A Guide to Smoking Pork Belly: From Rub to Resting

Although I have been smoking pork for as long as I can remember, I only started smoking pork belly fairly recently. A chef friend introduced me to it and I have been trying to create the perfect recipe ever since!

In this post I will give you tips for flavoring the pork belly as well as showing you how to smoke it to perfection. Let's begin!

Understanding Pork Belly

Before I introduce you to the recipe, I want to make sure that you know what pork belly is. Although it is now gaining popularity in the states, this cut of meat was more traditionally used in Asian and North European cuisines.

As a result, not everyone is completely aware of what it really is.

seasoned pork belly

This cut comes from the underside of the pig, near the loin. It is quite fatty and when left whole can weigh up to 12lbs.

Pork belly is usually sold cured and processed, in the form of bacon or pancetta. For smoked pork belly, however, you are going to need fresh, raw pork belly.

Prepping the Pork Belly

The pork belly usually comes with the skin on. When buying this cut of meat, you can ask the butcher to remove the skin.

Otherwise, you will need to remove this skin yourself. When roasting pork belly, the skin is a great addition as it will turn into a nice, crispy layer.

This doesn't happen during the smoking process, unfortunately. Instead, the skin acts like a barrier, preventing the heat from getting through properly.

It is because of this that you need to remove the pork belly skin. If you are doing it yourself, you can do this with a sharp knife.

Scoring the Pork Belly

The pork belly is topped off by a thick layer of fat. If you want any of the flavor of the dry rub to get through, you need to score the fat in a cross hatch pattern.

Now, when doing so, it is important to only cut through the fat layer - don't cut into the meat. Therefore, you should be very careful as you do this.

Incredible Smoked Pork Belly Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2lbs. of pork belly
  • 2 tbs. of apple juice
  • 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce

Dry rub

  • 2 tbs. of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp. of chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. of black pepper

Method

Step 1

Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees F.

Step 2

Remove the skin if necessary and then score the pork belly.

Step 3

Combine the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl.

Apply the rub to the entire pork belly and make sure to work it into the scored section.

Step 4

Place the pork belly in the smoker and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.

If you wish to make very tender pork belly, then you will have to keep cooking the meat past this point. In case you want the pork belly to be a little tougher, then you can take it out now.

If you are continuing:

Take the pork belly out of the smoker and place it in aluminum foil. Spray on the apple juice and wrap up the meat tightly.

Return to the smoker and cook until the internal temperature registers as 200 degrees F.

chopping raw pork

Step 5

Take the pork belly out when it reaches 200 F and unwrap. Brush on the BBQ sauce and return to the smoker.

Cook for another 10 minutes.

Remove the pork belly from the smoker and place it on a cutting board. Let it rest for up to 15 minutes.

You can then slice or cut into pork belly cubes before serving.

Making Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends

If you want to make burnt ends, you can use the same recipe as above.

However, you will need to cut the pork belly into cubes first and then toss it in the dry rub. Place the pork belly bites in a baking dish.

Initially you will set the smoker to 225 degrees F. Once the pork belly is cooked all the way through, take the meat out and smother in BBQ sauce.

Turn up the smoker temperature to 325 F and then cook the pork belly for up to 15 minutes.

Then, take out of the smoker and let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving.

Making Your Own Dry Rub

The rub that I have chosen for this smoked pork belly recipe is equal parts sweet and spicy. If you aren't much of a fan of spice, then you can cut down on the chili powder although I would advise against omitting it completely.

Naturally, you are free to make your own rub but make sure that it is a sweet rub. Pork belly tends to taste best when paired with sweet elements.

The other tip is not to go overboard with the ingredients. While you do want to add flavor to the meat, you don't want to go overboard.

As you will have noticed, I have skipped the garlic powder and onion powder this time around and only included the basics.

Pork, including pork belly, tends to have a milder flavor. So, if you use too many spices in the mix, you are going to end up overpowering it.

How Long Should You Keep the Rub On?

For the sake of ease, I always add the rub shortly before smoking the pork belly.

If you wish, though, you can apply the

BBQ Sauce - To Use or Not?

Now, not all smoked pork belly recipes use BBQ sauce. Some are simply smoked in a rub.

This begs the question - do you need to use a sauce?

