Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends (Meat Candy)

Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends (Meat Candy)

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Smoked pork belly burnt ends are prepared through slow cooking and braising like brisket burnt ends, but in a fraction of the time. Let us show you how!

David and I made our first batch of smoked pork belly burnt ends this summer and today I want to share our experience with you.

Smoked pork belly burnt ends are bite-sized pieces of pork belly rubbed in a spice dry rub, smoked low and slow and tossed in a delicious maple syrup-infused sauce. 

I know what you mean, the two words “burnt ends” doesn’t sound that appetizing does it?  

It didn’t to me either. when David first started talking about trying to make some years ago. Who wants bitter charred meat? Not me! However, burnt ends are far from charred and tasteless. Despite their distasteful name smoked pork belly burnt ends are moist, juicy tender bites of “meat candy” that practically melt in your mouth.

I can’t believe I just said that. Because if you know me, you know I’m funny about the ways I will eat pork and saucy pork usually isn’t something that turns me on. However, these little bites of meat are delicious! I’ll even take that statement further by saying that I prefer smoked pork belly burnt ends over the traditional beef brisket burnt ends (David made some brisket burnt ends at our family reunion in September). 

Perhaps it’s just David rubbing off on me… Nope! These burnt ends are so good they are practically irresistible.

So how do you make smoked pork belly burnt ends? I thought you would never ask. Keep reading and we will share the method in which we smoked ours.

WHAT ARE BURNT ENDS?

Traditionally, burnt ends were originally made from beef brisket. They became popular in Kansas City when a restaurant decided to serve up discarded cuts of brisket drenched in sauce. This unintentional act of trying to get rid of leftovers became a hit in the world of BBQ. Today these flavorful burnt ends are served in barbecue joints all over the US.

Although beef is the traditional meat used to make burnt ends, fresh pork belly is a great alternative. Pork belly is perfect for cutting into small bites to smoke because of the layers of fat that keep it moist during a long slow smoke. It has all the delicious goodness of brisket burnt ends, but they can be smoked in a fraction of the time. Pork belly is prepared through a method of slow cooking and braising.

raw pork belly on cutting board

WHAT IS PORK BELLY?

As the name suggests, pork belly is the cut of meat that comes from the “belly” of the pig. It is flesh made of layers of fat and meat that run along the underside of a pig after the pork loin and spare ribs are taken away. This cut of meat is also the same cut bacon is made from. (Check out this diagram.)

WHERE CAN I FIND PORK BELLY?

Pork belly is not that easy to come by. We always recommend starting with a locally sourced butcher. They should be able to supply you with a pork belly. 

Check with your local grocery store too. If you don’t see one in the meat case, it would not hurt to ask the butcher. Sometimes they have them in the back or they may be able to order one. 

I actually got lucky when I was browsing our local grocery store one weekend. I ran across a whole bunch of pork belly individually shrink-wrapped in the meat counter. I grabbed one, not even knowing what David and I would do with it. We ended up having to freeze it until we were ready to use it. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any since.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN PURCHASING PORK BELLY

When shopping for a pork belly, you should look for a nice balance of both fat and meat. This cut comes in many sizes from a full slab or cut into small strips. Look for pork belly that is fresh as possible, skin-on, lean center-cut, and about 3 to 5 pounds. The leaner the cut is, the better it will be.

WHAT KIND OF WOOD DO I USE TO SMOKE PORK BELLY?

We used apple wood to smoke our pork belly burnt ends. However, hickory, pecan, maple or any of the fruitwood varieties work well. 

I think David would have used hickory, but he knows I’m not a huge fan of hickory, so he used applewood instead. Any of the wood varieties listed above are good choices. In my opinion, hickory flavors overpower the meat.

whole smoked pork belly on carving board

WHAT’S NEEDED TO SMOKE PORK BELLY BURNT ENDS?

  • 3 to 5 pounds of pork belly
  • pork dry rub (recipe to follow)
  • barbecue sauce of choice (see note)
  • ½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup or honey

Pork Dry Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

BBQ Sauce of your choice:

We have a secret recipe for BBQ sauce made up of butter, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper.
[Click HERE for a classic barbecue sauce recipe.]

Equipment & Supplies:

burnt ends covered in barbecue sauce

HOW TO MAKE SMOKED PORK BELLY BURNT ENDS

We chose a more traditional route for smoking the pork belly. We started by smoking the pork belly whole with dry rub. After 4 hours we cut the pork belly into cubes, sprinkled on more dry rub then we smoked the cubes an hour before introducing the cubes to the sauce. It gave the burnt ends a nice balance of smoke, and dry rub before adding them to the sauce.

Some choose the method of cutting the meat into cubes before smoking. This allows the meat to absorb more smoke because all sides of the cube are exposed. 

