Pork Belly – Braaied and Smoked

Father’s Day is just one of those days… another Sunday… one of the 52 we’re allocated annually.

Not!!

Father’s Day is a day for me to have fun and fun for me is to braai… or take photos… or spend with my family… or to pinch my good lady’s posterior… or to sample a good bit of red stuff… or to blog a bit… or not to think of work at all… or to watch a bit of test cricket on TV… or to chat with distant daughters and sons closer… and relax.

So, I ask, why not do all in one? I decided earlier in the week to try something different. Pork bell/ rib. John, our friendly village meat master had the perfect answer. A whole slab of belly pork with half still on the bone. I did a bit of reading… the usual suspects, Hugh, BBC food, even Master Oliver… how to best do the roast. Only difference, I wasn’t going to do this bit of pork in any oven… I was most certainly going to braai the slab.

I mean… if I can get the Christmas pork roast to crackle on the braai in the middle of winter then I stand half a chance to get this baby just right!

Saying all of that, let’s get the preparation just right. Basically, the Stanley Knife I keep in the kitchen for the express reason of preparing ribs was the first tool to be used. Score the skin, trying not to cut into the meat. Next, place the joint over the sink and pour a whole kettle of boiling water over the skin. I’ve done this before with a pork roast so I wasn’t too afraid of giving it a go.

Yes, I hear some of you shouting at the screen… “No!! You’ve got to keep the skin dry!!”

Yes, that’s where the salt comes in… rub salt into the wounds… rub hard. Then rest a wee while. You’ll see how the salt draws out the moisture. Then use fresh paper towel to remove all the water. Next I put more salt on the skin… no, don’t rub it in again, you don’t want to end up with salt pork. Wait a few minutes and dry off the skin again. I repeated this step 3 times.

Before I go too far, let’s take a few steps back. After the scoring and initial salt rubbing onto the skin I flipped the slab over and doctored the underside. Sorry, the muti is my secret , never to be shared. I wish. Just dry herbs and spices bashed up in the mortar. Oh, don’t forget the olive oil.

Phew… this write-up is turning into a bit of a marathon. I’ll say, part of the preparation was doctoring some lamb ribs, for those in the house who can’t let an opportunity by to enjoy a few.

After all the salting and drying I rubbed in my muti… then began the next part of the drying process. Here’s something you may not read in the manuals. I used the back of a knife to clear off any moisture from the skin. I kept doing this every few minutes for an hour or two. (Time spent writing the first part of this post.)

Begin by clicking in the top left corner… I’ve included the times so you know how long to wait between steps… if you should ever want to try this at home.

The last photo in the sequence above was taken at 13h32. I kept at the drying process until the coals were hot enough and the braai suitably toasty to slap on the slab. That was just after 16h00. The plan was to eat by 18h30 or so… giving a good 2 hours for braaiing and smoking and the 20 minutes for the slab to rest before carving

Slab on.... just after 16h00

The first signs of colour and crisping… all seems in order at this point.

Colour at last... maybe I should have realised I was in for difficulty at 16h44...

Throw on the lamb ribs to get them coloured up as well…

Throw on the lamb ribs to get their colour going... also 16h44

I’m not convinced that the crackling is getting there! Add more charcoal as well as the smoking medium. (Apple grated into the oak sawdust moistened with cider)

The final attempt at getting the crackling crisp was after Junior Son walked out and suggested I turn the slab over… directly onto the grid for more direct exposure to the coals. It sure worked, one could hear the skin crackling and popping. Only thing, we lost the golden brown richness…

A bit scorched? Maybe that plan didn't work as planned!

The proof was in the carving… tasty and crisp!

Eventually... carving at 19h30... the meat was juicy, tastey and tender... even though the outsides didn't look too appealing!

Lessons learned. 

  • Don’t put the meat on foil. At one point the trapped fat caught fire… this leaving a very black underside.
  • Find a large enough stainless roasting dish… place the meat on a rack and keep moist for at least the first half of the braai
  • Make a deflector plate to place over the meat, this will concentrate the heat and make the crackling happen without having to turn the meat over.
  • Put the smoking medium in sooner… on a larger tray for better results.

What more can I say? An experiment that didn’t quite work as planned. Will I try t again? Yes, after incorporating all of the lessons learned. Simple!

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