Introduction: Pork Belly 'Bacon' Burnt Ends
That's it. That's the description. There are really no other words necessary, or even appropriate, to describe what could be the tastiest single item you can make with a smoker, or grill.
Shout-out to Heim BBQ in Fort Worth, Texas whose Bacon Burnt Ends sent be on this journey and to my manager for scheduling me on a work trip to the area!
Step 1: Ingredients & Tools
- 3 lbs Skin-off Pork Belly - You really want a skin-off slab. I've not payed enough attention before and can definitively say, you don't want to have to try and cut off that skin.
- 20 grams Kosher salt - You're looking for your salt weight to be 1.5% of the meat weight. Use that ratio if you adjust your meat weight.
- 20 grams brown sugar
- Maple syrup - I don't measure this, probably no more than a cup or two, and make sure it's the real deal, not that imitation stuff.
- A sugar-based meat rub - I used Honey Hog, which you can get directly from Meat Church or through any number of appropriate retailers.
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Honey (optional)
- Smoker/Grill - You can get away with any number of alternative cooking methods (bbq or oven, w/ or w/o a smoke box, w/ or w/o a little liquid smoke) but the closer to a full on smoker you can get the better.
- Wood - Probably no wrong choice. Recently I've been using a Maple/Apple blend.
- Disposable foil tray - You need to be able to have holes in the bottom and cleaning a regular dish would be a nightmare and tin foil, even the heavy duty variety, will likely shred while you're working with the meat.
- Just regular kitchen/bbq stuff - Ziplock bag, knife, cutting board, tongs, meat thermometer, etc.
Step 2: Brine
Mix your salt (20g for 3lbs pork) and initial brown sugar (20g) into a slurry/rub with enough maple syrup to cover the meat. Move the coated pork into a Ziplock bag with any remaining rub mixture and place it into the refrigerator, lying flat. You'll want to let it brine for 3-4 days, flipping it once per day.
Step 3: Smoke #1
Once your pork has brined, remove it from the fridge and rinse the rub off. This might seem counterintuitive but we're not ready to start caramelizing just yet. We're making burnt ends, not charcoal ends.
With the meat rinsed it's time for it's first round in the smoker. Place it directly on the grate, fat side down, in a smoker preheated to 350F and cook to an internal temp of 180F. As far as wood, I used a blend of mostly maple with a little apple for this round because it's what I had on hand. What ever you typically use for pork is great and you could probably get away with almost anything short of the real strong woods like mesquite, unless that's you're thing. It's your grill and your meat, in the end that's just you cooking.
Step 4: Cut & Coat
When you reach that 180F internal temperature, remove the pork to a cutting board to cool until it can be handled. While you wait, turn your smoker down to 250F-275F so it's ready for the next step. Once the meat has cooled cut it into cubes sized by the thickness of the slab, somewhere around 3/4" to 1".
Place the cubes in the foil tray and generously coat with your chosen rub and the final portion of brown sugar (1/4 cup). Once everything is evenly coated, spread the pieces out over the bottom of the pan and drizzle with honey.
As soon as your smoker temperature has dropped down into the 250F range you're ready to move on.
Step 5: Smoke #2
Place the pan into the smoker and then puncture the bottom several times to allow the excess grease to drain out. If your smoker is configured in such a way that this would cause the grease to drip onto the fire/heating element then you will have to periodically, about every 15 minutes, spoon excessive grease out by hand rather than poke holes.
The final timing here is ultimately up to you and will change based on a number of variables, namely desired done-ness, specific smoker, and ambient conditions, but I start checking in on mine at around 2 hours. Typically I end up going closer to 3 or 4 hours but I prefer to render more of the fat and start to darken the outside a bit more. The best way to check is to just grab a fork and take samples until it's where you want it.
Step 6: Serve
When you're happy with the cook, pull the pan and spread the pieces on a sheet of heavy duty foil while they're still warm. If you let them cool in the pan you run the risk of having them solidify together in a giant mass. Not that a pile of what essentially amounts to bacon candy is the end of the world but still a pain.
These of course are tremendous fresh off the smoker but, as you find with a lot of smoked foods, these may almost be better reheated the next day. For me that just means sealing them up in the foil I spread them on, tossing that into the fridge, and then reheating the whole package in the oven on it's Keep Warm setting (170-190F). These also freeze well, preferably vacuum sealed after they cool. Thaw, then reheat as described above.
As far as how these fit into a meal, I'm not really sure. They're too rich to be a main protein and they pack such a punch flavor wise pairing them with anything else seems unfair. Typically I serve them as an appetizer at casual meals (people wandering around, grazing) where put on a dish with some toothpicks, they don't last long. Once someone suggested adding some small pieces to fried rice or a noodle dish. I haven't tried it yet but, if I can manage to save some until I can make the rice, it sounds tremendous.
No matter how you end up serving these, nearly literal, heart-stopping cubes of fat, salt, and sugar though you're sure to have to jaws hitting the floor.
First Prize in the
BBQ Showdown Challenge