Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends
There are few things more delectable than smoked pork belly. The mouth-watering flavor drips from each scrap of that delicious meat hot off the smoker. In general, there's hardly anything you can do to improve upon the basic nature of this dish and everything it does for us.
But what if there was one part of smoking a pork belly many overlook despite it possibly being the single best thing about it? "How is that even possible?" you might ask, but it is tragically true. This part would be the burnt ends.
While not burnt in the traditional sense, burnt ends are the extremely caramelized bits on the edges of meat. Often carved off and served as their own dish in barbecue joints, they're densely packed with flavor with a chew similar to a much softer jerky, making for a taste experience you just can't get anywhere else. Though you'll typically find them made from beef brisket, they work just as well using pork.
If you've never tried burnt ends before, you're definitely missing out. Let's fix that with a recipe for a smoked pork belly specifically engineered to produce great and plentiful burnt ends every time.
What You Need For This Pork Recipe
In order to follow this recipe, you'll first need to get a small number of ingredients and supplies. Many of these are standard to your typical smoking and barbecuing setup, so there shouldn't be anything that outlandish that you'll need to buy. Simple is best, after all.
- 1 skinless pork belly (~8 lbs).
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar.
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder.
- 2 tablespoons onion powder.
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika.
- 1 tablespoon chili powder.
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder.
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano.
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper.
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt.
- 10 tablespoons butter.
- 1/4 cup unfiltered honey.
- 1 cup barbecue sauce of choice.
- 2 tablespoons hot apple juice (more as needed to achieve proper consistency).
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce.
- Large plastic freezer bag.
- Large wire baking rack.
- Large metal sheet pan.
- Large aluminum baking pan.
- Aluminum foil.
- Chunk charcoal.
- Apple wood chunks or chips.
- Charcoal smoker.
Once you've gathered all your supplies, you'll be ready to start smoking.
Step 1: Prep the Pork
Start things off by lightly chilling your pork belly in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Chilling it like this makes the meat and fat firm up, letting you cut it more easily. Don't let it freeze, though, as this defeats the purpose of the activity.
Your pork belly should already have the skim removed and fat trimmed up, but if it doesn't, you can do this easily yourself by cutting just below the skin layer slowly and evenly across the top of the belly, then cutting bits of fat off to shape the meat into a more consistent slab. You can save anything you cut off as all-purpose cooking fat or for making crispy homemade pork rinds.
Once chilled and trimmed up, score the surface of both sides of the meat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife only around a centimeter or so into it. Then, cube the meat into around 1 inch chunks. Both the scoring and cubing exposes more surface area on the meat, making for better flavor absorption when seasoned and better browning when smoked.
Step 2: Season the Pork
Once you've effectively cut up your pork, you can season it. Thoroughly combine the garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, mustard powder, paprika, oregano, black pepper, and salt. Once mixed, toss the cubed pork pieces with the spice rub, making sure to massage the ingredients into every crevice of the meat, including and especially the cuts you made earlier.
Transfer the meat into a large plastic bag and place them into the refrigerator for around 1 to 4 hours to absorb the flavor.
Step 3: Preheat the Smoker
After you've chilled your pork, remove it from the fridge around 30 minutes before you intend to cook to give it the chance to warm to room temperature. If you're using wood chips, now is also a good time to soak them in hot water.
As this is happening, head outside to prepare your smoker. Fill the smoker up around halfway with charcoal before lighting and closing the lid. You'll want to cook it using primarily indirect heat at around 250 degrees Fahrenheit, so give the coals a chance to burn down a bit before proceeding.
Once the coals have thoroughly heated up, add some more plus the wood you're choosing to do. Then add on the grate, fill the water tank, and close the lid. This lets both the wood smoke and steam fill the cooker prior to actually introducing the meat.
Get back to your 250 degree area before you begin cooking.
