Smoked Pork Belly Buns
A couple weeks ago I basked in a personal Texas-style pork belly achievement. I also mentioned that pork belly rarely stands out to me in smoke joints due to its lackluster flavor when compared to the super beefy beef ribs and briskets that serve as better ordering options. The real attraction to the pork belly for me is its immense amount of soft, luscious fat that gives it a texture unlike any other smoked meat. So in thinking of a way to best feature smoked pork belly's top trait while enhancing its overall flavor, I came up with these smoked belly buns, which just so happen would make for an excellent New Year's celebration treat.
The pork that filled these buns was the exact same Texas-style belly that I chronicled in depth recently. So I won't go into a complete repeat of the detail of the process, but for a quick run down, this recipe started out with a couple pieces of boneless pork belly that I coated in a salt and pepper rub that slightly favored the coarse black pepper in order to give it that sharp Texas bite.
I then smoked the belly at 225°F until its internal temperature reached 203°F and it had a little jiggle when handled, which took a little over seven hours total.
At this point I removed the pork from the smoker, wrapped each piece in plastic wrap, and stored them in the Cambro until I was ready to serve, which I admittedly let rest a bit too long that day—a couple hours is ideal—allowing the pork cool more than I wanted.
To make the belly into buns, the first step was procuring some Chinese buns at the Asian market—I've yet to try making these myself as I've always been told the payoff doesn't outweigh the convenience of buying frozen. I set up a steamer over my wok and steamed the buns until they were warmed and soft throughout, but if your short a steamer, they can also be heated in the microwave under damp paper towels.
After the buns were ready, I cut the belly into 1/2-inch slices and cut those slices in half to make a square that fit nicely into the small buns. I then topped each piece of belly with just a few pickled red onions and dollop of barbecue sauce.
Although minimal, this seemed to be a pretty perfect combination to enhance the flavor of the belly in a way that continued to let its meatiness and peppery bark shine through. The tender fat melded with the soft bun nicely, while the pickled onions lent a nice crunch along with a contrasting tartness that cut through the fattiness a bit. While Texas smoked meats generally don't require any barbecue sauce, I think it was a great addition here to add a touch of sweetness, a role usually played by hoisin in more traditional Chinese buns. While I was mighty proud of my pork belly in on its own, these buns went the extra mile in making that smoky meat something really special, transforming this sometimes ho hum cut into something that can hold its own against its more bold, beefy brethren.
Smoked Pork Belly Buns
- Yield 10-12 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Inactive 1 Hour
- Cook 6 Hours
- Total 7 Hours 20 Minutes
- For the Pickled Red Onions
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- For the Pork Belly
- 1/4 cup coarsely ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 2 2lb pieces boneless pork belly, skin removed
- 3 chunks of a medium smoking wood, such as oak or hickory
- 24 fresh or frozen Chinese-style steamed buns
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- To make the pickled red onions: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add in onions and boil for 1 minute. Drains onions in a colander or fine mesh strainer. Transfer onions to now empty saucepan along with vinegar and salt. Add enough cold water to just submerge the onions. Bring to a boil over high high, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 minute. Transfer onions to glass jar with enough liquid to submerge onions, cover, and place in refrigerator until completely chilled.
- To make the pork belly: In a small bowl combine pepper and salt to make the rub. Season pork belly all over liberally with the rub.
- 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 between 195-203°F when inserted into the thickest section of meat, about 6 to 8 hours.
- Wrap each pork belly tightly in butcher paper or foil, place in a cooler or oven, and let rest for 1 to 2 hours. Cut pork belly in 1/2-inch slices.
- To Serve: Steam buns in a bamboo steamer or in the microwave on a large plate under a damp towel. Place slices of pork belly in each bun and top with red onions and barbecue sauce. Serve immediately.
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