Pork belly burnt ends slow smoked over pecan wood and coated in barbecue sauce. These sweet pork belly cubes are addictive and will go down a treat at your next backyard cook-off.
If you know your barbecue, when you think ‘burnt ends’ you’ll probably think of the Kansas City barbecue classic made from the brisket point. These outrageously tender bites of tender meat and brisket bark have long been a favorite with BBQ fans. So much so that the technique has been applied to other meats, including pork.
Enter: These smoked pork belly burnt ends. Like their brisket counterparts, they’re slow smoked for several hours to develop a beautiful bark on their outside, while the inside turns juicy and tender. What sets them apart however is by using pork we can ramp up the sweetness, using a combination of honey, BBQ sauce, and rub seasoning to turn these into delicious smoked meat candy.
Trust us, these are the perfect BBQ party appetizer, snack, or even side dish for your next barbecue! From smoking woods to meat prep, discover how to make the best smoked pork belly burnt ends today.
What are Pork Belly Burnt Ends?
Pork belly burnt ends are sweet, sticky cubes of pork slathered in BBQ sauce and slowly smoked at a low temperature. Similar to the classic brisket burnt ends, these instead use pork belly in place of the beef brisket point. Just like the brisket classic, pork belly is characterized by its rich marbling and thick layer of fat, making it ideal for the smoking process and giving you a mouthwatering bite-sized barbecue treat.
When you slowly smoke these pork belly cubes, the barbecue sauce coating caramelizes while the fat slowly renders. These two combine to create tender, juicy mini pork bites loaded with incredible flavor.
Why are they called ‘burnt ends’? No, they’re not burnt or charred. Instead, the name comes from the dark color they develop as they’re cooked over smoke. With at least two hours’ exposure to smoke, these little wonders quickly develop an incredible deep red color as bark develops on them and their sugar coating starts to caramelize.
Tips for Buying Pork Belly
When you’re buying pork belly, you want to get a piece that has plenty of meat for the most fulfilling dish. You do want it to have layers of fat, though, because that keeps the meat moist when you’re smoking it. You’ll want to check out the marbling like you would on bacon.
You can find pork belly in strips or slabs. Some places leave the skin on, which you can remove yourself, but it’s easier to ask the butcher to do it for you. It’ll also save you some money since you’re paying by the pound.
The center of the pork belly is the best to buy if you have a choice. One end is pretty thin, and the other is mostly fat. You want an even mix of meat and fat for the tastiest burnt ends.
How to Prepare Pork Belly Burnt Ends for Smoking
Once you pick your pork belly cut, you’ll need to prepare it for smoking.
If the butcher left the skin, you’ll have to remove it because it won’t render in the smoker. You can also trim any excess fat so that your cut looks like a 50-50 mix of meat and fat.
Cut the pork belly into cubes, tossing away any cube that is entirely fat. The best size for the cubes is about 1.5” to 2”. If they look large, don’t worry – they shrink down during the smoking process, so they’ll be bite-sized by the end.
Dry Rub Seasoning
Apply your favorite dry rub or seasoning all over pork belly cubes (our favorite is in the recipe below). Cover every side of the meat evenly for the best flavor. Once they’re coated, place them on a wire rack with enough room for the smoke to circulate between them.
How to Smoke Pork Belly Burnt Ends
The broad overview of smoking pork belly burnt ends is to first smoke the meat for the flavor. Then you baste the meat with sauce to keep it moist and return it to the smoker. The sauce carmelizes for a rich coating with the juicy meat inside.
Smoke the Pork Belly
You can keep an eye on the meat at this point to get the bark exactly right. Once you add the sauce, you can’t get more bark on the meat. If you like a lot of bark for flavor, let the pork belly smoke for closer to three hours with just the dry rub on it.
Add the Sauce
When your meat is dark, take it off the wire rack and put it in a disposable pan. Mix the meat with BBQ sauce and stir it to ensure it’s all coated. Put foil over the pan and put it back on the smoker.
Cook to Finish
It takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes to finish smoking the meat once it’s sauced. You can check the temperature with a meat thermometer — once it hits 205℉ (96°C), you’re good to go.
Take off the foil and leave the pan on the grill. The sauce will firm up and stick to the meat for more flavorful bites.
Best Wood for Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends
Most types of fruit wood work well for smoking pork belly burnt ends because their sweet notes combine well with pork belly as it renders. We’ve used pecan wood for this recipe since it has a rich sweet flavor that we find works well. However, if you want to really ramp up the color on this dish then give cherry wood a try. Over the course of a couple of hours, it’ll enhance the burnt ends with a deep red hue that’ll really make a statement!
Times & Temperatures
The total cooking time for these pork belly burnt ends is just under 4 hours. The entire process can be broken down into three distinct stages: The first smoke, the foil packet, and the final saucing.
Smoke pork belly burnt ends at 250-275°F (121-135°C) for two hours. At this point, you’ll have a beautiful color on the meat and can add sauce. After adding the sauce, you’ll cover the pork in foil and cook it for a further hour to help the burnt ends turn tender, before we glaze them in BBQ sauce for one final 10-minute sprint on the smoker.
- Use a Water Pan: To help keep your smoker’s temperature consistent and your pork moist, I recommend using a water pan. Simply fill an aluminum pan or tray with some ice cubes and some water, and place it on your smoker grates underneath your pork belly.
- Fat is Your Friend: It’s important that each cube of pork has a layer of fat on top. Not just for flavor, but also to help it keep its shape on the smoker, and when you mix in the BBQ sauce. If you come across any cubes without this fat layer as you prepare the pork belly, I recommend not using them.
Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends
- Pecan smoking wood
- 3 lb pork belly no skin and uncured
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup honey
- barbecue sauce
Dry Rub Seasoning
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ tsp dried onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Fire up your smoker to 250-275°F (121-135°C). If you are using a charcoal grill, ensure it’s set up for 2-zone indirect cooking
- Cut the pork belly into cubes at about 1 ½-inch thick
- Combine the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork to remove or crush any lumps that may have formed.
- Evenly coat your pork belly cubes in the dry rub. Arrange cubes on a baking sheet or cooling rack fat-side up, and place on smoker grates.
- Add wood chips to coals or wood tray, and close lid. Smoke for 2 hours.
- Transfer pork belly cubes to an aluminum pan. Coat with brown sugar and honey.
- Cover pan with foil and place back in smoker. Smoke for 60-90 minutes until tender.
- Remove foil covering and add barbecue sauce. Smoke for 10 minutes to allow the sauce to harden.
- Remove from smoker and serve immediately