding salt to your spice blend. Salt is a great flavor enhancer, and it will surely do just that for your pork.
How to get the delicious bark/pork belly burnt ends?
Burnt ends are one of the most sought-after parts of pork belly and for good reason! The best way to ensure that you get them is to make sure you’ve got a good score in your fat layer. Doing so will mean that the topmost layer of your pork will cook in the superbly rendered fat, leading to a deliciously crunchy yet still wonderfully moist piece of meat.
What are the best smokers on the market for pork belly?
There are a number of different smokers out there in the world, but there’s one that we particularly love for smoking pork belly - the Realcook Charcoal BBQ Smoker Grill.
There are a few reasons that we love this smoker, but mostly it’s for its huge capacity and the unique multi-latch design.
The huge capacity of the smoker is obviously good for those who want to smoke a lot of meat all at once - which is definitely us. Impressively, this smoker can accommodate large cuts of meat horizontally, while also being tall enough for hanging large birds, if need be.
We also low how the multi-layered, multi-latch design allows for you to use the smoker in a number of different ways. We love to use the smoker to make some stunning pork belly before re-configuring it to cook up some burgers and hot dogs for a neighbourhood barbecue.
What sides / recipes go best with pork belly?
There are two ways to go with sides: complement or contrast.
To complement the rich flavors of smoked pork belly, we’d suggest making some baked beans with brown sugar. Don’t get them, out of a tin - bake them yourself with your own unique herbs and spices for a rich, sweet, dark side dish perfect for any pork belly.
To contrast the flavors of pork belly, we’d recommend making a great coleslaw. There are a lot of different recipes online, but we’d suggest asking your family. Family coleslaw recipes are often decadent, refreshing, and simply stunning, perfect for serving with smoky and dark pork belly.
There’s nothing stopping you from serving all three of those at the same time - smoked pork belly, baked beans, and coleslaw sounds like a great family event, doesn’t it?