This is a pork belly that’s slow-roasted so the fat renders and cooks the belly confit-style in its own fat. The result? Ridiculously juicy, impossibly tender yet still-sliceable meat, crowned with the most amazing crispy crackling of your life.
It comes down to three simple, game-changing techniques: 1. Do NOT score the skin; 2. Low heat followed by high heat; 3. Keep the pork level using balls of foil.
Perfect meat, perfect crackling … Every. Single. Time!
Slow-Roasted Crispy Pork Belly
Now that you’ve scrolled past the photos above, is it fair to say I have your attention?
When we’re talking about roasted pork belly, I feel like the pursuit of bubbly, perfectly crispy pork crackling goes without saying. And I assure you, the simple steps in this recipe are designed around delivering that end goal reliably, every single time.
So we can all agree on what defines awesome crackling, but what about the meat? For me, it’s about cooking it to that perfect point where the fat is oh-so-soft, the meat is extremely tender, but not so tender that it falls apart “at a touch” like pulled pork. I specifically want it to be sliceable (what is a roast, if it can’t be carved?) so it presents nicely, but is beautifully tender when you start eating it.
We achieve this by firstly cooking slowly at a low temperature, while using a trick with foil to get a confit effect that keeps the flesh parts bathed in fat as it cooks. Finally we hit the pork with maximum heat to develop the amazing crackling!
Like THIS. ↓↓↓ The best of both worlds!!
- Slices neatly (pictured here with vermouth jus) ….
- … but the flesh is incredibly tender!!
How to make Slow-Roasted Crispy Pork Belly: Overview
Here is how to make the best pork belly of your life, in 5 simple steps:
Dry the skin, preferably leaving it uncovered overnight in the fridge;
Oil and season both the flesh and the skin, then wrap the flesh sides with foil, leaving skin exposed. DO NOT SCORE (Game-changing tip #1);
Roast in a slow oven for 2 1/2 hours at 140°C/285°F so the flesh becomes tender;
Level the pork so the skin is level (ie. as horizontal as possible) by propping up the belly with balls of foil beneath. This makes the crackling cook evenly = perfect crackling. (Game-changing tip #2); and
Blast it finally at 240°C/465°F for 30 minutes to make the skin bubble and form the crackling!
See below for my usual full instructions along with process photos!
The secret it perfect crackling is to level the skin so there’s even heat distribution. Otherwise, the highest point burns before the lowest part has a chance to crisp up to crackling!
The result: The crackling will be ultra-crispy from edge to edge. What’s more, the crackling will have the perfect texture that we are looking for: Bubbly, puffy and crispy skin that shatters into a thousand porky shards in your mouth when you bite into it. Not that rock-hard, smooth-surfaced crackling you sometimes encounter that feels like is going to dislodge a tooth! Sure it’s crispy but it’s hard – and that stuff is just not pleasant to eat.
Meanwhile, beneath our perfect crackling is ridiculously tender meat interspersed with layers of nicely rendered fat that’s soft and giving, so that each mouthful is a juicy, porky joy.
My method is so insanely simple, yet yields such exceptional results, that it’s almost unbelievable. Let me reiterate again. You are 5 simple steps away from THIS!!! ↓↓↓
What you need to make the best Roasted Pork Belly of your life
Here’s what you need to make slow-roasted pork belly. Yes, really, this is ALL you need! Pork belly is such a flavourful and rich cut, that all we need is simple seasoning and some slow-roasting magic – you don’t need anything more!
Pork belly – Here’s what to look for to find the perfect piece of pork belly!
Even thickness – Look for a piece that is even in thickness as possible and at least 3.25 cm / 1.3″ thick, with nice layers of fat between the flesh. If it’s too thin, the flesh will cook faster and may become too tender before the required cook time needed to soften the skin in preparation for becoming ultra-crispy crackling;
Even shape – A nice even rectangle or square shape presents nicer. But unlike the thickness, it is not as important for even cooking and great crackling;
Flat skin – Seek out a piece of pork belly with dry, flat, and smooth skin as opposed wrinkled and wet like you can get with vac-packed belly. This is important for consistent crackling, and especially true where there are wrinkles – crackling never goes crispy inside the wrinkles;
NO SCORING! That’s right, I’m busting one of the top myths out there about developing great crackling. There’s NO need to score for perfect crackling! Not only is it unnecessary, it’s downright dangerous to the end result. Why? Well if you make even a small mistake with scoring you can compromise the crackling due to meat juices rising up and flooding the skin. And believe me, inexperienced butchers make that mistake all the time! More on my anti-skin-scoring philosophy below!
Avoiding vac-packed belly is better – Freshly cut pork belly from the butcher is better than supermarket pork belly that’s been sitting in a vacuum pack for who-knows-how-long. Butcher meat is not only typically better quality, but as mentioned, vacuum-packed meat = skin soaking in wet juices + wrinkled skin = inferior crackling. While fresh pork belly = nice and dry, flat skin = amazing crackling. (This concludes my pork crackling maths lesson … )
You will still get awesomely crispy crackling with supermarket vac-packed pork belly IF you leave the pork uncovered overnight in the fridge to dry the skin out properly. But it’s still better if you get non vac-packed belly!
Better quality pork = a better result – Not all pork is equal. The happier the pig, the better the quality of pork, and the better the end result. This means better flavour, more tender and juicier meat, and better crackling. So if you can afford it, source high quality free-range pork or the best pork you can afford from a butcher. Cheap pork belly can also sometimes be injected with stuff like brine which, contrary to belief, actually doesn’t roast up as tender (as I found out first hand once). One cheap supermarket pork belly took over 3 1/2 hours to become tender!
