Pork belly burnt ends, or pork belly bites, have to be in the run for one of the best barbecue dishes out there. I’m not even exaggerating. But, there is a huge difference between a good pork belly burnt end and a GREAT pork belly burnt end.
So what makes up the difference between good and great pork belly? Could it be the sticky, spicy barbecue sauce? Could it be in the size of the bites, the time or temperature, or the smokey flavor?
Although each aspect has its own mastery, the most important part of the process stems from the beginning: the preparation of the pork belly.
We made two lots of pork belly burnt ends, one with the skin on and one with the skin off. Here we go through exactly why you should take the skin off your pork belly, and what happens when you leave it on! Time to get your smoker up to temp.
Skin On Or Off For Pork Belly Burnt Ends?
Asking whether to keep the skin on or off on your pork belly before slicing it into cubes is a question that gets different answers depending on who you ask. But, what speaks for itself is the end result.
We smoked pork belly burnt ends two ways, once with the skin on, and once with the skin off, and did a well anticipated taste test to see which one was superior.
The short story is that skin off pork belly burnt ends were much more tender, succulent, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The skin-on pork belly was slightly rubbery and had a tougher exterior, being a bit too chewy to completely indulge in.
We used an offset, at 250°F for approximately 4 hours in total time, using hickory wood as it’s amazing with pork. For the skin-off pork belly, we trimmed the thin layer of skin off a decent looking piece of pork belly from the butchers. For the skin-on pork belly, we scored the skin to encourage crispiness and for more sauce to stick to the end product!
Below is the full result.
Skin Off For Pork Belly Burnt Ends (Superior)
The ultimate sensation. Perfectly tender, caramelized, juicy, succulent, and crazy delicious. By taking the skin off the pork belly, the fat was able to completely caramelize and break down. After three hours of 250°F exposure in our smoker and spritzing a few times we put them in an aluminum container.
After adding butter, brown sugar, barbecue sauce, and chili sauce we mixed them and put them back in the smoker for a further 45 minutes.
The result: 10/10 & so good we sat there and finished them all in one go.
Skin On For Pork Belly Burnt Ends
I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to cook your barbecue. That’s the beauty about barbecue, it’s entirely up to you. But for me, leaving the skin on your pork belly burnt ends seems counter intuitive.
When I want a good pork belly bite, I want it to simply melt in my mouth with the sticky, caramelized sugar, and spicy, tangy barbecue sauce all in one.
If you leave the skin on your pork belly, no matter how far you’ve rendered the fat down, it will naturally be tougher and chewier. If you are exposing pork belly skin to high heat, like when searing, it actually becomes ridiculously crispy. But, this effect is just not possible when you’re cooking the skin low and slow.
By cooking the skin at low temperatures it tends to turn rubbery instead of crispy, much like smoked chicken skin being rubbery if cooked low and slow too. For this reason, it’s recommended to take the pork belly skin off if you’re making pork belly burnt ends.
Preparing Pork Belly For Burnt Ends
When preparing pork belly for burnt ends, find yourself a decently thick slice of pork belly that has a good amount of fat on it. This is because once you take the skin off there is nothing between the fat and the heat, so you want it to remain moist and tender.
When you’re trimming the skin off your pork belly, be sure to only take about ¼ of an inch off, leaving as much fat as you can on, but be sure to take all of the skin off. The skin can be quite tough, so it’s important you’re using a sharp and stiff boning knife.
Once you’ve evenly taken all the skin off, you should be left with a pork belly with a thin layer of fat on the top. Cut the pork belly in even 2 inch strips down the entire belly. Then, dice the strips into evenly sized, 2 square inch pork belly cubes.
Add a handsome amount of your favourite rub and mix to evenly coat the cubes of joy. Separate each of the cubes on a separate grill grate, this makes it easier to put on and off without losing any heat from opening the hood!
250-275°F for 3 hours, spritzing with water or apple juice after each hour. Take them off and combine them in an aluminium pan with a lob of butter, a few teaspoons of brown sugar, a cup of barbecue sauce, and optionally some chilli sauce too!
Put them back on for 45 minutes at 275°F uncovered. Take them off and toss them in the sauce to coat. Serve. Boom, delicious pork belly bites every time.
How Thick To Cut Pork Belly For Burnt Ends?
Pork belly is a notoriously fatty cut of pork. In turn, this makes it perfect for slow cooking and smoking, as it allows the fat to melt with the meat creating deliciously tender morsels.
But, if the pork is too thin, or cooked too hot or too long, then the pork can dry out and become chewy, once all the moisture has evaporated from the fat.
So, make sure you make your pork belly burnt ends reasonably sized. Not too thick so that the fat can properly render down, but not too thin that it becomes too dry. A 2 inch cube happens to be a great size, as it’s usually also the same thickness of the belly, making it as evenly sized as possible.
Summary: Why You Should Take Off Pork Belly Skin For Burnt Ends
At the end of the day, taking the skin off your pork belly for burnt ends makes for more succulent, juicy, and melt-in-your-mouth morsels, exactly how they should be.
Cooking pork belly skin low and slow simply doesn’t work, and you’re left with a much more rubbery exterior that’s much harder to eat than it should be.
That’s why it’s critical to take the skin off when you’re preparing the pork belly. Be sure not to take too much fat off though, as that’s how the amazing flavor really comes alive!