How to smoke a side pork belly slab with spices to form a delicious crust. Don’t be surprised if it becomes your preferred way to cook the cut!
About This Smoked Pork Belly Recipe
Smoking is neither the least hands off, nor the cheapest method to address pork belly, but it definitely delivers a richness of flavor and a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that make your efforts worth it. In our view it is the ultimate method of cooking pork belly. Of all the pork belly recipes in our arsenal – this one is our favorite.
There is something magical about the bubbling fat as it helps form a delicious spice crust on the surface and permeates the meat creating an exceptional texture. While bacon is about curing pork belly with salt and cold smoking it, barbecue smoking merges the flavors of the spices and the hot smoke as the pork belly sizzles away. The results are a party for the palate.
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Read on for useful tips and step-by-step pictures (2 mins)
Make Your Own BBQ rub or Use Your Favorite Pre-mixed One
This is a personal decision. We normally make our own rub by combining brown sugar, kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder and ground black pepper. It is very basic and easily incorporates the flavor notes of the wood smoke. Consider adding chili powder or onion powder.
What Wood to Use for Smoking?
We really like the bold sweetness of hickory for smoking pork belly, the two have such an affinity for each other. If you would prefer a milder wood consider a combination of hickory and maple or hickory and cherry.
How to Smoke Pork Belly – Step by Step
The picture sequences below show in detail:
- how to prepare a pork belly for smoking
- how to set up your smoker and cook it slowly, while maintaining as stable of a temperature as you can
NOTE: If you procured skinless pork belly disregard the first step of removing the skin. You should leave all the fat on top however, it is what will keep it moist during the hours of smoking and flavor it. We like to buy a whole pork belly, skin-on and bone-in (like this one, affiliate link) and portion it for use in different recipes. It is a very cost effective method.
Prep. Mix the BBQ rub. Remove the skin from the pork belly with a long sharp knife and score it in a diamond pattern, about 1/4 inch deep. Generously sprinkle with rub and work it into the meat – on all sides.
Set up smoker. Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat it to 225-250 F. Add the wood (chunks and chips together seems to work particularly well), also according to the manufacturer specifications.
Barbecue. Place the room temperature pork belly directly on the grate or smoker rack with the fat cap up. Stick a meat thermometer (probe and wire) into the thickest part and smoke it until acquires a dark copper color and the internal temperature registers about 160 F. Keep adding charcoals and wood as needed to maintain the temperature range and smoke.
How Long to Smoke Pork Belly?
The short answer is – until it reaches an internal temperature of about 160 F (155 -165 F). This should be measured in the thickest, centermost part of the meat. In that temperature range it is fully cooked and safe to eat.
The precise time for this temperature to be reached depends on:
- the actual weight of the pork belly
- whether or not you are smoking a whole slab or smaller pieces
- how stable the temperature you were able to maintain in your smoker (how steadily you replenished the charcoals)
For a 3 to 3.5 pound pork belly piece it takes about 3 to 3.5 hours for 160 F to be reached. Should you want a bit more fat to render you can certainly wait until the temperature gets to 180-200 F. Do place a small bowl of water in the smoking chamber should you continue past 160 F.
You do not need to rest the spice-crusted, slow grilled pork belly. Enjoy it as soon as you pull it out of the smoker – in fact do not waste time and have your sauce(s), sides and fixings ready in advance so you can enjoy it right away, while still very juicy and warm.
Cut it into bite-sized dice or chunky slices as seen below.
Cut It – Pork Belly Slices
How to Serve Smoked Pork Belly
When you first slice the smoked belly it will be very pale in color (as seen above and below) and will have only a faint smoke ring, mostly around the sides and bottom due to the fact that the top is exclusively fat. You can absolutely serve it as is – the meat has a sweet, rich porky flavor uplifted by the notes of hickory smoke and the BBQ spiced crust.
To make it even more decadent consider browning the thick slices to create more layers of flavor through the Maillard reaction.
Make Smoked Pork Belly Slices Crispy – 2 Ways
We prefer to use a cast iron skillet to quickly sear the just carved, thick and juicy slices until they acquire a pleasant, crispy appearance on both sides. If you choose this method you will notice a lot of fat accumulate in the skillet over a relatively short time. Do not throw it away. Save it to pan fry boiled potatoes in it – they will turn out absolutely delicious. You can simply refrigerate the reserved rendered fat in a small air tight container until you need it.
Alternatively, you can place the thick pork belly slices directly onto the grate of a hot grill and sear them for about a minute or so per side. This method gives the slices a nice grill mark but you will also encounter a few flames due to the rendered fat flaming up as it drips.
- The seared, crispy pork belly slices are great as the protein for a bowl of pork belly ramen noodles (the ultimate Japanese comfort food), pork belly sandwiches, rice bowls or tacos. You can cut them in strips or leave them whole.
- When we are in the mood for pure indulgence we simply enjoy them on their own, dipped in bbq sauce. On that note, try the hoisin based one pictured above (ingredients and method of preparation are included in the recipe card below).
- Smoked pork belly sandwiches are another favorite of ours. We make them simple – a couple of thick slices nestled between two pieces of fresh baguette or bread roll along with a crunchy accompaniment (coleslaw, juliened jicama, cucumber sticks, radishes etc.) and some cilantro, a slathering of barbecue sauce and pork belly heaven awaits.
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SMOKED PORK BELLY
- 3 to 3.5 pounds piece pork belly
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup coarse salt*
- 2 tbsp paprika (sweet Hungarian)
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
HOISIN BBQ SAUCE (OPTIONAL)
- 3/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbps shaoxing wine or sake
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
SMOKED PORK BELLY
- Remove the pork belly skin using a long sharp knife. Start at one corner of the slab, make an incision between the top layer of fat and the skin, lift up the skin with two fingers and begin to cut the skin away with uniform strokes (leave all the fat you can on the belly, see picture in post). Disregard this step if pork belly was skinless.
- Mix the ingredients for the BBQ spice rub. Score the fat capped side of the belly in a diamond pattern, about 1/4 inch deep cuts. Generoulsy sprinkle the rub all over the belly and rub it in with your fingers. Do this on all sides of the slab.
- Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Prepare hot charcoals in chimney, once covered in white ash add to firebox. Preheat smoker to 225-250 F and add smoke wood chunks, chips of both, according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Place the pork belly directly onto the grate or rack and (if using) stick a meat thermometer probe into the thickest part. Smoke for about 3 to 3.5 hours or until the temperature reaches 160 F** (155-165 F range is safe to eat). Pull it out and cut it into thick slices or chunky dice and enjoy it dipped in the barbecue sauce.
If you would like to brown the slices of smoked pork belly you can do so over a hot grill, about a minute or so per side or in a skillet over medium-high heat. Searing it will impart extra flavor and render some more fat (watch out if browning on the grill as it will certainly flame up as it drips).
HOISIN BBQ SAUCE
In a small sauce pan combine all the ingredients. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat and allow to reduce a bit as you stir often. In about 5 minutes remove from the stove, allow to cool down and transfer to a serving container.
*Note that there is a difference between the two most popular brands. This is for using Morton. If using Diamond salt, you can increase by a tablespoon as it is not as dense.
**Should you want to leave it for a bit longer, until 180-200 F, place a small bowl of water near it for moisture.
For serving ideas see the body of the post.
Nutritional data is based on the pork belly only.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 533Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 143mgSodium: 3701mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 40g