Personally I believe that you should go for it. The added sweetness kicks things up a notch. Not to mention, when you allow the sauce to glaze, it creates a slightly sticky texture.

If you don't want anything intruding on the natural flavors of the meat, then you can hold off on the sauce.

meat and vegetables on a small bbq grill

Once the meat has had time to rest, take a taste. If you feel like it is missing that extra kick, fire up the smoker to 450 F.

Cube or slice the meat and toss it in sauce. Then, place in smoker for about 10 minutes, giving the sauce enough time to glaze.

Take out and serve.

Another tip that I would offer up is to use homemade barbecue sauce. Most store bought brands tend to miss the mark. I have often found that they have a slight aftertaste and I am not fond of it.

When making a homemade sauce, though, you can make sure that all the ingredients are fresh and that there is a balance between the flavors.

Don't worry, most sauces are really easy to make and can be whipped up in a few minutes. You can also make the sauce ahead of time and add to the pork belly when needed.

Choosing the Wood Chips or Pellets

If you have a charcoal or electric smoker, then you will need wood chips for the machine. In case you have a pellet grill or smoker, you will be requiring pellets. Which variety should you use?

As with the rub, it is important to go with a mild wood. This is because something that is too strong will overpower the pork. It can even cause it to taste bitter.

A tried and true option is apple wood. It is sweet but mild - and apple is always the perfect accompaniment to pork.

Another great option is cherry as it is just as sweet and provides the right amount of smoky flavor.

Setting the Smoker Temperature

You need to keep the cooking temperature as low as possible. This gives the fat and the lean meat time to soften, resulting in a far better taste.

This low temperature is especially important because you are dealing with such a small cut. If you do decide to go with a bigger cut - around 8 to 10lbs then you can think of taking the temperature up to 250 F.

If you do this, make sure to keep a close eye on the internal temperature as the pork belly will cook a bit faster.

Do You Smoke a Pork Belly Fat Side Up or Down?

There is no right or wrong answer, here. Instead, you need to figure out the direction of the heat source in your smoker.

pork on chopping board

With most smokers, the heat source is at the top. As such, you need to keep the fat side up. It is always good to double check, though.

Placing the pork belly with the fat side facing towards the heat always the fat to soften. It also ensures that the meat is cooked at a lower temperature.

Related Reading

How Long Do You Smoke Pork Belly?

Now, this question isn't as easy to answer as you might think.

Technically, as long as you cook the pork belly to an internal temperature between 145 and 165 degrees F, it is safe to eat.

However, this doesn't tell you the full story.

When you cook the smoked pork belly to 165 F, it is cooked but the meat and fat hasn't had enough time to fully break down.

Now, if you are hoping for a slightly more firm meat to make sliced pork belly, then this may be the right time to take it out of the smoker.

However, if you want to serve pork belly in cubed form or want to shred it and eat it in a sandwich then it is best to cook it up to 200 F.

It is especially important to keep track of the internal temperature of the burnt ends.

There is a greater risk of these smaller pieces getting overcooked. As such, you need to take them out at precisely the right time.

This doesn't mean that you have to check the temperature of each individual piece. Instead, stick the meat thermometer in the thickest pieces and in different spots around the baking tray. This should give you an accurate reading.

Do You Need to Wrap the Smoked Pork Belly?

Usually you wrap meat to overcome the stall. With a cut this small, though, this is unlikely to happen.

In this instance, you wrap the smoked pork belly to help it retain moisture.

However, there is no need for you to do this - it is a choice.

You can always keep the pork belly unwrapped. This will result in a crispier outer layer.

I would advise you to monitor the internal temperature quite carefully here, though. It is important to take the meat out of the smoker the moment it is done smoking to prevent overcooking.

Letting the Smoked Pork Belly Rest

As with any other cut of smoked meat, it is important to let the smoked pork belly rest once it is taken out of the smoker.

Now, if you are preparing burnt ends, you will need to let the meat cubes rest for a little longer.

The smaller pieces tend to lose moisture more readily and thus can dry out during the smoking process. Letting it rest for around 20 minutes ensures that the smoked pork belly has enough time to reabsorb any lost liquid.

Wrapping It Up

If you were curious about how to make the best smoked pork belly you now know what to do ! Just follow these guidelines and your final result will be the most lip smacking thing you have ever tried!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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