Smoked pork belly is so tender, it melts in your mouth! Lightly curing in a coffee & treacle brine makes this rich cut of meat even better.
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Cooking barbecue has been an interest of mine for a long time now & I’m excited to include it on my blog! I started out cooking low & slow on a homemade offset smoker made by my Dad when I was 17 & now, more than 8 years later, it’s still going strong!
As well as my offset smoker, I now use a couple of different types of smokers, a pizza oven, a Japanese Konro grill & an Argentinian asado set up. These will all be making an appearance on the blog at some point in the future!
One of my all time favourite cuts of meat to cook on a smoker, would have to be a pork belly. It’s a very fatty cut of meat so is suited perfectly to this style of slow cooking. To take the flavour up a notch, we are going to be curing the belly in a brine made with coffee & treacle before smoking. These dark, intense flavours work incredibly well with barbecue & the curing improves the flavour & texture.
The coffee & treacle flavours in this recipe aren’t at all overpowering & are very subtle. When combined with the smoke, they work incredibly well with this cut of pork.
What Is Pork Belly?
Pork belly is a rich & fatty piece of meat, cut from the belly or underside of a pig. Traditionally cured to make streaky bacon but cook it low & slow and it becomes incredibly tender.
A super fatty cut of pork, perfect for long, slow cooks. Ask your butcher for a 2kg, bone in pork belly with the skin removed.
The Coffee & Treacle Brine
Sweet, dark & intense. This brine works fantastically well with smoked pork belly. We only want to lightly cure our pork so we are using 5% salt in the brine. Some added herbs, spices & aromatics add an extra layer or flavour.
To complement the flavours in the brine, we are using a coffee based rub for our pork belly. This uses espresso powder mixed with sugar & spices. As the pork is cured before cooking, we won’t be adding any extra salt into our rub.
My guide to making espresso powder can be found here.
To get our rub to stick to the pork, we must first apply a slather. This can be oil, mustard or even mayonnaise. For this recipe we are using French’s mustard which is what I use for pretty much all of my smoked meats.
Throughout the smoking process, we need to lightly spray the pork with a liquid. I tend to use a mixture of water & apple cider vinegar. The reason behind this is to attract smoke to the surface of the meat, which helps with bark formation. This is the black outer layer that you see on smoked meats & is a sign of well cooked barbecue.
When cooking barbecue, it’s important to view the smoke as an ingredient. Too much & it will overpower the meat. Too little & you won’t be able to tell that it’s been barbecued.
If your cooking with a charcoal smoker, I like to only add a chunk or two of wood during the first 3-4 hours of cooking. This is when the meat will take on the smoke flavour.
If your using an offset/wood fired smoker it’s important to keep your fire clean. You’ll be able to tell if your fire is clean when the smoke is clear or a really light blue. A dirty fire will taint the meat & will produce thick, grey smoke.
How To Cook Smoked Pork Belly
If your pork belly still has the skin/rind on, it needs to be removed. When doing this, it’s important to keep as much fat on the belly as possible. Once the skin has been removed, we lightly score the fat with a sharp knife. This increases the pork’s surface area which in turn, attracts more smoke.
The next step is making the brine. To do this we heat up water with salt, sugar, treacle, instant coffee, herbs & spices. This is then left to cool completely before adding in the pork belly.
We’re only lightly curing the pork so it is only left in the brine for 4-6 hours before being rinsed under cold water. Make sure to flip the belly over halfway through the brining, to ensure an even cure.
After brining, we leave the pork belly uncovered in the fridge overnight. This equalises the cure & dries the surface slightly which improves bark formation.
Applying The Rub
The next step is applying the rub. To do this, we coat the entire belly in mustard. This is our slather & helps stick the rub to the pork. We then sprinkle an even layer of our rub all over the pork. For the best bark possible, make sure that there aren’t any gaps in the rub layer.
Once the rub has been applied, we leave the meat to come to room temperature while we light our smoker. Usually this will be around 30 minutes to an hour.
Now to smoke. Light a barbecue/smoker, set up for indirect cooking & preheat to 275°f/135°c. If your using a charcoal smoker, now’s the time to throw on a lump of wood. We need to maintain this temperature throughout the cook so make sure to keep an eye on your smoker’s vents & charcoal level.
Meat will take on the most smoke flavour during the first 3-4 hours of cooking so it is important to leave it undisturbed during this time. After this time has passed, we lightly spray the surface of the meat with our vinegar spritz every 30 minutes or so, to promote bark formation.
Once a decent bark has formed, it’s time to wrap the pork in butcher’s paper. This can be found online & keeps the meat moist & stops it from taking on too much colour & smoke. For the best possible bark, it is important to use butcher’s paper as appose to foil. Foil will steam the meat whereas butcher’s paper won’t.
