Pork belly is one of those items that show up frequently on restaurant menus, particularly at Asian eateries. But what is it exactly, and why can it be so difficult to find?
Technically, if you’ve ever purchased store-bought bacon, you have managed to find pork belly. The main difference is that bacon has been cured and/or smoked to give it that distinctive salt-tinged flavor. If you’re a true barbecue enthusiast, however, you might want to try your hand at making your own bacon. That’s where we come in.
In our guide, we’ll tell you where to buy pork belly and provide you with tips on finding the highest-quality cuts available. When you’ve finished reading, you should know exactly what to look for when you’re purchasing pork belly. Whether you’re hoping to make delicious homemade bacon or a batch of crispy burnt ends, we’ll tell you what you want to know.
Where To Buy Pork Belly
When you’re searching for the best place to buy pork belly, we would recommend that you start by shopping locally. If you don’t have any luck with that, cast your net wider until you find what you’re looking for. Supermarkets, chain stores, and online retailers are also good options.
Why You Should Buy Pork Belly
Buying your own raw pork belly is a great choice because it allows you to control the quality of the bacon you’ll be eating.
Some craft delivery companies offer bacon that’s made from humanely raised vegetarian pigs. The meat is as pure as it can be, with no water or other additives included. However, these services can be expensive, especially if you want to have large batches on hand.
Additionally, when you make your own bacon, you can season the pork belly to your liking. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the procedure, you’ll find that the end result is much tastier than what you’re used to.
What To Look For When Buying Pork Belly
Consider the Source
As we mentioned before, it’s important to consider the way the pigs were treated before they were butchered.
It’s a good sign if the hogs were fed a vegetarian diet, especially if they were allowed to roam freely throughout their lives. Some experts claim that if the pigs regularly dine on chestnuts, their meat will have a richer flavor. That said, it’s not really necessary to seek out chestnut-fed pork as long as the hogs weren’t fed a corn-based diet.
Buying locally is one way to ensure that the hogs were treated humanely. Perform a quick google search to find out if there are any pig farms near you. Chances are, the proprietors will be happy to strike up a good relationship with a potential customer, particularly if you’ll be buying from them on a regular basis.
Another option is to go through a website that offers detailed descriptions of its sources. Crowd Cow is one example. They sell a Heritage Pork Belly made from hogs that were pasture-raised and antibiotic- and GMO-free.
You might be wondering why it matters where the pork came from as long as it tastes good. The truth is, if the pigs were treated well and their bodies are free of hormones, the meat will be healthier and have a richer flavor.
If you purchase pork belly through a reputable source, you may be able to procure details about which breed you’re getting.
When in doubt, look for the “Heritage breed” label. Heritage breed pigs have pure bloodlines that can date back centuries, giving the meat a bolder, more authentic flavor. If you sample a tidbit of pork from a Heritage breed animal and then take a bite of generic grocery-store pork, you’re sure to notice the difference.
Some examples of Heritage breed pigs include Kurobota, Tamworth, Duroc, Berkshire, and Iberico (which may also go by its full title, Spanish Black Iberian). Throughout the last decade, chefs have begun to recognize the value of these animals, which is why some of these names may look familiar.
How much you spend depends on how much pork belly you’re planning to buy at once (see below). When you’re working out your budget, remember that the upfront costs will work themselves out in the long run. Once you start making your own bacon, you’ll find that it’s much cheaper per pound than buying the inferior store-bought variety.
As we’ve just pointed out, buying pork belly in bulk can save you money. Depending on where you buy it, you may have no choice but to purchase large portions at once.
For example, some retailers require their customers to buy the entire pork belly in one go. This is a cut of meat that can range from 9 to 12 pounds. Not everyone has enough freezer space to accommodate large cuts, which is why many people don’t bother trying to make bacon at home.
If you think you’ll be making homemade bacon and burnt ends on a regular basis, you might want to consider investing in a stand-alone freezer. These can be kept easily in the garage or basement, as long as there’s a working electrical outlet nearby. As a grilling enthusiast, I’ve found that there’s no such thing as too much freezer space.
Once you’ve decided how much pork belly you can afford, it’s time to think about how you’ll cure the meat. This process includes packing the meat in a solution that’s made mostly of salt with some other seasonings added. It’s up to you to decide how to flavor the pork. Dry-curing is one option, but many chefs opt to use a wet brine.
Be aware that it takes several days to cure the pork. After that, you might also want to smoke the meat at a low temperature (around 175 degrees Fahrenheit) to give it that classic woodsy flavor. Hickory and maple are both popular options for bacon, but feel free to experiment with whatever wood chips or pellets you have on hand.
Where To Buy Pork Belly
Now that the practical considerations are out of the way, let’s take a look at the best places to buy pork belly.
The farm-to-table movement has become very popular lately, and with good reason. It’s the best way to ensure that you’re getting quality meat from humanely raised animals.
If you don’t know anyone who raises pigs nearby, try connecting with your community on a social media message board. You’re bound to receive a few decent suggestions.
Another option is to ask your local butcher. Even if the store doesn’t buy locally raised pork, they might keep a close watch on the market. They may also be able to put in a special order for you. In any case, it’s in your best interests to maintain a good relationship with the person who cuts your meat.
Local specialty shops and Asian food markets will sometimes keep pork belly in stock. It might be more expensive than buying directly from the source, but the meat is usually high-quality nonetheless.
If you don’t see any pork belly in the meat case, check the freezer section. You might be able to score a good deal by buying in bulk.
Many large supermarket chains don’t carry raw pork belly. If they have it, it’s probably already been smoked or cured, meaning you won’t have control over the flavorings. Still, it’s worth a look. If the store has a well-stocked meat counter, you can ask them if it’s possible to make a special order.
Big-box stores, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, will usually have pork belly on offer. It might be available either whole or sliced. We would recommend buying it whole, especially when you’re starting out. That way, you can decide how thick you’d like to slice it.
When all else fails, you can turn to the internet. Crowd Cow, Porter Road, and Buy Pork are three popular choices. Be forewarned, however, that the selections might be expensive.
One drawback to buying online is that you can’t inspect the belly beforehand in order to ensure that you’re getting a good piece. You want a meaty cut with a nice layer of fat on it, with decent marbling throughout. Still, shopping online is a good bet if you have no other option.
Once you’ve found a good source for buying pork belly, you may never go back to store-bought bacon. The flavor, texture, and overall quality of the homemade version are enough to justify the upfront costs, not to mention the time invested.