Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends are the ultimate meat candy, bursting with sweet and smoke flavors. Each crispy bite or cubed pork belly is caramelized with barbecue sauce, while juicy and tender on the inside.
Simple to prepare, these pork belly burnt ends are a huge hit for any party. Lucious pork is slowly smoked until it forms a crispy bark before being caramelized with barbecue sauce. Each bite is sticky, crispy, and juicy with lots of smoky flavor.
There are also many ways to adjust the recipe to your liking. You can have thicker sauce, sticky pork, or even an extra crispy bark. We’ll cover the adjustment in the guide below.
Why This Recipe Works
Rich meat is a treat. Pork belly cubes are pretty sinful, but that makes it such a special treat when served to a crowd. Everyone’s going to be coming back for thirds!
Simple process. There’s very little to do other than to check the cubed pork belly and transfer them to a pan with sauce. Crack open a few beers and enjoy the ride.
- Flexible flavors. Pork belly has the ability to soak up most flavor combinations you can throw at it. There are multiple stages to add flavor, which opens up the possibilities.
What are Pork Belly Burnt Ends?
Simply put, they are cubes of pork belly that have been smoked for a period of time before being lightly braised and caramelized with barbecue sauce.
Their rise to fame really happened in more recent years. Classic brisket burnt ends were the first to rise, a rare staple and many barbecue joints across the country. Burnt trimmings were lightly braised, and caramelized with barbecue sauce. These intense bites became a massive hit!
Over time as the demand grew the burnt ends were no longer a side effect of barbecue, they were a staple. Cubing up beef to intentionally create burnt ends led to other cuts, such as pork belly. Good thing someone thought of it because they are freaking delicious.
Tips for Prepping the Pork Belly
This process is pretty straightforward, but there are a few important things that will help you cook pork belly just the way you want to.
- Purchase pork belly with no skin. You’ll need the fat and meat exposed, as the skin will add a completely different (and unpleasant) texture if left on.
- Thicker the better. When selecting your pork belly at the store, make sure it’s not a thin slab of meat. Look for the thickest cut, laced with a well-distributed portion of meat and fat. The worst thing you can do is buy a belly with mostly fat that’s only about 1″ thick.
- Cut the pork belly into large cubes, about 1.5-2″ wide. The pork will significantly shrink during the smoking process. Fat has high levels of water, which the pork belly is laced with.
- Slice while cold. Room-temperature pork belly will have very soft fat, making it difficult to slice through. The meat will not only slide around but it’s actually more difficult for the knives to slice.
Smoked pork pork tastes delicious with almost anything you can throw at it, from simple salt and pepper to something sweet and spicy.
- Signature Sweet & Smoky Rub – This is my preference, which has a nice balance of just about everything and helps to form that nice sticky surface for pork belly burnt ends.
- Espresso Coffee Rub – Yes, coffee and smoked pork taste so good together. Combine this with the Honey Bourbon BBQ Sauce and you have an incredibly smoky sweet combo.
- Smoky Southwest Dry Rub – Want less sugar? This rub focuses more on spices and less on sweetness, leaving you room to fill that in with a BBQ sauce.
- Salt & Pepper – Classic Texas flavors are hard to beat, and pair with any kind of sauce. Use a 50/50 mix and add in garlic powder or chile powder if you want a little extra something.
Step 1: Smoking Pork Belly Cubes
The pork belly should be sliced, generously seasoned, and ready for the smoker. Smoking pork belly is very low maintenance, unlike some other cuts. High-fat content keeps the pork belly extremely moist, which means you don’t have to go out and spritz it all the time.
Smoke the pork belly cubes for about 2 hours at 250°F, or until the bark looks good.
Use a baking sheet lined with a wire rack for an easy transfer in and out of the smoker. This also helps with cleanup, as the pork belly tends to render off quite a bit of fat. You can also place the wire rack into the smoker without the sheet.
Step 2: Tenderizing the Pork
After about 2 hours the pork belly cubes should have formed a nice bark, and the temperature will be around 175°F. If the temperature is higher, it’s not a problem, just make sure they aren’t dry. Focus more on the bark, making sure that they have a nice exterior. They should not be crispy or burnt, but also not too squishy.