There’s no wrong way to smoke the pork belly. The key to either method is to cook the burnt ends low and slow. This gives the fat time to render and absorb the amazing smoke flavor from the wood. The method you choose is really a matter of personal preference as to how smoky you want the tasty little bites of pork to be. 

Below is the step by step on how we made our smoked pork belly burnt ends:

David excited to smoke pork

STEP #1 PREP THE PORK BELLY FOR SMOKING

Start with a skin-on, lean center-cut pork belly in the 3 to 5-pound range. Remove any skin and trim any areas of pure fat. Rinse it under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. Then score a grid pattern across the meat about ⅛-inch deep.

pork belly with spice dry rub and mountain view

Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl; stir with a whisk to mix to remove any clumps. Rub 3 tablespoons of the spice rub onto the pork belly on all sides reserving about 1 tablespoon for later. – Learn more about spice rubs HERE!

David setting up smoker

#2 PREPARE THE SMOKER AND PREHEAT FOR SMOKING

Preheat the smoker or charcoal grill to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.) Fill the drip pan inside the smoker with water and place the grate over the drip pan.

Alternatively, using a charcoal grill set up for indirect heat with a drip pan of water directly underneath the meat to stabilize the temperature.

placing the pork belly on smoker

#3 SMOKE THE PORK BELLY

When the coals are ready to cook, place the prepared pork belly onto the hot grate, centered over the drip pan filled with water. Insert the temperature probe (if using).

Toss a dry wood chunk or a handful of dry chips onto the hot coals. Cover the smoker or grill and allow the pork belly to smoke between 225 degrees F and 250 degrees F for 4-hours, or until a nice reddish bark starts to form on the surface of the meat and the temperature is about 160 degrees F.

Setting up the Thermoworks probe

Digital Meat Thermometer Notes: Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial, so if your grill doesn’t have a temperature gauge, purchase a digital BBQ thermometer. David uses a Thermoworks Smoke™ Thermometer. This thermometer has 2 channels, one for the meat and one for the smoker, with a remote control. David loves it.

Having the remote control saved him a lot of worrying about the smoker temperature. The alarm sounds each time it falls below or rises above the ideal smoking temperature. If you are a serious pit master, we highly recommend it.

David also uses a Thermapen Mk4 digital instant-read meat thermometer, by Thermoworks, to test for doneness. 

smoked pork belly before cutting

#4 CUT THE PORK BELLY INTO CUBES

After 4-hours, remove the probe from the pork belly. Remove the pork from the smoker and place it on a carving board.

Cut the meat into 1 ½ inch cubes. The pork will be hot, so you may want to wait about 5 minutes or so to cut it.

sprinkling pork belly with rub

Place the cubes of pork belly onto a grill grid or wire rack. Sprinkle the cubes with the remaining tablespoon of rub.

Return the pork belly to the grill and smoke for another 60 to 90 minutes, until the internal temperature of the cubes reach about 190 degrees F with an instant-read digital meat thermometer.

smoked burnt ends on grill try

#5 SAUCE THE PORK BELLY BURNT ENDS

Butter is added to give the sauce richness. It also helps to bind the sauce and maple syrup together. The maple syrup provides a sticky sweetness to the sauce.  

Meanwhile, add 1 cup of barbecue sauce to a small saucepan over low heat. Add in the butter and maple syrup. Stir until the butter has melted and the sauce is warmed through; about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Remove the burnt ends from the smoker and place them inside an aluminum pan. Pour the sauce over the burnt ends. Use tongs to toss the burnt ends in the sauce.

tossing burnt ends in sauce

Bring the burnt ends to simmer in the sauce. Allow them to simmer for another 60 to 90 minutes, maintaining the low and slow heat. Toss the burnt ends every 15 to 20 minutes. 

The point of braising is to render the fat from the pork belly and binds the sauce with a delicious smoky flavor.

#6 TEST FOR DONENESS

Check for doneness using an instant-read digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the cubes. The pork belly is done when the cubes read about 190 degrees F when pierced into the center of the cube. 

You can also test the burnt ends with a toothpick. If the toothpick goes in and comes out without resistance, they are done.

#7 SERVE EM HOT!

Remove the pan from the smoker and serve!

bite size piece of saucy smoked pork belly with mountain view
SAUCY, STICKY, JUICY “MEAT CANDY”!

HOW TO SERVE SMOKED PORK BELLY BURNT ENDS

Burnt ends are almost always served in small portions. Serve them as an appetizer with toothpicks, can be piled upon sliced bread. You can even add these delicious jewels of meat to tacos or nachos. No matter how you serve them, they are a surefire bite-size crowd pleaser!