After being wrapped, we cook the belly until it probes as soft as butter. This will take anywhere from 3 hours to 6. The total cooking time will likely be around 8-12 hours.
One of the most important parts of cooking barbecue, is the resting. This relaxes the meat, making it tender & moist. Slice it too soon & your pork belly will likely turn out dry.
I’d recommend resting for at least an hour. This will give the meat plenty of time to relax. Keeping the meat in the butcher’s paper then wrapping in a tea towel helps keep it warm.
With all meats, it’s important to slice against the grain to keep it tender. As we’ve kept the bones in our belly (for flavour) we need to remove them before slicing. They should just slide out as our pork is so tender. The bones can either be discarded or saved to be used for a smoky meat stock.
Pork belly can also be sliced cold. Keep it as a whole piece of meat, leave to cool then wrap in clingfilm & refrigerate overnight. The next day, the pork will have set & will super easy to slice.
Why Brine Pork Belly?
A brine is used for pork to improve its’ flavour & texture. Think of it as a seasoning that we apply before cooking. Once cured, the pork will also have a much meatier texture & flavour.
How To Reheat Smoked Pork Belly
If you have any leftover pork, the best way to reheat it would have to be pan frying. It goes super crispy & is basically a meatier bacon. A win-win! To stop the pork drying out, I’d recommend slicing it just before reheating.
What To Serve With Smoked Pork Belly
Smoked pork belly is super versatile & can be served with a load of different things. From a simple salad, to homemade coleslaw, grilled vegetables or bbq baked beans.
Frequently Asked Questions
When smoking pork belly, it’s best to remove the skin as it tends to turn rubbery & won’t crisp up once cooked.
Absolutely! I’d recommend cooking it in uncovered in a 275°f/135°c oven until it probes like butter. This probably won’t take as long as when it is cooked in a smoker but it will just as tender.
It’s even better when reheated. I like to slice thickly then pan fry on each side until crispy like bacon.
Pork belly needs to be cooked through so should be at least 75°c/165°f. It won’t be tender at this temperature so will need cooking more. The best way to check is the insert a food probe/skewer & if it feels soft like butter, it is ready.
You can use any type of barbecue as long as you can cook indirectly. I used a vertical Weber smoker when making this recipe.
Please note that these are affiliate links & I may make a small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. For more information, click here.
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Smoked Pork Belly
- Large Rectangle Container
- Butcher's Paper
- Spray Bottle
- 2 kg Bone In Pork Belly Skin Removed
- 1.5 Litres Water
- 75 g Table Salt
- 60 g Light Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp Black Treacle
- 1 tsp Instant Coffee
- 1 tsp Pink Peppercorns
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 1 Star Anise
- 20 g Maldon Salt
- 15 g Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- 40 g Demerara Sugar
- 1 tsp Espresso Powder
- 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 1 tsp Onion Granules
- 1 tsp Garlic Granules
- 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1 tsp Ground Ginger
- 1 tsp Cumin
For The Cook
- 2 tbsp French’s Mustard
- 75 ml Apple Cider Vinegar
- 75 ml Water
- Place all of the brine ingredients (use only half of the water) into a large saucepan. Place over a medium heat & cook until the salt & sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat, transfer to another container & add in the remaining water. Leave to cool completely.
- Lightly score the fat on the top of the pork belly then place into a large container. Pour over the cooled brine then leave in the fridge for 4-6 hours, turning the pork over halfway through.
- Next, remove the pork from the brine & rinse off under cold water. Transfer to a clean tray & leave uncovered in the fridge overnight.
- To prepare the rub, combine all of the ingredients together in a bowl then set aside.
- The next day coat the pork belly with the French’s mustard then cover completely with the rub. Leave at room temperature whilst your barbecue gets up to temperature.
- Preheat your barbecue/smoker to 275°f/135°c & set up for indirect cooking.
- Once at temperature, place the pork belly fat side up into the barbecue & leave to cook undisturbed for 3 hours. In the meantime, combine the water & apple cider vinegar then place into a spray bottle.
- After 3 hours have passed, spray the pork with the vinegar/water every 30 minutes until a deep bark has formed.*This will roughly take a further 2-3 hours.
- Next, give the pork a good spray with the vinegar then wrap in a double layer of butcher’s paper. Place back in the smoker (the same way up) & continue cooking until the pork probes like butter.*Roughly a further 3-5 hours.
- Once the pork is cooked, remove from the smoker, leaving it wrapped in the butcher’s paper but also wrapping in a tea towel. Leave to rest for a minimum of 1 hour.Once rested, remove the bones from the belly (they should just slide out) then slice to serve.Alternatively, leave the belly whole & chill in the fridge to set. Once set, slice thick then pan fry to heat up.