Once you’ve discovered the joys of cooking with pork belly, you’ll want to experiment with it again and again. If you’re like us, you might even go overboard and buy more than you need. In this case, is it all right to freeze the leftovers for another use?
Can You Freeze Pork Belly?
Although pork belly keeps better in the freezer when it’s raw, you can freeze cooked leftovers as well. You can freeze the meat even if you’ve marinated or cured it beforehand. For cooked pork belly, try storing the skin and meat in separate containers so you can reheat them according to their own specifications.
What Is Pork Belly?
As you may have guessed from the name, pork belly is taken from the underside of the hog. It’s not the actual stomach organ, though—just the rich, fatty flesh that’s located around the lower rib cage.
Pork belly is often sold in large slabs. It may also be advertised as “fresh side” or “side pork.” If you’re not sure whether the cut you’re looking at is pork belly, ask the butcher for verification.
This is a cut that benefits from long, slow cooking in order to render out the fat. You can also deep-fry the cubes—or better yet, put them on the grill.
Are Pork Belly and Bacon the Same Thing?
Not exactly. While most bacon is cut from the hog’s belly, the two terms aren’t interchangeable.
By definition, bacon is cured or brined before it hits the shelves, whereas pork belly is sold in its natural state. So while bacon is often made from pork belly, they’re not exactly the same.
We should also point out that bacon can be made from other parts of the pig as well. Butchers can cure the meat from the shoulder or cheek and refer to the results as bacon, though they’ll usually mention the difference when they label the meat for sale.
Can You Freeze Pork Belly Before Smoking?
If you have more pork belly than you need, it’s easier to freeze it when it’s still raw. That way, you’ll be able to prepare it using whatever recipe you’d like once you get around to defrosting it.
When stored in the freezer, pork belly should keep indefinitely. For optimum texture, though, it’s preferable to thaw and cook it off within 6 months. Meat that’s kept in the freezer too long can be unpleasantly dry after it’s cooked.
Can You Freeze Cooked Pork Belly?
You can follow similar guidelines for storing cooked pork belly. Keep any leftovers in the freezer until you’re ready to thaw and reheat them—within 6 months, if possible.
Reheating thawed pork belly can be tricky. The meat will be safe to eat, but it won’t have quite the same texture and flavor that it did before you froze it. That’s why it’s best to freeze the meat in its raw state.
How Long Does Pork Belly Keep In The Fridge?
Raw pork belly should stay fresh in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. As pork products go, this is a relatively short shelf life. Try to buy pork belly on the same day or the day before you plan to cook it.
Once it’s cooked off, pork belly will keep for up to 4 days. To help the dish retain its integrity, separate the skin from the meat before putting the leftovers in the fridge. That way, you can reheat each portion separately.
For tips on reheating cooked pork belly, see the separate section below.
Can You Freeze Pork Belly After Curing?
When you’ve cured pork belly for homemade bacon or another recipe, is it too late to freeze it? Not as long as you follow certain guidelines.
Meat should be dry to the touch before you wrap it for the freezer. Otherwise, ice crystals will form on the exterior, which will affect the texture.
If you used a wet cure for the pork, blot the meat dry with paper towels. Dry-cured pork belly should freeze well, but you should remove as much of the cure as possible before you freeze it.
Can You Freeze Marinated Pork Belly?
You can freeze pork belly that’s been marinated. In fact, you can add the meat and the marinade to a zip-top bag and store the package in the freezer. Remember that the marinade will continue to do its work once the meat thaws, so be careful not to overdo it.
Can You Freeze Crispy Pork Belly?
The problem with freezing crispy pork belly—or any type of fried food—is that it’s difficult for the skin to retain its texture. The dish might have been perfect when you froze the leftovers, but they might be a bit soggier once you reheat them.
That said, this practice is acceptable as long as you’re willing to put some effort into crisping up the pork skin. As we pointed out earlier, it’s easier to do this if you reheat the skin and meat separately.
How To Freeze Pork Belly
Whether you’re freezing the pork belly raw or portioning out leftovers, the task is a simple one.
For cooked pork belly, make sure the meat has had a chance to cool before wrapping it for the freezer. Warm meat will steam inside the package, which increases the risk of freezer burn.
Divide the meat into portions, if desired. That way, you can defrost as much or as little as you need. As a bonus, smaller packages will thaw faster.
Put the pork belly in airtight zip-top bags and force as much air out of the bags as you can. After sealing them tightly, label each package with the contents and today’s date. Be sure to note whether the pork belly is raw or cooked.
You can thaw and refreeze raw pork belly without cooking it first. It’s also permissible to thaw and refreeze cooked leftovers. Be aware, though, that the texture of the meat will suffer from each repeated trip to the freezer.
How To Defrost Pork Belly
When you’re ready to defrost the meat, set the packages on a dish with a rim high enough to catch any juices. Place the dish on the lowest shelf of the fridge, toward the back. The pork belly should be fully thawed within 24 hours.
You can also put the airtight packages in a container filled with cold water. When you use this method, the pork belly should thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes to 1 hour per pound. Empty the container and refill it with fresh cold water every 30 minutes for best results.
How To Reheat Defrosted Pork Belly
As we mentioned, it’s better to separate the skin from the meat itself when reheating pork belly. If you haven’t already done so for storage purposes, make this your first step.
Preheat the grill or oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the meat on a baking sheet and cover it with aluminum foil to hold in the moisture. If you’d like, add a bit of water or pork cooking juices to the pan as well.
Place the skin on a separate sheet, leaving this one uncovered. Set both pans in the grill or oven for about 15 minutes, or until the meat has warmed through and the skin is nice and crispy.
If the skin is taking too long to crisp up, remove the meat from the grill or oven and crank up the temperature to 450 degrees. Let the skin continue to cook until it’s achieved the proper texture. If you’re reheating the pork belly in the oven, you can also use the broiler for this step.
Tip: Try not to reheat cooked pork belly more than once. If you do, you’ll risk overcooking the meat, which can make it turn rubbery.
The Bottom Line
Pork belly is a delicious ingredient that pairs well with a multitude of vibrant flavors. Don’t waste your leftovers by letting them sit in the fridge too long—put them in the freezer instead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!