If you live close to a Costco and perhaps some of the other big club stores, then you are fortunate. Many of them carry pork belly and pork belly slices like the ones I'm using in this recipe.
If you don't, you'll have to get a little creative but it still should not be that difficult to find a store that carries it and/or can order it for you. You may also be able to get them to slice it for you into ¼ inch slices.
This is the part of the pig where bacon comes from however, when making bacon, it gets cured, possibly smoked and sliced much thinner. I suggest calling all of the grocery stores, meat markets, etc. in your area and ask to speak to the meat guy. This guy or gal can tell you if they have pork belly or a good place to find it and they'll be the one to ask about slicing it.
I like to get some salt into the meat of the pork belly slices to help bring out the flavor. This is especially important when you use my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) since it does not have a lot of salt. After some trial and error, I decided that these absolutely needed more salt.
Simply lay the pork belly slices flat on a large pan.
Sprinkle kosher salt all over at about 10% coverage. This is very difficult to measure so it's more of a visual thing– here's an image that shows the coverage I used.
Place the pan of pork in the fridge for 1-2 hours. During this time the salt will draw moisture to the surface. Here's a picture of the pork after only 20 minutes.
See the moisture pooling on the surface and the salt beginning to dissolve?
The salt will melt and mix with the moisture and absorb back into the meat. You will notice that this does not happen in the fatty areas.. I'm sure there is a scientific reason for this.
At the end of 1-2 hours (depending on how patient you are), flip the meat over and repeat the dry brining on the other side placing it back in the fridge for at least another hour although overnight is fine.
After the dry brining process, the meat is ready to be seasoned with my original rub (purchase formula | Buy original rub already made).
My rub was originally designed for pork.. pork ribs specifically. It adds that perfect balance of sweet and spice to the outside of the meat and it's guaranteed to please.
Generously sprinkle the original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) all over the top side of the pork belly slices.
Let them sit there for 10-15 minutes or until they get that “wet” look. Sort of like the dry brining process, the small amount of salt in my rub draws moisture to the surface and it mixes with the rub giving it a “wet” look and helping it to stick to the meat.
Flip the slices over and repeat the rub on the other side once again, wait for the “wet” look before proceeding.
This is a great time to get the smoker ready.
Set up your smoker for indirect cooking at about 225-240°F using hickory wood or whatever good smoking wood you have available.
You can use ANY smoker to cook these but preferably one that can cook at at the recommended temperature range of 225-240°F.
It's ok to use the water pan if your smoker is designed for this. I don't generally use water pans in smokers that do not come with a water pan. Having said that, unless you are drying something such as jerky, it is always ok to place a pan of water below the grate, on the grate or wherever it works best in your smoker to introduce a little humidity to the smoking process.
Once your smoker is preheated and ready to go, you can proceed with the smoking process.
I placed my slices on racks to make it easy to transport out to the smoker. I also left the slices on the racks during the cooking process.
My favorite pans/racks can be seen HERE and they are stainless steel, heavy duty and save you hours of cleanup time.
Place the pork belly slices into the smoker and let the cooking begin.
You can expect these to take about 90 minutes to reach 200-205°F however this greatly depends on how well your smoker maintains the temperature, weather, wind, how often you open the door, etc..
For these slices, it's not easy to use a leave-in thermometer like the “Smoke” by Thermoworks so I usually just check them with a fast reading Thermapen at about the 60-70 minute mark to see how things are progressing.
These will get more and more tender as you cook them so it's important to not pull them early.
Once they reach 200-205°F as measured by a high quality hand held digital thermometer such as the Thermapen Mk4 or the ThermoPop, remove them from the smoker and set them on the table or cabinet to cool.
Feel free to sample one if you like but I can tell you that the last step makes all the difference in the world and I hope you can trust me on that.
Once they are cool to the touch, I usually pile them into a foil pan and place them into the fridge covered.
Wait about an hour or longer before searing them for best results.
Note: because of this cooling process, these are great for making ahead of time and then you can sear them right before your guests arrive.
I used a large skillet for this process the first couple of times and an electric griddle the last time. Both of these options worked very well.
I recommend medium heat and you shouldn't need any oil since the meat tends to have plenty of fat.
Place a few slices of the meat into the pan for about 30+ seconds each side. You do not want it to be black but just a good sear that really brings out the flavor and the texture.
Note: I cut some of the slices up into smaller pieces and that made it a lot easier to work with in the pan.
I served these to a crowd of about 10 and they were some happy campers! I highly recommend trying these really soon.. maybe even this weekend!