Fennel powder – This is ground fennel seeds, either pre-bought or you can grind whole seeds yourself. Fennel is a classic pairing with pork, and the addition here adds a subtle floral, aniseed flavour that doesn’t overpower. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have it, by the time the roast is done it has mellowed to a background flavour. The pork itself is the key taste here, especially because you get such great flavour development with the slow roasting!
Oil – This is to make the seasonings stick to the flesh and skin, as well as encourage the crackling. Pork belly is so fatty, you don’t need to add extra fat! Any oil will work fine. I use olive oil; and
Salt – This is so important for great crackling! You see all those bubbles on the skin? That’s caused by the application of salt. While I cannot explain the exact mechanism here, I can tell you that no salt = no bubbly crackling! You’ll just be left with a flat and hard sheet of skin, like you see on the side of rolled pork loins (because salt doesn’t stick to it).
Sprinkling the salt evenly across the surface of the skin, from edge to edge, is key for great crackling!
Yes, you read that right. Don’t score the skin, for the best crackling!
All your life, experts have been telling you that scoring pork skin is the trick to great crackling. I’ve heard explanations ranging from greater heat exposure to the need for fat to drip out and fry the skin. Well, all your life, these experts have had it wrong!
Firstly, I do believe that the fat bubbling out from under the skin helps to make the crackling crispy. This is true. But a light rub of oil does the same job. And literally, I mean 1/2 tsp for 1kg / 2lb of pork belly.
But secondly and frankly more importantly … People (home cooks, inexperienced butchers) botch the scoring all the time and this compromises the crackling. How? Well, the problem is if you cut through the skin and fat down into the flesh by mistake, even the tiniest prick can doom your crackling. This is because as the meat roasts, juices from the flesh will bubble up through that tiny hole and spread on to the pork skin. All that careful work to ensure dry skin is now wasted as the skin parts touched by those juices no longer can crisp and will end up rubbery! Even a small slash into the flesh can create a rubbery patch of 3 – 4cm / 1.5″+.
The takeaway: Don’t score! It’s not necessary and it’s RISKY!
How to make Slow-Roasted Crispy Pork Belly: In Detail
I’ve summarised how to make this pork belly in a few short steps earlier. Here is now my usual process step description and photos with plenty of detail so you can be confident you’ll nail your perfect belly first go!
Part 1. Preparation
Dry skin overnight – If time permits, it is highly recommended you leave the pork belly uncovered on a plate overnight in the fridge, to let the skin dry it. This is the biggest insurance for excellent crackling quality, and especially if you are using vac-packed supermarket pork belly (ie. where the skin is soaked with juices).
If you don’t have time for this, pat the skin dry very, very well using paper towels and/or tea towels. Your fingers should glide across the skin smoothly and there should be no sweaty, tacky feel to it at all;
Oil and season flesh – Set belly flesh-side up. Drizzle the flesh (only, for now) with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and fennel powder. Then rub the flesh to distribute, including the sides, being sure to get right into all the cracks and crevices;
Wrap flesh with foil – Flip the belly over so the skin side is up. Use 2 sheets of foil to make a little open box enclosing the belly tightly, while leaving the skin exposed. Fold the sides, pinch and seal the corners to encase it as snugly as you can while ensuring it won’t leak. The purpose of this is twofold:
a) Protect the exposed flesh of the pork belly to ensure it doesn’t dry out during the 2 1/2 hours slow roasting time; and
b) Catch the pork belly fat as it melts so the flesh almost cooks like confit. Confit is an age-old French technique where duck, pork and other meats slowly cook submerged in their own fat until incredibly tender. The fat moderates temperature, while preventing moisture and flavour loss. The extra flavour and juiciness you get simulating this method with this pork is outrageous. Outrageous!
Then place the foil-enclosed pork belly on a small (or regular) baking tray; and
Sprinkle salt EVENLY across skin – Rub the skin lightly with just 1 teaspoon of oil. Then sprinkle the salt evenly across the whole surface, from edge to edge. This is essential to ensure you get a nice, bubbly and crispy crackling, rather than a rock-hard flat sheet of impenetrable skin. Salt = bubbles and perfect crunch. No salt = flat and hard skin!
Part 2. Roasting
Slow roast 1 1/2 hours – Roast the pork in a 140°C/285°F oven (120°C fan) for a total of 2 1/2 hours. Keeping the temperature this low allows the meat to become tender, for the fat to render (melt) so we get the “confit” cooking effect, and also to dry out the pork skin yet keep it supple.
As counterintuitive as it might sound, keeping the pork skin initially soft is super-important during the slow roast phase. Without this the bubbles that develop and harden into great crackling cannot form.
If the pork skin becomes too hard too early during the slow roasting phase, the bubbles cannot expand to form the kind of crackling we’re after when we get to the high heat final stage. And it’s a very sad occasion indeed, when this happens. (I found out myself first hand that this occurs at around 170°C/340°F when I got impatient one day and tried to fast-track crackling – failing miserably!)
2 1/2 hours is the amount of time it takes for a 1 kg pork belly that is 4cm / 1⅗” thick to roast so the flesh is very tender, but not to the point that it “falls apart at a touch” and is no longer slice-able. We’re not going for pulled pork here, this is a roast! But of course, we do want it beautifully tender.
Tighten foil wrapping midway through cooking – At the 1 1/2 hour mark, remove the pork from the oven and tighten the foil. We do this because the pork will have shrunk considerably by this time, leaving a gaping space around the pork. We want the foil snug. As mentioned above, this is for flesh protection and to keep the fat levels up as high as we can, for our confit effect;
Return to oven – Once you’ve tightened the foil, return the pork to the oven for a further 1 hour. So a total of 2 1/2 hours slow roast time;
Check flesh – At the..