Pork belly is a longstanding Kiwi tradition and a BBQ favourite. Witchdoctor’s resident BBQ guru NIK GRIMMETT shows us how to do it right.
Pork in New Zealand is a popular product that’s used in many ways, but sadly a lot of it comes from overseas now to maintain our supply. It’s one food source that my partner will get a little defensive over if you try to take some from off her plate!
From bacon to belly, ribs to roasts, Kiwis love pork products almost as much as lamb. There’s a fondness for pork belly that has lasted over time – although that does mean our pork ribs aren’t as meaty.
In the BBQ world, there is nothing as sickly-sweet (in a good way) as what is referred to as “meat candy” – bite-sized morsels of marshmallowy goodness that can be achieved through low ‘n’ slow cooking. A rare treat, sticky and rich, it may even replace having dessert to finish off your BBQ feast. How is this achieved? Pork belly.
Preparing this dish is simple, and that makes it all the more pleasing to make. With a cook time of around four hours, I’ve been known to make these while my brisket was resting, which gave my diners something tasty to snack on while I was slicing.
The first item is your pork belly – get a decent sized slab without skin. Much better to let the butcher deal with removing the skin than doing it yourself! Cut the belly up into 1-inch cubes and try to keep them all around the same size as this will make the cooking of these pieces a lot easier and more even. Once this is done, season with a good rub (such as the Green Mountain Grill Pork rub) and make sure the rub is evenly distributed over all sides of the meat. Top tip: place these cubes of meat onto wire racks – this makes them easier to move about when you’re placing them on or off the grill.
Get your BBQ to a temperature of about 275°F and make sure the smoke you have matches the meat. I used GMG Premium Apple Blend Hardwood pellets on the GMG Daniel Boone as the blend of apple, American hickory and red oak fuses well with pork. Avoid anything harsh like mesquite; matching with fruitwood will give you that more subtle flavouring.
Cook for an hour and a half without lifting to check as there is no need to at this point and you want all the smoke to hit the meat without releasing the heat. Think “if you’re looking, you ain’t cooking”! When this time is done, check the pork for a good mahogany colour and a firmer outside (or bark) has formed. Bark is when something called the Maillard Reaction has taken place, breaking down sugars and amino acids to create a crust on your meat or bread – and it’s what creates such interesting flavour profiles. If it’s not there, keep it in for another half an hour.
Transfer the pork pieces to a tinfoil tray, deep enough to hold liquid and big enough to put the pork in one layer. Add into this some base liquid (I’m a fan of apple cider with pork, but you can use apple or pineapple juice, or even chicken stock), maple syrup and cubes of butter. Sprinkle brown or raw sugar over the meat evenly, and then drizzle with your favourite BBQ sauce – try a sweet one rather than a spicy one! Cover with tinfoil and put back into your BBQ for another hour. You’re looking for a really soft and squishy finish, so test with a skewer until done.
The pork belly pieces right now will be sitting in a sea of fatty liquid, so pour out the sauce, let it rest for a minute and remove about ¾ of the fat from the surface of the sauce. Pour the sauce back in, toss the meat through it to thoroughly coat and put it back in the BBQ for the final time to caramelise. This should take about 25 – 30 minutes and turn the sauce into a syrupy glaze. When this is achieved, remove from the heat, toss the meat around the tray again to coat and serve.
This is one dish that you’ll have everyone asking for more and making sure no-one steals their candy!
Ingredients: 1.5kg – 2kg pork belly (skin removed), 80ml juice/cider/stock, 60ml maple syrup, 250g maple syrup, 3 T sugar (raw or brown), 250g butter, 60ml BBQ sauce. Can substitute sugar for honey or agave.