Pork belly has gained a lot of popularity in the barbecue community in the last few years, and for good reason! It’s absolutely delicious, not to mention versatile, as you can see here with my whole smoked pork belly.
The high-fat content of this cut makes it the perfect meat to cook low and slow. While you’ll often see pork belly used for pork belly burnt ends, smoking it whole results in delicious, juicy pork that will leave you wanting more!
In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, check out our suggestions at the end for other ways to enjoy this smoked pork belly.
What is pork belly?
Pork belly is a boneless portion of pork from the underside of the pig and has a very high fat content. When you look at it from the side you will see distinct layers of fat and meat.
Pork belly is most famous for being used to make bacon. When it’s cured and then smoked you will be left with bacon for your breakfast table, but there are so many other ways to prepare pork belly.
It’s very popular in Hispanic and Asian cuisine. You will find different variations of roast pork belly in Chinese cuisine, also known as Hong Shao Rou. A similar dish known as Char Siu is another popular dish in China that is often sliced into thin pieces and served alongside steamed rice.
In the last few years, pork belly has been gaining more and more popularity in the United States. It has long been found in high-end restaurants, but it is making its way to the dinner table and, of course, the barbecue pit!
Choosing your pork belly
You want to look for a fresh, center-cut piece of pork belly. Most local butcher shops and grocery stores will offer pork belly, or you can buy it online. Here is a guide on where to buy pork belly.
Many butchers will offer it with the skin on, but I prefer pork belly with the skin removed. If you are unable to find pork belly with the skin removed you can always ask your butcher to remove it for you or simply take a small, sharp knife and run it between the skin and the first layer of fat. It should slice away fairly easily.
Look for meat with a rich, reddish, or pink tone and try to find a slab with an abundant layer of meat breaking up the layers of fat.
For this recipe, I recommend a small slab of pork belly, around 4-5lbs. If you purchase a larger slab, I recommend cutting it down into smaller portions so you can cover more surface area with your barbecue rub.
Pork belly is best prepared when cooked at a low temperature for a long period of time. You want to give the fat a chance to render, so smoking it low and slow is the way to go.
How to make Smoked Pork Belly
If you can’t find pork belly with the skin already removed, the first step is going to be to remove the skin. This is important because it will allow the smoke and the flavors of the rub to penetrate the meat more deeply, infusing the pork belly with as much flavor as possible.
1. Season the pork belly
Once you have your slab of pork belly with the skin removed, you are going to season it liberally with your favorite barbecue rub.
This is where you can get creative. If you want a more savory brisket-style pork belly, opt for a beef rub full of salt, pepper, and garlic.
If you want something a bit sweeter and more traditionally “pork flavored”, then opt for a pork rub made from salt, pepper, and brown sugar like our ultimate pork rib rub.
For this recipe, I used the Notorious P.I.G. Rub. It’s got a heavy dose of brown sugar, which I absolutely love when I’m smoking pork, plus a little kick of pepper on the back end that really balances the sweetness of the rub and the fattiness of the pork belly.
If you prefer to make your own dry rub, check out these 7 Delicious Dry Rubs for Pork & Ribs.
Don’t be shy with the seasoning. You want to really coat the pork belly in a generous layer of seasoning. Pork does not have a lot of inherent flavors, so you want to pack as much flavor into it as you can with your rub.
2. Fire up the smoker
As I mentioned before, pork belly is best prepared when it is cooked low and slow – that is, at a low temperature for a long period of time. You want to give the fat plenty of time to render and we all know that patience is a virtue when it comes to great barbecue.
I love the flavor of pecan when I’m smoking pork, but you can opt for oak or apple if you prefer. I don’t recommend stronger woods like hickory or mesquite because they tend to overpower pork with their bold flavors.
Fire up your smoker to 250°F and place your slab of pork belly directly on the grates.
You should estimate about 1-1/2 hours per pound, so a 4lb slab will take about 6 hours total. You are shooting for a final internal temperature between 200°F and 205°F.
3. To wrap or not to wrap?
Some people like to wrap their pork belly, similar to the way you would wrap a brisket or a pork butt. I personally don’t find wrapping to be necessary or beneficial in this particular case. If you want to wrap it, then I would do so when it hits around 175°F internal. You can use either foil or butcher paper.
The reason that I don’t wrap my pork belly is that I really like letting it soak up as much smoky flavor as possible. The high fat content prevents it from drying out, so you can really just “set it and forget it”.
4. Let it rest
As with all smoked meats, you want to let it rest for a bit after cooking to let it cool down and let the internal juices redistribute. I let mine rest for about 30 to 45 minutes, but if you are using an insulated cooler or Cambro then you can let it rest for as long as 4 hours.
Ways to enjoy pork belly
- Sliced and served as a main dish
- Pork Belly Nachos
- Pork Belly Tacos
- Pork Belly Sandwiches
- Pork Belly Ramen
Other great pork belly recipes
Smoked Pork Belly Recipe
Smoked Pork Belly
- 4 lb slab of center-cut pork belly
- ½ cup BBQ pork rub
- Pre-heat your smoker to 250°F.
- If your pork belly does not already have the skin removed, remove it using a sharp knife.
- Season the pork belly generously with your dry rub, being sure to coat all sides.
- Place the slab of pork belly on the smoker, directly on the grates.
- Let smoke for about 6 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 200°F
- Remove from the smoker and rest for 30 minutes.
- Slice and enjoy!