Brisket burnt ends are one of the more fascinating foods in barbecue. Their storied history, which I’ve spoken of here before, makes them a true Kansas City original.
Of course, the great thing about food is that it is meant to be played with, no matter what your grandmother repeatedly told you at dinner time.
The burnt end was originally taken from the thin portion of the flat of the brisket, but over the years the need to provide more of them for their menus lead barbecue joints to start creating burnt ends out of the point meat of the brisket. This layer of muscle is fatty and thin, making it perfect for creating little bite-sized morsels of smoked meat.
This had me, and many other barbecue pitmasters, thinking: What other thin, fatty cut could be used for burnt ends? The answer is pork belly.
Now, pork belly is most commonly used for bacon in the U.S., but abroad it is often braised and used for sandwiches, and in China crispy pork belly is a very common, and delicious, dish.
But something special happens when you craft burnt ends out of the belly of a pig: Cut into cubes and put into the smoker, the fat begins to render and the meat crisps on the outside, and just before they are finished you coat them in barbecue sauce and place them back on the smoker. What you end up with is something akin to meat candy: sticky, sweet bits of pork belly that melt in your mouth and invite you to keep eating, until they’re all gone.
On this episode of Cooking With Fire, Josh Cary and Chef Tom Jackson take a barbecue classic--the brisket burnt end--and create a new-fashioned version using pork belly:
- 5 lb pork belly, skin off
- BBQ Rub (recipe below)
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 6 tbsp wildflower honey, divided
- BBQ Sauce (recipe below)
For the BBQ Rub:
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
For the BBQ sauce:
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp celery seeds
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Preheat your smoker to 250ºF.
- Slice the pork belly into 2” cubes. Rub the cubes with a light coat of oil. Season with the BBQ rub. Transfer to the smoker, leaving space around each cube. Smoke until a mahogany brown bark is formed on the outside, about 3 hours.
- Remove the pork cubes from the grill. Place on a sheet of foil in a single layer. Pour the apple juice and 3 tablespoons honey over the pork. Wrap tightly with the foil. Return the foil to the smoker.
- Increase the grill temperature to 300ºF. Continue cooking until the cubes are very tender, nearly falling apart. The internal temperature will be around 205ºF-210ºF.
- While the pork cooks, combine the bbq sauce ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce to low heat and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- Open the foil packet. Pour about 1/2 cup sauce over the pork burnt ends. Drizzle the remaining 3 tbsp honey over the top as well. Toss gently to coat. Return to the grill and cook until the sauce is tacky, about 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from the smoker and serve warm.