Cooking pork belly instead of ribs
May 3, 2014 4:24 AM   Subscribe

Sent my spouse on an errand to buy pork ribs for dinner. He came back without ribs, as the butcher didn't have any, but the butcher instead sold him pork belly with the skin cut off saying it's "the same thing, just no bones." While I'm not opposed to pork belly generally I'm not sure how I should cook it to still get the BBQ fix I'm going for. Details inside; advice requested.

(Note that this is not taking place in the US which is why the butcher apparently thinks when I want ribs I'm fine with pork belly)

So basically, I have cooked ribs before. I have also cooked pork belly before. I cook them really, really differently, and I've never actually had pork belly done BBQ-style. And tonight, I very specifically wanted the BBQ ribby goodness. Here's how I cook both; I would like to know how to cook the pork belly more like the ribs without ruining the belly (because I have ruined it before and it was sad). How do I do this?

How I usually cook ribs:
Rub with my father's proprietary spice rub
Stand on their sides in a Dutch oven, a couple of splashes of water and a bit of Liquid Smoke on the bottom
In the oven at 200 deg F for 6-8 hours
Yields: amazing ribs with the meat falling right off the bone, delicious vehicle for BBQ sauce

How I usually cook belly:
Rub skin with olive oil and salt
Sit on top of four onion halves on tin foil, sides of tin foil folded up to tightly cover the sides but not the skin
Low heat for several hours, pour off juices to use later (reduced with balsamic vinegar and star anise as a glaze), then high heat for 45 mins to crisp the skin
Yields: amazing tender pork belly with nice crispy crackling, but which is nothing at all like what I consider BBQ

My husband is telling me to "just cook the pork belly like the ribs" but the ribs basically end up being steamed, whereas the belly is so incredibly fatty, I don't want it sitting in the bottom of the oven poaching in its own grease.

Am I basically going to end up with pulled pork? Other advice/thoughts?

Note that all we have at our disposal is an oven. No grill, bbq, smoker, etc. We are also specifically going for American-style BBQ, not East Asian-influenced flavors (which is mostly what Google is giving me for recipes).
posted by olinerd to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Apart from the standing on the side thing, I don't see how you can go wrong applying the rib recipe to the pork belly. You did belly before - so you know the fat will melt away. When you put something in the oven long on low, check it every once in a while, to turn or baste it. The smothering in fat anxiety can be relieved by putting it on a rack. And of course we NEED the recipe of the rub you're using, but you knew that.
posted by ouke at 4:44 AM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, ouke said. However, I would suggest cutting it into rib-sized strips before cooking it, since cutting it after will probably shred and get you pulled pork. You might want to cut back on the time too, check it after 6 hrs.

What ouke said about that rub recipe is also true.
posted by Runes at 5:44 AM on May 3, 2014

Yes trim and cut into boneless country style ribs, then braise with same method.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 7:03 AM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gotta tell you, from the first line of your question, I was really expecting this story to end up with magic beans.

But I agree with ouke and runes and ps_im_awesome, about both ribs and rub. Putting these on a low rack should eliminate the problem of poaching them in their own fat.
posted by kythuen at 7:50 AM on May 3, 2014

First of all, I don't see what the problem with poaching in their own fat brings. Most of the time, we call that confit. Fat = flavour, and just because the meat cooks in its own rendered fat doesn't mean that will end up in your mouth.

Second, this is really a day-ahead kind of preparation. Do the belly as you would do your ribs normally, but as mentioned, baste from time to time. If you want the belly to be achingly tender, use a lot more liquid--cider (soft or hard) sounds like it would be a good fit for what you want to do.

Once the belly is cooked, remove if (carefully, it'll be a bit fragile) from the Dutch oven, and cool overnight. This will solidify the flesh and whatever fat is left, making it much easier to cut down into portions (this is the method we've used everywhere I've worked that served pork belly; braise, cool, cut, pan sear).

At the same time, put all your liquid into a container, and put that in the fridge overnight with the belly. The fat will separate out, and you can just lift it out the next day, leaving only your meat drippings and whatever other liquids you used. Save the fat! Pork fat is wonderful for cooking with. This liquid would form a wonderful base for making BBQ sauce.

Anyway, after you've portioned out the belly, throw it on the grill nice and fast to get it marked up and seared, and brush BBQ sauce on each side after you turn it away from the heat, to avoid burning.

Presto, pork belly 'ribs.'

I have a recipe somewhere for braised pork belly with scallops and corn if you want it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:14 AM on May 3, 2014

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