Add the pork belly burnt ends to a disposable foil pan or a large sheet of heavy-duty foil. This is where the braising comes into place. There needs to be an added liquid to help tenderize the pork belly burnt ends.
Flavor Options for Braising
There isn’t one recipe to rule them all, but I do have a personal preference. I’m going to share different combinations for you to consider based on your end goals:
- 1/4 cup BBQ sauce along with 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
- 1/4 cup apple juice along with 3 tablespoons of honey.
- 1/4 cup of bourbon, along with 3 tablespoons of honey.
OK, my favorite is the combo with bourbon. It’s so delicious, but they will all work well. Many people choose to add brown sugar, butter, apple juice, and sauce all together – I’ve found this is extremely sweet, but there’s no wrong way to go about it.
Add your braising ingredients to the pork belly and wrap tightly with heavy-duty foil. Smoke for about 45 minutes to an hour. I don’t like to increase the heat due to the sugar that’s added in.
Step 3: Caramelize the BBQ Sauce
Open up the foil and check the pork belly burnt ends after about 45 minutes. Give them a very gentle stir if you need. They should be extremely tender, with not much liquid left in the foil pan.
Remove the foil lid, add 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce, and gently stir. Continue to smoke the pork belly burnt ends until they are caramelized. This should only take about 20-30 minutes.
- Make sure your BBQ sauce is not cold, out of the fridge. Either warm it up or have it at room temp.
- If you used BBQ sauce during the braising phase, you might not need to add more.
- Stir the burnt ends gently after about 15 minutes to make sure they are evenly coated.
You’re looking for meat candy that is tacky, not drowning in sauce. They should have a nice thin coating of sticky sauce on the outside.
BBQ Sauce Options
- Smoky Sweet Heat Sauce – This is our signature blend, the go-to for smoked meats. Bright red in color with a nice balance of savory, sweet, and spice. Just enough heat to let you know it’s there.
- Sweet Honey Bourbon BBQ Sauce – One of my favorites, and pairs so well with smoked pork belly. Use bourbon during the braising phase and it’ll be over-the-top delicious.
- Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce – This mustard-based golden sauce is tangy, spicy, and sweet. I recommend adding this in during the braising phase
- Buffalo BBQ Sauce – Take the classic buffalo flavors and fortify them with ketchup, sugars, and aromatics to make a full-bodies BBQ sauce that kicks.
- Korean Honey Mustard – This spicy sauce works really well for caramelizing at the end. If you’re going to braise with it, add some apple cider vinegar to thin it out a little first.
- Teriyaki BBQ Sauce – Sweet and thick, this sauce comes together quickly. Use this sauce at the end, it’s a little too thick for braising.
- Preheat the smoker to 250°F
- Slice the pork belly into cubes about 1.5 – 2″ cubes. Season them generously with the rub on all sides, use more if needed. Place them on a wire rack and set them in the smoker. Allow them to cook undisturbed for about 90 minutes.
- Check on them and make sure the bark is forming nicely, and they aren’t drying out. Spritz with a little apple cider vinegar if you see they are a little dry, otherwise continue to cook for another 30 minutes, about 2 hours total.
- After the first 2 hours, transfer them from the wire rack carefully to a disposable foil pan. Add in the juice or bourbon, and drizzle the honey over the top of them. Place a foil sheet over the top of the pan, pushing down to remove as much extra air as possible. Continue to cook for another 45-60 minutes.
- Check on the burnt ends. Most of the liquid should be gone and they will look very tender. Remove the foil from the top and add the BBQ sauce. Use at least 1/2 cup, more if needed. Stir very carefully and continue to cook uncovered for another 20-30 minutes.
- Check the pork belly, they should be sticky and tacky, with very little liquid left in the foil pan. Serve them while warm.
- Make sure the BBQ sauce is not cold out of the fridge when using it. Room temp or slightly warm is best.
- Use your intuition during this cook. Notice that I didn’t provide many temperatures, that’s because burnt ends really go by feel and texture more than anything.
- If the pork belly cubes are too small they will dry out, so make sure you cut them large. They will shrink in size quite a bit.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 4 hours
- Category: Pork
- Method: Smoking
- Cuisine: Appetizer
Keywords: smoked pork, pork belly, burnt ends, pork belly burnt ends, bbq, smoking, barbecue