As you may know, smoked pork belly is the stuff that bacon is made of and it's just bursting with flavor– the absolute best part of the pig if you ask me. It contains a lot of fat and a lot of meat so we are going to season it real good and then cook it long enough to allow a lot of that fat to render and the meat to get tender.
As I was prepping this, I couldn't decide which of my rubs to use so I made a spur of the moment decision to cut the 9-lb pork belly in half and then do half of it with my Texas style rub and the other half with my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rubs). I'll let you know later on in the recipe which one I preferred.
This bad boy is eager for some smoke time so let's not keep it waiting!
I live just a short drive from Costco so I have an endless supply of pork belly at a great price but depending on where you live, you may have to call a butcher or meat market and order it ahead of time.
If possible, let the butcher remove the skin for you. They are fast and usually don't mind at all doing this for their customers.
Look for pork belly that has an even thickness throughout and weights 9 to 13 lbs.
In the image below, the skin has been removed and what you see is the fat cap which should remain intact during the cooking session.
If your pork belly still has the rind or skin on it, you'll probably want to remove it unless you are planning to crackle it over a hot fire or ladle super hot oil onto it once it's finished cooking. I prefer to just remove it but to each their own.
Here's a pork belly with the skin/rind still attached:
Use a very sharp knife to get between the skin and the fat cap. You want to remove the tough skin but leave as much of the fat cap as possible. Work in small sections to make the job easier and you'll be done in no time. Pull up on the skin as you drag the sharp edge of the knife angled slightly upward against the skin.
As a last resort, there are videos online that will show you the proper technique but I can tell you from experience that the most important part of this job is sharpening the knife.
With the pork belly laying flat in front of you, fat cap side up, use a very sharp knife to make cuts (back to front) about ¼ inch deep and about 1 inch apart.
You can also make these cuts in a diagonal fashion if you prefer.
Make the same cuts from side to side.
This increases the surface area for the rub and gives the juices a place to pool while the meat cooks. Splendid!
If you want to just add the rub at this point you can certainly do that, or you can add a binder to help the rub to stick. This is to help the rub stick to the meat instead of falling off while you're flipping it over, moving it around, etc.
My normal go-to binder is yellow mustard which works great but I also like using my barbecue sauce (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled sauce) on this.
Just a little drizzle all over will do the trick.
Now rub that in and let it get down in the cuts as much as possible.
I had decided on the Texas style rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) and just started to sprinkle it on when and idea occurred to me–
Why not cut the pork belly in half and do one with the Texas style rub and one with the original rub? (Purchase formulas here | Purchase bottled rubs) Great idea!
Be very generous with the rubs and, of course, you can use whatever rub you like or you can do one of each like I did.
Let that sit there and get happy while you go get the smoker ready. In about 15 minutes we can come back and season the other side.
Flip the pork belly halves over.
Do the same barbecue sauce and rub application on the meaty side.
Since we have two smaller pieces now, it's a good idea to place them on a Weber grill pan, a pan with a rack or something like that to make them really easy to move around.
Fat side up is the best way to cook these in my opinion as that allows the fat to render and pool on top of the meat sort of self-basting while it cooks.
These beautiful things are ready for some smoke!
Set up your smoker for cooking at 225°F using indirect heat and if your smoker has a water pan, fill it up.
I recommend using a sweet fruit wood for these but really, any good smoking wood will work.
Once the smoker is ready, go get the meat and get it on the grates.
Place the pork belly on the smoker grate fat side up.
Let it cook for about 4 hours or until it reaches 160°F. You can also go by color– when it gets to the right shade of dark brown, you can proceed to the next step. My pork belly halves cooked for 4.5 hours at which point they were the color I wanted and about 163 to 168°F in the center.
Wrap the meat in foil, butcher paper or you can place it down in a foil pan and cover that with foil.
I used the foil pan method.
Both of my pork belly halves fit perfectly into my full-size steam pan without even touching.
Cover the pan tightly with foil and place it back on to the grate for about another 1.5 hours or until they reach 195-200°F.
If you do decide to use paper, make sure it is unlined, unwaxed, uncoated and is graded for use with food. The paper I like to use can be seen and/or purchased here.
I recommend letting the pork belly reach about 195 to 200°F before calling them done. Poke them with a thermometer probe or a long toothpick to give you an idea for their tenderness. I let mine go to 198°F and they were sliceable without falling apart which is what I prefer. You can also cook pork belly to 205 to 207°F if you like and make some of the best pulled pork from these you've ever eaten.
When the correct temperature is obtained, remove them from the heat and crack the foil open just a little to rest. Let them sit there and rest for at least 15 minutes but if you can go an hour, it will reward you greatly.
Slice about ¼ inch thick and serve it up!
I just had two slices with three eggs over easy and I'm telling you, that's what I call a hearty breakfast!
Throughout my recipes, you'll see me say to check the temperature or to make sure the temperature reaches a certain point. This is very important not just for safety but for most things, it also determines how tender the final product is.
This pork belly is a prime example in that the pork is safe to eat at 145°F but it is far from tender at that point. The fat starts to render at about 180°F and from there up to about 200°F is where it really starts getting tender.
For these you can use a handheld thermometer like the ThermoPop, the Thermapen Mk4 , the NEW Thermapen ONE (reads in only 1 second) or or you can go with a leave-in thermometer such as the Smoke or the Signals or even the FireBoard which can handle up to 6 probes simultaneously.
You really do have a lot of options where thermometers are concerned but the most important thing is that you buy the best one you can afford and use it to not only keep your family and friends safe but to improve the quality of what is coming off of your smoker.
I used both rubs on the pork, the Texas style rub on one half and the original rub on the other half and while both of them were really good in their own way, I definitely preferred the Texas style rub. I think this was because of the saltiness. The original rub is very low on salt and that's a good thing but sometimes you want a little more salt so you can use the Texas style rub for that or you can just salt the meat a little more before applying the original rub.
Try both of these if you get a chance and be sure to let me know which one you liked better in the comments below.