We hope you enjoy smoking pork belly burnt ends as much as we do. If you try this recipe please let us know what you think. Leave a star rating and comment below! We appreciate the feedback.

tossing smoked pork belly burnt ends in sauce on grill
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Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends (Meat Candy)

Smoked pork belly burnt ends are prepared through slow cooking and braising like brisket burnt ends, but in a fraction of the time. Let us show you how!
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, BBQ
Keyword Burnt Ends, Pork Belly, smoked
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 7 hours
Total Time 7 hours 30 minutes
Servings 8
Calories 974kcal

Ingredients

  • 3 to 5 pounds of pork belly
  • pork dry rub (recipe to follow)
  • barbecue sauce of choice (see note)
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter (½ stick)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup (or honey)

Pork Dry Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions

STEP #1 PREP THE PORK BELLY FOR SMOKING

  • Start with a skin-on, lean center-cut pork belly in the 3 to 5-pound range. Remove any skin and trim any areas of pure fat. Rinse it under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. Then score a grid pattern across the meat about an ⅛-inch deep.
  • Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl; stir with a whisk to mix to remove any clumps. Rub 3 tablespoons of the spice rub onto the pork belly on all sides reserving about 1 tablespoon for later.

#2 PREPARE THE SMOKER AND PREHEAT FOR SMOKING

  • Preheat the smoker or charcoal grill to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.) Fill the drip pan inside the smoker with water and place the grate over the drip pan..
  • Alternatively, using a charcoal grill set up for indirect heat with a drip pan of water directly underneath the meat to stabilize the temperature.

#3 SMOKE THE PORK BELLY

  • When the coals are ready to cook, place the prepared pork belly onto the hot grate, centered over the drip pan filled with water. Insert the temperature probe (if using).
  • Toss a dry wood chunk or a handful of dry chips onto the hot coals. Cover the smoker or grill and allow the pork belly to smoke between 225 degrees F and 250 degrees F for 4-hours, or until a nice reddish bark starts to form on the surface of the meat and the temperature is about 160 degrees F.

#4 CUT THE PORK BELLY INTO CUBES

  • After 4 hours, remove the probe from the pork belly. Remove the pork from the smoker and place it on a carving board.
  • Cut the meat into 1 ½ inch cubes. The pork will be hot, so you may want to wait about 5 minutes or so to cut it.
  • Place the cubes of pork belly onto a grill grid or wire rack. Sprinkle the cubes with the remaining tablespoon of rub.
  • Return the pork belly to the grill and smoke for another 60 to 90 minutes, until the internal temperature of the cubes reach about 190 degrees F with a instant-read digital meat thermometer.

#5 SAUCE THE PORK BELLY BURNT ENDS

  • Butter is added to the sauce to give it richness and helps to bind the sauce and maple syrup together. The maple syrup provides a sticky sweetness to the sauce.
  • Meanwhile, add 1 cup of barbecue sauce to a small saucepan over low heat. Add in the butter and maple syrup. Stir until the butter has melted and the sauce is warmed through; about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • Remove the burnt ends from the smoker and place them inside an aluminum pan. Pour the sauce over the burnt ends. Use tongs to toss the burnt ends in the sauce.
  • Bring the burnt ends to simmer in the sauce. Allow them to simmer for another 60 to 90 minutes, maintaining the low and slow heat. Toss the burnt ends every 15 to 20 minutes. The purpose of braising is to render the fat from the pork belly and binds the sauce with a delicious smoky flavor.

#6 TEST FOR DONENESS

  • Check for doneness using an instant-read digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the cubes. They are done when they read about 190 degrees F when pierced into the center of the cube.
  • You can also test the burnt ends with a toothpick. If the toothpick goes in and come out without resistance, they are done.

#7 SERVE EM HOT!

  • Remove the pan from the smoker and serve!

Video

Notes

Wood For Smoking: We used applewood, but hickory, pecan, maple or any of the fruit wood varieties work well. 
Barbecue Sauce: We have a secret recipe for BBQ sauce made up of butter, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper.
[Click HERE for a classic barbecue sauce recipe.]
Digital Meat Thermometers: Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial, so if your grill doesn’t have a temperature gauge, purchase a digital BBQ thermometer. David uses a Thermoworks Smoke™ thermometer. This thermometer has 2 channels, one for the meat and one for the smoker, with a remote control. 
David loves it. Having the remote control saved him a lot of worrying about the smoker temperature. The alarm sounds each time it falls below or rises above the ideal smoking temperature. If you are a serious pit master, we highly recommend it.
David also uses a Thermapen Mk4 digital instant-read meat thermometer, by Thermoworks, to test for doneness. 

Nutrition

Calories: 974kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 96g | Saturated Fat: 37g | Cholesterol: 138mg | Sodium: 348mg | Potassium: 347mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 369IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 1mg
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