Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Smoked Spice-Rubbed Pork Belly

A couple years ago, I was watching an episode of Unique Eats on The Cooking Channel and saw a feature of a BBQ joint in Brooklyn called 'Fette Sau' or 'Fat Pig' in German. The chef made a spice-rubbed pork belly that looked really out of this world. Since I'd only eaten and cooked pork belly the Chinese way (soy-braised), I was really intrigued by this Western preparation. If you've never had pork belly before, fear not - it's not a form of offal, i.e., innards, but rather an unctuous cut of pork with the perfect ratio of meat to fat. It's also where bacon comes from. I came up with a spice rub that incorporated most of the ingredients that were used at the restaurant, guesstimating on the proportions. We made this recipe once before using a Weber Smokey Mountain BBQ Smoker. The pork bellies were nicely flavored but on the tough side, maybe because they were precut into strips - a whole slab might have maintained moisture better, but mostly because we had problems maintaining an even low and slow temperature in the smoker. Fast forward a couple years later and now we have an electric Charbroil smoker, which is the perfect appliance for novices like us. For this preparation, we smoked the pork bellies for 5 hours at 225F with hickory wood chips. The rind, which serves the purpose of keeping the underlying meat moist, becomes very tough after the smoking period, so you have to remove it before serving. You can eat these smoked pork bellies as is, or serve them in sliders, sandwiches, tortillas. 

Smoked pork belly sandwich with pico de gallo, pickled red onion, chipotle crema, and cilantro.

Smoked pork belly burrito with pickled red onion, pico de gallo, chipotle crema, & cilantro.

Spice Rub:
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne
2 tbsp. granulated garlic
2 tbsp. onion powder or dried minced onion
1 tsp. espresso powder

5 lbs. pork belly, each cut into 2" thick slices


1. Mix all the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl. 

2. Place the pork bellies in a single layer into a shallow casserole or baking dish. Score the top of the pork rinds, then rub each generously on all sides with the spice rub. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours before smoking. If you have leftover spice rub, place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a couple weeks for use in other preparations (good on ribs, salmon, chicken, etc.).

3. Preheat your electric smoker to 225F. Add hickory or apple wood chips to the wood chip box; fill the water box to the fill line and place in your smoker according to manufacturer's instructions. 

4. Place the pork bellies onto a foil-lined baking sheet; place onto a rack (middle position) in the smoker, with a drip pan placed on another rack underneath. Smoke for approximately 5 hours or until the internal temperature of the pork is 195F.

5. Remove the pork bellies from the smoker, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 15 minutes. Once the pork is cool enough to handle, remove the rinds, which will be very tough after cooking. Slice or dice the pork bellies for use in sliders, sandwiches, tacos, burritos, etc. 

Great Additions to Pork Belly Sandwiches, Sliders, Tacos, Burritos (mix and match to your taste):

Brioche, Hawaiian or your fav buns
Tortillas (I use flour instead of corn because they are more pliable)

Pickled red onions

Pickled jalapeños 
Caramelized jalapeños
Caramelized onions
Shredded lettuce or cabbage
Chopped fresh cilantro
Chipotle crema
Mango salsa
Pico de gallo
Diced avocados
Tomato slices
Jalapeno or Habanero Jelly

Rub all sides of the pork belly slices with the spice rub.

Smoke for about 5 hours at 225F or until the internal temperature reaches 195F.

Remove the pork bellies, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 15 minutes.

Remove the rind from the pork bellies and cut them into large dice.

Use them to make sliders or sandwiches...

Or tacos...

Or burritos...and much, much more

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