Step 4: Smoke the Pork
With your smoker ready, it's finally time to start cooking. Arrange the pork cubes in a single layer on top of a wire baking rack placed inside of a large metal sheet pan. This ensures even air circulation and smoking on all sides of the meat, the tray helping to catch those valuable juices as they drip down during the long cooking process.
Transfer the arranged pan into the smoker, close the lid, and let the machine work its magic. Given how small the meat is cut in this recipe, it should only take around 2 hours to fully cook with a dark crust on the meat. Even so, it's still crucial to monitor the amount of water, wood, and charcoal in the smoker during this time, as well as adjust the air vents to keep the temperature as consistent as possible.
Step 5: Finish the Pork
Once fully cooked like this, remove the meat from the smoker. While this is some perfectly delicious pork belly, it is not yet burnt ends. For that, you'll want to transfer both the meat and any collected juices from the pan underneath (deglazing with a splash of apple juice if necessary) into a large aluminum baking pan. Toss the meat with brown sugar and honey, then dot the surface with butter almost like you were making a Brown Betty.
Cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil and return it to the heat, cooking for an additional 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours until fork tender. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the contents before draining off the liquid, reserving around two tablespoons or so. After that, mix up a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, a tablespoon of hot sauce, and two tablespoons of apple juice that's been warmed, plus the reserved cooking liquid. Stir together and add more juice or cooking liquid as needed until a thin, sticky, and glossy glaze forms.
Toss the meat chunks with the glaze before transferring them back to the baking rack and pan from before. Place the meat back in the smoker one final time for around five to ten minutes until the glaze caramelizes, leaving the surface of the meat chunks shiny and dark.
Step 6: Serve the Pork
After a short cooling time, you're finally ready to taste all those delicious smells from the past few hours. Any of your standard barbecue sides like coleslaw and baked beans would make the perfect complement to these pork belly burnt ends, but they're really all you need. There's nothing quite like these delicious little meat pieces, so definitely give them a try on their own first so you can fully enjoy their rich, smoky, and distinct flavor.
Now you've got everything you need to smoke up some life-changing pork belly burnt ends. While not the most conventional use for such an amazing cut of meat, it's certainly worth the effort. You'll certainly agree once you take your first bite.
If you liked this recipe, make sure you let us know down below. Tell us about your favorite kind of meat to barbecue or any tips you might have for making burnt ends while you're at it. And, as always, remember to share both this page and the resulting deliciousness with a friend, since no one should have to go without trying this pork belly creation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is pork belly?
Most people grew up eating bacon without ever knowing it was a piece of pork belly! Pork belly is a cut of meat that comes from the underside of the pig. This fatty cut is full-flavored and rich. When the meat is uncured, it’s referred to as pork belly. When it has been cured and smoked, it may be called pancetta or bacon.
Where can you find pork belly?
Many higher-end butcher shops regularly carry uncured pork belly, but it’s not a frequently purchased item in a grocery store. You can always ask the butcher to special order a cut of pork belly if they don’t have it in stock. Make sure to specify that you want the slab of pork belly, and that you’d like it uncut.
What are burnt ends?
Burnt ends typically refer to the fatty ends of a brisket. They’re not exactly burnt, but they do caramelize and crisp up as the brisket cooks. They are denser than the rest of the brisket, which means the flavors are super concentrated. A little bowl of burnt ends goes a long way! In this article, we show you how to make these flavorful bites using a pork belly.
How long should you smoke a pork belly?
A pork belly can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on how thick it is. For the purposes of this recipe, you’ll want to continue cooking the pork belly for about 10 minutes after it’s finished smoking. By adding a sugary glaze to the pork belly and tossing it back into the smoker, you'll create a perfectly caramelized exterior on the pork belly.
How do you reheat burnt ends?
If you do happen to have any leftovers (we never do in my house!), they can be reheated in the oven. We like to wrap them with aluminum foil and reheat them in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes. You could also reheat them in a Crock Pot or slow cooker, if you have the time.