Thu Aug 17, 2017
I had it all planned out, the centerpiece of my Italian-themed Meatwave was going to be a massive pork loin that I was going to butterfly, stuff with prosciutto, sopressata, provolone, and basil, then roll close and grill. I'm sure it would have been impressive and excellent, but a slight wrench was thrown into my plans—I was given a BBQ Guru CyberQ Cloud to take for a spin, and with a lot time away from home recently, if I didn't try it out on that Meatwave weekend, I probably wouldn't get to it until at least a couple months later. I could have chosen to smoke the pork loin in order to make use of the device, but the rather fat-devoid loin isn't ripe fodder for low and slow cooking, which favors fattier cuts. Then the perfect idea came into my head—ditch the stuffed loin and do a smoked porchetta. The fat-laden pork belly required for porchetta is perfect smoking, and a porchetta would be equally worthy to serve as the centerpiece meat for the day.
The only problem with the porchetta idea was that is was well treaded territory—after making my first one and sharing on the blog, I've gone on to cook them for numerous holidays after realizing how delicious and crowd-pleasing they are. Still, despite being covered content, I've learned how to make my porchettas better with each go round, and smoking one is oddly not something I've considered before, so this Istalian roast seemed perfect for reexamination.
The one thing I really haven't changed much with my porchettas over time is the seasoning. I like to go in hard with an equal mixture of toasted, and then ground, black pepper and fennel as a base, which provides an immediately intense spice that ends up permeating throughout each bite in the end. To temper the sharpness of those spices, I use also use a hefty amount of herbs, usually opting for a combination of sage, thyme, and rosemary. Then a nice amount of garlic is added along with lesser portions of red pepper flakes and fresh lemon zest.
One of the biggest changes I've made from my early porchettas to now is ditchening the tenderloin that many recipes call to be stuffed inside. Adding the tenderloin introduces an inherent flaw to achieving perfect porchetta—pork belly needs to be overcooked (past 165°F) for the fat to become soft and luscious, while if the tenderloin is cooked to those higher temperatures, you'll be looking at one dry piece of meat. So I've long stop using the tenderloin and have gone all belly, starting with a nine pound boneless, skin-on piece here.
I scored the flesh of the belly into a diamond pattern, which created crevices for the spices to go into, leading to more seasoning throughout. Before rubbing the belly with the spice mixture though, I sprinkled it generously with kosher salt.
Once rubbed down, I tied the monster piece of belly closed so it was an even thickness all around. I like doing this with a single piece of butcher twine, but that can be a bit tricky to pull off, so to make your life easier, you can tie the roast with individual pieces of twine at about every inch. Once tied closed, I rubbed the outside with a mixture of salt and baking powder, which is a trick I picked up from Serious Eat to get even crispier skin in the end.
One thing I didn't consider when buying nine pounds of belly was that it may not even fit in my 18.5" smoker, and it almost didn't. At the beginning of the cook, the ends of the meat touched the sides of the smoker lid, but after a couple hours of cooking, it shrank to a size more fitting for the available space.
I used my CyberQ Cloud to keep the heat in the smoker a fairly consistent 225°F and monitor the internal temperature of the pork—which I was shooting for a minimum of 180°F to call it done. It took about seven hours to get there, at which point the meat was technically ready to eat, but the skin was limp and rubbery.
To fix that and get the crisp porchetta skin we all deserve, I finished the belly on my rotisserie over a hot fire. I was expecting it to take about 30 minutes to crisp up, but thanks to the baking powder and all the moisture lost during the long cook, it became completely crunchy in half that time—puffing up and transforming to crackling in 15 minutes.
While making the first slice into this beast of a roast, I can't imagine why I ever considered cooking anything else for this Meatwave. The initial crunch as the knife cut the skin, followed by the soft and glistening meat, let me know this was going to be great. Tastes not only confirmed that assumption, but out did it. This was, by far, the best porchetta I've ever cooked. The meat was tender and intensely flavored from the rub that gave it a combination of a spicy kick with a strong herbal touch. The skin was amazing, having picked up a hearty smokiness along the way that made that extra-crisp bite with a fatty juiciness all the better. One of my most regular guests mentioned to me that this was the best thing he had ever eaten at a Meatwave, and for those that follow this blog, you know that's saying a lot.
- Prep Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 7 Hours 15 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 7 Hours 45 Minutes
- 8-10 servings
- For the Rub
- 5 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 5 teaspoons fennel seed
- 2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 8-9lb piece of boneless pork belly, skin on
- 5 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2-3 fist size chunks of medium smoking wood such as oak or hickory
- To make the rub: Place peppercorns and fennel seed in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat; toast spices until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and process until coarsely ground. Transfer spice mixture to small bowl and mix in garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest.
- Lay pork belly, skin side down, on a large cutting board. Score flesh on a diagonal with a sharp knife about every inch. Repeat in opposite direction to create a diamond pattern. Season pork belly liberally with salt. Sprinkle rub evenly across pork belly, using hands to pat rub into meat and cut crevices. Roll pork belly into a tight log lengthwise and tie closed with butcher twine about every inch.
- Mix 5 teaspoons of salt and 3/4 teaspoon baking powder together in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over exterior of porchetta.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place the pork belly in the smoker or grill and smoke until an instant read thermometer registers 180°F when inserted into center of meat, about 6 to 8 hours. Remove pork belly from smoker and let rest while preparing the grill.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on either side of the charcoal grate and place a foil pan between the two piles of coals. Cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Run spit of rotisserie through middle of pork lengthwise and secure ends with rotisserie forks. Place on the rotisserie, cover, and cook at high heat until skin has crisped all over, about 10-15 minutes. Remove pork from grill and spit, cut off butcher twine, slice, and serve immediately.